The Eagle never slips into port unnoticed.
With video camera-toting parents, teary-eyed spouses and squealing children filling the Inner Harbor's brick walkway to greet the nearly 300-foot-long Coast Guard tall ship, Friday was no exception.
"Oh my goodness, there it is," cried Sandy Palmer who flew from New Hampshire earlier in the day with her husband to surprise their daughter, an officer candidate aboard the ship. "This is a dream come true. When she said they were going to have liberty in Baltimore, you couldn't keep us away."
The stately white vessel nosed into its weekend home next to the frigate Constellation and disgorged admirals, Naval Academy brass and Revolutionary War re-enactors who had hitched a ride from Annapolis up the Chesapeake Bay before getting to the main event: reuniting families after a two-week training mission.
From amidships, the Palmers' daughter, Kimberly Farnsworth, waved and shouted to her parents, both retired from the Coast Guard. Then her hands flew to her mouth as she saw the surprise they brought along — her husband, Brendan, who is also in the Coast Guard and who flew up from Miami.
The Eagle is the only active square-rigger in government service, a war prize taken from Germany at the end of World War II. Based at the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn., it serves as a floating classroom and leadership training platform.
Sixty-three officer candidates were aboard as part of the 17-week school preparing them to be commissioned as Coast Guard ensigns on Dec. 7. All of them are committed to serving at least three years in the service.
For Amber Larson, a Glen Burnie resident, the return to Baltimore meant sailing past her first Coast Guard assignment 18 months ago at the Curtis Bay station.
The training cruise required Larson to find the nerve to climb more than 14 stories above the deck — in the dark — to furl the sails, sleep in a coffin-tight bunk and familiarize herself with more than 230 nautical terms in the Eagle seamanship manual. In return, she saw dolphins and flying fish and a Milky Way so bright and three-dimensional that she could almost reach out and touch it.
Officer candidate Matthew Romero, who hails from St. Mary's County, said the two-week cruise was his first time at sea.
"The amount of teamwork required to sail this ship is amazing. No one is more important than anyone else and everyone needs to contribute. It brought you back to the roots of the Coast Guard, heaving line and climbing the masts," he said.
The Eagle will be open for free public tours from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. After that, the tall ship will be towed to the Curtis Bay dry dock for repairs, and the officer candidates will help cut the sails down.
The trip back to campus for the crew will be by a less glamorous mode of transportation, but with one perk not found on the Eagle.
"By bus," said Larson. "We'll stretch out and sleep all the way."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun