Horst Boettge beams next to the ship's wheel

R/C Horst Boettge, SN, of Golden Corner Lakes Sail & Power Squadron, got the chance of a lifetime when he received a berth aboard the U.S. Coast Guard barque Eagle.

A dream come true

Sailing on Eagle

More than 2 years after being contacted about a berth aboard the U.S. Coast Guard barque Eagle, I was excited to receive word from the ship’s executive officer, Lt. Cmdr. Michael Glander, that my voyage would finally begin.

I would embark as a guest rider at Mazatlán, Mexico, on 14 May 2008 and disembark in San Diego on 24 May. After calming down, I made reservations to Mazatlán and back home from San Diego. I planned to stay 2 days in Mazatlán before boarding the ship.

On 13 May, I looked out the hotel room window and saw the ship on the horizon, approaching Mazatlán Harbor. I grabbed the camera and snapped 1 of the 800-plus photos I would take on this trip.

I walked to the cruise ship terminal despite the tropical heat, but I couldn’t get near the docked ship because the terminal gate was closed. Back at the hotel, I received an e-mail from the executive officer inviting me to attend a reception that night. This time, I took a taxi.

I checked out of the hotel the next morning and spent my last peso taking a taxi to the dock. The deck officer greeted me and showed me to my quarters: a 2-berth cabin on the quarterdeck. The lower berth was already occupied, but being on the upper berth was really no problem once I got used to it.

Leaving MazatlÁn

Thursday, 15 May At 0800, a captain’s muster was called with instructions and schedules for crew and guests. Officers and guests eat in the quarterdeck wardroom on a strict schedule. Afterward, 1 of the bosuns asked me if I wanted to go “up ’n‘ over” on the main.

“Why not?” I said.

After strapping on the security harness, a crew member refreshed my memory about “1 hand for the ship and 1 for yourself” and the “3-point rule,” meaning you should always have either 2 hands and 1 foot or both feet and 1 hand securely on the ratlines and rigging when going aloft. The crew member went ahead, and I followed, carefully at first and more confidently farther up.

At 1400, we undocked and began the voyage under power with a course of 250 degrees true out in the Pacific to pass the tip of Baja California. Winds were north-northeast at 10 to 15 knots, and crew and cadets went on a 4-hour sea schedule. My GPS sat securely in the pilothouse recording the track. The rest of the day was uneventful. I hit the rack around 2130.

At sea

Friday, 16 May At about 0900, we were running under power south of Cabo San Lucas. Winds were 20 to 25 knots from the north-northeast and seas were 6 to 8 feet. Because of the northerly wind, the captain decided to hold a westerly course and then turn and set sails. At 1400, all hands were called to “sail station.” Regular crew members and some cadets went up, while the others manned the running rigging for training. Still running under power, we had another uneventful day. I hit the rack around 2130 and slept like a baby with the rolling of the ship. I had absolutely no seasickness during the whole voyage.

Saturday, 17 May Now on a course of 305 degrees true, we had overcast skies, 10-knot northerly winds and lower temperatures that held for the rest of the voyage: lows in the 50s and highs around 68 degrees. Sail training continued for swabs and cadets. By early afternoon, the skies had cleared and winds increased to 15 to 20 knots.

The bridge officer commandeered me for a 2-hour watch on the helm. I was amazed as how easy the ship was to handle and keep on course. I spent most of the day on the bridge enjoying the nice day and sunset.

Sunday, 18 May As usual, I got up around 0600 and worked on my morning balancing act in the confined shower. The trick is to remain standing and lather up without holding on to anything. I learned to take quick showers.

Sunday brought a light routine for crew and cadets. Overcast skies developed into a thick fog around 0800, and 5-second foghorn blasts sounded every 30 seconds. You could barely see the bowsprit from the bridge. At 1045, the fog lifted, and we had blue skies the rest of the day with a beautiful sunset to top it off.

After my two-hour lookout duty on the foredeck, Lt. Cmdr. Poole barked, “Get your camera, we’ve got a surprise for you!”

She had arranged to have the ship’s nameplate on the emergency helm station removed to reveal the original engraved name Segelschulschiff Horst Wessel showing that the ship still had the original wheel from its 1936 launch. Naturally, she took a picture of me at the helm.

Monday, 19 May We were back to weekday routine with drill and instructions for cadets. At 0900, all hands were called to sail station. We set the 3 jibs, the lower 3 sails of the fore and main, and the upper and lower mizzen sails.

We were finally running only under sail. Our initial 3.5-knot speed over ground increased to 4.6 knots. After noon chow, we were again called to sail station to set the fore and main top gallant and royals, and the gaff topsail. We were now running 10 knots under full sail, a total area of 22,227 square feet.

Later, the port motor launch was lowered, and its crew took pictures from sea. What a sight! Late in the afternoon, the weather became overcast with the barometer and temperature falling. Near sunset, we furled the royals, top gallants and the top gaff sail. We sailed this way through the night.

Tuesday, 20 May We continued running under the same sail setting, while cadets and crew chipped paint, polished brass and tackled other maintenance. We had overcast skies and variable winds of 10 to 20 knots. Our speed ranged from 4 to 7 knots. With temperatures as low as 55 degrees in the early morning and only 67 during the day, I was glad to have warm clothes. At 1830, my GPS odometer showed 1,100 nautical miles traveled.

Wednesday, 21 May We were running with foresail, mainsail, lower main top sail and lower mizzen sails up, and the engine running one-third forward power. We were approximately 35 nautical miles offshore from Baja California, so I was able to use the cell phone to call home.

At 1300, all hands participated in a fire and crew member recovery drill. Cadets wore full protective gear and breathing equipment. At 1615, a fully loaded tanker passed on our starboard side and crossed our bow 1.5 nautical miles ahead by radar. Lt. Cmdr. Poole put me on another 2-hour watch on the helm.

Thursday, 22 May Our most drastic change of weather began during the night. I rolled in the rack unless I was flat on my back. Taking a shower was a different story: The shower curtain indicated the different heeling angles, and I managed by holding onto the curtain rod.

The day started with heavily overcast skies and light drizzle. Winds were northwest at 25 to 30 knots, seas were 20 to 22 feet, temperatures were in the low 60s, and the barometer held steady at 29.96. Security lines were ordered up.

At 0930, my GPS showed 1,224 nautical miles traveled, and at 1045, we received our first radio contact from U.S. Coast Guard Sector San Diego to confirm our position. At 1225, we changed course to 090 degrees for our initial approach to San Diego.

Around 1330, the weather changed to diminishing wind and clouds, and an hour later, we enjoyed sunshine and light swells. The bad weather, still visible from the fantail, slowly disappeared behind the horizon. Security lines were taken down.

At 1430, we had our first sight of land, the Coronado Islands on our starboard side. Later that afternoon, the weather changed again, bringing clouds, rain and lower temperatures for the rest of the voyage. It was time for the foul-weather gear.

Arriving in San Diego

Friday, 23 May During the night, we made several course changes to assure our scheduled arrival time. The Eagle sailed under power on several northwesterly and southeasterly legs, each about 10 nautical miles long. At 0545, it turned to course 052 degrees true. We had northwest winds, moderate swells, rain on and off, and temperatures in the 60s.

Crews got the boarding ladder ready for guests who would ride with us to the pier. Cadets were “enthusiastically” polishing the brass all over the ship. At 1125, we turned to course 352 degrees true. Shortly thereafter, parents of crew members and cadets, VIPs and other guests arrived from Coast Guard vessels to board ship for the trip to the cruise ship terminal. We docked at 1245. Total distance traveled: 1,515 nautical miles. Four officers, my cabin mate and I went ashore for a nice “after cruise” dinner. I stayed aboard 1 more night.

Saturday, 24 May After noon chow, I said goodbye, disembarked and checked in at the Holiday Inn across the street from the terminal. It was hard to let go!