Thursday, August 07, 2008

How to Lower the Sails on a Tall Ship

Aboard the Tall Ship USCG Eagle

USCG Eagle

Aboard the Tall Ship USCG Eagle

Aboard the Tall Ship USCG Eagle

If you've ever read a book by Joseph Conrad, Herman Melville, or Patrick O'Brien, you've probably read a description of the process used to raise and lower the sails on old sailing ships. Here's the summary version: Sailors climb the masts, hold on tight, and furl the sails by hand.

Reading about that is one thing, but seeing it is quite another. I recently had the chance to tour the USCG Eagle, U.S. Coast Guard's three-masted tall ship, which is now used to train cadets. I happened to be there while the Eagle's sails were being lowered and it was kind of insane to see; dozens of cadets climbed 100 feet up the masts, while dangling off the spars from wispy ropes. It was nerve-wracking to watch even while we were dockside on a calm and sunny day in San Francisco, but the thought of trying to do all that on a stormy sea was almost unthinkable.

I wrote more about my visit to the Eagle here, and there are lots more photos from the adventure here.