What’s the story behind this ‘tall ship’ with 23 sails? Take a look during a Key West stop

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The ship stands out wherever it goes.

But in tiny Key West, when the 295-foot U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Eagle — dubbed “America’s Tall Ship” — arrived this week at Mallory Square, the giant vessel seemed to reign over the island’s waterfront.

The size alone stopped passersby in their tracks to check out the barque, which means it has three masts and is square-rigged. Free tours of the majestic tall ship, built in 1936, are available to the public on Saturday and Sunday, June 25-26.

You can walk across the teak wood decks, marvel at the vast sails and rigging, and take in the view of the ocean at Mallory Square, where people celebrate the sunset every evening.

Military, both active and retired, along with first responders may tour the Eagle from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. both days. The public is welcome from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. No reservation is needed.

It’s worth your time, locals say.

“It was a once in a lifetime opportunity,” said Abe Conn, of Sugarloaf Key, who retired from the Army after a 30-year career as a colonel. He was on the Eagle at 5 a.m. Thursday as the ship came to shore.

The Coast Guard took a group of guests offshore to board the Eagle where she was anchored, Conn said.

The Eagle is the only active-duty sailing vessel in the U.S. military and the largest tall ship flying the American flag, with 23 sails, a total sail area of 22,227 square feet. Its tallest mast stands at 150 feet, about the size of a 15-story building, the Coast Guard said.

The Eagle on Friday was the backdrop for a change of command ceremony at Mallory Square. Capt. Jessica Rozzi-Ochs was named commanding officer of the Eagle, succeeding Capt. Michael Turdo.

Rozzi-Ochs is the 30th skipper of the Eagle and the first woman to take the helm.

“Thank you for your inspiration and mentorship and for sharing your advice and guidance as I embark on this incredible journey,” Rozzi-Ochs said to commanders who came before her.

The Eagle is scheduled to depart Key West on Monday. Next stop is Hamilton, Bermuda, and then back to its home port of New London, Connecticut.

What’s the Eagle’s story?

The ship was built in Germany in 1936 and commissioned as Horst Wessel the same year, according to the Coast Guard Academy website. It was one of three sail-training ships run by the German navy before World War II. But the U.S. later took the ship as a reparation during the end of the war and christened it the Eagle.

In 1946, a Coast Guard crew, helped by German crew members still on board, sailed the tall ship from Bremerhaven to New London, Connecticut, which has been its home port since.

“The Eagle returned to Brermerhaven for the first time since World War II in the summer of 2005, to an enthusiastic welcome,” according to the Coast Guard’s program for Friday’s change of command ceremony.

With a steel hull and two full-length steel decks, the Eagle represents “centuries of development in the shipbuilder’s art,” the Coast Guard says.

The public can tour the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Eagle, known as “America’s Tall Ship,” on June 25 and 26, 2022, in Key West.
The public can tour the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Eagle, known as “America’s Tall Ship,” on June 25 and 26, 2022, in Key West.

What is the Eagle used for?

The Coast Guard trains cadets and officer candidates on the Eagle.

A crew of eight officers and 50 enlisted personnel handle the ship all year. As many as 150 cadets and officer candidates can be trained at one time, each expected to learn to operate more than 200 lines that control the sails.

But the ship is also considered the flagship of the maritime branch of the armed forces. It’s a floating public relations tool with a full schedule of domestic calls, where the public is invited to take tours. The Eagle also travels to other countries as “goodwill ambassador for U.S. diplomatic relations,” the Coast Guard said.

Presidents John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon and Harry S. Truman have spent time aboard the Eagle.

How can I learn more about the Eagle?

The Coast Guard Academy’s website has several pages detailing the Eagle’s history and present-day mission and the tall ship has an active Facebook page along with its own Instagram account.

At 295 feet long, the Eagle is the largest tall ship flying the stars and stripes, the U.S. Coast Guard said.
At 295 feet long, the Eagle is the largest tall ship flying the stars and stripes, the U.S. Coast Guard said.

The Eagle has posted a video of Friday’s change of command ceremony in Key West on its Facebook page and shares port calls and photos of events.

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