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New London — Under crystal blue skies, the Coast Guard barque Eagle returned to New London early Friday morning and moored at City Pier after three months of cadet training.
It’s a sight that will soon become increasingly rare, as the Eagle will undergo a “service-life extension” starting in September and continuing for the next four years.
Capt. Raymond “Wes” Pulver, the Eagle’s commanding officer, said the ship will be in the city for 2½ weeks before it leaves to participate in the Gloucester Schooner Festival and then sail to Yorktown, Va., and finally to Baltimore with the fall officer candidate classes. While in Baltimore, the Eagle will participate in the 200th anniversary of Francis Scott Key’s writing of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
“We are glad to be home,” Pulver said. “The City Pier is so accessible to everybody, and we encourage everyone to visit because right now it looks like we will only be here for four or five days next year before the next round of training begins.”
While in Baltimore, the Eagle will undergo extensive maintenance work to extend the barque’s service life. The Eagle will spend half the year at the Coast Guard Yard in Baltimore and the other half at sea. The last time it went through an overhaul was from 1978 to 1982, Pulver said.
The Eagle will be in dry dock for six months. Among the work to be done is the removal of 310 tons of ballast so that the hull can be inspected, Pulver said.
Earlier this year, the Eagle’s homeport, for administrative reasons, was temporarily moved from New London to Baltimore.
“This is still home to us,” Pulver said, referring to New London.
During the summer training, the Eagle visited nine ports, some of which were in the Caribbean and Canada.
“It was an extraordinary summer,” Pulver said. “I’m so impressed with cadets and crew. They exceeded my expectations.”
The last two weeks of training were dedicated to the swabs, or new students. The class of about 256 students was divided in half.
Second Class Cadets Andrew Scheffery and Christian Dibari, who served as mentors to the swabs while on the Eagle, said they aren’t expected to learn the terminology and techniques immediately, but the week-long session is designed to give them a crash course on what life at sea is like.
The environment on the boat is also less tense than it would be at the academy.
“It’s more of an encouraging environment,” Scheffery said. “It could become a hazard if they are scared or tense while out at sea.”
Swabs Kenneth Mouleka and Stephane Meboung M’ekeka are the first cadets to attend the Coast Guard Academy from the West African nation of Gabon.
The pair met two years ago while in boot camp in Gabon, whose Coast Guard equivalent is part of the Navy. They said the country wants to build the Coast Guard as its own standing force and is recruiting members of its armed forces to attend the Coast Guard Academy to learn necessary skills.
Mouleka, 20, is a member of his country’s Air Force, while Meboung M’ekeka is a member of the Army.
The swab summer has been difficult on both, but they are managing. They said they are learning everything from how to make proper knots and respond to an onboard fire emergency to how to quickly put on their “gumby” suits, or water survival suits.
“While on watch, I learned that there is a lot of attention to detail. ... Everything has its relevance,” said Mouleka.
Meboung M’ekeka said he was forced to overcome his fear of heights when he trained to climb 45 feet of rigging.
“It was definitely challenging, and I think I conquered that fear,” he said.
Rear Admiral Sandra L. Stosz, the academy superintendent, joined the crew last Sunday. She called the swabs a “moving mass of energy.”
She said the young men and women are finally beginning to realize that the rigorous physical training they undergo at the academy is necessary because life on a ship is difficult and exhausting, and they need to be in great shape.
She said as a young cadet, her time on the Eagle was a turning point and solidified her decision to pursue a long-term career at the Coast Guard.
“I’m inspired by them,” she said. “These people want to serve their nation, and give their very best.”