It seems the term “Tall Ship” must have come from John Masefield’s poem, Sea Fever. My sea-faring Dad quoted that poem to me a hundred times, but he never sailed in a Tall Ship. Still, as a seafarer, he too felt the romance that whistled with the wind in the rigging.
“I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky / And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by / And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking / And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.”
We crossed the brow of the U.S. Coast Guard Barque Eagle. She was tied up on the pier, in Baltimore ‘s Inner Harbor last month. My wife, a retired Navy captain, and her cousin, a nuclear submarine officer of 30 years, accompanied me as we toured this 1936 vessel. I was surprised to see a photo of a buoyant Harry Truman, his hat back on his head like a cowboy’s, as he manned the helm of this captured German sail training ship in 1946. He had the year before announced V-E Day in Europe, his own 61st birthday. For nautical FDR to be shown steering a sailing vessel would not have been a surprise. But for mule-driving Harry, the Missouri National Guard artillery captain of World War I, it was unexpected.
The last time I visited the Eagle, she was all torn apart in the Coast Guard Yard at Curtis Bay, Maryland. Several years ago, Capt. Phil Sullivan took me through the ship as she was undergoing a major overhaul. I saw the boilerplate in the engine room (yes, great sailing ships still have engines). It indicated the vessel was really a Wessel. Her original name was Horst Wessel. That was the name of a Nazi thug and brawler who was killed in a street fight. The Nazi’s anthem was “The Horst Wessel Song” and if you’ve seen Cabaret or any one of hundreds of programs on the Hitler Channel, you’ve heard it.
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