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Learning from the Sea Itself

(Choosing the Coast Guard Academy, Overcoming Challenges, Class of 2015) Permanent link
Driscoll Photo Life could be worse, right? After all, how many people get to say that they’ve sailed on a tall ship during OpSail 2012. My Eagle experience was amazing! I love being underway, with friends and shipmates, and with lots to do.

 

One hundred fifty of my closest friends and I traveled down from New London to Baltimore, Maryland, by bus to board Eagle. And after only one day in port, we sailed forth from Baltimore. In fact, the only times we turned on the engine between Baltimore and Boston were transiting the Chesapeake Bay and entering Boston Harbor. Within a few days of leaving the Chesapeake Bay behind, I remembered what I’d forgotten to pack: my sea-legs. Unfortunately, I get seasick, but I recovered well by staying busy and eating more. (Believe it or not, saltine crackers are good at keeping your stomach full, but not full enough to puke!) Another must-have essential for sea is sunscreen—and aloe when you forget/choose not to wear it. By the time we had reached Boston, I had steered the ship several times, learned all 193 pins on Eagle and what lines they hold, and knew exponentially more about sailing. Not all of my training was above decks, however. I spent a week in the engine room learning about the different systems aboard, how compartments are numbered, and how the engine works. After engineering week, I transferred to support week, working for the cooks and assorted staff. That week was long and rough—Eagle produces thousands of dishes, and is the home to thousands of dust microbes, which all need to be cleaned daily. I was glad to reach Boston.

 

Being in Boston for the Fourth of July in uniform was eye-opening. I’d never thought about how our country came into being, or what I was serving before walking the Freedom Trail. All the historic sites were fascinating and informative. On July 4th, we awed Boston by getting underway with “Old Ironsides,” the USS Constitution. We sailed around Boston Harbor and exchanged 21-gun salutes with various ships and installations around the waterfront. My favorite part of the entire evolution was manning the yards: select cadets got to climb on TOP of the yards (the horizontal beams that the sails hang from) while underway in the harbor. It was terrifying, especially when I wasn’t clipped in with my safety harness, but I ended up enjoying it immensely. I had a lot of fun doing that! I was sad to leave Boston, but we had to sprint to New London for CAPT Jones’ change of command ceremony.

 

I didn’t realize how much work went into a change of command ceremony, but a lot of effort is involved. I think we ended up cleaning the entire ship—it felt like we were cleaning it with a toothbrush! At least the ceremony went smoothly and we got underway for the last leg to Halifax. For me, that was the best part, because we knew that we’d be done in a few days. Even better was the fact that I wasn’t on support week anymore! From New London to Halifax, I mainly concentrated on achieving a Quartermaster of the Watch qualification. The QMOW, as that position is known, helps the conning officer and the officer of the deck with the safe navigation by maintaining the necessary logs, plotting our position, course, and speed of advance on the chart, and providing recommendations for courses. Being a QMOW is a lot of work, but I loved the extra opportunity to be on the bridge. The hardest part of working to get this qualification was the fact that I would lose sleep, because there is no extra time in your Eagle schedule to work on qualifications. (A side note here: break-ins work a one-in-three schedule, which translates to four hours on, six or eight hours off, four on, six or eight off, etc.) But one of my favorite teachers, LT Jody Maisano, motivated me to get qualified. I managed to get all my signoffs and take a board the last day possible—the last day underway, before we moored in Halifax!

 

After all my fun adventures on Eagle, and being with all my friends, I finally got some time to relax and be with my family. The three weeks of leave cadets get at the end of each summer is worth it, and I have made the most of it. This summer has been eye-opening in many ways. First, I reaffirmed for myself why I want to be in the Coast Guard. It’s not about being an officer—it’s about helping others; “Always Ready” means so much more now. Secondly, I learned from those whom my classmates and I will be leading in a few short years—learning, and leadership, goes both ways, and pays no attention to what you have on your shoulders. Thirdly, going to sea is fulfilling. I might lack sea-legs at first, but that is a simple obstacle to overcome. It’s hard to describe, but underway, I feel relaxed and happy, even at the end of a twenty-hour day! Sometimes, it is a good thing to get away from everything. In my career, I will go to sea gladly until I don’t feel relaxed underway. And I hope, and believe, that day will never come! Now, when I return to the Academy in mid-August, I will be ready for the challenges of 3/c year: new 4/c to mentor, classes, sports, life in general. I can’t wait: for the new school year, for crew, for cadre summer!

 

(Email me at Peter.M.Driscoll@uscga.edu if you have any questions or comments. It’s great to hear from readers!)

 



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