PORTSMOUTH — “America’s Tall Ship” is in Portsmouth this weekend for people to tour for free.
The United States Coast Guard Cutter (USCGC) Eagle was built in 1936. It was originally operated by Nazi Germany to train cadets for the German Navy and was taken by the United States as a war reparation at the end of World War II.
Officer Aaron Overheim explained on Friday that when the United States military took over the ship, which was named Horst Wessel at the time, they had to test it to make sure it was seaworthy. Then they had to figure out a way to get it back home.
Close to 50 Germans served as crew members on the voyage back to America, including the ship’s former captain.
Since that time, the Eagle’s primary mission has been to train future officers of the U.S. Coast Guard. She is deployed each summer with cadets on board as part of the Academy curriculum.
Lt. David Radin explained this year’s training.
“This summer, we were over in Europe since April. We toured around eight different countries in Northern Europe, England, Norway, Denmark, Germany, Belgium, France, the Netherlands and back across to Portugal and Bermuda,” Radin said.
This is the ship’s second stop back in the United States. It will be in Salem, Mass., and New York City next.
The Eagle’s secondary mission is to act as a teaching vessel, representing the U.S. Coast Guard in America and throughout the international community.
“Going to Europe is interesting. This year was special because it was the 75th anniversary of D-Day and that was the lynchpin of our tour over there, kind of celebrating all of the sacrifices made on both sides during that war,” Radin said.
Radin said it is especially special going to Germany because they moor at one of the bases where the Eagle would have been located during the war.
“The German public was very receptive, and we love to have them on board. We bring them all on board just like we do here,” Radin said.
Capt. Michael Turdo just took command of the ship. He was the executive officer on the Eagle from 2011 to 2013.
“It’s an honor and privilege to be the current caretaker of such a historic vessel and to have the opportunity to train the future officer corps,” Turdo said.
Turdo said a tall ship is an excellent opportunity for new Coast Guard members to learn about teamwork.
“We can’t sail this ship alone. It requires 100 people, so there’s team-building skills, there’s leadership skills. This is an opportunity to hone that,” Turdo said.
The Eagle is in Portsmouth as part of Sail Portsmouth, an annual event hosted by the Piscataqua Maritime Commission.
When she pulled into Portsmouth during the Parade of Sail on Thursday night, thousands of people cheered.
Lt. William Mendenhall said on Friday that when the Eagle was in Portsmouth in 2013, they saw about 11,000 people over the weekend.
Free tours of the Eagle run from 10 to 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. Military members and first responders can get on at 9 a.m.
The Eagle is located in Portsmouth at the State Pier, also known as the Port Authority, on Market Street.