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A Sea Story

(The Cadet Experience, Class of 2013) Permanent link   All Posts
 Stephen Nolan In approximately one hour, I will be departing the Academy for Thanksgiving leave. After spending the last few days tying up all the loose ends around here, I am ready to leave this place in the dust… at least for a while. I’ve been sitting here for about 10 minutes trying to think about what I want to write about, and what I can convey to you, the reader, about the Academy. What can I say to convince you to come here? As with everything in the Coast Guard, I think the best way to answer that will be with a good “sea story.”

On May 23rd of 2010, I was awoken at 2320. I was pulling the mid-watch that night on helm and lookout on the Coast Guard Barque Eagle, and I had managed to catch a few z’s between dinner and the time I had to get up. I peered up through the thick curtains that kept the light out of my rack to see who was coming down to make sure that I was awake and I got a nasty surprise. It was one of my shipmates from the earlier watch… who was wearing his rain gear. Nothing can quite approach the misery that is standing four hours of watch in the pouring rain, it is a unique feeling of resigned dread that fills your stomach when you realize that’s the type of watch you are in store for.

I dejectedly crawled out of bed and awoke my other division mates and proceeded up to the waist. A smile broke across my face when I opened the hatch… it wasn’t raining any longer. Decidedly happier, I headed up to the bridge, saluted the OOD, took my pass-down, and in short order assumed the helm. I had just gotten fully qualified the day before and it was to be my first time being in control. We split up our division as usual, four heading to the bow to stand look out, and three of us taking over the helm. I was, at the time, the only fully qualified helm-stander, so I had to remain at the helm for the entire time.

No less than five minutes after I took over, a gale blew in. My two shipmates and I struggled to hold the ship on course, throwing all our weight into holding the massive wheel in place. The rain poured down in thick sheets making it almost impossible to see the rudder-angle indicator on top of the pilothouse and the OOD had to yell instructions just to be heard. The rain was so heavy that I could barely see the mainmast, let alone the bow where the rest of my division stood. I remember checking my watch once to see how much longer I had to endure. It only read 0105 on 24 MAY 10.

Looking at that date gave me a start. One year prior I had donned a blue cap and gown and walked across the stage that had been set up in the center of my high school football field. Where were my friends who had walked across that stage with me? How many were lying in their beds; how many were working the graveyard shift for the third night in a row in order to pay off their college loans; how many were still living at home, blissfully unaware of life outside our small town? Despite the winds, despite the chilling rain, despite the bone deep weariness that settled in, I was happy for the rest of my watch. How many other people could say they were driving a three masted tall-ship in the middle of a storm one short year after graduation? How many people had gone through as much as I had in the single year since I received my diploma? The rest of the watch passed by quickly as I realized how unique of an experience I was living.

It would not be a proper sea-story if the rain hadn’t abated five minutes before I was relieved of the watch and if I didn’t say that it was the worst storm I had ever seen. So in true fashion, it did, and it was. I will say this, however: the experiences you gain here – the good and the bad – are ones that you cannot get anywhere else. As always please feel free to email me if you have any questions about the Academy or about anything in general.

As always:
Semper P.
3/c Stephen Nolan
Stephen.T.Nolan@uscga.edu

More about Stephen.