A day in the life of the young man and the sea

Cadets climb the rigging Saturday while dousing the sails aboard the USCGC Eagle during the Grand Parade of Sail in Boston.
Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff
Cadets climb the rigging Saturday while dousing the sails aboard the USCGC Eagle during the Grand Parade of Sail in Boston.

OUT AT SEA — Never much cared for the ocean. Never really trusted it. As anyone who’s seen the 1975 film “Jaws” — which is about a shark that’s trying to bite the actor Richard Dreyfuss — can attest, it’s a cold, dark place, filled with all sorts of unseemly hazards.

Tsunamis. Stingrays. Torpedoes. Add in the near-constant threat of a pirate attack, and, well, the ocean is like an aquatic house of horrors.

So when I was assigned to board the USCGC Eagle on Saturday morning as part of Sail Boston’s Grand Parade of Sail, I recoiled. What kind of a crazy person would want to spend a perfectly good Saturday morning on an old ship?


But because I’m a team player, I found myself rising at 4 a.m. for what was sure to be a dreadful day.

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Yes, I would head out to sea and document the experience, putting myself at extreme risk in the name of journalism.

But I wasn’t going to like it.

4:45 a.m. — I arrive at Charlestown Navy Yard and make my way through the various levels of security. The morning is foggy. And cold. Sailing is the worst.

5:00 a.m. — Me and 60 or so other guests board the boat. The first thing I notice is how small it is. “Look at this tiny boat,” I say to myself. “Tall Ships? More like Small Ships.” I chuckle at that one, then write it down in my notebook so I remember to use it in my story.


(I later discover that this is just the boat that will be taking us out to the actual tall ship, but I stand by my original statements.)

5:50 a.m. — It’s still cold. And wet. Behind me, an elderly couple asks if there’s going to be seating on the ship. I roll my eyes. If we get hit by pirates, these two are gonna be in real trouble.

6:45 a.m. — After an hour or so, an even smaller boat arrives to carry us over to the CGC Eagle.

8:05 a.m. — We’re finally aboard the Eagle, which I guess is pretty tall, relatively speaking. Immediately, I set out to find the captain, to make sure there are enough lifeboats for everyone on board.

8:14 a.m. — I stroll around the boat to check things out. It’s packed with Coast Guard members and cadets, about 220 in all. They wear cool boots and have shirts with name patches. They use a lot of boat words I don’t understand.


8:30 a.m. — I eat a quick breakfast in the cabin. Out at sea, it’s important to stay alert. The moment you lose focus out here is the moment you find yourself face-to-face with an armed desperado, right out of Pirates of the Carribbean, trying to tell you who is and isn’t the captain.

8:57 a.m. — The fog — so thick that it has caused a one-hour delay in the parade — is slowly lifting, revealing a harbor filled with extravagant boats. Or as I like to call them, “threats.” I patrol the boat deck, doing my bit to keep us all safe.

9:10 a.m. — I finally find Captain Matt Meilstrup. He speaks very passionately about the ship using words I don’t understand. He also calls the CGC Eagle a “national treasure.” I ask him if he ever gets nervous, driving such a storied ship: “I tell myself every time we come into a pier, ‘Don’t do anything to mess up the Eagle.”

I let him know that I’m prepared to steer the ship if the need arises.

10:14 a.m. — It’s almost time to sail. With the work of more than a hundred crew members, the sails gradually take shape — a sight that, I have to admit, is pretty enjoyable. Life at sea is still dumb, obviously. But maybe not as much as I thought.

10:54 a.m. — And we’re off. I’m officially a sailor.

11:08 a.m. — Oh, sorry. Can’t talk right now. Because I’m STEERING THE SHIP! True, technically, about six Coast Guard members are doing the actual steering. But the captain let me put my hand on the wheel. And I’ll tell you what: Out here on the open sea, with the wind in my hair and the saltwater breeze on my face, I feel alive.

11:15 a.m. — Update: I love the sea now.

11:45 a.m. — We’re approaching the harbor. Up ahead is the Boston skyline. To the right is Charlestown Navy Yard. I don’t want it to end.

12:09 p.m. — As we pull in, a massive crowd is cheering, and the ship’s crew is standing on the deck, soaking it all up. I consider pointing out that the cheers are actually for the people who did the hard labor, like steering the boat. But, in my self-effacing way, I let the Coast Guard folks have their moment.

12:35 p.m. — I’m back on land. But I feel strange. I was at sea for a long time. A long time. Building a bond with my crewmates that will probably last a lifetime.

Did the sea change me? I wonder, as I taxi home. Tough to say. But it’s in me now. It’s in my blood.

Back in my apartment, I draw a bath. Then I get in.

Just to remember.

The 295-foot US Coast Guard Cutter Eagle nosed through a light mist and into Boston Harbor late Saturday morning. Click and drag to check out the vessel:

‘This is the spirit of Boston’ — crowds rejoice as majestic tall ships sail into harbor

Dugan Arnett can be reached at