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Tall Ships event brings Coast Guard cadets back to Boston — the home port for some

The US Coast Guard Cutter Eagle sails into Boston Harbor today. (David P. Coleman/AP) The US Coast Guard Cutter Eagle sails into Boston Harbor today.
By Joseph P. Kahn
Globe Staff / June 30, 2012
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For crew members aboard the US Coast Guard Cutter Eagle, like Ensign Joseph Della Rosa and Cadet 1st Class Corrine Hartwell, it’s more than a ship. Eagle is where they live and work. It’s their classroom, dormitory, mess hall, and tour boat, their home away from home. And when you hail from Massachusetts, as Della Rosa and Hartwell do, that makes any Hub homecoming, like the one they’re about to have Saturday when the Eagle sails into Boston, a big deal.

“Boston is going to be a lot of fun,” says Della Rosa, 30, a Needham High School graduate who has family members living in Belmont and Medfield. “I’m definitely looking forward to it. I’ve never seen [Boston] coming in from the ocean before.”

Della Rosa hopes to be manning the conning tower when Eagle cruises into Boston Harbor. Nice perch, if you can get it.

To anyone who has watched the cutter glide into port — sails puffed, decks gleaming, crew members waving from her rigging — the Eagle is a majestic sight. Built in 1936, Eagle is a 295-foot-long, three-masted barque often referred to as America’s Tall Ship. The country’s only active duty square-rigger, it carries a standing crew of six officers and 55 enlistees, a total that nearly triples during summertime training missions and for ceremonial visits like OpSail 2012, which brings the Eagle to Boston June 30 for a six-day stay.

Eagle draws oohs and aahs wherever it goes. And it gets around, too, spending parts of each year in European waters, the Caribbean, or other foreign ports of call.

Anticipating the OpSail arrival here, Cadet 1st Class Corrine Hartwell, 21, a Framingham High alum, began e-mailing friends and family members weeks ago, inviting them aboard for a personally guided tour. Her father, a Natick firefighter, plans to meet the ship in New York, a few days before it reaches Boston. There, like many family members, he’ll be ferried out to the Eagle, then sail in with the crew to what promises to be an enthusiastic reception. Hartwell expects a similar scene when Eagle lands here.

“Coming home to Boston is definitely special for me,” says Hartwell, on her second rotation aboard the Eagle.

For Hartwell, serving in a Coast Guard that is nearly 30 percent female is another source of pride. Hartwell is studying to become a mechanical engineer and expects to graduate from the academy next spring. After that, she hopes to use Spanish-language skills in her future Guard assignments, wherever they take her.

“I wouldn't trade this [experience] for anything in the world,” Hartwell says.

Each of the four Massachusetts natives assigned to the ship — one will be redeployed by month’s end — has a different story to tell about living and working there. Yet they all speak with pride about serving on a vessel so antiquated and yet so modern, a pride they happily share with family members, friends, and ship-lovers around the globe.

Cadet 1st Class Emily Morrow, 23, who grew up in Wilbraham, serves as second in command of the 150 underclassmen aboard Eagle this summer. Reflecting on her decision to join the Coast Guard, she recalls how her father, a Springfield police officer, and mother, a hair salon owner, took her to Falmouth for summer vacations. It was there, she says, that she first observed Coast Guard training maneuvers and began thinking of herself as a future cadet.

After spending two years at a New Mexico military school, Morrow enrolled in the Coast Guard Academy, from which she will graduate next spring.

“People always seem to be awestruck by the ship and crew,’’ she says. “We were in Mexico two years ago, and they treated us like rock stars. It was pretty cool.”

The Morrow family history with the Eagle is unusual, if not unique. Timothy Morrow, Emily’s dad, first toured the ship when it sailed into Boston for the 1976 tall ships parade. And his father spent time on the Eagle decades ago, in Puerto Rico. In 2009, the Morrows joined Emily aboard the ship over the Christmas holidays, bringing Chinese food to feed the crew. If anyone qualifies as honorary crew members, they just might.

“Without planning it, Eagle has been in our lives several times,” notes Tim Morrow, who tracks the ship’s progress via a website, and keeps family updated on Eagle whereabouts through Facebook.

Machinery technician Jonathan DeHart will not be waving from the rigging in Boston Harbor; in mid-June, he shipped out to join a patrol boat crew in Corpus Christi, Texas. However, the 34-year old Amesbury resident expects family members to visit the Eagle here. For now, his wife and two young children live in New London, Conn., Eagle’s home port. DeHart joined the crew two years ago and has led an engineering team responsible for maintaining Eagle’s auxiliary equipment (air conditioning, sewage, water, etc.)

“It’s rare to have a Coast Guard ship capable of moving with its engines off,” says DeHart. The sailing aspect “can be pretty entertaining, too,” he adds. “You might be in 15- to 20-foot seas, with winds blowing 40 to 50 miles per hour, in which case you might see a lot of green faces.”

The toughest part of the job, according to DeHart, is being away from family for 270 days a year. “It’s a tough pill to swallow,” he admits. “But they get through it.”

Ensign Joseph Della Rosa spent seven years with the Coast Guard before enrolling in officer’s candidate school. Aboard Eagle, whose crew he joined last June, he serves as assistant navigator, morale officer, and deck watch officer in training.

While work days at sea often run 16-20 hours, says Della Rosa, in-port schedules tend to be more relaxed, even with a heavy schedule of media visits and public tours. He is especially looking forward to reuniting with his uncle, Michael Cicalese, a retired Coast Guard captain. Cicalese runs the Mariners House in Boston, an inn that provides low-cost room and board to seafarers and their families.

It was Cicalese who steered Della Rosa towards a Coast Guard career, making this reunion particularly poignant. “Joe’s a great success story for our family,” Cicalese says. “He’s made us proud. More importantly, he’s made himself proud.”

Joseph P. Kahn can be reached at jkahn@globe.com.

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