Story and illustrations by Petty Officer Second Class Cory Mendenhall
The distinct double-masted silhouette of a schooner materializes in the fog outside the Berkeley Marina. The wooden boat, paradoxically modest and majestic, sails into the San Francisco Bay with Coast Guard Auxiliary Patrol banners hanging from the lifelines.
At the helm is Nancy Schimmelman, a Coast Guard auxiliarist and owner of the 48-foot schooner Gloriana.
Even on the heavily trafficked waters of the San Francisco Bay, Gloriana stands out. Designed after the heralded naval architect Nathaniel Herreshoff’s original yacht Gloriana and launched in 1949, Schimmelman’s Gloriana is the quintessential American schooner.
Crewing for Schimmelman on this Sunday patrol are auxiliarists Gwen Hammer, Cheryl Warner, Terry Blanchard and Gary Kaplan – a group with more than 100 years of combined Auxiliary membership and maritime experience.
With dock lines and fenders secured, the crew heads out into the open bay with Hammer maintaining a foredeck lookout.
Patrolling by sail, while not commonplace today, is nothing new to the Coast Guard.
Short of escort and patrol vessels during World War II, the Coast Guard launched a major recruitment initiative to enlist civilians, along with their vessels, into the Auxiliary and the Temporary Reserve.
These dedicated civilians patrolled harbors, coastlines and offshore aboard their own vessels, power and sail, reporting enemy submarines and aiding mariners in distress. They became known by several names, including the Corsair Fleet and the Coastal Picket Force, and occupy a revered place in Coast Guard history.
As the fog burns off, the winds pick up and the crew reefs the mainsail, reducing the sail area as a safety precaution.
Although power boats have edged sailing vessels out of the operational spotlight, sail can still prove advantageous in the execution of certain missions.
“Each type of vessel has its place,” said Schimmelman. “For prolonged observation, chart updates, aids-to-navigation checks or member training patrols, sailing offers advantages including lower fuel consumption and lower operational expense.”
While Schimmelman’s crew is not patrolling in search of enemy submarines, auxiliarists continue to be the local eyes and ears of the Coast Guard, augmenting the work of active-duty station crews.
“We look for many different things on patrol,” said Warner. “We look for distressed boaters, we look for any issues with aids-to-navigation channel markers and day shapes. We look for any reportable debris. We look for anything out of the ordinary or suspicious.”
With the aids to navigation along their patrol confirmed to be on station, Gloriana’s crew tacks, swinging the schooner’s bowsprit back toward Berkeley.
There are benefits to sailing that can be hard to quantify. The coordination, trust and teamwork required to operate a sailboat complement the Coast Guard’s core values. In addition to fostering qualities of character, sailing hones practical skills.
“Crew who learn to use the wind and handle sheets and lines while sailing do better operating power vessels,” said Schimmelman. “They also do better with knots once they see why and how they’re used aboard a sailing vessel.”
The Coast Guard has long recognized the benefits of sail craft as learning platforms, evident in the training of officers aboard Coast Guard Cutter Eagle. Before Eagle, there was the training ship Danmark, the schooner Atlantic and several other sailing vessels used by the Coast Guard as classrooms on the seas.
For all of its practical benefits, there is also an indefinable lure and lore to sailing that drives many to take to the water under billowing sails instead of rumbling engines.
“When sailing, you really get to enjoy the experience of being on the water,” said Warner. “The quiet is like nothing else. There is a real sense of freedom.”
Just outside the Berkeley Marina breakwater, the crew furls the jib and drops the large mainsail. Gloriana and her crew glide past many newer boats at the docks, perhaps superior in comfort and technology, but certainly not charm.
The crew secures the lines, debriefs and disembarks Gloriana with the same dedication and quiet dignity of those who came before, continuing a proud tradition of service under sail.