USS (USCGC Barque) Eagle
By: Bill Michaels
USCGC EAGLE History
First off, let me correct the kit's most glaring error: labeling
the kit as "USS Eagle". This is, of course, a model of the US Coast Guard Cutter
Eagle-the box should say "USCGC EAGLE". (To Coast Guardsmen, this is a gaffe
as bad as calling a US Marine fighter an "Army plane".
The Eagle was one of five sister ships, built by Nazi Germany in the mid 1930s. The Horst Wessel served as a training ship for the German Navy before the war, and then was used as a transport in the Baltic during the war. She was seized as a war prize at the end of the war, the US Coast Guard christened her "Eagle", and with a mixed crew of USCG and German personnel, sailed her to the US in 1946.
Since 1946, Eagle has served as the training ship for the US Coast Guard Academy in New London, CT. (The USCG Academy is similar in many ways to the US Naval Academy, but with a student body about one fourth the size.) Every Academy cadet will spend at least 6 weeks at sea during summer training cruises aboard Eagle. (I was lucky enough to spend a total of 15 weeks aboard Eagle during my 4 years at the Academy.)
The Eagle has a riveted steel hull, with welded steel masts and yards. The steel decks are covered with a layer of teak planking. The standing rigging is wire rope, while the running rigging is the traditional rope. Eagle is rigged as a bark (or barque), which means she has square sails on the fore and main masts, but only fore-and-aft sails on the mizzen. (A "ship rigged" vessel would have square sails on all masts.)
In the following 55 years, some changes have taken place. The original boat stowage amidships has been replaced with stowage for modern inflatable liferafts. An enclosed pilothouse was added at the front of the bridge, to protect the radar, radios, and other electronics from the weather. In German service, the mizzen's large spanker sail was two piece, to make it easier to handle. It was later changed to one large sail. In the last ten years or so, the sail has been changed back to the two piece sail. (The kit has the two-piece sail.) Also added in the 1970s were davits with standard USCG 26 foot motor surf boats (MSBs), replacing the oar-powered boats carried on the quarterdeck. In 1967, the Coast Guard added the "Coast Guard" and read and blue stripes to the hulls of all cutters, including Eagle.
I understand that this model was originally released as an Imai kit, and was a waterline model. Imai had a series of modern tall ships in 1/350 scale, all waterline models. Minicraft later acquired the molds, and re-released a number of ships from the line. When the kit was released, Minicraft made three improvements: (1) Added a separate lower hull molding, (2) Included modern USCG decals, and (3) cut the retail price almost in half. When this kit first appeared on the shelves of my local hobby shop in 1997, you could sometimes still find the Imai waterline version of the kit for $20. The Minicraft version of the kit (in the box with the wrong name, and an optional full hull) sold for $10.
The model basically represents the Eagle as she appears today, which makes it the best of the Eagle kits, IMO. Revell produced a kit in 1/253 scale of Eagle, which has been around since the mid-1950s. The Revell kit is a model of Eagle from that era, though I suspect it isn't totally accurate for that time period either. The Revell kit does not include a pilothouse, has the infamous molded on railings. In the early 1980s, Revell released the kit with modern USCG markings ("COAST GUARD" and the USCG stripe.)
The kit consists of about 65 plastic molded parts, molded in various colors. Also included are two sheets of vacuum-formed sails. Portholes are a little oversize, perhaps, and are molded as shallow holes. They are round, with good edges, and in a straight line. The Eagle has a couple of pronounced raised rubrails along the hull, and these are reproduced in the model's upper hull. The lower hull has no molded detail at all, but that is probably better than overdone plating lines as found in some kits in this scale.
My copy of the kit has fairly clean moldings- no signs of mold mis-alignment, and very little flash. The model is molded in several colors, to minimize painting. The hull and decks are in white, with the masts and spars in a medium brown. The lower hull is molded in bright green. There is several feet of a fine brown thread for use in rigging. A display base with nice wood grain is molded in black, and there are a pair of chrome pedestals to go with it.
The decks have fine recessed lines engraved to simulate the planking. The inclined ladders (stairways, to you land lubbers) are molded as part of the main deck. The yards have the right overall shape, but are a little over scale. (The topmasts and upper yards would be too fragile if molded in scale, I suspect.)
There are no railings molded in, which is a good move in this scale. Generic 3-bar photo-etch railings could be used to add this detail. I estimate you'd need about 16 inches of railing material. There also are no ratlines included in the kit-this is another area where photo-etched brass would be a good solution.
Probably the worst detail of the model is the boats and davits. Eagle carries 26 foot long motor surfboats, the same boat used on all larger USCG Cutters. The kit's boats look more like a ship's longboat from the 1800s. Also, the davits are simple "J" davits, which is completely wrong as well. Nobody makes an MSB in this (or any) scale, so scratch-building is the only way to get an accurate boat. If you don't want to scratchbuild, then I'd suggest going with a 26 foot USN motor whaleboat. Remove the canvas screens, make the ends a little more blunt with some putty, and use standard Navy destroyer-type davits, and you've made a big improvement.
The instructions are copyrighted 1997. There are nine major assembly steps. The instructions are primarily pictorial, with a few captions in English. There is very limited rigging instructions- only major elements of the standing rigging are included. The use of the light plastic vacuum formed sails is the optional last step, but there is no running rigging instructions at all. Simple representations of the sheets for the fore-and-aft sails and braces for the square sails are shown in the photos of the completed model.
The only color information is a single statement: "Paint decks tan. See box photos for detail colors." The box sides have four color photos of the model to show colors and decal placement. Too bad the colors used in the photos are wrong in a couple of key areas. For example, the lower hull should be anti-fouling red, not green. The masts and yards should be USCG "spar" in color, not brown. The deck fittings should be spar incolor, not red or orange.
The kit provides decals for the modern version of the Eagle, as shown on the box. They consist of the hull stripes and "Coast Guard" lettering, and the ship's name for the the stern. The decals look pretty good, but maybe a bit thick. The different colors are properly registered. The USCG Shield is part of the red stripe, and is the worst looking of the lot. Still, it isn't bad-it is only 3/16 of an inch in size, and reminds me of the not-too-detailed squadron badges you get in many airplane kits. I'm sure that an aftermarket decal outfit could do a better job here, but what are the chances such a sheet will ever be produced?
Recommended. Minicraft's 1/350 scale series of tall ships are nice little models. There's nothing more complicated than a tall ship, and these kits do a decent job of capturing the essence of them in a common scale. The fact that they are in 1/350 scale means that there are warship detail parts, such as railings and ladders, to dress them up if desired. (At 295 feet LOA, Eagle is about the size of a Destroyer Escort.) I only wish that someone would do a generic tall ship detail set, with ratlines and other rigging pieces……
This particular kit is a good representation of Eagle as she appears today, more detailed than the 1/600 scale Heller kit, and much more accurate than the old Revell molding. The kit's main shortcoming is the poor rigging and painting instructions, which can be addressed by looking at some photos.
Review courtesy of me and my wallet.
If you're interested in US Coast Guard models, check out my list of USCG Model Kits
US Coast Guard website
EAGLE, America's Sailing Square Rigger, by George Putz. Globe-Pequot Press, 1986.
Copyright © SMML 2003