WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) -- A tall ship is apparently too tall for Downtown Wilmington. The Coast Guard Cutter Barque Eagle was scheduled to sail in to town Friday and dock at the riverfront, but it's height has organizers scrambling for a back-up plan for visitors.
The three masts of the CGC Barque Eagle are no match for the mighty Cape Fear Memorial Bridge. Fully extended the masts are too high to dock it downtown.
"It would be a shame for it to come here and be inaccessible, and it would be a waste," Wilmington City Council member Charlie Rivenbark said.
The Barque Eagle visited the Port City back in 2003. Back then, the crew was familiar with lowering its masts because it was necessary to dock it at its home. Since then, the Barque Eagle has changed its home base to the Coast Guard Academy in New London, CT, where lowering the masts is not necessary.
"We learned last week that the captain and crew and cadets did not have sufficient enough training experience housing the mast, which is lowering in to get it under the bridge," said Wilmington Downtown Inc. Executive Director John Hinnant, who has been the point person for the cutter's visit.
The Barque Eagle instead will dock at the State Port of Wilmington, which leaves organizers with little time to come up with a way to get visitors to and from the ship because of security screening at the port. The plan now is to take visitors in buses from Legion Stadium over to the port. The problem is, those buses are going to cost some money. The Coast Guard has pledged to pay for two 55 passenger buses, but WDI is hoping for at least four.
"We've been given a very short window to do what we can to accommodate the public's access to the ship," Hinnant said.
WDI is asking the city to foot the bill for the rest to the tune of about $3,000. City council will discuss the idea at its meeting Tuesday. WDI has asked Cape Fear Community College and UNCW for buses, but the schools do not have any available. The group is also checking with area churches for help.
During its 2003 visit the Barque Eagle proved to be popular with an average of 125 visitors each half hour.