NEW LONDON, Conn. — Absorbing the zest of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy here could make you want to join up.
But check to see if you meet the qualifications: You must be between 17 and 22, a U.S. citizen, unmarried. (The academy has accepted women since 1976.)
Even if you don't join up, a leisurely stroll through the academy grounds will stir your blood a bit. You will feel a sense of "I'm glad this outfit's on my side." And apart from awareness that this is a place that turns out skilled young men and women who are part of our armed forces, you will recognize it as a handsome educational institution.
As you enter the main gate you will have on your left the spacious Washington Parade Ground where cadets drill on weekdays. Off to the right is officers' row, with a series of small buildings and neat landscaping. Just beyond it is the Coast Guard Memorial Chapel.
The white, steepled chapel will tell you that you are in New England. It is a lovely meetinghouse church, and if the sun is right, you will see the steeple gleaming against the clean blue sky in a way to make your heart sing, no matter what your religious persuasion.
Academy's Nerve Center
At the far end of the parade ground is Hamilton Hall, the nerve center of the academy. It has the offices of the superintendent, the dean, legal office, engineering, public affairs and military personnel offices, and several more that deal with the workings of the institution.
Make time for the Visitors' Pavilion in a corner of the grounds, at the end of Tampa Avenue. The academy grounds are open all year, but the Pavilion is open only from May through October.
It has a small gift shop and exhibits about the Coast Guard training program. The thing not to miss is the multimedia show on cadet life, depicting the many-sided education the cadets get.
Bright young men and women, after enlisting, may find that it isn't all smiles, crisp uniforms and good buddies. A lot of hard work is involved.
Be prepared for one pleasurable thing among many: You will find the young men and women who answer your questions to be polite to a point you rarely see in the civilian world.
After seeing Hamilton Hall and the Visitors' Pavilion, wander around. Before you leave the Pavilion get a copy of the "Map and Visitor's Guide," which has a rough map of the academy grounds.
With it you can stroll, getting the feel of being on the campus of a small but well-organized and well-kept college.
The streets are tree-lined, and although there are few small houses there are numerous larger dwellings, aside from the cadet dormitories. The plantings around them, and the shading trees, give them all a look of cool suburbia.
Then head out toward the Thames River. No, you aren't in London, but in New London, which also has a Thames River. The academy is built along it.
At Eagle pier is the bark Eagle. Part of the cadet training is on this handsome boat. It is a lovely vessel that stirs one's romanticism.
If you're lucky enough to be here when the bark is getting underway, pause to watch. All the sails will be up to catch the breeze. The Eagle is white, with a black vertical strip just back of the bow. The sails are also white, and as they snap in the wind they take on the shadowings of the blue sea and blue sky.
A Moving Sight
Beauty comes in many guises, but few are as moving as the sight of a ship, sails full-rigged, catching the wind and gliding out toward the open sea.
The berth where you see the Eagle is also home to the Coast Guard cutter Vigorous, another training vessel, but a motorized, modern one.
You may also be lucky enough to be here during a dress parade. All the young cadets march to crisp orders, their uniforms immaculate, their faces serious with the awareness of their purpose as members of our armed forces.
The use of cameras is encouraged and the subjects are numerous: cadets on parade, the Eagle, many of the buildings and tree-lined streets.
The museum, in Waesche Hall, has exhibits covering the early Coast Guard. At the opposite end of Eagle Drive, which runs beside the pier, is the rowing center, where academy teams practice in a special rowing tank for meets on the river and elsewhere.
The dress parade of cadets is a stirring event. But how can even these young people, no matter how well-dressed and well-trained, compete with a lovely ship sailing before the wind?
U.S. Coast Guard Academy, New London, Conn. 06320, phone (203) 444-8270. Open every day from 9 a.m. to sunset. Visitors' Pavilion open every day from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., May through October. Museum open every day from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., also May through October. Free admission.
The Eagle is usually in port in spring and fall and can be boarded Sundays from 1 to 4 p.m.