Fundraiser, dedication ceremony and public visits to highlight ship’s visit over July 4 weekend.
It’s not just Rhode Island but the whole of North America that is watching as the SSV Oliver Hazard Perry becomes a reality. The 196-foot, three-masted, square rigged tall ship, currently under construction and designated by the legislature and the Governor of Rhode Island as the state’s official “Sailing Education Vessel,” is well on its way to becoming the largest civilian sail training vessel in North America and the first oceangoing full-rigged ship to be built in the U.S. in over 100 years. This accomplishment and more will be celebrated in July when the ship will be towed from Senesco Marine across Narragansett Bay to Newport for a Dedication Weekend that coordinates with the Independence Day holiday.
“The Perry has not been completed, and we have a long way to go--we have to make that perfectly clear,” said Bart Dunbar, chairman of Oliver Hazard Perry Rhode Island (OHPRI), the non-profit organization that manages and runs the ship, “but it’s very exciting, because so much progress has been made, and everyone can now start to imagine what the ship will really look like when she sails in 2014.”
The public has not seen the ship, whose namesake is Rhode Island’s naval war hero Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry, since the hull left Newport Harbor three years ago to begin construction in shipyards, first in Providence and then in North Kingstown. With much of the early welding and steel work contributing little to change the hull’s profile, the more recent addition of an eight-foot high second deck (for classrooms, a lab, and galley), an aft Great Cabin, and three cabin houses are giving the ship a clearly discernible shape and new character. By July, the lower masts will have been stepped, and she will proudly display a new paint job--black with ochre accents--depicted in the color renderings that show her in all her finished glory.
“This is a very important weekend, for both awareness and fundraising,” said Dunbar, recounting that it was 2008 when OHPRI bought, for pennies on the dollar, a partially built steel hull in need of rescue from a Canadian group that could no longer sustain its own dream of building a tall ship. “Since 2008, OHPRI has partnered with private and corporate donors, Rhode Island Marine Trades and marine industry companies to raise $7.5 million in donations; however, now the last $3 million is needed to complete construction and begin the first year of operations.”
Dunbar explained that later this spring, Milton CAT, an OHPRI Marine Trades Partner, will deliver the engines and generators, which will be lowered into the engine room for installation at a later date. The fabrication and installation of vital water, fire prevention, bilge and hydraulics systems will begin to take place, and Hood Sails, also a Marine Trades Partner, will begin sail construction.
“While the Dedication events will show how far we’ve come, we also need to continue educating and inspiring those who have helped us with donations and gifts-in-kind and others who are now wanting to join the effort, so that we can continue with how far we must go to complete the ship’s construction and the development of its shipboard programs,” said Dunbar, adding that Salve Regina University and Roger Williams are the most recent institutions to officially sign on as educational partners. “We expect that state officials and the public who turn out to greet the SSV Oliver Hazard Perry will embrace the moment.”
With her completion date set for Spring 2014, the SSV Oliver Hazard Perry ultimately will offer year-round experience based core-learning opportunities, sailing in New England and the Maritimes during the summer and from Florida to the Bahamas (or the Caribbean) in the winter. She will be a U.S. documented Sailing School Vessel (SSV), inspected and certified by the US Coast Guard, that will have the capacity (including handicap-accessible berths) for up to 36 students on overnight trips and up to 85 for day trips, with an additional 13 professional crew aboard, including Captain Richard Bailey, who commanded the HMS Rose for two decades as well as other educational tall ships.
OHPRI’s reasons for bringing the SSV Oliver Hazard Perry to Newport are threefold. First, the ship needs to be hauled and its bottom painted, and that can only be accomplished at Newport Shipyard, where a new 500-ton lift—the largest in New England—will have the 365-ton Perry as its first customer. Second, OHPRI is holding its annual fundraiser on Friday, July 5 at Newport Shipyard and the thinking went that there was no better special guest to invite than the SSV Oliver Hazard Perry herself. (She will be dockside at the event.) Third, and finally, on the morning of Saturday, July 5 a private ceremony has been planned at Fort Adams for dedicating the ship’s Great Cabin, which is sponsored by the family and friends of WWII hero U.S. Navy Lieutenant Charles John Weschler and named in his honor. Since for that occasion the ship will have been moved to Fort Adams (her future permanent berth once the state builds a new permanent pier there), the opportunity seemed ripe to follow the private ceremony with a public ceremony (also Saturday morning) to dedicate the ship and allow the public to visit her on both Saturday and Sunday, July 6 and 7.
The public Dedication Ceremony for the SSV Oliver Hazard Perry can be observed at 11 a.m. on Saturday, July 6, dockside at the Alofsin Pier at Fort Adams, where the SSV Oliver Hazard Perry will make her weekend appearance before returning to Senesco Marine for completion. Public visits will take place immediately following until 4 p.m. that afternoon and resume on Sunday from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. (All weekend activities are free to the public, and parking is free at Fort Adams.)
The Dedication Gala on Friday, July 5 at 6 p.m. is a ticketed event at the Newport Shipyard that includes cocktails and dinner, dessert and dancing, as well as a raffle and live auction to raise funds for the SSV Oliver Hazard Perry, which will be dockside during the event. The fundraiser honors the leadership of OHPRI Chairman Emeritus, Vice Admiral Thomas R. Weschler, USN (Ret.), who has been a driving force behind tall ship events in Rhode Island since he volunteered to help manage the 1976 Bicentennial event in Newport. The acquisition of the SSV Oliver Hazard Perry in 2008, and its subsequent design, funding and construction is a direct result of his energy, leadership, and personal commitment to the project.
For more details on all Dedication Weekend events or to purchase tickets for the Friday, July 5th Dedication Gala, call (401) 841-0080, email [email protected] or visit http://www.ohpri.org/events where details and a downloadable Dedication Evening Registration form can be found. Tickets for the Gala start at $75 (dessert and dancing) and $200 (cocktails, dinner, dessert and dancing).