November 25, 2014
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SSV Oliver Hazard Perry
Rhode Island’s tall ship on track to commissioning in 2015

It has taken a while, but Rhode Island is sailing closer to having its own tall ship.

“To me, a ship can be commissioned when the entire crew is on board and trained, all the sails are there, the food is stored and the ship is ready to go,” said Richard Bailey, captain of the SSV Oliver Hazard Perry. “We are not there yet but we are very close to being done. We are way past the tipping point. It’s not over. There is still much to be done but it will be done.”

Previous projections had the ship being launched and commissioned this summer. Now Bailey is thinking that will happen next spring. But even that is contingent on all of the work being completed to new specifications before then.

Bailey said recent marine tragedies have caused many countries to reassess construction standards for new ships, or the refitting of existing ships, before they will be welcome in most ports, which is one of the goals of being a tall ship. He said they hope to build the Perry to safety standards beyond what is currently required.

In the meantime, instructional programs that were slated to begin on the Perry this summer have been transferred to the SV Mystic, a 180-foot USCG certified and inspected three-masted square topsail schooner. The Mystic will host the teen summer camps and voyages for adults and other programs, such as the Professional Development Teachers Voyage, Narragansett Bay Family Weekend and the Waves of Wellness Yoga Voyage.

In all, more than 250 trainees will be hosted aboard the Mystic this summer.

Just another glitch among many that have beset the Perry since it arrived here six years ago. A visit to the ship’s website, ohpri.org provides a more complete history of the ship’s pre-launching journey toward becoming a reality, but a brief recap is in order to provide you with reasons why you should support the effort that started in 2008.

“We like to say that the project started the same day that Lehman Brothers crashed,” said Bailey. “It was not the best time to launch a project that required so much money. It was a bad day for fundraising everywhere. But, as the economy recovered, we managed to recover along with it.”

As the website (ohpri.org) tells it, the SSV Oliver Hazard Perry is Rhode Island's own tall ship, providing the state with a 200-foot long, three-masted sailing vessel joining the select fleet of Class-A size Tall Ships hosted by the rest of the world. The hull for the ship was initially begun in Canada for a tall ship program of their own but when that project fell apart, some people in Rhode Island realized that it was an opportunity to have our own tall ship and to honor the memory of an iconic and important figure in the history of the state and the country.

It keeps getting closer to launch.

The steel hull has been completed; fuel and water tanks are installed, as well as shafts and propellers for its twin-engine propulsion system. Steel platforms await her twin generators. Initial work on a bow thruster has begun, as has a mechanically sophisticated rudder system. The basic requirements of a tall ship have been expanded quite a bit since the last tall ship was built in America, especially the amount of safety requirements that must be taken.

“We discovered a problem with alignment on the rudder that we had to straighten out,” said Bailey, who is determined to make sure that the Perry is as seaworthy and safe as possible. “A full-sized tall ship hasn’t been built in America since 1910. You don’t just call the shop and order one up, like a car. It’s also not like building any other ship and we are definitely not cutting corners. I wouldn’t do it any other way. We are only doing it once and we are going to do it right.”

One of the requirements is that the boat meet the minimum requirements demanded by other countries before they will allow a tall ship to berth.

“Even the tragedy of that Korean ferry has an effect on what we do on our boat,” said Bailey. “Every time something like that happens, countries take another look at safety requirements and we have to know what they require.”

They require a lot of a ship that will have a training participant capacity up to 100 for day sails and 49 overnight. The last thing a host country wants is a maritime tragedy in its ports. Fortunately, Rhode Island has the facilities and personnel to meet any of the challenges. Bailey said there are miles of rope and miles of wire to the rigging but people working on it are familiar with it.

The success of the SSV Oliver Hazard Perry continues to rely on donors and supporters large and small, from individuals and businesses to students and corporations. This year’s fundraiser for the non-profit is called an “Ocean of Education and Adventure,” and starts with cocktails and a Blackstone-catered dinner at Newport Shipyard, Saturday, July 5, from 6 to 11 p.m.

The event honors the Perry’s shipyard partners, Newport Shipyard, Senesco Marine and New England Boatworks, representing the state’s skilled marine trades who are building the 200-foot Perry. Proceeds from ticket sales and a live and silent auction will go toward the organization’s educational programs.

The Perry is named for Newport's War of 1812 naval hero Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry. The Perry will be owned and operated by the non-profit Oliver Hazard Perry Rhode Island. Her homeport will be Newport. The Perry will be the largest Tall Ship of its kind built in this country in the last 100 years.

Oliver Hazard Perry helped America in the War of 1812. His father, Capt. Christopher Raymond Perry, gave Oliver his first sea commission at age 13 on the USS General Greene. America declared war with Britain in 1812 and Oliver Perry was given command of the ships on Lake Erie and led them to victory. Perry was celebrated in his own time and Newport has continued to keep his legacy alive. The website doesn’t devote much space to Oliver’s younger brother, Commodore Matthew Calbraith Perry, who was credited with opening Japan to Western trade after centuries of isolation in 1853. The sight of Perry’s “Black Ships,” the gunboats anchored in Tokyo Bay, sufficiently cowed the Japanese into opening its ports to foreign trade for the first time since 1683.

Oliver Perry’s career carried him through various assignments in the years after his father was temporarily sidelined by a court martial. In 1809, Perry received command of the schooner USS Revenge. It was the first time that Perry commanded a ship and was somewhat marred when he hit a reef and sank off the coast of Rhode Island. Perry was distraught and took a year’s leave and married Elizabeth Champlin Mason, in Newport in 1811 as America sailed toward a state of war with England.

For years, Britain had been disrupting trade relations and removing sailors from U.S. vessels and forcing them to join the Royal Navy. On June 18, 1812, America declared war with Britain and Perry, now 26, was assigned to the defense of Lake Erie. The Battle of Lake Erie saw Perry’s victory over the British and saw the tide of the war turn in the United States’ favor. The War of 1812 did not end until 1815 and Perry’s career continued until his death in South America. He sailed there in the spring of 1819 to deal with pirates and privateers and contracted yellow fever. He died at the age of 34. He was later interred in Newport.

In the meantime, tickets for the July 5 fundraiser must be purchased in advance at: ohpri.worldsecuresystems.com/gala-registration, or contact Carol Hill at 841-0080.


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