It seemed a little far-fetched at the time, but it looks like the educational tall ship SSV Oliver Hazard Perry will be ready to sail in time for the anniversary of the Battle of Lake Erie next year.
But that’s not all that was far-fetched about the project. Ironically, the hull that forms the basis for the ship was made in Ontario by a non-profit dedicated to making a replica of the HMS Detroit, one of the ships that Oliver Hazard Perry captured in one of the most famous battles of the War of 1812.
The Ontario group’s effort was dead in the water and almost $3 million down the sluice when the non-profit, the Oliver Hazard Perry Rhode Island (OHPRI), bought the hull for $325,000 and had it towed to Rhode Island in 2008. Several grants and generous gifts later, the construction of the rest of the ship is right on schedule at Senesco Marine at Quonset in North Kingstown.
“No one can deny that this has been a banner year for the ship, but we have much more to accomplish before the close of 2012,” OHPRI Chairman Bart Dunbar said in a press release, explaining that the idea of an educational tall ship was first endorsed by Rhode Island’s Education Commissioner Deborah Gist and then written into legislation by Governor Lincoln Chafee as Rhode Island’s Official Sailing Education Vessel. Captain Richard Bailey has been named the ship’s master and Jessica Wurzbacher has been hired as the Education Director.
“We are currently in negotiations with various Rhode Island schools to solidify their schedules for use of the ship,” said Dunbar. “Once those are in place, we can plan several weeks in the summer for our own open-enrollment programs that will be tailored for students from around the country and even abroad.”
As that is happening, OHPRI’s fundraising efforts remain equally focused on the reality that SSV (Sailing School Vessel) Oliver Hazard Perry is progressing rapidly from a ship under construction to a ship under sail. Most important is that an anonymous benefactor has come forward with two levels of challenge grants that either double or increase by 50 percent amounts donated toward the OHPRI project, but in order to qualify for the match they must be donated by year’s end.
“It is a very exciting time for SSV Oliver Hazard Perry,” said Dunbar. “We are using as many Rhode Island marine trades professionals as possible to build this ship, and at Senesco alone we have already funded 6,000 hours of skilled labor. Our goal is to move the ship to Newport for a dedication on July 6, 2013 and continue working toward having her Coast Guard inspected, certified and operational for the bicentennial of the Battle of Lake Erie on Sept. 10, 2013. SSV Oliver Hazard Perry will be based in Newport, but she will sail as a symbol for all of Rhode Island and as an ambassador for the state’s seafaring heritage and its innovations in education at sea.”
In other words, OHPRI needs more money now for the Perry’s completion and they have put a matching funds scheme in place for November and December to raise as much as they can. Any individual or corporate contribution from $1,000 to $20,000 made before the end of the year will be doubled by the anonymous supporter. The Shipbuilding Syndicate Challenge guarantees that larger donation amounts – two-year pledges between $25,000 and $500,000 – will be matched at 50 percent, up to $250,000. The challenges have the potential to generate nearly $1.2 million.
Over $5 million has been raised thus far for the construction of the Perry.
With Wurzbacher onboard, the Perry’s Education-at-Sea Program looks to provide an ocean-oriented approach for supporting and enhancing academic achievement in science, technology, engineering, the arts and mathematics courses, leadership development and career exploration. Wurzbacher spent six years teaching marine biology and oceanography onboard an ocean-going sailing school vessel.
Salve Regina University is among the first of several interested Rhode Island educational institutions to reserve specific dates for 2014, an interest that was only intensified by Kathy Vespia of East Greenwich, assistant professor and chair of the University’s Education Program. Vespia spent a week on the tall ship Gazela in August, which inspired her to use similar shipboard experiences as a way to put Salve’s pre-teachers in fast-paced, difficult learning situations to empathize with students and confront their own anxieties and challenges in the classroom.
“It was a wonderful experience,” said Vespia, who said
the pressure to learn fast is especially good for teachers and allows them to be corrected without having to be defensive.
Vespia said the faculty at Salve recognizes the value that the Perry has for enhancing existing courses and developing new courses at the University. She said a multidisciplinary team is developing courses in the areas of educational leadership and classroom management, naval history and science, with a particular emphasis on teaching science in urban settings.
Vespia was a public school teacher for many years and developed an alternative school before she retired. She said the Perry would have been a perfect fit in that environment. She said her own experience on the Gazela was life changing, but by no means easy.
“It was never a pleasure cruise by any means,” she said, “but was never a Mutiny on the Bounty thing either. Nobody ever felt they were treated unfairly …When you are on a ship, the least amount of words possible to get things done is the idea, so the crew was honest about what we did and how we did it.”
Other schools are developing OHPRI partnerships, including Roger Williams University, University of Rhode Island, NROTC, Rocky Hill School, Paul Cuffee School, Roger Williams Middle School, The Greene School and the Massachusetts Maritime Academy.
Kevin Hayden, director of study abroad programs at RWU, is developing leadership class for students.
“In 2014, they will sail aboard SSV Oliver Hazard Perry for one week during spring break as part of our scholarship program for students showing academic achievement as well as dedication to creating an inclusive community,” said Haden. “Sailing this ship will require strong teamwork, communications and responsibility – a perfect way to continue to challenge students.”
Wurzbacher cited the ship’s mission statement and its implications.
“As members of the crew, students can develop morally, socially and academically as they work together as a team,” she said. “The strong community that develops among shipmates requires them to put others before themselves and communicate effectively to safely accomplish tasks together and move this giant vessel under the power of the wind ... understanding the mechanical advantage when hauling a line through a block and tackle; anticipating weather changes; sampling plankton; recording ocean salinity; studying maritime history … the topics are endless.”
According to OHPRI, the Perry is the first full-rigged ship to be built in the U.S. in over 100 years. The ship will sail as far north as Nova Scotia and the Great Lakes and as far south as South Carolina. In the winter, it will be based in Florida and the Caribbean. It has capacity for up to 36 students on overnight trips and up to 85 for day trips, with 13 full-time crew. Options range from day sails to overnight; from weeklong and three-week voyages to full semesters at sea.
Salve Regina University has produced a four-part video series called “Charting a Course” of Vespia’s experience on the Gazela. It is available at http://vimeo.com/channels/374841 and
summarizes Vespia’s tall ship experience and the University’s plan to integrate the Perry into future programs.
“I do think that the SSV Oliver Hazard Perry has so much potential as an educational tool,” said Vespia. “I think it’s one of the most exciting things that ever happened in Rhode Island.”
To follow the ship’s construction progress in photos, go to NarragansettBayShipping.com.
For more information on OHPRI’s programs or to get more information on the Plank Owner and Shipbuilding Syndicate challenges, go to www.OHPRI.org or contact Perry Lewis at 841-0080 or firstname.lastname@example.org, OHPRI, 29 Touro St., Washington Square, Newport, R.I. 02840. You can follow OHPRI on Facebook.