The Ocean State will soon have a tall ship to call its own. On October 24, 2008, a 207-foot bare steel hull arrived in Newport Harbor in tow from Canada to begin life as a symbol of the Rhode Island’s maritime heritage: the school ship Oliver Hazard Perry. The sail training vessel is named for Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry, the U.S. naval officer who led a small fleet to victory on Lake Erie during the War of 1812, where he captured the HMS Detroit and declared “We have met the enemy and they are ours.â€¢bCrLf He was a native son of Rhode Island and is buried in Newport, having lived in the city for most of his life.
According to Bart Dunbar, chairman of Tall Ships Rhode Island, a non-profit organization that has brought several tall ships to Rhode Island over the past decade and a half, the Oliver Hazard Perry will operate as a working sail training vessel out of Newport Harbor and will ultimately be a self-supporting enterprise. Dunbar, who also chairs the Bowens Wharf Company, where the vessel is now berthed, said that the ship will support itself by offering a variety of maritime education programs ranging from sail training to oceanography and possibly will include merchant marine licensing programs. There are no intentions to have it sit at the dock as a tourist attraction. Plans also include training voyages to the Caribbean in the winter and participation in the Bicentennial Celebration of the War of 1812 in 2012.
Initial funding for the project came from several generous private donors who helped raise the $339,000 needed to buy the bare hull from a Canadian group that abandoned its efforts to build a museum ship, coincidently a replica of the HMS Detroit for Amherstburg, Ontario. Dunbar said that the Perry project has received enthusiastic support from the Newport City Council, the Newport County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, the International Yacht Restoration School and Rhode Island Governor Donald Carcieri.
Now that the ship is in Newport, the design work can be completed while the ship is at Bowen’s Wharf. When finished, the hull will then be shifted to a Rhode Island shipyard, possibly Blount Boats in Warren, R.I., where a new deck will be added and interior work will be completed. Oliver Hazard Perry will then return to Newport Harbor where spars, rigging and hardware will be configured and installed.
Along with Vice Chairman Perry Lewis, Capt. Richard Bailey will serve as director for the project. Bailey served as captain and director of the 179-foot HMS Rose when it was the largest active tall ship in the world. When completed, the Oliver Hazard Perry will replace the HMS Rose as the largest working tall ship with U.S. Coast Guard certification under sailing school regulations for ocean voyages. Hopes are to have Oliver Hazard Perry sailing by 2010.