The SSV Oliver Hazard Perry was dedicated as Rhode Island’s Official Sailing Education Vessel at a dockside ceremony Saturday morning at Fort Adams State Park. Rhode Island Lt. Governor Elizabeth Roberts was among a half dozen local, state and Navy dignitaries to speak to an audience of approximately 600 supporters and had the distinguished honor of reading the official declaration proclamation on behalf of Governor Lincoln Chafee.
Captain Richard Bailey stands by to “set the first watch"
'In 2012, the legislature designated this ship as the state’s official Sailing Education Vessel, authorizing the ship to fly the state flag at sea and in port and to act as the state’s ambassador as she sails the world’s waters,' read Roberts. 'With my power and with these words, I dedicate the Oliver Hazard Perry as Rhode Island’s official Sailing Education Vessel and wish her fair winds and smooth seas as she spreads the wisdom of our forefathers and modern scholars to all who visit and study aboard her.'
At the end of her speech, Roberts ordered the ship’s commander, Captain Richard Bailey, to 'set the first watch,' which was represented by the hoisting of the American flag at the ship’s stern, followed by a gun salute from the Artillery Company of Newport and the manning of the rails by nine Navy sea cadets. (The Northeast Navy Band also was present at the event.) A final flag, declaring 'Don’t Give up the Ship'—just as Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry’s did in 1813 when he captured the British fleet and its flagship in the Battle of Lake Erie—was raised to the highest point of the ship’s three lower masts, which were draped from stem to stern with signal flags.
Earlier, Lt. Governor Roberts had called the SSV Oliver Hazard Perry 'this amazing sailing vessel where students will be learning about not only science, technology, engineering, the arts and mathematics but also--as they walk on this ship or walk by this ship--the history of our state and our country and the importance of Rhode Island to that history.' She added, 'We often overlook the role we have played at different times as we celebrate the 350th Anniversary of our Colonial Charter and how important that has been to our country and the entire western world.'
Another advocate for the project, R.I. Commissioner of Education Deborah Gist, said in her impassioned speech, 'When (OHPRI Chair) Bart Dunbar and (Operations Director) Jessica Wurzbacher came to talk to me about this project, they had me at ‘hello.’ I was immediately sold. The idea of having Rhode Island students out on the water-- experiencing what it’s like to be on a tall ship, with the science and all the activities, and the incredible building of character and being on a team and relying on one another--fills me with excitement and joy.'
Gist, a former science teacher and environmental educator, also thanked Vice Admiral Tom Weschler (Ret), a driving force behind the ship who also is the Chairman Emeritus of the non-profit Oliver Hazard Perry Rhode Island. 'A visionary is someone who imagines the possible, but it is when a visionary brings the possible to life, that magic truly happens, and we are so grateful for everything that you and your family have done,' said Gist.
Although the ship was clearly unfinished (her masts will be three times as tall as what was seen and her bowsprit half as long again, plus her engines, generators and more are still to come in the final outfitting), the topsides were freshly painted and a Great Cabin finished out as the 'showpiece' for the work in progress. The Great Cabin, traditionally where the captain entertained on 18th and 19th century ships, is designated as a teaching area/navigation station aboard the SSV Oliver Hazard Perry. An hour prior to the public dedication of the ship, a private, and moving, dedication of this space took place with the family of Vice Admiral Weschler. It is after his brother—Navy Lt. Charles J. Weschler, a decorated World War II hero—that the Great Cabin has been named.
Over the remainder of the Fourth of July weekend, nearly 1000 visitors inspected the SSV Oliver Hazard Perry before the ship returned to Senesco Marine in Quonset, R.I., to continue construction. When it is launched in 2014, The 196’ three-masted, square-rigged tall ship SSV Oliver Hazard Perry will be the largest civilian training vessel in North America and the first ocean-going, full-rigged ship built in the United States in more than 100 years.
For more information about OHPRI and how to contribute to the effort, visit the OHPRI website.
RADM Glenn E. Whisler, USN (Ret) (OHPRI Board Member and Master of Ceremonies): 'I can’t wait to look out over Narragansett Bay and see this ship under full sail with a full complement of students aboard.'
Bartlett Dunbar (OHPRI Chairman): 'With the dedication of this magnificent ship, named for our Rhode Island hero Oliver Hazard Perry, and with a Great Cabin just dedicated to the Weschler Family and naval hero Lieutenant Charles Weschler, we have an appropriate symbol for Rhode Island’s historic past, its incredibly energetic present, and its prosperous future.'
Hon. Jack Reed (U.S. Senate): 'September 10th marks the 200th Anniversary of the victory of Oliver Hazard Perry at the Battle of Lake Erie. It’s an extraordinarily important moment in our history. His motto was 'Don’t Give up the Ship,' and that pennant flew over his vessel and inspired his crew. Then at the end of the long fight, he was able to report, ‘We have met the enemy and they are ours. Two ships, two rigs, one schooner, and one sloop.’ This is the spirit of America.'
Congressman James Langevin: 'The maritime industry is an integral part of Rhode Island’s history, and the SSV Oliver Hazard Perry is a tribute to that past and a beacon to the future and will continue to support the Ocean State’s maritime environment. The major difference between this tall ship and its predecessors in the early 19h century is that this one is wheelchair accessible. (Langevin delivered his comments from his wheelchair.) Hon. M. Teresa Paiva-Weed (President, R.I. Senate): 'I want to point out this beautiful setting of Fort Adams State Park, which I love so much, as an example of when the private sector and the public sector come together from start to finish. We have Sail Newport, we have the Fort Adams Trust and now our newest tenant here in the Oliver Hazard Perry. This is truly one of the state’s greatest assets and each time we improve this park and each time we add something as beautiful as this, it really attracts more Rhode Islanders to come and enjoy the beauty of the park.'
RADM Walter Carter Jr., USN (President, Naval War College): 'I can’t think of a better way to begin my tenure as president of the Naval War College than to represent our United States Navy in uniform during the very week that we celebrate our nation’s birthday, and to participate in the dedication of a ship that will serve as a living tribute to the maritime heritage of Rhode Island. As we dedicate this great ship, we recognize the role that it will soon play in educating our youth in the skills of seamanship, teamwork and service to others. I am indeed a proud native Rhode Islander and earned my very first sea legs right here in Narragansett Bay in 1976, but more importantly, over the centuries, New England has produced some of the world’s best mariners, and this fair city has been home to many distinguished naval officers, including naval heroes Matthew C. Perry and his brother Oliver Hazard Perry for whom this ship is named.'
Larry Mouradjian (Associate Director of DEM): 'We log over 6 million visitors a year to our state parks. This [Fort Adams] is a very special place, and we are very fortunate to have the support of government to continue to invest in the infrastructure here, so that we can once again become even better in hosting so many programs that benefit the public and create so many opportunities for people. So, it is true that just to the north, off the Visitor’s Center dock, will be a 248-foot fixed pier that will ultimately be the home of the Oliver Hazard Perry.'
Harry Winthrop (Mayor of Newport, R.I.): 'What better place to have a tall ship than in the sailing capital of the world, Newport, Rhode Island.'