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Aquidneck Island students complete voyage aboard tall ship Oliver Hazard Perry

by Barby MacGowan 12 Jun 2018 07:14 PDT
With the crew behind them, Aquidneck Island Schools student trainees gather on the dock after their 2018 educational voyage aboard SSV Oliver Hazard Perry © OHPRI

With 21 students aboard from Rogers High School, Portsmouth High School and the MET School, Rhode Island's Official Sailing Education Vessel SSV Oliver Hazard Perry returned to Newport yesterday morning after ten days at sea.

The 200 foot three-masted Class A Tall Ship and its student trainees, plus two teacher chaperones and 18 professional crew, started the voyage in Philadelphia on June 2 and traveled approximately 566 nautical miles to get here, according to the ship's Captain Kevin Wells.

"We anchored at Cape Henlopen in Delaware, then completed a 225-mile offshore transit to Gardiner's Bay in Long Island before overnighting at Point Judith and then in New Bedford where the students went ashore for a historical tour," said Wells. "The last two nights were spent off Mattapoisett and the Naval War College here in Newport."

The voyage was funded by the Hamilton Family Foundation, Newport Fed Charitable Foundation and BankNewport as part of the ship's educational mission that includes a commitment to Aquidneck Island students.

"It was awkward at first, not knowing everybody," said Harrison Russell, who will be a junior at Portsmouth High School this fall and said he made life-long friends on the journey, "but in this environment you have to grow closer. I learned that you have to be open to everything, even if you are afraid. Like with going aloft, the professionals onboard helped you through it, and it's the best feeling to know you can conquer your fears."

Russell's schoolmate Collin Clair said he climbed to the "t'gallant" (sail on the top yardarm) while some chose to stop at the "fighting top", which is not so high. Learning the proper names of the sails and spars was something he enjoyed, along with the "literacy focus" of the curriculum that incorporated poetry, sea shanties and reading of passages from accounts of life at sea.

Alex O'Conner, a Portsmouth resident who will be a senior at the Met School this Fall said she preferred furling the sails that live on the bow to climbing aloft. When she first learned of the opportunity to join the trip, her mother asked her for some good reasons why she should sign up. "I told her, 'because it's a new experience, I'll learn life skills, and broaden my horizons.'" In the end, it was all of that and more, and she and the other students were reluctant to leave the ship.

"It was a real joy working with and teaching these students," said Vincent Tavani, Oliver Hazard Perry Rhode Island's Program Manager aboard. "They were intelligent, well-behaved, enthusiastic and really enjoyed being around each other."

This is the second year that Rogers and Portsmouth students have sailed in programs, but it is the first time all three schools have sailed together.

Since she sailed south in February, Perry has been visited by nearly 40,000 people during deck tours in Philadelphia as well as in Jacksonville, Palm Beach, and the ports of call of the Tall Ships Gulf Challenge in Galveston, Pensacola and New Orleans. It sailed from Annapolis to Philadelphia with a group of Midshipman candidates from the Newport-based Naval Academy Prep School.

After the Aquidneck Island High Schools program, the ship will resume teen voyages, open to anyone between the ages of 14 and 18, this July and August along the Eastern Seaboard.

SSV Oliver Hazard Perry is not a replica but a modern, steel-hulled vessel purpose-built for training and education to the highest modern safety standards. Rhode Island's Official Sailing Education Vessel, she sails in New England and the Canadian Maritimes during the summer and in Florida, the Bahamas and the Caribbean in the winter.

More about the Aquidneck island High Schools Program

Daily sail training and team building exercises will integrate seven academic OHPRI Units of Study developed in 2016 with funding from the van Beuren Charitable Foundation. These Units of Study are aligned with the Rhode Island Common Core State Standards for Mathematics and English Language Arts-Literacy and are centered on ropes and lines, helm, sail evolution and theory, resource management and environmental responsibility, lookout, boat check and chart reading.

Prior to the voyage, students will read OHPRI's Trainee Manual for familiarization of the physical elements of the ship, maritime language, history of Newport's Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry and basic seamanship skills. Students will practice journaling their experiences and record ocean health and habitat-related observations while on board the ship. The journal, provided by OHPRI, will include selections of marine poetry that can be referenced when composing daily entries.

Last spring, Rogers High School students participated in a grant-funded one-week voyage where they applied math and science skills to seamanship exercises to gain confidence in successfully operating the ship.

For more information on SSV Oliver Hazard Perry and its programs, visit or contact, 401-841-0080.

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