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Tall Ship Oliver Hazard Perry pausing for a reset

by Barby MacGowan 7 Sep 2018 04:33 PDT

Rhode Island's Official Tall Ship SSV Oliver Hazard Perry is taking a pause while the non-profit organization Oliver Hazard Perry Rhode Island (OHPRI) rethinks its strategy for the ship's financial sustainability. The 200 foot three-masted sailing school vessel, which was seven years and $12 million in the making when she embarked on her maiden sail in 2015, will not journey south next Spring as it has done the past two years but instead remain in Rhode Island at a soon-to-be-announced location.

"We were not able to sell enough programs to make traveling south a financial reality this year," said OHPRI Executive Committee Member Avery "Whip" Seaman. "We felt it was prudent to take some time operationally and organizationally to decide what the best use of the ship is moving forward. This may involve entering into different types of partnerships or programs than we've run in the past or even selling the ship to a corporation or an educational institution. OHPRI is still committed to marine stewardship and sail training, but we are deciding the best way to deliver those programs to the most people."

Collectively, over 1,000 young people's lives have been changed by Oliver Hazard Perry Rhode Island's sail training and education-at-sea programs from Canada to Cuba and many points in between. This Spring, SSV Oliver Hazard Perry participated in the Tall Ships America event on the Gulf Coast, and with stops in Pensacola, Galveston and New Orleans, more than 40,000 visitors were able to tour the ship and learn about its education-at-sea mission. With 10,000 nautical miles under her keel, the ship has performed extremely well in diverse weather conditions. It passed its most recent Coast Guard inspection "with flying colors" yet the necessity of hauling it next Spring for another USCG inspection also figured in to OHPRI's thinking.

"The ship is in great shape, so this is the time to step back and figure out how we go forward," said OHPRI Chairman and Co-Founder Bart Dunbar. "We have formed a committee of Board members and Tall Ship experts to examine all options. We feel great pride in what we have accomplished. We have built an amazing ship, and we have established proof of concept; now it is time to figure out how to build on that."

OHPRI Vice Chair Katherine Weschler, daughter of the late Admiral Tom Weschler, who co-founded OHPRI, added: "I know my father would be very grateful to all who have contributed to this significant accomplishment as well as to the crew and staff who have performed so well."

In July, legislators designated SSV Oliver Hazard Perry as the Official Flagship and Tall Ship Ambassador of Rhode Island.

"We are very honored to be Rhode Island's Tall Ship," said Whip Seaman, noting that the ship also is the first ocean-going full-rigged ship to be built in the U.S. in 110 years. "We would not have been so designated or come so far without the support of many donors, friends, staff and crew. We understand that until legislative change should occur we will keep that designation, and we will be working with the Governor to figure out how best to work together in our planning."

The OHPRI office will maintain a presence in Newport with minimal staff and crew to ensure continuity into the next phase. "Tough decisions had to be made during this transitional period; laying off the staff and crew was the toughest," said Seaman. "These dedicated people contributed so much to our success.

"The Tall Ship community is no stranger to funding issues. What we are doing is a very different approach to experiential learning, which means we do not attract as much funding as other types of experiential education may. Within the organization and the Tall Ship community we all know what an impact sail training and Tall Ship sailing can have on individuals and groups. Part of deciding what to do going forward will be ensuring that we have a long sustainable future delivering these programs."

To close the season, OHPRI will proceed with hosting the Island Moving Company's September onboard performance of Second Star to the Right: A Tale of Hook & Pan. September's scheduled trip to Boston and day sails during the Newport International Boat Show have both been canceled. (Refunds will be made to those who purchased tickets for the latter.)

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