Dedication of the Oliver Hazard Perry 

10 July 2013

Nothing but rave reviews for Rhode Island's Sailing Educational Vessel

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NEWPORT, R.I. (July 10, 2013) – 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.

“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.”

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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.