Ocean Organization Spotlight: Oliver Hazard Perry Rhode Island

Written by on February 3, 2014 in Interviews, Other News, Spotlight

Editor’s Note — This piece continues with our Ocean Organization Spotlight series, which features all kinds of foundations and organizations working to protect the oceans and its inhabitants around the globe.

By Asta Mail
Asta is a Canadian marine biologist with a Master’s of Professional Science from the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science. Her interest is in citizen science initiative development and marine educational outreach.

“The imagination of the American people was taken captive by the singular incidents of a battle in which everything seemed to have flowed from the personal prowess of one man; and wherever he came the multitude went out to bid him welcome.”

George Bancroft, in “Oliver Hazard Perry and the Battle of Lake Erie” published in Battle of Lake Erie (1854)

Artist’s rendering of the SSV Oliver Hazard Perry.

Artist’s rendering of the SSV Oliver Hazard Perry. Photo credit Ezra Smith Design, LLC.

Oliver Hazard Perry was an American naval officer remembered for his leadership aboard the tall ship SS Lawrence during the War of 1812. On September 10, 1813, at the young age of 27, Perry initiated action against a fleet of vessels from the Royal Navy on Lake Erie. After his vessel was severely damaged, Perry and the remaining members of his crew refused to “give up the ship” (as SS Lawrence’s flag proclaimed), instead he manned a life boat to sail through heavy gunfire towards their sister ship, the SS Niagara. Once aboard, Perry directed the rest of his American fleet to attack the vulnerable British fleet until the British voluntarily surrendered their vessels. This was the first time in history that an entire British squadron had surrendered, and Perry received the Congressional Gold Medal for his actions in the War of 1812.

In Perry’s honor, a 196 foot tall ship is currently under construction with his namesake in his hometown of Newport, Rhode Island. The vessel will be run by a non-profit sail education organization known as Oliver Hazard Perry Rhode Island (OPHRI). OHPRI, provides opportunities for guests to live and learn aboard a functioning tall ship.

Marine Science Today spoke to OHPRI’s Director of Operations and Education, Jessica Wurzbacher, about the new vessel and her organization’s exciting summer expedition plans.

MST: What is unique about the Oliver Hazard Perry?

JW: The Oliver Hazard Perry is a brand new tall ship. She is not a reconstruction or a replica. She is a modern, steel-hulled vessel and is being purpose-built for training and education. She is being built to the highest modern safety standards with ongoing inspections by the United States Coast Guard. The steel hull was purchased in 2008 from a Canadian group in historic Amherstburg, Ontario, who were planning on building a replica of the HMS Detroit. The hull was towed 892 miles to Newport, R.I. Since then many tens of thousands of hours of welding and fabrication have taken place at Promet Marine in Providence, R.I. and at Senesco Marine in Quonset. She is now in the final stages of construction, with completion, USCG inspection and seatrials scheduled for late this spring.

MST: The Oliver H. Perry is currently based out of Newport Rhode Island. Will the vessel be conducting any sail training programs outside of the United States in the future?

JW: The Oliver Hazard Perry is an ocean-going ship and will be able to sail anywhere that the depth of the water is 13ft or more and the bridge clearance at least 130ft. This year she will be sailing throughout New England, the Canadian Maritimes, Bermuda, and down the East Coast to Florida, the Bahamas and the Caribbean during year-round operation.

Captain Richard Bailey stands by to “set the first watch” at the public dedication ceremony in July 2013.

Captain Richard Bailey stands by to “set the first watch” at the public dedication ceremony in July 2013. Photo credit: OHPRI/Kim Fuller.

MST: The Oliver H. Perry tall ship program offers “pre-professional training for individuals wishing to make their careers at sea.” What skills will sailors acquire as a part of your programs?

A: The Oliver Hazard Perry is a Sailing School Vessel. As such, she will never carry passengers. Therefore, all who sail aboard will take responsibility for the safety and functioning of the ship. The strongest skills that inherently develop in this situation are effective communication, responsibility and accountability, as a tight shipboard community develops and fosters real teamwork.

As student crew, everyone will have a role in safety drills, sail handling and boat maneuvers during which seamanship skills are learned firsthand. The ship has two Caterpillar C-12 engines, three generators, water makers, air conditioning and a complex electrical system creating an ideal teaching environment for exploring engineering career paths.

The main classroom is on deck, but the ship also has a variety of other teaching spaces including a classroom, library and great cabin below deck. It also has a wet lab on deck.

There will also be a great academic opportunity to apply concepts learned in the classroom to life aboard a ship as an effective way to encourage problem solving and reinforce broad and challenging topics, such as vectors and trigonometry in currents and navigation, mechanical advantage when hauling a line through a block and tackle, anticipating weather changes, sampling plankton, recording ocean salinity, studying maritime history; the topics are endless. On board the Oliver Hazard Perry the focus will be on “learning from sailing” rather than “learning to sail”.

MST: OHP is currently advertising a summer camp program for teens. What can a student expect to be involved with while on board?

The SSV Oliver Hazard Perry.

The SSV Oliver Hazard Perry’s 1200 pound anchor sits dockside at Senesco Marine while the ship’s Great Cabin undergoes interior and exterior work. Photo credit: OHPRI/Barby MacGowan.

JW: We are beginning our programs with seven 1-week summer camp programs this summer. Students will be fully engaged in all aspects of sailing the largest civilian sail training vessel in the US. They will rotate through a watch system which will include, taking the helm, sail handling, safety drills, navigation, knot tying, working safely aloft, standing lookout. They will sail through New England’s beautiful coast exploring historically rich ports such as Martha’s Vineyard, Block Island, Nantucket, Portsmouth NH, and Boston. They will experience sunsets, sunrises, stars and the night sky like they have never seen before, and natural wonders of the ocean such as marine phosphorescence and dolphins at play. These shared magical experiences create camaraderie and friendships form that last a lifetime.

MST: What kinds of opportunities are available for educators and university students on board the OHP?

JW: The Oliver Hazard Perry will offer programs for people of all ages, including two week-long voyages for adults in September 2013 possibly to Bermuda or Halifax, and Annapolis.

We are partnering with universities to create programs serving as extensions of their campus. For example, Roger Williams University will be offering a 1-week program in March 2015 that focuses on early American history. Salve Regina University will teach a 10-day program on Classroom Management in a non-traditional setting for teachers.


Charting a Course”, a documentary on Dr Kathy Vespia’s experiences at sea with Oliver Hazard Perry.

In July 2014, we will be offering a 5-day voyage for teachers to introduce them to the powerful and effective classroom created on board the deck of Oliver Hazard Perry. This trip will begin in Newport on July 6, and end in Providence on July 10 for the ships inaugural visit to the Port of Providence.

You can follow the trials and successes of the captain and crew of the Oliver H. Perry as it approaches completion by reading OHPRI’s blog here. We wish the crew of Oliver H. Perry a very successful first season at sea!

Copyright © 2014 by Marine Science Today, a publication of Marine Science Today LLC.

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