Country's newest tall ship set to train students

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. >> Resembling an American naval vessel of the early 1800s, the country's newest tall ship is set to sail with its first students in an education-at-sea program also aimed at personal growth.

The Rhode Island-based SSV Oliver Hazard Perry recently earned its Coast Guard certification, and high school-age students are to board the vessel in Boston on Sunday for a Portsmouth, New Hampshire, tall ships festival. A second group will travel from Portsmouth to Newport later in August.

Owned and operated by the nonprofit OHPRI, the ship is the first of the largest class of tall ships to be built in the United States in more than a century and is the largest civilian sail training vessel.

"The goal since the project started was to get students on board sailing," said Jessica Wurzbacher, the group's executive director. "A lot of hard work has gone into it. I got a tear in my eye when I found out we passed (Coast Guard approval)."

The nonprofit will offer educational programs aboard the vessel for students of all ages from across the country. Not only do they learn about sailing, but also teamwork and communication, Wurzbacher said.

"We're not expecting every person to leave the program and become the best sailor in the world, but they'll take with them the skills that they learn that will stay with them for life," she said.

The 200-foot-tall ship was built of steel at a cost of $16 million. Named after Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry, the War of 1812 hero and a Rhode Island native, the vessel took about eight years to build. Perry, who captured a British fleet during the Battle of Lake Erie, is remembered for his command: "Don't Give Up the Ship."

Based at Fort Adams State Park, the ship is Rhode Island's official sailing education vessel and designated a goodwill ambassador for the state.

Wurzbacher said the nonprofit wanted Rhode Island to have its own tall ship because many students never get the chance to experience the joys and lessons of sailing. She expects about 1,000 students will train each year on board the ship.

The captain, David Dawes, said the vessel is performing as expected and he's confident the trainees will have an excellent experience this summer.


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