Q&A with New Skipper of RI Tall Ship Oliver Hazard Perry
March 25, 2015
As work on Rhode Island’s new Tall Ship reaches completion in Portsmouth, RI, officials of the at-sea sail-training program Oliver Hazard Perry Rhode Island (OHPRI) have announced that Wellfleet, MA, native Richard Bailey will serve as the vessel’s captain. With OHPRI, Bailey’s wide-ranging duties include overseeing the design work, cooperating with governmental regulators, conducting historical research, writing a Captain’s Blog for the website, crafting a sail-training manual, providing advice and insight on education, public relations, and fundraising, and much more.
Capt. Bailey, who has extensive experience onboard various Tall Ships, has been a driving force in bringing the OHP to reality. When he heard about a Canadian Tall Ship project that had stalled back in late 2007, he quickly envisioned the possibility of building a new Class A Tall Ship in the U.S. He partnered with Bart Dunbar and a handful of others from Tall Ships Rhode Island to reshape that event organization into an education-at-sea provider (now OHPRI) and acquire the steel hull that had been waiting to become a replica of HMS Detroit. In 2008, the hull was towed to Newport and work began on what is now SSV Oliver Hazard Perry, the 200’, 3-masted, square-rigged Tall Ship that has been designated Rhode Island’s Official Sailing Education vessel and is the first ocean-going full-rigged ship to be built in the U.S. in 110 years.
Before joining OHPRI, Bailey served as the long-time captain of the Rose, the only Class A size American Tall Ship to be inspected as a sailing school vessel. His wide-ranging campaigns took that ship all along the East Coast as far north as Newfoundland and Labrador, to Europe and back, and to the Caribbean. After several decades of sail training, the ship was sold to 20th Century Fox and he sailed it from Newport through the Panama Canal to Baja, Mexico, where he managed the ship during the making of the film “Master and Commander.”
He has also sailed as captain of the many schooners of the Ocean Classroom Foundation and as captain of the Tall Ships Bounty and Gazela Primeiro. He holds a “Master of Sail Vessels” to 1600 ton/Oceans license from the U.S. Coast Guard and has sailed square-rigged ships for decades.
Capt. Bailey was kind enough to participate in a short Q&A with New England Boating:
NEBO: How and when did you develop your love for boating and sailing?
RB: Bad decisions as a young man. Seriously, I never had much interest in yachting, but the long era of “working sail” fascinated me from an early age. The replica “HMS” Rose was built when I was just out of my teens; the first time I saw it in Newport, I couldn’t believe it existed. I knew I had to sail it!
NEBO: What fostered your love of large, classic sailing vessels?
RB: Learning that I could make the experience accessible; seizing Rose as an opportunity. The generosity of older men who let me sail in their vessels: Bob Douglas of tops’l schooner Shenandoah, Barclay Warburton of brigantine Black Pearl…getting the opportunity to make an extended sea voyage as a civilian in the Coast Guard Barque Eagle…the confidence of a man named Kaye Williams who later bought Rose and supported my vision to make her a Sailing School Vessel.
NEBO: What is your most memorable experience aboard a tall ship voyage?
RB: It’s difficult to name a “most” because there have been so many: arrival in some great European ports: London, Brest, Amsterdam—many others; bubble-feeding whales rising right under the ship’s bow, and similarly, great pods of dolphin cavorting in our bow wave; or one time on a moonless midnight when a whale spouted 20 feet to starboard as one watch was relieving another on deck and the assembles score or so of sailors almost jumped out of their boots.
NEBO: In this age of super-high-tech, carbon-fiber sailing vessels, why are people still drawn to Tall Ships?
RB: There’s a majesty to a big square-rigged sailing ship, a grandeur. I think they signify freedom, adventure almost universally. Nearly everyone sees that in them. I often think of Samuel Eliot Morison’s words about the clipper ships: “Never in these United States, has the brain of man conceived, or the hand of man fashioned, so perfect a thing as the clipper ship…The Flying Cloud was our Rheims, the Sovereign of the Seas our Parthenon, the Lightning our Amiens; but they were monuments carved from snow. For a brief moment of time they flashed their splendor around the world, then disappeared with the sudden completeness of the wild pigeon.” Clipper ships may indeed be gone, but their majesty can be rekindled in a purpose-built modern school ship like Oliver Hazard Perry.
NEBO: The road to building the OHP has been a long one…when did you finally feel confident that the project would become a reality?
RB: We bought the basic partial hull of the ship in September 2008 on the day that Lehman Bros. collapsed; it was a good day to shop, but not the most auspicious one to start a multi-million-dollar, non-profit fundraising campaign. I think the ship started to become believable when new steel for its upper half began to be erected at Senesco two years ago. Now that yards are being crossed, it’s unequivocally real.
Learn more on the Tall Ship Oliver Hazard Perry and its at-sea sail-training program.