SHIPPING OUT: The hull of the SSV Oliver Hazard Perry at the Senesco Marine shipyard. In mid-June the vessel will be towed to Newport, where it will be hauled from the water so the hull can be painted and the masts stepped.
It remains a year – and as much as $2.5 million in fundraising support – from being ready to set sail. But supporters say excitement is building around the SSV Oliver Hazard Perry, which will visit its future home in Newport in June, ahead of a July Fourth weekend fundraising event culminating with the state’s official educational sailing vessel being opened to the public for the first time.
The nonprofit Oliver Hazard Perry Rhode Island says it has raised $6.5 million to date, and needs to raise between $2 million and $2.5 million more to complete construction and fund the initial years of the ship’s educational sailing mission.
OHPRI Board Chairman Bart Dunbar last week said the July 5 gala at the Newport Shipyard nearly sold out before invitations were mailed, prompting organizers to expand the size of the event from 300 to 400 guests. Tickets range from $75 for desert and dancing to $200 for dinner, with sponsorship and group table opportunities running $1,000 to $10,000 – a level that includes a private dinner in the ship’s great cabin.
Interest in the gala underscores the mounting excitement about the project since the hull was purchased and brought to Rhode Island from Ontario in 2008, said Dunbar.
“We’re getting so much closer to this being a reality,” he said. “A number of people who were skeptical at first about our ability to make this happen have seen our progress so far and come onboard and those who have been with us from the start continue to show support and write checks.”
OHPRI says more than 300 individuals have each pledged at least $1,000 to become “plank owners” of the vessel and said corporate sponsorship from the likes of Milton Cat – which is supplying the ship’s diesel engines – and Cox Communications, have helped make the project possible. BankNewport has donated funds to the ship from every boat loan it closed and late last year, an anonymous benefactor issued two challenge grants that helped the organization reach its 2012 fundraising goal of $1.9 million.
The gala will take place alongside the vessel on July 5. Early the next day, the ship will be brought to Fort Adams State Park – where it will be permanently docked starting next year – for a formal dedication, then opened to the public for visits. Visitors can explore the vessel until 4 p.m. on both Saturday and Sunday.
Spokesperson Barby MacGowan said visitors should come prepared to see “an impressive work in progress, but not a beautiful tall ship – yet.”