Don Maranell – From Heartland America to Submarine Service

by Maya Jung

Young Don Maranell had never seen the ocean when he departed land locked Iowa in 1974 as a recently graduated high school student and enlisted in the Navy. In his 20 year and two day career, he would see it from the surface often and spend months beneath it

“It was at the height of the Cold War,” said Maranell, “the U.S. was quietly battling the Soviet Union for control of the seas. The Navy seemed like a fine place to assist my Nation and have some adventure in the process. We won the Cold War and I had more adventure than I could have bargained for. The 18 year old kid made a wise decision, so much of what I am today that is positive I owe to my career in the Navy.”

Maranell modestly accesses himself, his positives have benefitted all in both his Navy and civilian years.

Recruit Maranell did his Boot Training at Orlando, Florida. The Navy quickly recognized his intellect and dedication and next assigned him to the prestigious Machinist Mate “A” School at the Great Lakes Training Base. The best of the best that successfully complete the School are then slotted for the most complex and challenging training the Navy offers – Nuclear. Cramming what amounts to a hands-on Engineering Degree in to half the time, Don completed Nuclear Training School and Nuclear Prototype Training and joined the Fleet. A stint on the USS Orleck provided him with the surface vessel experience all Submariners must have. His first Sub was the Kamahamen and from there to the Sub Greenling.

Much of Don’s career was months at sea beneath the surface. “70 days deep down, 120 men operating the finest and most complex piece of machinery in the world, never knowing if a ‘Launch IBMs’ command would be given. The men I served with became my Brothers, our Mission could only be accomplished if each and every man performed his job.”

Asked to cite an example of that dependent team work under duress, Don paused, and said, “We were deep surfaced when a fire broke out on the USS Greenling. It is difficult to describe to any but one who has been awarded the Dolphins of the Submarine Service – suffice to say, imagine being in total darkness, great heat, the air filled with smoke, and in a metal tube hundreds of feet down in the ocean. Expertise, training, and loyalty to ship and shipmates saved the day. We all did what we had to do. That event formed me for life.”

In his Navy career, Don earned a B.S Degree from Southern Illinois University and a Masters from RPI. He was sent to Officer Candidate School and affirmed as what his Mom and Dad in Iowa had already molded – a Gentleman – he retired as a distinguished Officer. “The best route for a young man or woman who has no money is the Military,” Don advised, “work hard and they will help you fulfill potential – in return you serve your Nation with pride. Best career I could imagine!”

Post Navy Don Maranell has continued to serve. A bulwark of Stonington, he served his Town in its highest elected office – First Selectman. Married to his beloved wife and competitive Ball Room Dancing Partner Mary, together they are the proud Parents of adopted Son Sam. Despite being afflicted from infancy with Cerebral Palsy and Epilepsy, Dominican Republic born Sam is a Second Degree Black Belt and college student – no doubt Dad’s Navy courage and dedication provided the inspiration and example.

The RESIDENT salutes Veteran Donald Maranell this Veterans Day!

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Phil Overton USCG: The Environment and Economy

by  Maya Jung

From the time he was a child, Phil Overton was enraptured with the sea. One of his earliest memories is of viewing three Coast Guard Cutters and being fascinated by the intricacies of their design and the clarity of their purpose of protecting the ocean and those who traveled upon it. At age 19, Phil enlisted in the Coast Guard and considers his time in the ranks to have changed him for the better, provided him with the confidence to strive and succeed, and deepened a love of the wonders of the ocean and all that lies beneath it.

Phil fondly remembers his Boot Camp Training Officer, Petty Officer Ishman. “He saw in me potential I had not seen myself, he inspired me, mentored me, and honed a dedication and work ethic that has served me well in all of my life,” said Phil. The Petty Officer was a former Presidential Honor Guard member, a stickler for bearing and protocol. “In a short period of time, Coast Guard training turns raw recruits into able persons,” recounts Phil. “A highlight of my life was being the Honor Graduate of my Recruit Training Class.

Advanced schools and training followed and Phil was assigned to duty at the United States Coast Guard Academy in New London.

“I was a busy young man” recalls Phil,” the Military is unique, in that it places great responsibility in a person’s hands at an age far younger than would occur in the private sector – security for a major installation, logistics, and supplies being some of those.” Phil cites time management as a key skill instilled by the Coast Guard and points to the fact that concurrent with his duties he was able to do college degree work as an enlisted man.

On discharge, Phil embarked upon a career with Prudential Insurance as a Certified Financial Planner; he has now been with them for over 30 years. “The values instilled in me by the Coast Guard and by other branches of the military in those who served make the civilian world a better place–team work, loyalty, honesty, and dedication. Veterans may leave the Military–the Military never leaves them!” Phil proudly stated.

Married for 25 years to beloved wife Faye Barbone, Phil is an ardent Environmentalist. Hikes through the wilderness are surpassed only by his love of scuba diving. Phil is a Certified Dive Master and Instructor, enjoying the seas from below that he once protected from above. As all Veterans do, he continues to serve his community, presently as a candidate for Town Council in Westerly, RI.

The RESIDENT salutes Coast Guard Veteran Phil Overton!

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Robert R. Simmons – Army Infantry Combat Veteran

by Maya Jung

A college cross-country and track star, six time letterman and Team Captain, Robert was well proven as a competitor and one who ran to a goal to win. Upon earning his college degree, he did as too few others were doing – he walked to the Army Recruiting Station and enlisted. America was at the height of the Vietnam War.

The Army noted Robert’s Boot Camp performance, read his DI’s and Peers Leadership evaluations, noted the exemplary scholarship of his undergraduate transcripts, and ordered him to Officer Candidate School with an MOS of Combat Infantry. Vietnam was in need of brave, daring  2ND Lt.  Rifle Platoon Leaders, the position’s motto of “Follow Me” put them constantly at risk and in short supply. Robert would lead his men from the front of the ranks for 19 months. Two Bronze Stars are the testimony to what he did and what he survived.

Robert will not speak of the horror of combat. He simply sums it up by stating, “In combat, one comes to Jesus or goes crazy. One tells oneself, if I live I owe giving  back in memory of those who did not survive.”

He does, however, speak of what he learned in combat, “A life’s infusion of values – honesty, integrity, and leadership. I saw it modeled by brave men and women every day. Their inspiration and example has never left me.”

Robert went on to become a CIA operative in Southeast Asia and China, it was his and peers efforts that prevented the entirety of the subcontinent from coming under Communist rule. One can exist only so long in the eye of the storm, what Robert had experienced, accomplished, and learned had now to be utilized in decision making Washington, DC. Two United States Senators who were themselves WWII combat heroes, Senator John Chaffee and American Icon Senator Barry Goldwater, recruited Robert to positions as Lead Staff and Chief of Staff.

Concurrent with his DC positions, Robert maintained military enlistment as a member of the U.S. Army Reserve. He would eventually retire as a Colonel in 2003 after 37 years of active and reserve service. Somehow, in doing all this, he made time to earn a Master of Public Administration from Harvard University Kennedy School of Government. He married his love Heidi, now a retired Education Literacy Coach, and together proudly raised children Robert and Jane.

In case the use of the name Robert threw the reader, you probably know him best as  “Rob,” former Congressman, State Representative, College Professor, and Town of Stonington Selectman. Quietly or if need be vocally, acting as the prime mover in countless charity and altruistic endeavors, he is still the Infantry Officer – leading from the front! The RESIDENT salutes Colonel Rob Simmons.

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Veteran Tom Hall: Submarine Qualified

Story and photos by Karen Butera

In October of 1965, a year after graduating from high school, Tom Hall decided to join the Navy during the Vietnam War era, prepared to fight for his country. His decision came because of a desire to follow in his father’s footsteps, also a Navy man as a Seabee years earlier. His six-year hitch in the Navy started in boot camp in San Diego, California, then onto school where the Navy sent him to learn to be an electrician. The Navy was not finished with Hall’s training yet, sending him on to Nuclear Power School, and then for prototype training at a submarine school on the Groton Navy Base.

After his original six-year hitch, Hall found himself with a decision to make. “I originally didn’t plan on joining the Navy for a career, but as things change in your life, you find your path in life changes also,” said Hall. “I had the choice to reenlist or get out.” With the money incentive they offered, Hall decided it was a good idea to reenlist, especially since he enjoyed what he was doing. Before he knew it, that six-year hitch turned into 21 years, and in the end, Hall was an Electrician’s Mate Senior Chief Petty Officer, Submarine qualified.

Once completed with his training, Hall was assigned on a fast attack submarine, the USS Sargo, as a Nuclear Electrician stationed in Pearl Harbor for two years. Submariners who operate the vessels that carry weapons under the sea are called “The Silent Service.”

“Our job was to stand watch, keep the boat repaired and trained for properly controlling the reactor and keeping it safe. Part of our job was keeping an eye on the Russians during the Cold War while they kept an eye on us,” said Hall. For two years, the sub was stationed off the Vietnam Coast.

For Hall, one of the nicest things about the Navy was “We docked in Singapore, Philippines, Korea, Japan and Hong Kong for a few days, getting to see places we wouldn’t have normally seen, and do things we wouldn’t have done otherwise.”

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Three Full Scholarships for High School Students to Study Abroad

U.S. State Department Wants High School Students to Say ‘YES’ to Studying Overseas in 2015
U.S. high school students who want to experience another culture can apply for full scholarships to study abroad next year through the Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) Abroad program. The program connects high school students with overseas communities and cultures, preparing students to collaborate on today’s global challenges such as human rights, community development, workforce development, climate change, and global health.
Sponsored by the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, the YES Abroad program is a component of the Kennedy-Lugar YES exchange program that also brings almost 900 high school students from approximately 40 countries with significant Muslim populations to the United States to study each year.
For the 2015-16 academic year, full scholarships are available to live with host families and study for an academic year in countries that currently include: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Macedonia, Malaysia, Morocco, Oman, Philippines, South Africa, Thailand, and Turkey. Additional countries, including Egypt and Tunisia, may also be added to the program at a later date. The merit-based scholarship covers domestic and international travel; tuition and related academic preparation; accommodations with a host family; educational and cultural activities in the host country; orientations; applicable visa fees; three basic meals per day; and medical benefits.
First authorized by the U.S. Congress in the aftermath of September 11, 2001, the YES program empowers the next generation of leaders and establishes long-lasting ties between the United States and countries with significant Muslim populations. As YES Abroad scholars, American high school students form lasting relationships with their host families and communities and understand global engagement on a whole new level. YES Abroad is administered by a consortium of non-profit organizations, including American Councils for International Education, AFS-USA, AMIDEAST, and iEARN-USA.
Eligible candidates must be U.S. citizens and enrolled in high school at the time of application and be between the ages of 15 years and 18 years and six months at the start of the program. Additional criteria are detailed on the program website and in the application.

For more information on the YES Abroad program and to access the application, visit www.yes-abroad.org The deadline for applying is January 7, 2015.

 

Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange (CBYX) launches its national 2015-16 academic year scholarship for high school students and recent graduates to study abroad in Germany. 250 scholarships are available from the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs to fully fund students for an academic year of study and cultural immersion. Scholarship recipients will gain new perspectives on global current affairs and German social, economic and political life, all while learning the German language through day-to-day life in the culture, attending at a local high school and living with a host family. Participants serve as “youth ambassadors” from the United States while participating in educational, cultural and political events, including receptions and meetings with government officials.
Initiated in 1983, CBYX was created to strengthen ties between Germany and the United States through citizen diplomacy. Over the past 30 years, CBYX has administered exchanges for over 23,000 American and German students. Dedicated supporter Richard Lugar (former Senator, IN) calls CBYX “an extraordinary opportunity to learn about the world, gain a deeper understanding of people and issues, build lifelong skills, and expand horizons.” Former Secretary Hillary Clinton called exchanges like CBYX “an important tool of U.S. Diplomacy. Few other experiences can substitute for seeing another country first-hand, learning more about its culture, meeting people face-to-face.”
To learn more about CBYX, including information about eligibility and how to apply for the 2015-16 academic year, visit www.usagermanyscholarship.org
CBYX is administered by a partnership of non-profit exchange organizations. AFS-USA administers the program in the following Northeastern United States locations: CT, D.C., DE, MA, MD, ME, NH, NJ, NY, OH, PA, RI, and VT.
The application deadline for the Northeastern United States is January 8, 2015; residents of this region can call (800) AFS-INFO x 2161 or email cbyx@afsusa.org for more information.

For the application deadline and contact information for all other regions, visit www.usagermanyscholarship.org

 

Approximately 600 scholarships are available for the 2015-16 academic year for American high school students to study language through the National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLI-Y) program. NSLI-Y is funded by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. The program seeks to increase Americans’ capacity to engage with native speakers of critical languages by providing formal and informal language learning through a study abroad experience, which includes language classes and living in a local community abroad, often with a host family.
Scholarships to participate in summer or academic year programs are available for the study of Arabic, Chinese (Mandarin), Hindi, Korean, Persian (Tajiki), Russian, and Turkish. The merit-based scholarships cover domestic and international travel, tuition and related academic expenses, daily language classes, supporting cultural activities, room and board, and secondary health benefits for travel abroad.
Launched in 2006, the goal of NSLI-Y is to increase the number of young Americans with the language skills necessary to advance international dialogue and increase understanding between cultures. Alumni of NSLI-Y can become leaders in a variety of international fields in the private, academic or government sector. NSLI-Y is administered by American Councils for International Education, in cooperation with AFS-USA, iEARN, American Cultural Exchange Service (ACES), AMIDEAST, Legacy International, Russian American Foundation (RAF), and University of Delaware.
To be eligible for 2015-16 program scholarships, applicants must be:
• U.S. citizens
• High school students with a GPA of 2.5 or higher at time of application
• 15 – 18 years of age at the start of the program
• Additional detailed eligibility criteria can be found at www.nsliforyouth.org
For more information about the NSLI-Y program or to apply, visit www.nsliforyouth.org
The application deadline is October 30, 2014.

Pioneering The Growth Of Valenti Family Of Dealerships

Pioneering the Growth of Valenti Family of Dealerships

Say the name Valenti and the immediate thought is car, say the word car and the name that comes to mind is Valenti. How did that region wide response come to be? And what is the secret to the success of the Valenti Car Dealerships? Same answer to both questions – Bob Valenti!

When asked to account for the overwhelming success of his Auto Dealerships, 81-years young Bob Valenti without hesitation answers, “Being in the right place at the right time and making the right decisions.” Modest to a fault, that success is more based on Bob’s incredible work ethic, honesty, compassion, and commitment to the customer.

The year is 1946, WW II has just ended, assembly lines that turned out the tanks, artillery, and arms that supplied our Troops are now turning out the first cars in five years, In Wallingford, Connecticut, at a Dodge-Plymouth Dealership owned by his Dad, Fred Valenti, 14-years young Bob Valenti worked at the dealership in the morning and attended high school in the afternoon. “I can never be too thankful for how I was raised.” Bob reflected, “Dad instilled that nothing came to you – you had to labor to earn it.”

That year the Valenti Dealership sold 28 cars, today the Valenti dealerships sell 400 cars per month. Obviously, the instilling of a strong work ethic proved its worth.

Working side-by-side with his brother Fred Jr., Bob took on more and more responsibility from his Dad. Brother Fred continued his schooling in business, while Bob mastered the intricacies of engine and body repair at Wilcox Technical School, and together they grew the Family Business. When Dad’s health declined, a 23-year old Bob and his brother took over running the dealership.

In 1955, the Valenti family was awarded a Chevrolet dealership. Sales took off, but due to far more than just a booming 50’s economy. “Selling a new car to a person is only the first step in establishing a lasting relationship with a buyer. What has to follow is standing behind the product, providing the best of servicing, and doing all at as fair and reasonable a price as possible. Do that and you have a relationship that continues, the client comes back and sends friends and family. After decades in the business, we have reached a point where returning, not new, clients are the greater majority of our buyers,” Bob states with obvious and justified pride.

In 1972, Bob was traveling to a national dealership owners meeting and struck up a conversation with Bud Santin of Mystic while in-flight. Bud told Bob that his brother, Joe Santin might be interested in selling his Chevrolet/Oldsmobile dealership located along the upriver side of the Drawbridge.

Wasting no time, Bob journeyed to Mystic, immediately found a fellow soul in Joe, and fell in love with the area. In relating the story, Bob smiled broadly in remembrance, “It was a kinder, gentler time. The contract that completed the sale was on a single sheet of 8 x 11 paper!” And thus, the Valenti name came to Mystic.

Two years of commuting from Wallingford six-days-a- week with four growing children proved arduous and time consuming. In 1975, Bob and family set forth from Wallingford and established roots in Stonington. Love of that community and service to it continues to this day.

One of the first to truly grasp the historic value of the Seaport, Drawbridge, and environs, Bob knew that the blossoming of that potential would be stymied by the location of his dealership. That combined with his having acquired dealership rights to market the Chevrolet and Ford products sent him looking for a location to combine all with state-of-the-art showroom and service facilities. Perhaps, this is where Bob’s reference to “right time, right place, and right decision” emanates from.

A ten acre parcel of land- locked property behind the Stonington Historical Society’s Home on Route 27 along Route 95 was for sale. Chemical Bank of New York had foreclosed on adjacent property that bordered on Jerry Brown Road in Mystic, and Bob went out on a limb and purchased both. The result is the unique and beautifully situated multi-maker auto dealership that exists today. Soon to be added to that were the highly successful Valenti Toyota and Subaru dealerships in Westerly RI, and the adding of the legendary Jeep in Mystic, in addition to Chrysler Dodge and Volkswagen.

An amazing career, and an astonishing history that links to a Nash dealership owned by his father in the 1930’s. And just as amazing is what Bob Valenti gives back to his community when not in the showroom. The National Historic Treasure Palmer House in Stonington would have gone to rack and ruin had not Bob purchased and restored it prior to it being taken by the Stonington Historical Society. Stonington enjoys fiscal security today due to Bob’s tenure as member and Chairman of the Stonington Board of Finance. His charity work is legendary.

Bob is now retired. Son Rob has taken on the responsibilities learned via his Dad. Daughters Beth, Cheryl, Jean and spouses Bill Goodwin, Tom Quirk and Bruce Morrow, hold key management positions – still a Family Business! Bob and wife, June’s extended family boasts 17 Grandchildren and 10 Great Grandchildren.

When asked what he’s driving? Bob answers, “My current favorite ride is my Corvette convertible, my best ride has been life.”

A great story, a great man – Made in America.

60th Anniversary Of The Nautilus – Home To Heroes

September 30th marked the 60th anniversary of the commissioning of USS Nautilus. The celebration was held at the pier next to the submarine at the Submarine Force Museum and Library in Groton, Connecticut. Attendees included several well-known faces and politicians including: Senator Richard Blumenthal, Congressman Joe Courtney, Governor Dannel Malloy, and Electric Boat Vice President of Engineering and Design Programs, Will Lennon. The U.S. Navy’s Director of Naval Nuclear Propulsion, Admiral John M. Richardson was also joined by several plank owners of the Nautilus and former and retired Naval commanders of the historic submarine.
The Nautilus (SSN 571) was considered the “First and Finest” of its kind. It was a part of a project started by Admiral Hyman G. Rickover (also known as the “Father of the Nuclear Navy”) and his team of engineers in an effort to move naval operations from diesel-driven engines to the nuclear powered engines that submarines use today.
Electric Boat designed and built the Nautilus in Groton, Connecticut and on January 17, 1955, she was finally “Underway on Nuclear Power” according to Cmdr. Eugene P. Wilkinson, the boat’s first skipper.
“Electric Boat couldn’t be prouder of its roll in producing the Nautilus”, said Will Lennon, VP of Electric Boat’s Engineering and Design Program, “it set the standard for high performance technology in the world.”
Blumenthal also commented, ”Great boats that our nation depends on emerge here in Groton”
“Connecticut is the only state that contributes directly to build out a naval base. This base provides 3.4 billion in economic activity and over 15,000 jobs to this area”, said Governor Dannel Malloy stressing the impact the Nautilus has made on the economic growth of the area.
The Nautilus had a 25 year service life and since her commissioning 60 years ago, 18 classes of submarines have been designed and 200 have been built. It paved the way for the newest Virginia class submarines and the upcoming Ohio class replacement submarines.
After the ceremony, a small reception was held inside the museum. Families and loved ones of Nautilus crews past and present shared their fondest memories with each other. Some of the invitees came from across the country just to say hello and wish the Nautilus a happy anniversary.
“We came from Colorado”, said William O’Halloran as he stood in front of the ship he served on in the 1950’s, “Those were some crazy days!”
Across the room, Captain David S. Boyd (ret) shook hands with CDR Jefferey C. Metzel, Jr., the fourth skipper of the Nautilus. Metzel was also joined by his family, including his nephew, Blues Traveler lead singer, John Popper.
“I am so proud of my uncle. He’s always been my hero”, said Popper.
Judging by the mood of the day, the Nautilus was clearly home to several heroes and pioneers of the nuclear navy. She changed the way people thought about the submarine community and showed them that nuclear propulsion could and would be done.

Pirates Invade Mystic

story & photos
by Christopher Annino

The sound of groggy buccaneers walking an uneven stride haunted the streets of Downtown Mystic October 4th and 5th. It was estimated that over 6,000 people attended the annual Mystic Pirate Invasion presented by the Downtown Mystic merchants. Saturday’s festivities were aimed towards adults. Each individual who participated in the events on Saturday took part in a pirate themed scavenger hunt. Participants where given a poster with pictures of pirates to find in local bars and food merchants.
On Sunday, a treasure hunt occurred in Downtown Mystic for kids. Twenty-nine local businesses participated to find “booty” at each location using a treasure map. The hunt lasted throughout the morning until the afternoon. Around high noon at Bank Square Books, it was pirate story time. Following that, was a pirate costume contest in which young and adult swashbucklers participated.
This year, the siege of pirates arrived on the Argia at Mystic River Park, a militia and Symfony ship arrived at the Steamboat Inn dock in an effort to beat back the invaders. As cannons fired back and forth, the pirates kidnapped and imprisoned some community leaders for ransom, including a mermaid. The proceeds went to the Terri Brodeur Breast Cancer Foundation. Music was provided by Pirates for Peace, a four-man ’60s, ’70s and ’80s genre band from Plainfield. This year’s event was a complete success, both spectators and participants feel that it’s a wonderful new tradition to this community.

Four Seals Released

SEAL RELEASE
On October 3rd, the Mystic Aquarium Animal Rescue released four harbor seal pups back to the Atlantic from the Charlestown Breachway. The pups arrived in little crates with the Aquarium’s team around 10:00 a.m. Each pup was rescued in either May or June off the coast of Maine and spent the summer being rehabilitated by the kind folks at the Mystic Aquarium.
The pups consisted of two males (Leo and Comet) and two females (Bellatrix and Phoenix). Each pup came with their own little story.
Leo was rescued from a dock off the coast of Breman, Maine. The Aquarium believes he was an abandoned at only 3-4 days old. He was only 19 lbs when he was found and upon his release, he weighed approximately 40 lbs.
Comet was rescued from Wells, Maine by the Marine Mammals of Maine on June 14, 2014 and transferred to the Mystic Aquarium two days later. He was determined to be about a week old at the time. While at the Aquarium, he received special care for an injured flipper and at four months old, he more than doubled his weight at the time of his release.
Also rescued by the Marine Mammals of Maine, were the two female seal pups: Bellatrix and Phoenix. Bellatrix, also doubled her weight during her stay at the Aquarium. When she was found, she was less than a week old, and weighed approximately 22 lbs. Upon her release, she weighed 47 lbs. Phoenix was found on Old Orchard Beach, Maine in June. At the time, she was about three weeks old. The Mystic Aquarium took Phoenix into their care the very next day. She received care for malnourishment and upon her release she weighed in at a healthy 44.9 lbs.
Around 10:30, the gates to the crates were opened and each pup began to make his or her way out to the ocean which stood about 30 feet in front of them. The crowd smiled as the seals eagerly flopped their way back to their home in the Atlantic Ocean. Everyone watched as the waves crashed on the shore. Occasionally, you would see one of the pups pop out of the water as if to say, “Hey! I did it!”
The Mystic Aquarium’s Animal Rescue Program has responded to over 1,500 calls to assist with the rescues of various animals from harbor seals, like the pups released on October 3rd, to whales, dolphins and even sea turtles. The program not only responds to rescues in Connecticut, but they also work with other states like Maine, Rhode Island, New Jersey and New York.

SSV Oliver Hazard Perry

One “Step” Closer to Completion

PORTSMOUTH, R.I. (September 25, 2014) Α The mainmast of the 200-foot Tall Ship SSV Oliver Hazard Perry was stepped yesterday in a dockside ceremony at The Hinckley Company in Portsmouth, R.I., marking a major milestone in the completion of Rhode Island’s Official Sailing Education Vessel that will serve students of all ages from New England and beyond.  Attending were supporters – including donors and Board members – of Oliver Hazard Perry Rhode Island (OHPRI), the non-profit organization responsible for building and operating the ship.

“The stepping of a mast means it is erected and secured into its ‘step’ within the hull,” explained Perry’s Captain Richard Bailey, who served as Master of Ceremonies and first spoke while the massive 132’ mast hung at-the-ready in a sling held by a giant crane. “Earlier this month, the forward mast was stepped, also here at the Hinckley boatyard, where dozens of riggers and shipwrights have been working on the ship this summer.” (The mizzenmast, the last of the three masts on the square-rigged ship, was erected after the morning ceremony, late in the afternoon.)

The mainmast of Rhode Island’s Official Sailing Education Vessel SSV Oliver Hazard Perry was stepped Wednesday, Sept. 25 in a dockside ceremony at The Hinckley Company in Portsmouth, R.I. (Credit Onne van der Wal)  Available for download in high resolution by clicking the photo above

(Video by MarineMotion㈢/ RIyachting.com can be viewed at http://bit.ly/1BbHJiX or by clicking image above.)

The mainmast towers 13  stories (or 120’) above the deck of SSV Oliver Hazard Perry.  It is made up of three sections:  the 65’ long lower section made of steel and its upper two sections (called the topmast and t’gallant) made of Douglas fir, which came from a private tree farm in Rainier, Oregon and was turned in Washington State on the largest spar lathe in North America. Collectively, Perry’s 19 wooden spars – including the mizzen, mainmast and royals for each; fore top mast and gallant; mizzen gaff; boom; and jib boom – weigh almost 36 tons and total 25,182 board feet – enough to build a house of over 3700 square feet.

After remarks by Bart Dunbar, Chairman, OHPRI, and Donald Christ, Esq., President, Alletta Morris McBean Charitable Trust (a major contributor for which the rig will be dedicated when complete), a 1936 Rhode Island Tercentenary Half Dollar, issued to commemorate the 1636 founding of Providence, R.I. and donated by OHPRI Board Member Jim Pickering, was placed in the Perry’s mast step.  Samuel Appleton Treherne-Thomas placed the coin with help from Ben Grenier; both are family descendants of Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry, the American hero (and Rhode Island native) in the Battle of Lake Erie for which the ship is named.
The 132’ main mast of SSV Oliver Hazard Perry is lowered into place.
(Credit Onne van der Wal) Available for download in high resolution by clicking the photo above

“There is a long and rich history of placing coins beneath masts to address an assortment of superstitions; today we place our coins to bring good luck and to memorialize a significant moment in the process of our ship’s creation,” said Bailey.

While one worker operated the crane, several more helped to position the mast vertically before it was lowered into place.  When the mast was in place, the firing of the Perry’s cannon signaled that all was well with the progress of this privately-funded and publically supported project:  the first full-rigged ocean-going ship to be built in the United States in the last 110 years.

Enlarged framed versions of the 2013 “Perry victory” quarter that sits under the ship’s forward mast, were presented to Vice Admiral Thomas Weschler, USN Ret. and Bart Dunbar in recognition of extraordinary service to the project. Admiral Weschler drew laughter from the audience when he quipped, “This is the most exciting thing I’ve done since World War II.” (The main cabin is named in honor of his brother, WWII hero Lieutenant Charles John Weschler, USN.)

Alluding to the date Perry’s steel hull was bought from a Canadian group, Dunbar added, “It’s a momentous day for this entire enterprise that began in 2008, and some might not realize how significant this particular mast stepping is, as well.  There has not been a rig like this built for a U.S. ship in 110 years, so there was not one person or organization that we could go to and say, ‘We want one of those for SSV Oliver Hazard Perry.’”

Texas and Newport resident Dan Tutcher sponsored the purchase of the lower mainmast section as well as the lowers for the foremast and mizzenmast. Volvo of America and Combined Transport also contributed to the transportation of the spars from Washington.

The shrouds and backstays have been fabricated by a team of riggers employed by OHPRI since March of 2014. The team will spend the next eight weeks completing the rig while the ship remains at The Hinckley Company, which has generously donated dock space.  Seven miles of rope and four miles of wire will be incorporated into the complex system that will support and allow the trimming of 20 sails with 14,000 sq. ft. of sail area.

Donald Christ shared his appreciation for OHPRI’s vision, which he said was presented to the Alletta Morris McBean Charitable Trust “through the good graces” of Admiral Weschler a number of years ago. “He came over and over again to meet with us, and finally we said ‘we can’t say no.’ We have made a serious commitment to this ship, and to me, it makes possible the enthusiasm that we have at the Trust for some of the things that we can do. Many of the projects we fund disappear into the ether, and there’s nothing tangible you can look at, but when you sit here and see this dream-come-true, it’s a miraculous thing.”

OHPRI has raised over $14 million toward the completion of SSV Oliver Hazard Perry and has $975,000 left to raise before the ship transitions into its operational phase for hosting education-at-sea programs next Spring.

SSV Oliver Hazard Perry, when completed, will be a Coast Guard-inspected and approved steel-hulled technologically sophisticated 21st Century ship. In addition to her three decks, modern galley and Great Cabin (where captains, in days of yore, entertained), Perry sports, among other things, high-end navigation and communication systems, a state-of-the-art science lab (designed under the guidance of the University of Rhode Island’s Graduate School of Oceanography), and wheelchair accessibility (including accessible below deck staterooms, heads and a wheelchair lift). The Great Cabin will be used less for entertaining and more for education in its capacity as a classroom outfitted with monitors displaying real-time navigation and meteorological data. The other classroom space will house laptop computers (donated by Intel), interactive SMART boards (donated by Shanix Technologies, Inc.) and a well-stocked library.

“This is the flagship of our state of Rhode Island, for our tourism, for our marine industry, for our school and students, and for our citizens who appreciate that we are the Ocean State,” said Dunbar. “That is the statement we are making.”

For more information about SSV Oliver Hazard Perry, please visit www.ohpri.org or contact Jess Wurzbacher at 401-841-0080, info@ohpri.org. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter for current news and developments.