2014-10-02 / Around Town

One ‘Step’ Closer to Completion


The mainmast of SSV Oliver Hazard Perry was stepped in a dockside ceremony at The Hinckley Company in Portsmouth. (Photos­by Onne van der Wal) The mainmast of SSV Oliver Hazard Perry was stepped in a dockside ceremony at The Hinckley Company in Portsmouth. (Photos­by Onne van der Wal) The mainmast of the 200-foot Tall Ship SSV Oliver Hazard Perry was stepped on Sept. 25 in a dockside ceremony at The Hinckley Company in Portsmouth, 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.

“The stepping of a mast means it is erected and secured into its ‘step’ within the hull,” explained Perry’s Captain Richard Bailey, while the massive 132-foot 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 three coins placed under the three masts of SSV Oliver Hazard Perry have special significance for Rhode Island. An enlarged version of one of the coins was presented to OHPRI’s Chairman Emeritus Vice Admiral Tom Weschler. The three coins placed under the three masts of SSV Oliver Hazard Perry have special significance for Rhode Island. An enlarged version of one of the coins was presented to OHPRI’s Chairman Emeritus Vice Admiral Tom Weschler. The mainmast towers 13 stories (or 120-feet) above the deck of the ship. It is made up of three sections: the 65-foot long lower section made of steel and two upper sections (called the topmast and t’gallant) made of Douglas fir, which came from a private tree farm in Rainier, Ore., 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 3,700 square feet. 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 square feet of sail area.

After remarks by Oliver Hazard Perry Rhode Island's Chair Bart Dunbar and Donald Christ, president of the Alletta Morris McBean Charitable Trust (a major contributor to which the rig will be dedicated when complete), a 1936 Rhode Island Tercentenary Half Dollar, issued to commemorate the 1636 founding of Providence 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.

“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.

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