An Amazing Adventure For Teens Aboard The Tall Ship Oliver Hazard Perry

Obsessed with tall ships

Ever since my parents showed me the movie “Master and Commander” when I was six years old, I’ve been obsessed with tall ships. When I was a child, the only thing I would draw was square sailed ships in a scribbled sea of blue crayon.

I grew beyond crayons, but my love of tall ships never left me. Living in Annapolis means there are always interesting vessels passing through, but the ones that I always go to see are the tall ships. I have seen a galleon, a man-o-war, frigates, and loads of schooners. Aside from the beauty of the lines and full sails of the tall ships, I’ve always loved the idea of the way of life aboard a boat like that. The fantasy of being out there isolated from society and all of its nonsense was amazing. Then while researching ships online one day, I came upon the tall ship Oliver Hazard Perry

The Oliver Hazard Perry is a steel-hulled tall ship launched in 2015. Its hull is a replica of the captured British ship H.M.S Detroit. The vessel is designed to train people in the art of sailing tall ships. The ship looks historically accurate from a distance; however, once you get close, it becomes clear that she’s a high-tech masterpiece. She’s equipped with dual 385-horsepower bio-diesel engines, AIS, radar, and Wifi. In every way the vessel is fully equipped to handle any emergency situation with ease and precision. The boat cost three million dollars to build, part of which was funded by the state of Rhode Island and also by generous donors


Don't give up the ship 

The ship was named after Oliver Hazard Perry, who was a U.S. Naval officer during the 1800s. Perry was born in South Kingstown, RI, in the year 1785. He is best known for being the hero of Lake Erie during the War of 1812. During the battle Perry expertly led his fleet to victory. While this battle was going on, Perry had to row with his men across the lake in heavy gun fire to get to a ship, because his vessel was torn apart by cannon fire. 

One phrase that Perry is known for is, “Don’t give up the ship!” It was on his battle flag. However, this is not his quote and was actually something that his close friend James Lawrence said to Perry while he was dying from a gunshot wound. For his bravery in Lake Erie, Perry was awarded a Congressional Gold Medal. His bravery was nationally recognized, and he was the topic of many articles, books, and papers. 

Oliver Hazard Perry, the ship, continues the tradition of the sea by offering sail training programs for teens and adults. This summer I had the opportunity to sail aboard the OHP on a teen training trip from Newport, RI, to Lunenburg, Nova Scotia (and south to Boston). I was awarded a scholarship for this voyage. I feel lucky that donors set aside money for teens like me to learn leadership and sail training on a tall ship.

When all of the teen trainees arrived in Newport, we were taken onboard to stow our gear and immediately started to get to know the ship and the crew. We spent the first night at anchor in Newport and got straight into our new watch schedule. I was on the 2 to 4 a.m. watch with a team of other trainees and a watch captain from the crew. When they woke us up for our first watch, I didn’t really know what to expect. The crew showed us how to take anchor bearings and do boat checks. Soon we got the hang of things. 

Leaving sight of shore

The next day we began doing safety drills for most of the day, and finally weighed anchor and departed for Lunenburg. When we left the sight of shore for the first time, it was unreal seeing nothing but blue on all sides around us. It was exactly how I thought it would feel when I dreamed about it as a kid. That is, until the fog set in. Suddenly my blue world dissolved into dull grey that left us all feeling disoriented. We would look out the portholes and see nothing but fog, and it felt like flying through a cloud on an airplane.

As we arrived in port at Lunenburg, the Bluenose, a goodwill racing schooner from Nova Scotia, sailed out to greet us. In the harbor we were allowed to tie up at the dock alongside the Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic. We spent some time exploring the beautiful town of Lunenburg. Wandering the town, I was surprised by the colorful buildings and extremely friendly locals. We got to see the fisheries museum, go on a ghost tour, get ice cream, and see some classic sailing movies, such as “Captains Courageous.” 

Many people came from near and far to see our ship. When you sail in a tall ship, it’s like being in a Lamborghini of the sea. Everyone wants to take pictures and look at it. It feels like you’re a celebrity when you sail into port and 100 people gather just to watch the boat come in. 

We departed bright and early the next morning with our sights set on Boston. Unfortunately the wind was not in our favor. We had to motor much of the way. Our captain pulled over for a surprise visit to Monhegan Island, ME. He was worried that we would get to Boston ahead of schedule without a stop, and it gave the crew a chance to stretch our legs. When we anchored, the trainees went ashore to explore the island and go on a hike. We saw seals in the water below us as well as a shipwreck up on the beach. We ran into some nice local artists with whom we talked for a bit before heading back.

As we finally pulled into Boston Harbor two weeks after leaving, we raised as many sails as we could and made everything ship shape to look as nice as possible coming into port. We were all excited that we made it, but also sad that the voyage was ending. 

The trip was an amazing experience for me and all of the other fortunate kids who were able to go. It was an extreme challenge, but that’s part of what made it so fun. The midnight to 6 a.m. watches at sea were a great way to bond. Taking the helm on a 200-foot vessel really built my confidence, and going through some rough seas was fun because it felt like a roller coaster.

I guess the six-year-old me would be slightly disappointed that the ship had no cannons, but other than that, the voyage was perfect. The trip was something that I will never forget.

By Zach Wallach

The author is a teen who has live his entire life aboard a 44-foot catamaran with his family in Annapolis.