We have no state amphibian, insect or fossil, but on May 10 the Rhode Island General Assembly approved legislation designating the SSV Oliver Hazard Perry as the official sailing education vessel of Rhode Island.
Set to sail in July 2013, the SSV Oliver Hazard Perry is a replica of a three-masted 19th century warship that will serve as an innovative ocean-going classroom for Rhode Island students. The square-rigged tall ship will measure 207 feet, and when not fulfilling its education-at-sea duties, will be displayed and available to the public in Newport.
The ship is named after the Rhode Island-born Navy hero of the War of 1812, a conflict of note in these parts, now commemorating its bicentennial. In the state symbol pantheon, it competes somewhat with the replica of the continental sailing vessel Providence, which was adopted as the official Rhode Island flagship and tall ship ambassador in 1992. It also bumps up against the image of the America’s Cup yacht Reliance, which is prominently featured on Narragansett Bay, with the Newport (Pell) Bridge in the background, on the Rhode Island commemorative quarter.
Half Shell is not opposed to making more room in the attic for the clutter of Rhody symbols and emblems, from anchor, flag and great seal to the Crescent Park Loof Carousel (American folk art), Rhode Island Red (bird), coffee milk (drink), striped bass (fish), flower (violet), fruit (Rhode Island greening apple), mineral (Bowenite), rock (Cumberlandite), shell (quahog), tartan and tree (red maple).
(The official symbols list even has its own quirky only-in-Rhode-Islandisms, most notably in the legacy of the state song. “Rhode Island,” with words and music by T. Clark Brown, was adopted as state song in 1946. Fifty years later it was replaced by “Rhode Island’s It For Me,” with lyrics by comedian Charlie Hall, music by Maria Day, arranged by Kathryn Chester. Instead of dismissing Brown’s ditty from the archives forever, legislators made it the official march of Rhode Island.)
The SSV Oliver Hazard Perry fits comfortably into the mix, especially since Rhode Islanders collect boats the way Imelda Marcos hoarded shoes. That’s true even during these austere times, when many residents who own sailboats find them too expensive to maintain and those who own motorboats can’t afford the fuel. This explains why Half Shell owns a pair of kayaks, the precursor to our master plan to restore a small boat in retirement with the ultimate goal of making it the official dinghy of Rhode Island.
What should be the next Rhode Island state symbol?