Students from Groton, New London, Ledyard to board tall ship Sunday

The Oliver Hazard Perry, the official tall ship of Rhode Island. Students from three local schools will be boarding the ship on Sunday for a five-day trip to Newport. (Onne van der Wal/ohpri.org)
The Oliver Hazard Perry, the official tall ship of Rhode Island. Students from three local schools will be boarding the ship on Sunday for a five-day trip to Newport. (Onne van der Wal/ohpri.org)

New London — Twenty-seven high school students from Groton, New London and Ledyard public schools will begin a four-day sail on Sunday aboard a three-masted tall ship designed to teach leadership through sailing.

The students, nine from each community, will board the Oliver Hazard Perry and take part in the “More Than Words” program, which teaches problem solving and promotes respect for diversity.

Students in the group attend workshops aimed at conflict resolution, then take those lessons back to their home schools. They also speak to younger students. 

They will leave at 4 p.m. from New London Pier.

“Our program is learning from sailing rather than learning to sail,” said Jessica Wurzbacher, executive director of Oliver Hazard Perry Rhode Island. “For example, when you’re on anchor watch at night and 46 of your shipmates are sleeping below, they’re relying on you to keep the ship safe.”

Since the group “More Than Words” teaches leadership, teamwork and building community, it’s an ideal match for the ship’s program, she said.

The program uses the motto, “ship, shipmates, self,” and teaches putting others before yourself so all function as a community, she said.

Students will cruise along the coast from New London to Newport, R.I., and take responsibility for the ship along the way.

The vessel can take a maximum of 49 people but takes no passengers, so all must take part in running the ship.

“They’ll be fully involved in the operation of the ship. They’ll be up in the middle of the night doing safety checks, they’ll be taking the helm, they’ll be climbing the loft to furl the sails,” she said.

The trip will end on Wednesday in Newport.

Kelly Hipplewitz said she and her daughter Lauren, 17, attended an informational meeting about the program last Wednesday night.

“We love the sea and we go out on a Jet Ski and neighbor’s boat but as far as sailing, she’s never been, so this is quite an opportunity for her; she’s very excited,” Kelly Hipplewitz said.

Lauren Hipplewitz, a senior at Ledyard High School, said she's looking forward to the trip.

"I'm excited and scared at the same time to just see how boat life is, because from what I've heard, it's pretty rough for sailors. But I'm looking forward to the real-life experience," she said.

"I love being in the ocean air. It's just so free to feel that for a good amount of time," she added. 

Lauren Hipplewitz said she'll know most of the other students on the boat. 

"Most of them I have been working with for three years in the club that I'm in, 'More Than Words,'" she said. "Because our group is based around feelings and friendships, it's like an instant connection."

The ship boarded its first students in July and held two programs this summer.

The vessel is named after U.S. Navy Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry, who defeated British forces in the Battle of Lake Erie during the War of 1812.

d.straszheim@theday.com

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