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Tall Ship Providence Coming to Alexandria

By Bob Tagert

The cover of the first Old Town Crier printed in January 1988 featured the Schooner Alexandria, which at the time was the resident ship and sailing ambassador for the City of Alexandria. The Alexandria has been gone from our waterfront for a long time, but soon Alexandria will acquire a new tall ship…the Providence.

The newly formed Tall Ship Providence Foundation purchased the replica of Providence that was built in 1976. The ship is currently in Wiscasset, Maine for restoration; she will then sail to Alexandria in late spring.

The original Providence was first commissioned as the Katy that served as a merchant ship, privateer and whaler. She was a fast ship, with fore-and-aft rigging that allowed her to sail closer to windward than square-rigged ships. Because of her speed, the style was favored by pirates as well as traders.

On June 12, 1775, after an increase of British vessels boarding and confiscating American cargo, Rhode Island’s shipping community demanded that their General Assembly act to protect them. The Assembly promptly did so, chartering Katy and the sloop Washington to serve as the Rhode Island Navy. The two ship’s first triumph was recapturing the Diana, a Rhode Island merchant ship. Taking her back was a point of pride and the shots fired by Katy in the process comprised the first act of war on the water made by any colony against Great Britain.

On October 13th, 1775, legislation was passed authorizing the purchase of Rhode Island’s Katy and another ship called the Minerva, as well as resolutions authorizing their refitting as warships. Thus, Katy became the first ship authorized to serve in the new Continental Navy and October 13th is the date marked as the “birthday” of the U.S. Navy.

On December 3rd Katy was taken into Continental service and renamed Providence in honor of both her home city and the Rhode Islanders serving in the Continental Congress, all of them Providence men. On the 10th of May 1776, the Providence returned to New London and it was here that John Paul Jones came aboard as temporary captain on the 10th of May. While on an independent cruise, Jones and his crew captured a brigantine called Britannia and sailed her into Philadelphia as a prize of war. At that point John Paul Jones was made the permanent captain of the Providence.

The new Providence was completed in October 1976. While the highlight of the Bicentennial was the 4th of July, celebrations took place over the entire year, so Providence was able to take part in several events.

In February 2015, while Providence was hauled out in drydock in Newport Shipyard, a blizzard struck, and the sloop’s jack stands collapsed in the gale. The ship fell and the mast and spars were shattered, and a jack stand on the leeward side punched a large hole in the hull. In August 2017 Providence was purchased by the Tall Ship Providence Foundation (TSPF) for the express purpose of restoring the ship to her Revolutionary War-era appearance and using her as the centerpiece of a new maritime experience in Alexandria, Virginia.

The Old Town Crier will continue to follow the development of the Providence as the restoration continues and she prepares to sail south.

TSPF hired Master Shipwright Leon Poindexter to lead the restoration efforts. Work on the hull began in September 2017. In 2018, Poindexter and his crew transferred the ship to Maine under her own power. While in Maine her masts and spars will be added, and all the finish work completed.

The restoration is expected to be complete in April or May 2019, and Providence will set sail from Maine in late May or early June, beginning her new adventures with a tour down the East Coast with stops in several ports before arriving in her new home port of Alexandria in mid-July when tours will begin.

This is an exciting time for Alexandria as the Providence will bring in tourists, offer tours and interactive experiences as well as being available for charters. At first the ship will be located at the GH Pier which is just north of the Charthouse Restaurant. Her final berth will be at the foot of King Street along the new park which is currently under development.

The Old Town Crier will continue to follow the development as the restoration continues ad she prepares to sail south.

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