The wharf is an ever-growing part of the Washington, DC waterfront, and it now has a new attraction to boast for the spring and summer seasons.
The tall ship Providencea reproduction of a Continental Navy ship from the American Revolution, is moored at the dock and offers tours and sailing excursions through the fall.
Providence is based in Alexandria, Virginia, a few miles away. The ship from which it is inspired stands out in the history of the War of Independence: the original Providence (first named Katie) was the first ship authorized in 1775 by the Continental Congress for the Continental Navy. It was commanded by Captain John Paul Jones for a time. Providence was also the first ship to leave the Stars and Stripes flying over foreign territory, when its crew attacked and captured Fort Nassau in the Bahamas.
The reproduction ship, built in the 1970s, has its own history. Providence came to Alexandria in 2019. Built in Newport, RI, it was based for a time in the Rhode Island town that shares its name, Providence. But operating and maintenance costs are high on a tall ship. To raise funds, the ship’s foundation leased her to the Walt Disney Company to appear in the second and third Pirates of the Caribbean movies.
Eventually the city sold Providence to a Newport charter captain for charter sails. But in 2015, a severe winter storm severely damaged the ship while it was in drydock. The charter captain put it up for sale as a restoration project, and it was exactly what the leaders of a future maritime museum in Alexandria were looking for.
The Tall Ship Providence Foundation purchased the sloop in 2017, had it restored, and since 2019 Providence was moored in the old town of Alexandria as a fully functional sailboat. Historical interpreters wear period clothing to show visitors the captain’s cabin, main deck and hold of the ship.
The President and CEO of the Foundation, Clair Sassin, tells bay bulletin you can see “how the sailors lived and where they lived, learn what the daily life of the sailors was like”. “For example,” she said, “they had 18 inches on a hammock to sleep in.”
At the dock, the ship will serve as Alexandria’s goodwill ambassador as well as an immersive history lesson.
Sassin says the foundation likes to think of its programs as education through entertainment. And with foot traffic seen at the dock, the lessons will reach even more people.
“Alexandria gets a lot of visitors and the wharf gets a lot of visitors. They each represent something different and we are happy to integrate into both worlds.
Once the foundation completes planning and begins construction of its planned Maritime Heritage Center in Old Town Alexandria, the ship will return to its eternal home.
Providence is moored at the wharf marina day docks until fall 2022. Her current visiting hours are Wednesday-Friday, 1-6 p.m. and Saturday-Sunday, 11 a.m.-7 p.m. (more bank holiday Mondays). It also offers public sails, private charters, and the foundation tells bay bulletin craft beer cruises, wine and spirits tastings are also in the works. To consult the schedules of visits and navigations, visit tallshipprovidence.org.
-Meg Walburn Viviano