Sloop Providence Pirate Adventure
by Richard “Rusty” Rice

Has there ever been a part of you that has wanted to be a movie star? Have you ever wanted to get paid to do something that you love to do? Last winter, I got to have both.

I have been a tall ship sailor for eight years now. I started working with the Boy Scout Sea Base on their Tall Ship the Heritage of Miami II, and it just grew from there. I am now a licensed captain and divide my time between running pulling boats for Outward Bound, helping out at American Sail Training Association (ASTA) events, and getting out on a tall ship for a bit during the winter.

During the summer of 1998, still early in my tall ship career, I was crew on the Lady Washington out of Aberdeen, Washington. It was my first square rigger. A few years later while working with ASTA on the 2002 tall ships challenge race series, I found out that the Lady Washington would be involved in a “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie. As a former crew member, I could have tried to be part of that endeavor. At about the same time, I heard that the HMS Rose was down in Mexico for the filming of “Master and Commander”. With the tall ships closing their tour in San Diego, that was certainly a possibility for me too. However, I had prior commitments to renew my wilderness EMT training and other things going on in my life so I chose not to pursue those opportunities.

I don't regret the things I did, but I did regret not being involved in those two productions, especially after I saw the movies and heard from people who did get to be involved. Just about a year ago, I was at the ASTA conference and was finishing up some work in Seattle when I heard that a second and third “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie was in the works. This would be my big chance. Shortly after that I heard from some friends at the ASTA office that the Continental Sloop Providence would be used in the movie. So I sent them my resume and after a couple of interviews and a check of some references, I was on the crew as a watch leader.

I was not going to let the opportunity pass me again. But fame and stardom did not come easy. There was many an adventure to be had first. I showed up in Providence the day after my birthday in January, and my first sight of the Sloop was of her still “on the hard” in a ship yard and covered in snow. So my first duty as a crew member was to shovel off the snow. In just a short couple of days, however, we had her cleaned up and in the water getting ready to get underway. Bending on sail, rigging spars, and provisioning were just a few of the tasks our crew of nine had to undertake.

It was a cold January evening when we finally got underway. Word of swells out of the bay and smoke in the engine room made our first leg only a few hours, and we tied up in Bristol, Rhode Island to wait for a weather window and to do some more work on the Sloop. I had the first trick at the helm and was grateful to get out of the cold when we tied to the dock in Bristol, my face still stinging from the wind.

It was a cold January evening when we finally got underway. Word of swells out of the bay and smoke in the engine room made our first leg only a few hours, and we tied up in Bristol, Rhode Island to wait for a weather window and to do some more work on the Sloop. I had the first trick at the helm and was grateful to get out of the cold when we tied to the dock in Bristol, my face still stinging from the wind.

After a few days we were underway again for an overnight trip down Long Island Sound to Stanford Connecticut, where we would wait out a storm. It was so cold that we were required to wear our survival suits while at the helm. We got in port just in time for the hurricane gate to be closed behind us and the snow to fall. Watches at night included shoveling and salting the deck. Underway watches included beating ice off of the rigging with base ball bats. In Stanford, we lost two crew members, which were not replaced, one due to a time line issue. It was taking us too long to get down the coast for him to be able to take care of personal commitments, and one just could not take the cold.

After Stanford, however, it only got better. We still were cold and beating ice off the rigging, but the legs of our trip were getting longer, and it was getting warmer the further we went south. From Stanford, we continued down Long Island Sound through the East River and out New York Harbor. I had the helm through Hell’s Gate and had the con through the harbor which was an exciting experience for me as it was the first time that I was trusted by the captain and mate with the navigation of the Sloop.

Down the coast we went to Norfolk, Virginia to wait out some more weather. We were there just a day, not even spending the night. At dinner, the captain told us that he got the word from the weather router that we had our window and to be back on board at 9 to get underway. It was quickly realized that he meant 9 p.m. and not 9 a.m. the next morning, and we were quickly underway. Had I known that before I ate, I might have chosen a different meal as I had some sea sickness on the earlier legs. I am happy to report though that I kept down my brownie sundae and was free of sea sickness all the way to Key West.

We waited again for weather to pass in Charleston, SC and Key West, Florida and then were on our way up to Bayou La Batre, Alabama on the Gulf Coast. The shores of Florida were a very welcome site as we began to shed our layers of warm clothing and at times even put on short sleeve shirts. Warmer weather did not however take away the challenge and adventure of this trip. In the gulf, our preventer chafed through, and we took two hard rolls which resulted in our boom breaking into three pieces with our main sail set.

The shout of all hands on deck by the mate lead to a whirlwind of activity ending with our boom securely lashed down to the rail and everyone safe. Tying to the dock in Alabama, we realized that our quiet sloop was no longer our own, as a pack of directors, producers, set people, and riggers boarded us and checked things out. They informed us of plans, how things were going to work in the yard, and what our sloop was to become. In Alabama, we joined another tall ship, the HMS Bounty, which was also being prepared for the movie.

We spent about a month in Bayou La Batre (of “Forest Gump” fame), completely derigging the ship, replacing every line and over hauling every block. We were assisted by a team of professional riggers to give the ship a more traditional look. As we assisted with the rigging, set carpenters worked to make props such as a wheel that would replace our tiller, a fancy binnacle, and things to cover up our modern navigational equipment. Painters were also on hand to turn our port side into a British sloop of war and our starboard side into a Turkish fishing boat. They were amazing, you could not tell that our fiberglass hull was not indeed wood, even when you were standing next to it! Being on the gulf coast afforded us a couple of trips to New Orleans and then we were underway again, bound for the Caribbean and stardom. In Alabama, we lost our medical officer, I took over his duties, and we gained two new crew members. We headed to the Caribbean making only two overnight stops to tune the rigging and take on fuel in Key West and Puerto Rico. It was exciting to sail by such neat places as Cuba, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic, but difficult because our schedule did allow for us to make any stops.

After less than two weeks underway, we were in our new home of St. Vincent. A couple weeks of prepping the Sloop for filming would quickly pass. We removed anything modern from our decks and were fitted fancy work to our bow to make us look the parts we were to play. We got sized for our costumes, some of us had up to three parts as extras, and those of us lucky enough to be selected as rowers went to rowing practice.

Most days on the set consisted of an early wake up. We would go to the dining tent for an excellent breakfast and then change into our costumes. If the ships needed to be moved for a scene that was done. As a rower, most of my time was spent in a row boat waiting for a scene and then rowing in the background. Resetting and rowing again until the scene was just right. For me, doing the same thing day after day never really got boring. I got to dress up as some character from the 18th century and do the things I really love to do.

Then the big day came. The four vessels to be used in the movie moved from the ship yard at Ottley Hall to our filming location of Wallilabou Bay. There was a buzz in the air as we walked about the set locations for Port Royal and Tortuga. Camera equipment, props moving back and forth, people everywhere, us looking for the stars. Our first spotting was of Orlando Bloom as Will Turner. Shortly After, we saw Keira Knightley. A week or more would pass before Johnny Depp would appear on set to do his scenes. Or should I say Jack Sparrow, for only once did I see Mr. Depp out of costume and it was from behind.

The filming was an amazing experience. However the real experience was the trip down, getting the Sloop from Providence, Rhode Island to St Vincent in the Caribbean during the coldest of the winter. That is where we learned, and we grew close as a crew. When we get together now, that is what we talk about.

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