It’s a good thing Al Nazareth has a flare for boats. He’s been around them most of his life, but Sunday surely had to be the first time he was called upon to set one afire. He took the …
It’s a good thing Al Nazareth has a flare for boats. He’s been around them most of his life, but Sunday surely had to be the first time he was called upon to set one afire. He took the job seriously climbing aboard the boat with Harbormaster Jeff Baris at the helm as he nudged the Aspray Boathouse dock at the base of Pawtuxet Park with its colonial encampment and more than 300 spectators.
Earlier in the afternoon, Nazareth secured the steel replica of the Gaspee, designed to be burned again and again, to the dock with clothes line. The plan was simple. Once Baris arrived, a heavier line would be used to tow and secure the Gaspee to a mooring offshore in Pawtuxet Cove before a crowd eager to view the culminating event of the 250th observance of the burning of the HMS Gaspee on June 9, 1772.
Floating on a cage made buoyant with plastic barrels, the steel effigy carried a bale of straw saturated with kerosene and an electronic starter to be triggered remotely.
The script, as played out 250 years ago, was for long boats to surround the Gaspee and then back off as she burst into flames with a push of a button. The long boats from the Buzzards Bay Rowing Club appeared in the mouth of the cove close to the appointed time. Baris had the Gaspee on her mooring, helpless to her assigned destiny.
The crowd with cell phones raised to record the action anxiously waited for the moment when flames would leap and catch the sails that filled with a southerly breeze. A canon boomed. Ranks from a militia in the encampment at the command of their sergeant raised their rifles and fired. There were cheers, but no fire.
“This is my worst nightmare,” declared Gaspee Days Committee Chair Steve Miller heading for the dock with an aluminum wrapped with rags, a makeshift torch. Actually, as Miller acknowledged, rain was his worst nightmare.
In that regard the committee was blessed. While there were downpours Thursday and forecasts of rain over the weekend, Mother Nature looked favorably on a celebration of an event dubbed the first blow for freedom by locals and viewed by others as a revenge for Gaspee captain Lt. William Dudingston and his diligence to collect tariffs on behalf of King George. Albeit slow with periodic delays, Saturday’s parade drew thousands along its 1.5 mile route down Narraganset Parkway, and across the bridge into the heart of Pawtuxet Village. The mood was festive and as divisions waited for the march to resume they played selections, danced and while keeping ranks accepted cookies and treats from onlookers. Elected officials took the occasion to walk among spectators, shake hands and chat.
It worked out to the benefit of Cranston Mayor Ken Hopkins who couldn’t step off with the Cranston contingent as he was attending the Cranston East commencement. Following the parade he beat it back to the Providence Performing Arts Center for the Cranston West ceremony.
Warwick Mayor Frank Picozzi faced no such commencement constrictions showing up prior to the volley fired by the Pawtuxet Rangers signaling the 10 a.m. start to the parade. In contrast to other state, Warwick and Cranston elected officials, Picozzi wore a T-shirt – a yellow Gaspee Days T-shirt – work pants and work boots. His attire didn’t go unnoticed by spectators who loved its informality.
It seemed Rep. Joseph McNamara and British Consul General for New England Peter Abbott received the same memo. Both wore summer tan suits. Abbott, who stands a good 6’5’’ and McNamara became friends last month when Abbott attended the press conference announcing that more than $32,000 had been raised from individual, foundation and corporate donations for the Rhode Island Marine Archeology Project and its investigator Dr. Kathy Abbass to conduct a search for remains of the Gaspee. The search is to start next month.
As for torching the Gaspee Sunday afternoon, Harbormaster Baris had the fail proof tool – a handheld flare. With Baris holding his boat a couple of yards from the Gaspee, Nazareth tossed the flare into its straw cargo, flames and black smoke quickly curled skyward to signal the closing of the Gaspee Days 2022.
Miller breathed a sigh of relief.
Following two years of canceled and abbreviated events, the 250th commemoration was a dream come true.
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