Trip report from Sally:
On Sunday, August 13 combined crews of New Yorkers and Rhode Islanders successfully reenacted the epic voyage of Roger Williams, the founding father of Rhode Island, who in 1672, at the age of 70, rowed the length of Narragansett Bay from Providence to Newport to engage in a debate about religion with some newly-arrived Quakers, whose views he distrusted.
The crews completed the row in a pair of six-oared Cornish pilot gigs, one from the Village Community Boathouse in New York City and the other belonging to Don Betts of Water Street in Warren, who has formed a local community rowing group called the Whirleygigs. Mr Betts is a boat builder and was a prominent figure in the human-powered boating community in New York until moving to Warren with his wife Martha in 2008. He still maintains ties as friend, mentor and consultant to VCB.
This is the second attempt by Don Betts and Village Community Boathouse to reenact Roger Williams’ row down the length of the bay, a distance of 28 miles which Williams is said to have completed in about 18 hours (he reportedly left Providence early in the morning arriving in Newport just before midnight). Last year, the rowers got as far as Dyer Island before pulling out near the War College after a rudder broke. By then, the tide had turned and a stiff afternoon sea breeze made the voyage too difficult to continue, so the boats were towed the rest of the way to the Newport
This year, the two 32-foot gigs were launched on the Seekonk River in Pawtucket near Slater’s Mill at 8:30 on Saturday morning to catch the ebb tide in the bay at 9:00 AM. The gigs were accompanied by Joseph DePasquale in his motor boat and Don and Martha Betts in their Cat Boat. The flotilla put on at the beach in Barrington for a one hour pit stop before continuing on to Prudence Island where Mr. Betts has a cottage. Roger Williams may also have put in on Prudence to wait for a favorable tide to carry him to Newport. The rowers spent the night on Prudence and caught the ebb tide to Newport at 8:30 AM, arriving at the Pells Bridge at 12:30. Because a few of the crew had to catch the 4:00 ferry from Prudence, the gigs turned around under the bridge without landing and sailed back to Prudence with steady southwest breeze, arriving before 3:00 PM. Not counting stopovers, the entire voyage was completed in less than 11 hours.