On Sunday, August 19th, combined crews of New Yorkers and Rhode Islanders rowed a pair of six-oared Cornish Pilot Gigs from Providence to Newport, RI. The row was a reenactment of the epic 1672 voyage of Roger Williams, the founding father of Rhode Island, who at the age of 70, rowed the length of Narragansett Bay to engage in a debate about religion with some newly-arrived Quakers.
One of the gigs, King Tide, belonging to the Village Community Boathouse (VCB) was brought up by trailer for the annual event. The other gig, Cady, belongs 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 third attempt by Don Betts and Village Community Boathouse to reenact Roger Williams’ row down the length of the bay, a distance of about 28 miles which Williams is said to have completed in 18 hours In 2010, in their first attempt, the rowers got as far as Dyer Island before pulling out near the War College after a rudder broke. Last year, the two 32-foot gigs were launched on the Seekonk River in Pawtucket near Slater’s Mill. 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 morning ebb tide to Newport. Not counting stopovers, the entire voyage was completed in less than 11 hours.
This year, the gigs were launched at 9:30 AM under cloudy skies at India point Park. The row had been postponed a week due to rain and thunder storms the weekend before. The light rain turned heavy at times but helped to keep the crews cool. The gigs rode the ebb tide for 12 Miles to Prudence Island, arriving at 1:40 PM. Everyone was a little wet and cold and the crews decided to spend the night on Prudence. They set off on Sunday morning at 9:00 Am for Newport, under sail with the ebb tide and a favorable breeze. After a brief pit stop on the south end of Prudence at the T Warf. The flotilla continued south, arriving just short of the Pells Bridge at 12:30 PM. As in previous years, there was not sufficient time to land in Newport as the New York crew had to catch the ferry back on Prudence. It was a hard pull against a headwind and the ebb tide. The two gigs with their intrepid rowers reached Warnerville on Prudence Island at 3:00 PM.