Happy Birthday Thad Koza and RIP

Thad Koza by Peter Mello

If you are a regular visitor to the Sea-Fever blog, you’ll note that I haven’t posted in some time. The initial reason was that we were at 999 posts and I wanted to do something special to commemorate 1000; a waypoint that most blogs never log.

Then, last month I learned that my friend, colleague, tall ship photographer and master storyteller Thad Koza passed away after a quick attack and short battle with cancer. There was then no question in my mind that I should dedicate the 1,000th Sea-Fever post, and all that went before, to him. Today would have been his 70th birthday.

When I arrived at the American Sail Training Association in 2001, there was the official “crew” and then there was Thad. He would come into the office nearly every day and the staff (aka Lori) would help him out with this or that and he would make small talk and we all would learn more about a tall ship or a crew member or a port. It seemed a little odd at first but in short order I recognized that this relationship was special and that Thad was, in fact, a very important, contributing member of our team.  He would celebrate birthdays with us and attend our staff Holiday parties. He’d even participate in the office Secret Santa and one year I gave him the url ThadKoza.com; I then spent about 5 years trying to get him to use it.

I took the above photograph in 2006 at the parade of sail for the Cleveland Harborfest/TALL SHIPS CHALLENGE. Over the years, I had the honor and privilege of working closely with Thad prior to and during Tall Ships events. Sometimes it would be with the media and other times it would be at presentations to smaller groups at yacht clubs or museums. He’d talk tall ships and I’d talk sail training and the history of ASTA. I always enjoyed these times together and learned something new at every one.

One of the top highlights of my professional career was writing the foreword to Thad’s very popular book, Tall Ships: The Fleet for the 21st Century. If you don’t own a copy of this classic, you should!

Thad was a big bear of a man and like all big bears, he could have a gruff, growl. But that was part of his charm. He was really more like a friendly Berenstain than a big, bad grizzly.

After I left ASTA, Thad and I would talk a couple of times a year by phone. We kept trying to arrange a meeting where would could begin work on a new website to promote his extraordinary archive of tall ships photography. Sadly, it never happened. In every single one of those conversations, Thad would start out by asking me about my children, Luke and Joy, and, frankly, that’s what I will always remember him for most. He was a true, caring, giving friend.

My favorite Thad Koza photograph is one he took of Luke at about 6 months old at a party aboard the Stad Amsterdam in Newport.

Thad had many, many friends across the globe that are missing him today and while his extraordinary body of tall ship photography will live on and fulfill his legacy, most will remember him for being a caring, giving man.

Sea-Fever explores maritime culture and I can think of no better way to celebrate 1000 posts than remembering my friend Thad Koza, a man who did more to promote tall ships, sail training and maritime culture than anyone I’ve ever known.

Happy Birthday and Fair Winds Shipmate!

Tallest Ship Brings High Hopes to Littlest State

Oliver H. Perry by Onne Van der Wal

While the title of this post sounds a bit like a children’s story, it’s really all big business.

On January 23, 2009, Ariana Green wrote an article in the NY Times titled In Rhode Island, Hoping a Tall Ship Can Help a Sagging Economy about a nonprofit organization, Tall Ships Rhode Island, purchasing a less than half finished tall ship from a foundering Canadian organization with the hopes boosting their tiny states economy, among other things.

Tall ships in America got their start in Newport, RI back in 1973 when Barclay Warburton III, along with a group of like minded maritime enthusiasts including Bart Dunbar, also member of the current group, established a new nonprofit to advance the concept of sail training and organize the US Bicentennial Tall Ships Celebrations in 1976. The American Sail Training Association was founded and over the years has grown to become a national and international nonprofit whose mission is to “encourage character building through sail training, promote sail training to the North American public and support education under sail.” (I was the executive director of the ASTA from 2001 through 2006.)

Warburton and the ASTA founders actions were very important to the local community because up until 1973 Newport was a Navy town. However, in that year, the fleet left, the base was downsized significantly and Newport was left pondering a potentially dismal economic future. Tall Ships and the Americas Cup would end up saving the day by transforming the city into one of the sailing capital’s of the world and a maritime heritage tourism destination.

Fast forward 36 years and can the current group pull another miracle out of their duffle bag? Green writes:

As Rhode Island struggles with one of the nation’s highest unemployment rates, city and state officials hope that turning the hull into a tall ship will create jobs, attract tourists and spur interest in the state’s maritime history.

“Today cities realize they benefit from having a flagship for their community,” said Timothy Walker, who teaches maritime history at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth. “It’s a way to be really visible and make an impression that can travel. It can literally fly the flag for a community.”

But not everyone is aboard with an optimistic assessment:

But Jeff Bolster, a professor of maritime history at the University of New Hampshire, said officials should not overestimate the economic contribution a ship project would make.

“A vessel of this scale is not going to be a huge help to the ailing economy,” Mr. Bolster said. “It has a modest operating budget, so it alone can’t solve the state’s fiscal problems in a major way.”

It will be all very interesting to watch. This is a very experienced group being led by Captain Richard Bailey who for years ran popular sail training programs aboard the HMS Rose until to she was sold to Fox to star in Master & Commander as the HMS Surprise. Today the Rose/Surprise is part of the San Diego Maritime Museum’s fleet of historic ships.

On the downside is that the Oliver Hazard Perry is a very large ship, second only to the USCGC Barque EAGLE in the United States. Ships this size are very costly to run and often difficult to fill. While nearly anyone who has sailed aboard a tall ship will vouch for it’s power in being a life changing experience, marketing the concept to wider public has always been challenging. The current projected cost of the project is $5 million and her scheduled launch is 2011, but I have yet to see a ship of this scale come in on budget and on time. Tall Ships Rhode Island has always been good at raising money and in this economy and for the foreseeable future, they have to really count on all of the contacts, connections and tricks they can pull out of their ditty bags.

This is a very exciting project for the City of Newport, the State of Rhode Island, the entire region and even the nation. While it seems pretty ambitious in scale, it’s no less so than what Barclay Warburton III pulled off in the early 1970’s. I bet he’s looking down and giving Tall Ships Rhode Island a big Huzzah for their efforts.

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