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How the Tall Ships Really Came to NH

Paying the piper

Joe Sawtelle agreed to underwrite Berryman’s trip to Washington, D.C., to knock on embassy doors and hobnob with naval attachés. The plan worked. In the fall of 1980, Berryman reported that the sail-training ships Simon Bolivar of Venezuela and ARA -Libertad of Argentina were interested in visiting Portsmouth the following summer. Berryman also enticed ships from Ecuador, Norway, and Denmark, as well as the Providence, the100-foot replica man-of-war from Rhode Island.

Portsmouth_philanthropist_Joe_SawtelleThen the hammer dropped. Tall ships cost money, Berryman explained in a twenty-page report to the unfunded volunteer committee. The guest port was expected to cover expenses for bunkering, chandlery, victualing, and scheduling of ships and crew, not to mention his own professional fees for locating the vessels. The city of Norfolk, Berryman told the stunned committee members, had spent $150,000 to woo even fewer tall ships than he had drawn to Portsmouth.

Yankee Portsmouth was high on hope but low on cash. Berryman and Keefe crossed swords. The city appropriated a budget of just $1,000 to the Tall Ship Committee, according to the Manchester Union Leader. But Keefe, with eyes on the mayoral seat, vowed to return the funds. Keefe “fired” Berryman from his volunteer position. Mayor John Wholey, however, reappointed Berryman as a consultant to the initial tall ship event.

Originally Sawtelle planned to locate his museum in an old brick building (now home to Player’s Ring theatre productions) on Marcy Street. From 1833 to 1855 the building had been headquarters of the Marine Railway Company. Teams of horses hauled ships in and out of the fast flowing Piscataqua water along a slice of railroad track that ran between what is now the two halves of Prescott Park.

“The project of creating a maritime museum in Portsmouth did not succeed as envisioned,” Berryman recalls today. Efforts to partner with Strawbery Banke Museum across the street did not pan out, and the brick building needed “massive restoration work.” Saddened by the politics of Portsmouth and the failed museum project , Berryman later removed himself from the fracas and returned to a successful career in the U.S. Navy.



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Tuesday, February 20, 2018 
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