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Tom Cocchiaro

In 1998 maritime enthusiast Tom Cocchiaro suggested an idea for a SeacoastNH.com essay entitled "Can We Rebuild the Ranger? " A year later the Ranger Foundation was born. Built in Portsmouth in 1777,the sloop of war Ranger went on to naval fame in the Revolutionary War under John Paul Jones .. Despite positive initial publicity, the ship replica has yet to appear on the horizon. So wherešs the boat? In partnership with the NH Gazette , we offer this detailed conversation on the status of the Ranger project. In a discussion with SeacoastNH.com editor J. Dennis Robinson, a founder of the Ranger Foundation, groups president Cocchiaro offers a diagnosis and prescription for the future health of this $10 million maritime heritage project. Following is an edited transcript of a one hour interview held in the SeacaostNH.com World Headquarters in Portsmouth, NH in November 2001.

John Paul Jones

SEACOASTNH.COM: Itšs been two years now -- is there money in the bank at the Ranger Foundation?

COCCHIARO: Yes, there is money in the bank.

SEACOASTNH.COM: Are you telling us how much money is in the bank?

COCCHIARO: I prefer not to.

SEACOASTNH.COM: OK, is it under a million dollars?

COCCHIARO: Oh, yeah, absolutely under a million.

SEACOASTNH.COM: Under a hundred thousand?

COCCHIARO – One of the things we wanted to make sure that we did when we started this project was that we researched other groups that have done the same thing, and not make the same mistakes that they did.

SEACOASTNH.COM: Which were basically what?

COCCHIARO: Which were basically starting the project and ending up without enough money to finish it. Starting a project not really knowing what they want, and when they got half way through it the Coast Guard said -- "You canšt do it. Itšs going to cost you twice as much." So we have been meticulously careful in making sure that wešve addressed all the issues, in terms of fund-raising :-- How should we fund raise? How are we responsible to those people who give money and invest? What is our dedication? Are we to continue this, no matter how long it takes? And the answer to that question is yes.

SEACOASTNH.COM: OK. Thatšs an important point. I think people want to know if youšre in there for the long haul.

COCCHIARO: And building a tall ship is a long haul. Look across the country at some of these other tall ship programs, with the notable exception of the Privateer Lynx, which is an unusual circumstance You know the Amistad took 26 years to realize, from the time it was first proposed to the time it was launched? Endeavour took 10 years to realize.

SEACOASTNH.COM: But we originally said: "Look for the Ranger in 2022! " It appears the original prediction was wrong.

COCCHIARO: Well, we didnšt say – "Look for it in 2002." We said, thatšs our hope, that we would be able to get something under way by 2002.

SEACOASTNH.COM: And by underway, you meant laying the keel?

COCCHIARO: Laying the keel, right.

SEACOASTNH.COM: Are we any closer to laying the keel in 2002, which is a couple of weeks away, than we were in 1999?

COCCHIARO: Yes we are closer.

SEACOASTNH.COM: How are we closer?

COCCHIARO: Wešve been very deliberate and wešve been very meticulous. about having all our stuff out on the table before we asked [for] big dollar #1. Now we can go to our first big potential sponsor and say: "his is the plan. This is whatšs going to happen. This is a great project."

SEACOASTNH.COM: So we havenšt asked the big people yet?

COCCHIARO: We havenšt asked the big people.

SEACOASTNH.COM: To clarify, that’s not because wešre afraid to ask, but because The Ranger Foundation has been getting its ducks in line over the past years?

COCCHIARO: Yes.

SEACOASTNH.COM: And those ducks include – getting nonprofit agency status, creating a marketing campaign, roughing out a plan for the ship, building a board of directors – that sort of thing?

COCCHIARO: We needed a plan for how itšs (the Ranger) is going to be built, what Coast Guard specifications itšs going to be built to, how itšs going to be employed, what kinds of programs we want to run.

SEACOASTNH.COM: When we started, as I remember, we didnšt even know what the ducks were!

COCCHIARO: Wešre not experts. Wešre volunteers. Wešre a handful of people who have been working to try to build a foundation for somebody who can come in, take the plan that wešve laid out, add their own experience and skill to that, and then implement those plans in a way that will guarantee the success of the program.

Ranger Foundation

SEACOASTNH.COM: So now the RF needs to put this executive person in place right now.

COCCHIARO: This thing hinges largely on being able to raise the initial funding we need to put this person in place.

SEACOASTNH.COM: How much money is that?

COCCHIARO: Wešre looking at between $150,000 and $200,000. That will pay the salary of an executive/development director, and an assistant. It would also cover the cost of an initial marketing campaign, so we can put this out on a national scale. Because, again, unlike Strawbery Banke or the Music Hall, the Ranger Project really has international and national appeal.

SEACOASTNH.COM: Didn’t we learn early on; that wešre not going to find our money locally?

COCCHIARO: Not specifically true. (I asked) Peter Lamb [Executive Director of the Greater Piscataqua Community Foundation] directly – "How much do you think we could raise for this project here in the Seacoast area?" He said, five million.

SEACOASTNH.COM: You received advice from others, like Wendy Lull at the Seacoast Science Center? Were there others?

COCCHIARO: Charles Whittemore, Robert Trowbridge, Chairman of the Board of Yankee Magazine, Melbourne Smith, a ship designer and architect. We started with the premise that the Ranger is going to be the best and the greatest tall ship in the world. And that it was going to be the premiere ambassador/representative, bar none. So, consequently we started with the people who ran the best programs -- with John Longley, who was the chairman of the Endeavour Foundation. The Endeavour is recognized as one of the best tall ship replicas in the world. We asked him: "If you were to choose a builder in this country, who would it be?" He said, Melbourne Smith . We picked up the phone and called Melbourne Smith.

SEACOASTNH.COM: You have since come up with a series of alternative builders?

COCCHIARO: With two other alternative people. But you know, Melbourne has a reputation of not giving in on historical accuracy. People want to do things like add an extra block here, put this little dolphin striker thatšs not supposed to be there. Melbourne says: "No way. Not on the boat that Išm building." And so hešs developed a reputation for sometimes being hard to work with. Our shipbuilding committee wants to look at Melbourne and other people who build tall ships, and make a decision.

SEACOASTNH.COM: But back to the money issue. It takes $150,000 to start and we don’t have that yet?

COCCHIARO: Right now wešre working with Executive Service Corps, to come up with a viable fund raising plan, one that both the investor and the foundation can live with. And part of that plan initially is, not to ask for millions of dollars from potential investors, but to get them to provide the seed money. Wešre not going to ask Tyco for $10 million. Maybe we begin by asking for $25,000.

SEACOASTNH.COM: The initial investors have to understand that the initial income doesnšt go directly into laying the keel, right?

COCCHIARO: It goes into building the organization.

SEACOASTNH.COM: So it takes two years to get ready to raise the initial $200,000. That makes sense. Certainly you’ve presented Ranger exhibits. You built the cannon. Youšve bought a model boat. You created a web site. Youšve had an office, designed a logo. Youšve done all these things to get the public excited. But would the Ranger Foundation have been wiser not to publicize the project during those first two years? Is there a danger of setting expectations too high too early?

COCCHIARO: Certainly thatšs a danger. We live in a society that wants instant gratification. You know, some things just donšt move that fast. Everything builds on the thing before, and each one of these was a step towards ultimately having a full-time operation. We needed the office. We needed to be able to be visible to the public. We needed to be able to gain support. We needed to be able to cause excitement, so that people will get involved -- now, rather than later.

SEACOASTNH.COM: So where does the Ranger Foundation stand now, today?

Ranger Foundation

COCCHIARO: I have a letter written and ready to send. Išm going to ask 20 corporations for $10 thousand apiece, so we can make this first milestone.Wešve just received the results of a study that the Executive Service Corps has helped members of the board create. That talks about what are reasonable expectations and who are you going to approach.

SEACOASTNH.COM: What’ your current revised timeline?

COCCHIARO: My hope is that before the end of the year wešll be making telephone calls and setting up meetings.

SEACOASTNH.COM: If you find those 20 people, you then have the Phase 1 money to get the Executive Director, and then move on to Phase 2 serious fundraising?

COCCHIARO: Then to finalize how wešre going to market to the nation, through organizations like the US Naval Academy, the Propeller Club, the Navy League.

SEACOASTNH.COM: To clarify, wešre not saying that this Executive Director is getting $150,000 a year, right? That sum is also supporting the infrastructure, keeping the office open, putting together a marketing package, having an assistant? And this $150,000 has to be raised annually to keep operations goaing.

COCCHIARO: Yes.

SEACOASTNH.COM: What are you saying to people who ask: "Wherešs the beef?"

COCCHIARO: Instead of asking, "Wherešs the boat?" [they should ask] "Show me your progress." Up to this point, we can show them milestones that wešve reached.

SEACOASTNH.COM: Let’s say wešre doing this interview again a year from now. Then we’ll have the right to ask: "Where’s the Executive Director?"

COCCHIARO: Yes. If not, wešll have to be looking at things in a different way.

SEACOASTNH.COM: But we shouldnšt be saying, a year from now, "Wherešs the keel?"

COCCHIARO: Right. No keel yet.

SEACOASTNH.COM: Well, the NHGazette was around during the launching of the first Ranger in 1777, so we expect it will be around for the launching of the second Ranger in the 21st century.

COCCHIARO: Thank you.

For more information see:
http://www.rangerfoundation.org/
http://seacoastnh.com/jpj
http://nhgazette.com

Copyright Š 2001 SeacoastNH.com, All rights reserved.
Photo of Tom Cocchiaro by Steve Fowle, NH Gazette.

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