Goodbye, Rose: Filmmaker Pays $1.5m for Bridgeport Frigate

March 24, 2001
from the Connecticut Post website


The HMS Rose is setting sail -- and it won't be coming back any time soon.

Owners of the three-masted replica of a Revolutionary War British frigate have sold the tall ship to a movie maker, ending its reign as a cornerstone of Bridgeport tourism and an ambassador for the state.

The Rose has struggled financially for years and has spent most of the last few years on the world's oceans earning money as a sailing school and other activities.

Jan Williams, who runs the HMS Rose Foundation in Bridgeport, said Friday the group has accepted a $1.5 million offer from movie director Peter Weir of Australia, who plans to use the ship in a series of upcoming movies.

Weir is a major Hollywood force whose credits include the "Truman Show," "Witness" and "Dead Poets Society."

Williams said the Rose may again be used as a sailing school -- its main vocation recently -- when its movie-making days are over. Although future plans are not firm, Williams said she hoped the new owner might one day select Bridgeport as its home port.

Mayor Joseph P. Ganim did not return phone calls Friday seeking comment.

The city, responding to past attempts by Williams to sell the Rose, had warned that a sale could not be completed without its permission. Williams, however, said Ganim raised no objection to the current sale.

Two spokesmen who work for the mayor's office also could not be reached for comment Friday.

Meanwhile, those involved in the state's tourism industry said Friday marked a sad day for the entire state.

"It's not good for Bridgeport or the state," said Steven Paganelli, executive director of the Fairfield County Visitors and Convention Bureau.

"It was a symbol for Bridgeport and the state. It served as an ambassador around the world. It's awful news," Paganelli said.

Williams said it's not easy to part with the Rose, but budget deficits and much needed-repairs on the vessel left little choice.

The Rose Foundation also supports the Nantucket Lightship, a former floating lighthouse. That ship will remain under the foundation's control, and docked in Bridgeport.

"We do this with mixed emotions for sure," said Williams.

"My dad and whole family put so much into this," Williams said, referring to her father, Kaye Williams, who owns Captain's Cove Marina, where the ship is still docked, at least for now. Williams said it will depart soon.

City Council member Pat Crossin said he's saddened by the news. "I'm very disheartened It's something we did promote."

Weir plans to use the ship in a movie based on novels by Patrick O'Brien, who writes stories featuring 18th-century British naval themes, Williams said.

She said upkeep on the Rose had become more than the foundation could afford. She said the $1.5 million will primarily cover existing debt.

The ship was acquired by the foundation in 1984 and rebuilt by 1987. But over the last two years or so, the ship spent no more than a couple of days in Bridgeport as the foundation kept it sailing around the world earning revenue.

"Everything is getting pretty worn," Williams said of the ship's current condition. 

"Just to replace a sail, it's $10,000 to $20,000. The engines are tired. A lot needs to be done," she added.

Williams said she met with Ganim and told him about the sale. She said the mayor did not object.

That stance is in contrast to previous statements by the administration. When faced with possible sales in the past, officials said the Rose is an asset of Captain's Cove Marina, which is owned by the city and leased to Williams.

As an asset, the ship cannot be sold without city approval, those officials claimed.

The Rose was nearly sold three years ago to make room for a proposed high-speed ferry service at Captain's Cove. The city balked at the plan and eventually contributed $50,000 to the Rose Foundation, and People's Bank chipped in $100,000.

Williams said the Rose Foundation is a separate entity from Captain's Cove, so the ship is not a city asset.

Paganelli said both the city and the state failed to adequately support the Rose. He said the loss of the ship is particularly sad because Bridgeport, thanks to the Beardsley Zoo, the Bluefish minor league baseball team and the Barnum Museum, is becoming a popular tourist attraction.