2009-11-19 / News

Website documents islander’s love of ships

By Stacy Jones

Rod Smith Rod Smith “We all have our passions,” said islander Rod Smith as he described his first love. “My camera: That’s my sailboat, my motorcycle, my fast car.”

Coming in a close second is Smith’s love of ships.

“As a child, I vividly remember watching ships coming out of the Newport Naval Base. I loved to sit at the beach and watch ships go in and out. Seeing the tankers and the other large ships made my day, every day,” he said.

In April 2008, Smith combined his hobbies and launched a website — www.narragansettbayshipping.com — that documents, in words and photos, the many ships that pass through Narragansett Bay. So if you’ve ever wondered about that monster cruise liner or mysterious freighter spotted as you biked Beavertail or walked Conanicus Avenue, wonder no more. A quick search on Smith’s website using the name of the ship or the day you saw it will most likely result in a positive identification.

A close-up view of a ship cruising up the East Passage of Narragansett Bay. The photo was taken from the Dumplings and is one of many on the website www.narragansettbayshipping.com. Photo by Rod Smith A close-up view of a ship cruising up the East Passage of Narragansett Bay. The photo was taken from the Dumplings and is one of many on the website www.narragansettbayshipping.com. Photo by Rod Smith Although Smith is certain about his commitment to the continual development of his website, he is less sure of why he created the site in the first place.

“It’s difficult to explain. I don’t have a logical explanation,” he said. His purpose? He wants to honor those that work on boats and he wants to create an historical photo essay of shipping activity in Narragansett Bay.

“Any individual can take a picture of a ship, but through different angles and close-ups, the pictures tell a story,” said Smith, who often posts 20 to 40 photos of each ship documented on his website. “I follow the journey into the Bay. I try to show that, ‘Yes, this happened.’ I want to validate events.”

Jamestowners “are blessed by the fact that we are on an island and these ships go by every day,” he said. His website can provide entertainment and historical detail to others throughout the state, region or world who are not as fortunate, he said.

His respect for those who labor on ships grew from his own career on the water, he said.

In the early 1980s, Smith worked as a bartender aboard a side-loading ferry going from Providence to Block Island. He later worked as a deckhand on other ferries.

“It’s hard work. Either you love it or you hate it,” he said. After a few years as a deckhand, Smith was ready to move on to larger boats and studied to earn his Able Seaman certification. He passed what he called “a pretty hefty test,” but failed the color-blindness test.

“That was the end of that,” he said.

He moved to Maryland shortly afterward and started a career in the IT field. Although Smith’s career on the sea faded, his “immense respect for those that worked on these boats” remained.

Smith, who moved back to Jamestown in 2006, knew nothing about creating a website, so he sketched out what he thought it should look like and took his ideas to an acquaintance, a computer programmer named Craig Verrastro. It was Verrastro who created the site and continues to maintain it as official Webmaster.

“It wouldn’t be possible without him,” Smith said.

Smith also gets help from visitors to his site who provide information and post photos of their own.

“I’ve got Narragansett Bay covered,” he said, adding that the site in divided into three sections — Narragansett Bay, ports and waters of New England and ships outside of New England. But the additional support is invaluable, he said.

“They make up a big part of [the site],” he said. “It’s hard to do this by yourself.”

To date, Smith’s website has gotten approximately 17,164 hits and been surfed by 7,381 unique visitors. Those numbers are quite an improvement from the site’s launch date, when it received three hits.

“I’m happy with the traffic it gets,” he said. However, to increase the site’s visibility, Verrastro aligns it with Google and other search engines, and gets URL exchanges from other sites, which are posted as links on Smith’s website.

By his own admission, Smith’s nearly two-year endeavor has been “enjoyable, a cool thing, very satisfying.” But passions, he said, never take a break.

“So if you see a man on Beavertail in January in 20-degree weather with a camera and tripod, it’s me,” he said.

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