Jun 24, 2014
01:35 PMThe Connecticut Story
Charles W. Morgan Whaling Ship Going 'Home' to New Bedford on 38th Voyage
Photos courtesy of Mystic Seaport
Deckhands haul a line on the Morgan while en route to Newport, Rhode Island.
The Charles W. Morgan is heading "home."
In 1841 the whaleship was built in New Bedford, Mass. Now, more than 170 years later she is returning to her birthplace as part of her historic 38th Voyage. The Morgan, the last wooden whaleship and the oldest commercial vessel still afloat, will depart Martha’s Vineyard (weather permitting) on June 25 and sail for New Bedford. The vessel, which is owned by Mystic Seaport, will be open to the public at the New Bedford State Pier from June 28 to July 6.
“This is a big moment in the voyage as the city was where the ship was built and was her home port for much of her career,” says Dan McFadden, Mystic Seaport’s director of communications. “They have a deep connection to the ship and the entire week we are there is full of special events around our visit.”
These events include a boat parade on Sunday, June 29, at 12:30 p.m. and a whaleboats race and skills challenge Saturday, July 5.
The Morgan began its historic voyage on May 17 when the ship left Mystic Seaport for the first time since its arrival in November of 1941. It stopped at New London’s City Pier, where final preparations for the voyage were made and sailing exercises were conducted. Then on June 15, the Morgan left New London and began its voyage up the coast of New England, stopping first at Newport, Rhode Island, and then traveling to Vineyard Haven. After New Bedford, the ship will sail to the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, on to Boston, and then back to New London and Mystic, with a stop at the Cape Cod Canal to participate in its centennial celebration.
So far the ship has received an overwhelming welcome wherever it has stopped.
“The public reception at each stop has been wonderful,” McFadden says. “We have had lines down the dock each day in Vineyard Haven and the island could not have been more welcoming or enthusiastic.”
In all, 2,000 people a day visited the ship in Martha’s Vineyard including talk show host David Letterman (see picture below).
“A key goal for the voyage is to celebrate America’s maritime heritage and remind everyone that we all have a connection to the sea in some way,” McFadden says. “Vineyard Haven is an important stop because a number of the Morgan’s captains, including her very first, and crew members were from the Vineyard. By being there we are able to remind people of that and show them what it was like for their forebears to go to sea on a whaleship.”
The ship is being staffed by a crew of 15 professional mariners, who are being supported by 10 rotating Mystic Seaport employees who serve as deckhands.
Sarah Spencer is one of those deckhands and will be sailing with the ship from Martha’s Vineyard to New Bedford. She says being on the Morgan while it is actually sailing is amazing.
“Just to have the experience of her underway and working on the sails and the lines and feeling her move beneath your feet, and just to see those sails full and billowing, it's pretty remarkable.”
During the voyage the ship has performed better than expected.
“It was a little bit of a surprise. We have always said that she would be a very slow moving vessel and I kind of expected her to be quite [rocky] but she was very smooth,” Spencer says. “She was quick. She was nimble. She went through her tacking very quickly and she really is a delight to sail.”
McFadden adds that even when sailing rough seas the Morgan has performed admirably.
“We had some choppy sea conditions on the way over from Newport, but the Morgan handled it fine. As the captain keeps saying, ‘They sure knew how to build them right back in 1841.’”
The ship will return to Connecticut at the end of July, when it makes another stop at City Pier in New London. Then, between Aug. 6 and 8, it will head back to Mystic Seaport. On Aug. 9, the Seaport will host a return party for the vessel.
The goal of this onetime only voyage is to highlight whaling history and the importance of maritime history
Spencer says sailing on the Morgan has given her a deeper appreciation of what life on a whaling ship was like.
“She's a museum exhibit that's now come to life and to experience even just a little element, just a fraction, of what sailors might have experienced back in the 19th century is pretty amazing,” she says. But she’s quick to add that although she enjoyed getting a taste of whaling life she’s not sure she’d sign up for a full serving, “I don't think I would have wanted to spend three to five years on board.”