Jun 13, 2014
01:00 PM

Whaling Ship Charles W. Morgan Arrives in Rhode Island; Historic Voyage’s First Leg

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In 2008 the Morgan was pulled out of the water to undergo restoration in the museum’s shipyard and was launched back into the water last summer after a multiyear, multimillion-dollar renovation.

Dana Hewson, vice president of watercraft and preservation programs at Mystic Seaport, says finding the material necessary was one of the biggest challenges of the Morgan's restoration. The proper type of timber can be hard to find in the right size and there were other materials the Morgan needed that are no longer manufactured.

Because Mystic Seaport has a working historic shipyard, Hewson says the museum is constantly looking for these types of materials and has contacts all over the country. “A lot of our acquisition is based on long term relationships with people who know what we’re looking for and keep an eye out for that type of material," he says.

The Morgan restoration utilized timber gathered in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and other storms, wrought iron from an early 1900s tiger cage at a Memphis Zoo, and wood discovered when a new hospital was built on the grounds of what was the Boston Navy Yard.

For its voyage the ship had to meet U.S. Coast Guard standards. Modern navigation systems were added, as were modern bathrooms, a fire alarm system, a generator, and modern bilge pumps.

For Hewson and other museum staff members all the work paid off when they watched the vessel leave Mystic Seaport.

“I’ve been working here for 37 years,” Hewson says. “Its probably safe to say that there hasn’t been a day in my life since then, that the Morgan hasn’t’ been on my mind. To see her for the first time going through the bridge, it was a very moving experience.”

Dan McFadden, Mystic Seaport’s director of communications, adds, "Taking her down the river was fantastic. It brought home that this voyage is really happening.”

* *  *

As the next leg of the journey gets underway, Captain Files' priority is the safety of the crew.

“Back in 1841 it was the cargo, the vessel, then the crew, but now it’s a little bit different, we’ve changed that attitude on how we treat crew,” he says. “Safety is always number one, we’re going to limit ourselves to the types of weather we go out in.”

He adds that the Morgan is a sturdy ship and has certainly handled a storm or two, but there’s no point in taking any risks. “Nobody’s in it for the terror. We’ll handle it and find out how much wind feels comfortable with her and how much sea feels comfortable with her. This is such a precious artifact, there’s nothing else like it left in the world, so we have to treat it with that respect.”

Beyond keeping the crew and ship safe, Files says one of the hardest parts of the voyage will be keeping a wind-powered vessel on a schedule, which is why extra days have been allotted between the Morgan’s visit to each port.

“Sailing vessels never kept a schedule, they just go when the wind and the tide was fair and got there when the wind and the tide allowed them to. The advent of a time schedule, I think that started with the railroads,” he says.  

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Whaling Ship Charles W. Morgan Arrives in Rhode Island; Historic Voyage’s First Leg

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