Last weekend the Charles W. Morgan was relaunched on her 172nd birthday after a major rebuild; much of her remains original including the keelson. The live oak in her massive double sawn frames was salvaged after a southern U.S. hurricane, and she has been rebuilt absolutely true to her original design and methods of construction. She was originally launched from the Hillman Shipyard in New Bedford (the Hillman family came from Chilmark) on July 21, 1841, and sailed on 37 voyages with the last voyage in 1921. During her working life she sailed on all oceans and when she was relaunched, the bottle was full of a blended mix of water from the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Oceans. In the interim between retiring from whaling (during part of her working life she was home-ported in San Francisco) in 1921 she was on display at Round Hill in Padanaram, but her owner died and the city of New Bedford struggled to find a way to preserve her. Failing a solution, Mystic Seaport Museum agreed to accept her and she was towed to Mystic, Conn. and the museum in 1941 — only a few weeks before Pearl Harbor. Given wartime conditions and intervening bad weather, if she hadn’t arrived in late November, she would not be with us today.
The museum has cared for, repaired and rebuilt her and preserved her ever since. She has been a lucky ship. Over the next year her accommodations will be reinstalled and she will be rerigged. She will be taken to New London to be ballasted down. Her 38th voyage, to the east and to visit ports on Martha’s Vineyard, Cape Cod and New Bedford, as well as Stellwagen Bank, will begin in June 2014. Accompanying her as one of the support vessels, will be the Roann, originally built for the late Capt. Roy Campbell of Vineyard Haven. Roann has been rebuilt by the museum as well.
If you watch the video you will hear why our maritime heritage is so important. It is a bit offputting to realize, but the Morgan and her many sisters were the forefront of the petroleum tankers of today. Now the Morgan — rather than carrying whale oil, or Gulf crude — serves as an exhibit and emissary for education and conservation of the whales she once so successfully hunted. Not exactly Greenpeace, but with the museum moving into using the internet to allow school kids anywhere in the world to access the museum collections, pictures of and information about her life will help to promote a proper respect for and conservation of maritime resources — whales or clean oceans!
The survival of the Morgan is due in huge measure to good stewardship. As I looked at the crew (some of whom are friends of 40 years) in the live-streamed video of her relaunching, I could not help but remember folks no longer with us, who helped to keep the Morgan (and other museum vessels) alive on the slimmest of budgets. To all who had a hand in her survival, congratulations. We look forward to seeing her in Vineyard Haven harbor in 2014.
If you are traveling along Route 95, stop and visit Mystic Seaport Museum. You won’t regret it.