Anticipation mounted Islandwide for much of Wednesday as Vineyarders prepared to welcome the majestic whaling ship, the Charles W. Morgan.
All along the northern shoreline, Islanders stood poised and camera-ready to capture the historic moment. At the West Chop Club overlook, a group of more than 50 people had assembled as the Morgan rounded her final corner to the Vineyard Haven harbor. For Jim Morgan, a retired fisherman, the appearance of the boat in Vineyard waters was more exciting than seeing a man on the moon, he said. (“That was a great thing, too,” he said of the moon walk.) “I think it’s great that they restored her,” he said, as he sat in a shady spot near the West Chop overlook. “She’s the last whaleship, and now she is good for another 100 years.”
Mr. Morgan, who is now 90, boarded the ship for the first time on his honeymoon in Mystic, Conn. It was 1950, and he sat in the captain’s seat, while his bride, Roberta, held on to the steering wheel. He also knew Roy Campbell, owner of the fishing boat Roann, which has accompanied the Morgan on her 38th voyage. He stepped aboard that ship while it docked at the harbor, but never while she sailed. Mr. Morgan has limited mobility and wasn’t sure if he’d be able to board the Morgan this time. But he planned to get as close as he could.
Nearby, Malcolm Boyd, a Vineyard Haven resident, stood among friends scanning the Sound. He said he has been visiting the Morgan since 1958 or 1959, when he was a kid visiting Mystic with his family. Though he saw her mid-restoration, this week will be the first chance he’s had to see her in her fully refurbished state.
“Look at her go,” he remarked as she moved speedily along the horizon. “She’s just cranking.” He planned to pick up his son at school, before bringing him to witness the Morgan’s arrival.
“To see the Morgan, it’s historic,” said his friend Lynne Fraker of Vineyard Haven. “I was on it as a little kid in Mystic and to see her sail is fantastic.”
Esther Deming often takes her lunch at the West Chop overlook, a sunny spot just a short walk from the optometry office where she works. On Wednesday, she was one of the first to stand guard at the overlook around 11:30, three hours before the ship and her entourage of Vineyard vessels came into full view. “I feel like a wife waiting for her husband to come home,” she said, laughing. “She was not here at the proper time, and now we are all impatient.” Ms. Deming, an Oak Bluffs resident, said she had also visited the ship in her childhood.
“I have always loved tall ships and history in general,” she said.
Shortly after 1 p.m., a dark speck that would later reveal itself to be the Morgan appeared among the haze at the horizon. A group of people stood peering to the west through binoculars and camera lenses. The group gained members as the Morgan approached, and while they waited, they traded information and binoculars back and forth.
When the Morgan came into full view, many dropped their lenses and tracked her progress eastward with their bare eyes. Others snapped photographs, admiring the way the sunshine illuminated her sails.
By 3:15 p.m., many had departed from the West Chop vantage to seek a closer view at the harbor.
Thomas Norton, who shares his name with distant relative Thomas A. Norton, the Morgan’s first captain, watched the tall ship as it disappeared behind the shrubbery surrounding the overlook. He studied whaling in his former role as director of the Dukes County Historical Society. He said he has been on the ship at Mystic Seaport, “playing the real Thomas Norton.” And though the museum has Morgan artifacts in its collection, this is the first time the bark has sailed Vineyard waters.
“It’s just great to see her here like this,” he said.
When the ship sailed into the harbor, she was greeted by a cacophony of horns and the sounding of a cannon at the Tisbury Wharf.
“It’s emotional,” said Barbara Armstrong, daughter of Jim Morgan, as the ship sailed to her berth at the Tisbury Wharf. “It’s so emotional.”