What follows are excerpts from the Gazette’s live blog of the Morgan’s historic voyage from Newport, Rhode Island, to Vineyard Haven on Wednesday, June 18. Tom Dunlop and Mark Lovewell reported from aboard ship; Sara Brown from on land.
It’s a perfect day for sailing, with blue skies and a peaceful horizon. We left port at 8 a.m., towed by the Tisbury tug, Sirius. By 8:45 a.m., she began turning east toward Cuttyhunk with the wind at our stern. They are raising the square sails, and she’s beginning to sail, heeling on the port side and nodding in the seas. The teamwork of the crew is incredible.
We’re about five miles south of Sakonnet Light. We’re under a bright blue dome of sky with some clouds. All around us, the big whaling seas. We have three square sails up and three other sails that sort of run along the length of the boat, fore and aft sails. We’re moving along at about seven knots, which is about eight or nine miles per hour. The goal is to get to the entrance of Vineyard Sound between Aquinnah and Cuttyhunk by around 11:30 a.m. so we can ride the tide up. The Roann, the eastern-rig dragger who is acting as a sort of companion ship, is bouncing along behind us very happily. We have no other company out here to speak of.
The Morgan is passing the Buzzard’s Bay tower to the north. The vessel feels like it is being pushed by the wind.
We are officially in Vineyard Sound. We can just barely make out Gay Head on the starboard side, but it’s hazy. We are still being towed. There is beautiful glittering water, sharp little waves on top of the big rolling waves. And everybody’s eating lunch. Now that we are going downwind the seas are smoother. The Bartholomew Gosnold monument in Cuttyhunk was visible in the distance, as was Bruce Almeida’s catboat, Harvest Moon. A dragonfly just landed on the boat, tired from being over the water.
When was the last time a whaling ship sailed to Martha’s Vineyard? We believe it was the schooner Hattie E. Smith, sailing into Edgartown in November 1894. When she left six years later, the Gazette said that her departure marked the first time since the early 1800s that no whaling vessel hailed from the town. Vineyard Haven had been out of the whaling business for a long time before that. The Charles W. Morgan never sailed into or out of the Vineyard.
We dropped the towline and began sailing. The sails were twisted to get sideways to the wind and we are gaining speed. The motion through the sea is much easier now. Pleasure boats are beginning to greet us. A cabin cruiser out of Montego Bay, Jamaica, the Rena, just sounded a cannon. The Morgan is turning toward Gay Head and will go across Vineyard Sound closer to the Vineyard side. The goal now is to reach West Chop before 3 p.m. Gone is the sound of the tugboat. The wind is talking and the ship is listening. We are pointed toward Dogfish Bar, which we can barely see through the haze. About 1 p.m., the ship was about to tack, which will bring us into the Sound. Hold on to your hats.
The Morgan has just completed her first turn, almost 180 degrees. We were pointed toward Gay Head, now we are pointed toward Naushon. The turn was done expertly; the ship practically pivoted on its axis, the sails luffing as we went. We have been joined by two notable boats, the Cangarda, a luxury steam yacht dating to 1903, with S. Bailey Norton Jr. aboard. Mr. Norton is the great-grandnephew of the Morgan’s first captain, Thomas A. Norton. Also alongside is the Menemsha fishing boat Little Lady, captained by Dennis Jason Jr. The most amazing thing is how quiet the vessel is now that she is under her own sail. There is just the soft whistling of wind and the hushed sighing sound of the wash breaking away from the bow.
We’re approaching the two channel markers that everyone recognizes off of West Chop. Dead ahead of us is the schooner Alabama. We are surrounded by a flotilla of maybe 25 boats, ranging from catboats to Nat Benjamin’s schooner, Charlotte. Cangarda is still behind us. We’re ghosting in, quietly and slowly. Peoples’ voices are lowered. Every once in a while you hear the captain and the mate and the crew exchanging orders and adjusting the sails as we get ready to make a turn into Vineyard Haven. It’s a beautiful day, a quiet little breeze and a wonderful greeting from many kinds of Island boats.
The sounds of cannonfire and honking horns greeted the arrival of the whaleship Charles W. Morgan, which sailed into Vineyard Haven harbor about 4 p.m. As the ship rounded West Chop about 3:15, her majestic rigging was visible behind the masts of the Shenandoah. The last wooden ship in a whaling fleet that once numbered 2,700 has come to Martha’s Vineyard.