The Charles W. Morgan was at rest at Tisbury Wharf Wednesday evening, one of several boats tucked in for the night after a warm June day.
A few hours earlier, the Morgan arrived at Vineyard Haven harbor to a barrage of cannonfire and boat horns while onlookers gathered to witness her arrival, some in tears.
The Morgan is the last wooden whaling ship in the world, and she is sailing again after an extensive renovation at Mystic Seaport. Her visit Wednesday marked the first time in more than a century that a whaling ship sailed into Vineyard waters.
The Morgan is also steeped in Vineyard history. Many of her captains and crew came from the Island.
Wednesday was a day of waiting for the Morgan, as Islanders gathered along the coast from Gay Head to West Chop to catch a glimpse of the ship sailing through Vineyard Sound.
The Morgan departed Newport, R.I., at about 8 a.m. Wednesday morning under tow from the Tisbury tug Sirius, captained by Paul Bangs.
Gazette reporter Tom Dunlop and photographer Mark Lovewell were among those on board, along with Matthew Stackpole, the Morgan’s historian and a West Tisbury resident. The trip was 42 nautical miles.
At about 12:45 p.m., when she was at the southern end of Vineyard Sound and just northeast of Cuttyhunk, the Morgan dropped her towline and began traveling entirely by sail.
She was soon visible from the Gay Head Cliffs and Menemsha Beach.
Ann Burt, sister Sally Thibault and niece Sara Thibault had been waiting since 8 a.m. to see the ship. By noon the family had been to Gay Head twice and back to Menemsha before taking their post on the banister along Menemsha Beach.
“It’s a once in a lifetime experience,” Mrs. Burt said. “This must be what it was like for the wives waiting for their husbands to come home. Will it help to wave?”
But just as the fog began to clear, the Morgan pulled out of Quick’s Hole through the Elizabeth Islands and made her presence known. Armed with binoculars, spectators could see the large billowing hull of the ship make its way across the sound.
In West Chop, about 55 people gathered, binoculars and cameras in tow, to catch a glimpse of the Morgan from the West Chop overlook.
The Morgan’s travelling companion Wednesday was the Roann, a 60-foot eastern-rig dragger, one of the last surviving examples of the fishing vessels that replaced sailing schooners. The Roann was built in 1947 for the late Capt. Roy Campbell of Vineyard Haven. (His wife’s name was Annie, hence the name.) She was returning home; Vineyard Haven was once her port. She is also now docked in Vineyard Haven harbor.
As the Morgan came closer to the Vineyard, she was surrounded by a flotilla of other boats. These included the Vineyard Haven harbor master’s boat, a cabin cruiser out of Montego Bay, Jamaica, the Rena, Menemsha fishing boat Little Lady, captained by Dennis Jason Jr., and the Cangarda, the last surviving American-built steam yacht. S. Bailey Norton of Edgartown, a descendent of the Morgan’s first captain, Capt. Thomas A. Norton of Edgartown, was aboard the Cangarda.
At about 3:15 p.m. the flotilla rounded West Chop. The Charles W. Morgan was visible between the masts of the schooner Shenandoah, and Tisbury Wharf Company fired off celebratory shots from a small bronze cannon as the ship made her way into Tisbury harbor. Cannonfire was once customary to herald a returning ship. Soon a chorus of boat horns chimed in.
The Morgan’s sails were up as she came into the harbor. Captain Files stood at the back of the wooden whaleship dictating instructions into a marine radio as the bark Morgan eased into Ralph Packer’s Tisbury Wharf, which will be her home berth for the next six days. Many people stood at the wharf, some crying.
“Line aboard!” someone on the crew shouted as the Morgan docked. “Stand by the main brace!” said another.
Once the gangplank was in position, Captain Files briefly disembarked to shake hands with Ralph Packer, the owner of Tisbury Wharf Company.
Special guests who sailed on the trip to the Vineyard walked down the gangplank.
Those aboard included Edgartown residents Nancy and David Vietor and Edgartown summer resident Richard Vietor, the former chairman of the Mystic Seaport board of trustees. They were all among the Vineyard residents who donated to the ship’s restoration.
Other voyagers were part of Mystic’s 38th voyager program, which allows people with a particular area of interest to sail on a leg of the journey and then share their experience. The program is partially funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities.
For the trip from Newport to Martha’s Vineyard, the voyagers included Elizabeth James-Perry, who is of Aquinnah Wampanoag ancestry. According to Mystic, she does cultural heritage work for the tribe, which includes harvesting quahaug shells, white cedar bark and milkweed bast to make art and reproductions. For the voyage, she planned to make a pouch combining wampum, hand-spun yarn and plucked fur.
Other voyagers included Peter Norberg, a Herman Melville scholar from Saint Joseph’s University who plans to use the Morgan to make Moby-Dick more accessible for first-time readers; Jamie Jones, a scholar and cultural critic from the University of Michigan who interviewed the captain, crew and visitors to find out how the Morgan and whaling shaped their imaginations, and Joe Forbrich, whose play based on the whaleship Essex is premiering at Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse this week.
After voyagers disembarked, the crew gathered for a picture and then a cheer: “Hip, hip hooray! Hip, hip hooray! Hip, hip hooray!”
“What a sail,” Mr. Stackpole told the Gazette. “It’s a whaleship and she went sailing. My heart’s still beating pretty fast.” He praised the crew for their skills.
The Morgan festivities continue throughout the weekend. While any visitor to Vineyard Haven harbor can see the ship from afar, the Morgan will be open to the public beginning Saturday. From June 21 to June 24, the Morgan will be open for people to tour the ship from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
The 22,000 square-foot dockside exhibit is open until 5 p.m. There will be demonstrations of 19th century skills like rope making, live performances of sea chanteys, and a condensed rendition of Moby-Dick. Spouter, a 46-foot-long life-sized inflatable model of a sperm whale will be on hand.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries will have an exhibit with information about ocean conservation and whales. Kids will have the opportunity to make their own whale hats.
On Saturday, June 21, there will be a parade of vessels at noon, and a whaleboat race at 1 p.m. Gannon & Benjamin Marine Railways built one of the reproduction whaleboats that is traveling with the Morgan — the Gannon & Benjamin boat is distinguished by a teal blue stripe. Five whaleboats will participate in a three-mile race between East Chop and West Chop. There is a suggested admission of $5 per person for those ages 6 years and older; children 5 years old and younger will be admitted for free, as will current Mystic Seaport members with their membership card.
On Tuesday evening Martha’s Vineyard Film Center, in collaboration with Mystic Seaport and SAIL MV, will host the premiere of the documentary film The Charles W. Morgan. After the film there will be a question and answer session with director Bailey Pryor, executive producer Steve Jones, Henry B. duPont Preservation Shipyard director Quentin Snediker, and Morgan historian Matthew Stackpole. For more information visit mvfilmsociety.com.
The Morgan’s next destination will be New Bedford. The sailing window for her departure from Martha’s Vineyard is between June 25 and June 27. She will be in New Bedford from June 28 to July 6, and from there she will sail to Provincetown via the Cape Cod canal and will take several day sails to the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary. Her next stop will be in Boston, where the Morgan will be berthed next to the U.S.S. Constitution at the Charlestown Navy Yard from July 18 to 22. The Morgan and the Constitution are the two oldest merchant ships in America.
She will come back toward the Vineyard, and from July 26 to July 26 she will be open to the public at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy. The visit will coincide with the centennial celebration of the Cape Cod Canal.
The Morgan will make her way back to Mystic via New London. There will be a homecoming celebration at Mystic Seaport on August 9, and she will remain on display at Mystic.
Remy Tumin contributed reporting.