On to New Bedford

June 25, 2014 - 9:47am

The gangplank was pulled away and the Charles W. Morgan, under tow, departed from Tisbury Wharf at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday morning.

The last wooden whaling ship was escorted by more than a dozen boats as she left Vineyard Haven harbor. The Island Home ferry was right behind her. Boat horns and cannons sounded, and onlookers lined the wharf from Eastville Beach to Tisbury Wharf to get a last glimpse of the ship. Outside the harbor, the schooner Shenandoah was unfurling her sails.

Early reports were that the Morgan was going to be towed through Quick's Hole and would sail from there.

The Charles W. Morgan is bound for New Bedford, the next stop in her historic 38th voyage. In many ways, her arrival later today in New Bedford will be a homecoming. The ship was built at the J&Z Hillman Brothers shipyard there, and New Bedford was her home port for most of her 37 whaling voyages.

The Charles W. Morgan arrived on the Island last Wednesday afternoon, heralded with cannons and boat horns and onlookers gathered from Gay Head to West Chop. The ship and a dockside exhibit were open from Saturday through Tuesday. More than 2,000 visitors came to see the ship each day over the weekend.


Sara Brown and Remy Tumin

The Second To Last Whaling Ship

June 24, 2014 - 12:42pm

When the Charles W. Morgan was sailing through Vineyard Sound toward Vineyard Haven last week, she passed by the very spot where the second to last surviving whaling ship wrecked nearly 90 years ago.

The whaling bark Wanderer—she stood in for the Charles W. Morgan during sailing scenes in the movie Down to the Sea in Ships—was the last whaling ship to sail out of New Bedford. Shortly after leaving New Bedford for a whaling voyage, she anchored off Cuttyhunk and was wrecked during a fierce storm on August 24, 1924.

With that, the Charles W. Morgan became the last surviving whaling ship. And 90 years later, she sailed again.

Sara Brown

Life on a Whaling Ship

June 23, 2014 - 5:04pm

What was life like aboard the Charles W. Morgan when she was an active whaling vessel? Often smoky and oily.

After a whale was harpooned, it was hung off the side of the ship while the men aboard went about removing the head and then the blubber, which was brought aboard and rendered into oil in the brick try-works on the top deck.

Here is a description of the process from a March 1847 Vineyard Gazette article. As the article indicates, the whale's head was kept apart from the rest of the body. The "junk" was the lower part of the head. The "head matter "was unique to a sperm whale. The sperm whale has a head cavity filled with pure spermaceti, which is a white liquid that was valued for making candles and lamp fuel.

As you can see from the article, head oil and body oil were kept separate. The head oil was far more valuable.

Excerpts from a March 1847 Vineyard Gazette article:

"The whale on board, the blubber in the blubber room, junk on deck, and head matter in cask--the first thing to be done is to trim the ship, by sheeting home and hoisting the sails, clearing the decks...coiling up and stowing away all that is now useless. In the meantime, the cooper may be seen at the grindstone, sharpening spades, mincing knives, etc. This being done, the ship is sailing trim, the helm righted and the order given (full and by) to the helmsman. The officers and boatsteerers, with several men in attendance, will be cutting the junk into small pices, called horse-pieces, being prepared for the mincing-horse, these piked into junk casks." 

"Now all is ready for boiling. Then the order will be, "Old Hallet," which is understood by blubber-hunters, fire up, or more fire. Then the match and the [fuel is] in contact, the archers roaring, vomiting fire and smoke, then Old Hallet is again aboard, a welcome visitor, he being kept alive by whale scraps preserved for that purpose, until a fresh supply is obtained from the whale we are now about to boil."

"Now we have the ship washed clean, the whaling gear carefully put up and laid aside, all proper sail set, the mast-head manned by lookouts, Old Hallet in a conspicious place, with his breath of fire and smoke curling as it rises far above the mastheads, and extending off the lee quarter as far as the eye can reach.

"The process of making oil, is simply as follows. When the oil in the pots is hot, then the minced blubber is piked into them, and when cooled to what is called scraps, is skimmed out with a large skimmer made for the purpose, and dropped into a strainer, at the side of the try-works, then a quantity of blubber is again put into the pots."

"The head-matter which was not put into the pots at first is put in small quantities, for the purpose of heating it, that it may be kept sweet for the market. The junk, head-matter and head-skim, makes the head oil. This is kept separate from the body oil, and marked accordingly."

"Should the weather continue fair the boiling process may be got through within about 48 hours. In the meantime, the casks will be coopered and lashed to the sides of the ship, there to remain until the oil is cold.

"Thus, Mr. Editor, we have captured, cut and boiled a ninety barrel sperm whale, (and as it is not the fact that he will fill our ship) we will board the main-tack and trot her over the ground. The mainsail being set, the ship gathers headway; the distance between us is on stretch, consequently through my speaking trumpet I bid you farewell."

Sara Brown

Edgartown Whaling Ship Ocmulgee, Sunk By Confederate Raider

June 23, 2014 - 3:04pm

The visit of the Charles W. Morgan gives us a chance to explore the depths of our own whaling history here on Martha's Vineyard.

One ship with an interesting tale is the whaling ship Ocmulgee and her encounter with Confederate raiders during the Civil War. The Ocmulgee was the first ship sunk by the war vessel Alabama.

The Ocmulgee, a 458 ton ship, sailed out of Edgartown in 1862 on a hunt for whales. Her captain was Abraham Osborn Jr., a member of a prominent Edgartown whaling family. Before the Ocmulgee was owned by the Osborns, she had sailed from Holmes Hole (now Tisbury).

On Sept. 13, 1829, the Gazette wrote an account of the Ocmulgee's fated voyage. "It was three score and more years since north and south were at close grips in the Civil War," the story began. Captain Osborn apparently gave an account of the Ocmulgee's destruction in documents for marine insurance companies.

Capt. Raphael Semmes was at the helm of the Confederate raider Alabama. Captain Semmes had been a commander in the U.S. Navy and was superintendent of the second lighthouse district, which included Edgartown. Captain Semmes had been an honored dinner guest at Abraham Osborn's South Water street home.

When the war began, Captain Semmes "threw his fortune in with the southern cause," the Gazette wrote. Soon, "his name and that of his ship were to become words of dread to the people in many a town on the North Atlantic coast whose relatives were out upon the sea in ships."

One such ship was the Ocmulgee. On September 5, 1862, the Ocmulgee was sailing near the Azores when the Alabama came alongside her. "Your ship is a prize of the confederate war vessel Alabama, and I am ordered to burn your vessel at once," the crew was told. Captain Osborn and his crew of 36 men were transferred to the Alabama in boats. The Ocmulgee was burned and sunk, the first victim of the Alabama.

The Gazette reported that the ship had 300 barrels of oil on board and "was in a fair way to make a successful voyage." Captain Osborn was 29 years old "and his loss must have been a bitter one."

When Captain Osborn came aboard the Alabama, the Gazette reported, he realized that Captain Semmes, a familiar face, was in charge.

"The moment was tense," the Gazette reported. "'You have dined many times at my father's house and now you are burning his ship,'" thundered Osborn, and he is credited with still angrier words of protest, until [Captain] Semmes ordered his men to take the gallant young whaling skipper to the 'brig' below."

This was also the first time that Captain Semmes learned that the ship burning, the first prize of the Alabama, was the Ocmulgee of Edgartown.

Over the next 21 months, the Alabama would burn more than 60 ships with northern ownership, destroying property valued at more than $4 million. The Alabama herself was sunk on June 19, 1864.



Sara Brown

Memories from a Captain's Son

June 21, 2014 - 11:14am

Captain James A.M. Earle, a Vineyarder, was the Charles W. Morgan's captain for nine voyages--far more than any other captain.

Mr. Earle married Honor Matthews, a New Zealander he met when he attended a navigation school in Auckland. They were married in Honolulu during the Morgan's 21st voyage.

The Earles had a son, Jamie. Mrs. Earle and Jamie traveled aboard the Morgan for a few of her voyages; several pictures show a young Jamie Earle aboard the Morgan. Honor Earle took up navigation and was often on noon sights aboard the Morgan. Jamie slept in a hammock, and his playground was the deck aft of the mainsail.

Senior shipwright Roger Hambidge, who has been working on the Morgan since the early 1970s, recalled meeting Jamie Earle around that time. He was "a little old man with a long black overcoat, a smallish guy. He was a retired engineer from GE," Mr. Hambidge told the Gazette.

"One of the things he told me was he got in trouble with his mom and dad," Mr. Hambidge recalled. "What happeend was he wanted to see if he could go around the whole ship without touching the deck. Climbing the outside all the way around. When he hopped back aboard he got pretty well chastised."

Sara Brown

Whaleboats and Whaleboat Racing

June 20, 2014 - 7:16pm

The Charles W. Morgan opens to visitors Saturday. She'll be open from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Saturday through Tuesday.

There are some special events planned for Saturday, including a parade of vessels scheduled at noon. At 1 p.m. there is a whaleboat race, with five whaleboats built for the voyage racing between West Chop and East Chop. The race will be three miles.

Nine new whaleboats were built to accompany the Charles W. Morgan on her 38th voyage, each built by different shipyards around the country, including Virginia, Maine, Michigan and Vermont.

Gannon and Benjamin Marine Railway in Vineyard Haven supplied one of the whaleboats. It was built over the course of six months in 2013.

Whaleboats were 28-feet long and double ended. They were painted white, and each of the nine whaleboats made for the 38th voyage has a different colored stripe at the top of the hull—a historically accurate detail, because sailors needed a way to tell the boats apart.

When the Morgan shifted to Arctic whaling, the whaleboats were painted black, so they could be more easily spotted against the ice and snow.

The whaleboats were attached to the ship using wooden davits that extended from the ship. The whaleboats were dropped in the water upon a whale sighting. When a spotter shouted the familiar cry: "Bl-o-o-o-ows! Thar she bl-o-o-ows!" the boats went into the water, along with an assigned crew for each boat that included a harpooner.

After a whale was harpooned, the whaleboat and its occupants were sometimes taken for a Nantucket Sleigh Ride as the startled, harpooned whale towed the boat along for a harrowing ride.

No Nantucket Sleigh Rides this weekend, just some friendly racing.


Sara Brown

Hardtack and Turtles

June 20, 2014 - 11:11am

When the Charles W. Morgan opens to visitors on Saturday, take a look at the galley on the deck, and the captain's dining area on the tween deck. The crew for the 38th voyage, mercifully, is not adhering to the same diet that whaling men had (one reporter spied Dunkin Donuts aboard the ship a few weeks ago). But over 80 years the captains and crew ate a lot of meals aboard that ship--though the diet for greenhands was quite different than what the captain and officers ate.

The diet for most of the crew was hardly something to write home about. The men survived on salt-cured meat, dried beans, peas, dried fruits and vegetables, and hardtack, a type of bread or biscuit that was not perishable and often was soaked overnight to make it easier to eat the next day. There was a hardtack bakery in Edgartown during the golden age of whaling.

Food and water stores were replenished when the Morgan stopped at ports around the world. Turtles were often brought aboard as a food source. Dolphins, seabirds and fish were also sometimes caught and eaten, though it seems that they rarely ate the whales they caught.

The captain, however, had his own food supply. Edgartown’s own Thomas A. Norton, the Morgan’s first captain, had the following included in his stores: 1,200 pounds of butter, 300 pounds of cheese, 1,000 pounds of coffee, 35 pounds of green tea, 1,000 pounds of brown sugar, 300 pounds of raisins, 25 pounds of pepper, six pounds of cinnamon, one pound of cloves, 400 pounds of dried apples, one box of chocolate, six bottles of pepper sauce, 1,600 pounds of molasses, and lemon syrup.

Wine, rum and brandy were also on the provisions list, but because Captain Norton reportedly ran a temperate ship, it was probably used medicinally.

Sara Brown

Another Historic Ship Comes Home

June 19, 2014 - 5:10pm

While all eyes--and cameras--were on the Charles W. Morgan Wednesday as she sailed into Martha's Vineyard, one of the ships that accompanied her deserves some attention on her own.

The Morgan's companion ship for her 38th voyage is the Roann, an eastern-rig dragger from Mystic Seaport. The Roann was built in 1947 by Newbert & Wallace Shipyard in Thomaston, Me for Roy P. Campbell of Vineyard Haven. Mr. Campbell's wife was named Annie, hence the name Roann.

The Roann, 60 feet in length, is one of the last surviving examples of the switch from sails and hooks to engines and nets. The Roann and others like her replaced sailing schooners and were able to catch much greater amounts of cod, haddock and flounder.

Mr. Campbell sailed the Roann in the waters around Martha's Vineyard, and owned her for about 14 years.

A Gazette article from August 18, 1953 tells the story of when Roann braved rough seas on the southeast corner of Georges Bank.

"With no warning, a giant sea rose on the beam, a corresponding trough yawning alongside, and the vessel rolling into it, falling on her beamends. In the next instant solid water swept over her, covering the entire hull, filling the pilot house, pouring down the fo'castle smokestack, and hurling the men around like dice shaken in a cup." The vessel righted herself and clearly sailed on.

The Roann went on to have other owners, and she ended up at Mystic Seaport in 1997. She underwent a $1.2 million restoration there.

A Vineyard Gazette article published August 18, 1953, tells the story of the Roann being rolled by a rogue wave on the southeast corner of Georges Bank.

“With no warning, a giant sea rose on the beam, a corresponding trough yawning alongside, and the vessel rolled into it, falling on her beamends. In the next instant solid water swept over her, covering the entire hull, filling the pilot house, pouring down the fo’castle smokestack and hurling the men around like dice shaken in a cup.”

The Roann is docked in Tisbury Harbor near the Charles W. Morgan. Look for more information about her on the Gazette's website, and swing by the harbor to welcome her home.

Sara Brown

Vineyard Haven Welcomes First Whaleship in a Century

June 18, 2014 - 4:20pm

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. From the shore we could see Captain Kip Files at the stern of the ship issuing orders by radio.

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.

Sara Brown at Tisbury Wharf

Readying the Sails for the Turn Into Vineyard Haven

June 18, 2014 - 3:22pm

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.

Tom Dunlop, aboard the Charles W. Morgan

Armada of Boats Follows Morgan to West Chop

June 18, 2014 - 2:35pm

We're in easy view of Nobska lighthouse in Woods Hole and making our way toward West Chop. We're probably two miles from the route the ferry takes between Vineyard Haven and Woods Hole. We've been picking up company along the way, and we now have quite an entourage of vessels accompanying us: the Roann, the Vineyard Haven harbormaster's boat, the lovely Cangarda, the Rena, among others -- maybe 14 all together.

The ship continues to move with a soft and easy motion. We could easily reach West Chop by 3 p.m., but I expect the captain will want to tack back and forth a bit to let people have a good look at her.

Tom Dunlop, aboard the Charles W. Morgan

At Sail Through Vineyard Sound

June 18, 2014 - 1:36pm

The Morgan has just completed her first turn, almost 180 degrees. We were pointed toward Gay Head, now we are pointed toward Naushon. This was done to get us closer to the middle of the sound. 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 grand nephew 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. The ship has a lovely long, easy motion in the sea as it heels ever so slightly to the right.

Tom Dunlop and Mark Alan Lovewell, on the CWM

Cannons Sound as the Morgan Begins Sailing

June 18, 2014 - 1:08pm

At 12:45 p.m. 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 towards 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.

All hands on deck now, and it is more quiet, with just the sound of voices and the waves. 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. Gay Head Light was silhouetted.

Just about 1 p.m., the ship was about to tack, which will bring us into the sound. Hold onto your hats.

On the Vineyard, people are stationed with binoculars at Menemsha and Gay Head. The Morgan appeared on the horizon off Gay Head at about 12:15 p.m. and she was spotted from Menemsha at about 12:45 p.m.

Tom Dunlop and Mark Alan Lovewell, on the CWM

History 120 years in the Making

June 18, 2014 - 12:42pm

When was the last time a whaling ship sailed to Martha's Vineyard?

We believe it was the schooner Hattie E. Smith, sailing in to 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. Her home ports were New Bedford, San Francisco and very briefly, Provincetown. But many Vineyarders sailed on the Morgan during her 37 whaling voyages.

Tom Dunlop and Sara Brown

Gay Head on the Horizon

June 18, 2014 - 12:20pm

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 and we are moving with the waves. Winds are 15 to 20 miles per hour. 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.

Tom Dunlop and Mark Alan Lovewell, on the CWM

Dead Whale On The Horizon and Naushon in Sight

June 18, 2014 - 11:43am

We're now at the southern entrance to Buzzard's Bay and just beginning to see Naushon, one of the Elizabeth Islands, in the distance. We're still being towed, but increasingly the sails are taking over. There's a nice up and down — real ocean swells. We're less than an hour a way from Vineyard Sound where we expect a good fair tide and a 10-knot breeze. We expect to pass Gay Head around 12:30.

An hour ago, Capt. Kip Files reported that he had received a security call signaling a dead whale a few miles a way.

"You know they are going to blame us," he deadpanned, then paused. "I do wonder how much oil she had in her…"

Tom Dunlop, aboard the Charles W. Morgan

Passing Buzzard's Bay Tower

June 18, 2014 - 11:30am

At about 11:30 a.m., 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 riding the waves.

The sound of the vessel moving through the water is one of the greatest pleasures I have ever had. Below deck is so different from when she was docked at New London. It is all rocking and rolling...not a place for anyone with a weak stomach.

The crew is all somber, mostly quiet. Watching and waiting for the next order.

Mark Alan Lovewell, aboard the Charles W. Morgan

A Beautiful Sail

June 18, 2014 - 10:54am

It's 10:30 a.m. 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 third mate just told me that he thinks the Morgan is doing about 45 per cent of the work and the tug Sirius is probably doing about 65 per cent of the work. 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. And once we get there, I'm convinced because of the way the wind is blowing they will drop the tow and we'll sail the rest of the way. If that's the case we might be to Vineyard Haven around about 1 p.m. And if we arrive at about 1 we might have some opportunity to do some sailing around and to show herself off.

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 but it's a beautiful sail and all is well.

Tom Dunlop, aboard the Charles W. Morgan

On Her Way

June 18, 2014 - 9:55am

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.

Tom Dunlop, aboard the Charles W. Morgan

Thar She Sails

June 17, 2014 - 3:26pm

Nobody alive has seen a whaling ship sail into Vineyard waters. At least until today.

The Charles W. Morgan, the last remaining wooden whaling ship, has embarked on her 38th voyage. She is a tangible example of the American whaling industry, which had deep roots on Martha's Vineyard. And while the Morgan never sailed to or from the Vineyard, many of her captains and crew called the Island home.

For 80 years, the Morgan traveled around the world in search of whales, bringing home thousands of gallons of valuable whale oil. For this trip, her cargo is history and her mission to tell stories: about the whaling industry, about how the Morgan came to be the only whaling ship left, and about her extensive restoration at Mystic Seaport. She is also a portal into the Island's whaling history. The Morgan is expected to arrive at Tisbury Wharf sometime Wednesday afternoon. Gazette staff writer Tom Dunlop and photographer Mark Lovewell are aboard the Morgan for her trip to the Island. Follow the Gazette's 38th Voyage Logbook for live updates from the ship and updates throughout the Morgan's time on the Island.

Anchors aweigh!

Sara Brown