May 16, 2014


For the First Time in 93 Years, a 19th-Century Whaling Ship Sets Sail : Built in 1841, the Charles W. Morgan is plying the waters off New England this summer (Constance Bond, 5/15/14, SMITHSONIAN.COM)

And now, the Charles W. Morgan--the last remaining wooden whaling ship in existence, and the most treasured possession of the Mystic Seaport Museum, a Smithsonian Affiliate--will set out on her 38th voyage. The ship has just undergone an extensive five-year renovation and, on May 17, she will be towed down the Mystic River (her first time below the Mystic River Bascule bridge since she arrived in 1941) and over to New London, where she will remain for a month for the final preparations for this, her first modern voyage. Then she will cruise up the New England coast, paying visits to other historic ports. Her itinerary includes New Bedford, her homeport for 60 years, with its fine whaling musem; and Boston, where she will be berthed alongside the USS Constitution, the only American ship older than the Morgan. The port visits will include tours of the ship, whaleboat races, dockside exhibits--a full-out immersion in the history of whaling.

There will also be another very important stop--a reunion of sorts. Mooring offshore near Provincetown, the Morgan will make several day sails to Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, which is a center for whale watching in New England. But it certainly wasn't at the time of the Morgan; the sperm whales that had made Nantucket the whaling capital of the world before the rise of New Bedford had long since been hunted to near-oblivion in those waters. One whaling ground after another throughout the world was depleted, furnishing endless supplies of whale oil to lubricate the machines of the Industrial Revolution and to light people's houses--a wild ride that ended only with the discovery of petroleum in Titusville, Pennsylvania, in 1859. But today, with the wisdom of hindsight, we can see the damage. So, on this 38th voyage, the Morgan will carry knowledge about protecting the whales, not casks filled with their oil.  

"The idea that we might get the ship out to Stellwagen Bank and she might be surrounded by whales--that would be amazing," says Mary K. Bercaw Edwards, who will crew on the Morgan during that leg of the 38th voyage.

Posted by at May 16, 2014 6:36 PM

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