Re-Launching the Whaling Ship Charles W. Morgan

by Jon Persson

A proud date: The whaling ship Charles W. Morgan rejoins the ships and boats of the sailor’s world in their natural element on Sunday, July 21. This date—the 172nd anniversary of the stalwart ship’s first launching in 1841—was well-promoted during the many months and labor hours spent restoring the world’s last wooden whaling ship. Given her provenance, the Morgan attracts many well-wishers, dignitaries, and prominent historians to her re-christening.

Mystic's bascule bridge opened for a host of small craft that were on hand to bear witness to Morgan's re-entry into the salt sea.  The whaler's first launch was July 21, 1841, in New Bedford Photo by Robert J. O'Shaughnessy

Mystic’s bascule bridge opened for a host of small craft that were on hand to bear witness to Morgan’s re-entry into the salt sea. The whaler’s first launch was July 21, 1841, in New Bedford
Photo by Robert J. O’Shaughnessy

From the decks of the oyster boat Anne, a crew from The Resident watches as the next chapter in the Morgan’s story unfolds. The perspective is unique. When Anne was launched in 1884, the Morgan was a mere, though well-traveled, 43 years old. Given their local proximity, one imagines the two vessels crossing wakes or watching each other’s progress in that distant century, when both were still sailing for commercial pursuits. It is this longevity which gives Charles W. Morgan her continuing connection to our living memory.
“When I looked up the river, the people were thick” on the grounds of the Mystic Seaport Museum, recounts The Resident’s Alexis Ann. “Kayaks and canoes were side by side on the river,” she adds. The launching of ships are much akin to graduations, which gather onlookers to see the new beginnings wrought from years of dedicated work. “Community spirit was at its best,” adds Alexis, “the blanket of participants on the river and banks renewed my appreciation for how special our Mystic is.”

Beflagged and shipshape with new paint and fine carpentry, Charles W. Morgan is ready to re-launch into the Mystic River July 21.  Photo by Robert J. O'Shaughnessy

Beflagged and shipshape with new paint and fine carpentry, Charles W. Morgan is ready to re-launch into the Mystic River July 21.
Photo by Robert J. O’Shaughnessy

Exactly six months earlier, Alexis and a team from The Resident surveyed progress on Morgan. “We were freezing on January 21st!” she laughs to Captain Geoffrey Jones, skipper of Anne, who invited The Resident aboard for this warm summer day. We are joined by his father, the scholar-waterman Stephen Jones, who is Anne’s longtime owner. Geoffrey and Stephen are through-and-through Noankers on the water and the land.
After speeches by Governor Malloy and film maker Ric Burns, a toast of waters bottled from the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans, and the Mystic and Acushnet Rivers, is delivered by Sarah Bullard, great-great-great granddaughter of Charles Wain Morgan, to begin the historic ship’s descent on her carrier downward from the restraining land to boundless sea.
Morgan was completed on time and on budget for this day’s unveiling, a tribute to the crew who undertook this extensive project. Indeed, at the close of ceremonies, “a standing ovation…thanked the staff and anyone who worked on Morgan’s restoration,” recounts Alexis. The coming months will see a refurbishing of the ship’s spars, rigging, and sails, followed by a series of sea trials conducted from New London. The 38th voyage will follow, and Morgan will see New Bedford, Massachusetts, as her prime port of destination.
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