By Chris Landers
Scene from the dock at Mystic Seaport.
isitors to Mystic seaport’s recreated whaling village can be forgiven
if they feel they’ve slipped back
in time. the collection of historic buildings, gathered here from all over
new england, offer a glimpse into the time of
Melville, or more precisely, the time of whaling, when coastal new england drew yankees
and foreigners alike to risk their luck and lives
against the seas and the leviathans underneath
them. vast fortunes were made here, or as Melville puts it, “they were harpooned and dragged
up hither from the bottom of the sea,” and it
was from here that ships set out for years at a
time, many never to return.
Foreign visitors still flock to this village,
and they’re still greeted with sea chanteys and
the ringing of the blacksmith’s hammer. Merchants and craftsmen still ply their once crucial
but now esoteric trades. if a visitor from, say,
new york requires a new carving for the stem
of their ship, it can be supplied. if a Japanese
tourist wants to hire a rigger, or look into a
hoop skirt for a sweetheart back home, those craftsmen
are available to consult. If, on the other hand, you’re
afflicted with a damp, drizzly November in the soul,
there’s only one cure for that. Luckily it’s nearby, in
the aging timbers of the Charles W. Morgan, the last of New
England’s mighty whaling fleet, which will soon put out to
sea again, after a hiatus of almost a century.
Visitors can watch the restoration of the
whaleship Charles W. Morgan.
As Steve White, Mystic Seaport’s director, talks to BoatU.S.
Magazine from his Connecticut office, he says he’s being watched.
“There’s this great portrait in my office,” White says. “It’s one of
those portraits that, no matter where you are in the room, the eyes
are looking right at you. So Carl Cutler is looking at me right now.”
As well he might. Cutler, one of the three founders of the Seaport in 1929, was also instrumental in the efforts to preserve and
restore the Charles W. Morgan, the whale ship that has become the
centerpiece of the museum. Under White’s leadership, the museum is attempting something Cutler never tried — sending the
Morgan back to sea.
New Bedford-built in 1841, the Charles W. Morgan has had a
remarkable career by any standard. The New York Times in 1900 re-