AFTER A FIVE-YEAR, $8 million restoration, Mystic Seaport’s “crown jewel,” the Charles W. Morgan, will be relaunched on July 21, the
172nd anniversary of her original launch.
The restoration has not only given the ship
a new lease on life, but will also let her put
to sea again for the first time in almost a
century. Early in 2014, she will embark on
a ceremonial voyage to historic ports on the
Eastern Seaboard. Connecticut state legislators have designated the 2013-14 academic
year to be the “Year of the Charles W. Morgan”
so a whole new generation will have the
chance to learn about history from her.
By all rights, the Charles W. Morgan shouldn’t
even be here. America’s only remaining wooden whaling ship was not built to last forever.
She was built to efficiently harvest whale oil
MYSTIC SEAPORT’S LUCKY SHIP
from the world’s oceans, a chancy occupation
that routinely took the lives of both ships and
men. And the Morgan has had more than her
share of close calls. Built in 1841 at the yard of
Jethro and Zachariah Hillman in New Bedford,
Massachusetts, at the height of the whaling era, she made 37 voyages over 80 years.
Her logbooks blandly report many hair-raising
adventures, but none as dangerous as when she
battled for her life in a cyclone near Fiji in 1850.
By 1921, steam-powered factory ships
were replacing the last of the sailing whale
ships, and she was mothballed. While
she was lying abandoned in Fairhaven,
Massachusetts, the steamer Sankaty caught
fire and came down on her. The Morgan
was saved by the heroic Fairhaven Fire
Department only to face the threat of being
broken up not too long after. Colonel Edward
H.R. Green, grandson of the ship’s second
COAST PILOT GETS UPDATE
THE VENERABLE U.S. COAST PILOT got a digital update last year. NOAA’s detailed bulletins for navigators, which trace their origins to written accounts of ancient mariners traveling to distant ports, made their first
appearance as the United States Coast Pilot in 1888. Until September 2012,
boaters had to get updates to the nine-volume annual books via the Coast
Guard’s Local Notice to Mariners. Now new information will be rolled into the
existing books on a weekly basis, available for free download from NOAA’s
website and as bound copies through print-on-demand sellers. NOAA will
still print the bound, annual volumes, but it touts the new digital versions
as more timely and efficient, and as substantial improvements for navigational safety. www.nauticalcharts.noaa.gov/nsd/cpdownload.htm — C.L.
April 4-7 Gulf Coast Super Boat Show
2013, Gulfport Small Craft Harbor, Gulfport,
April 12-14 Southeast U.S. Boat Show,
Metropolitan Park & Marina, Jacksonville,
April 18-21 Newport Boat Show, Lido
Marina Village, Newport Beach, California.
April 26-28 Annapolis Spring Sailboat
Show, City Dock, Annapolis, Maryland.
April 28th Pacific Inter-Club Yachting
Association’s Opening Day on the Bay,
Crissy Field to Pier 39 San Francisco Bay,
San Francisco, California. www.picya.org
May 17-19 25th Annual Great Lakes
Boating Festival, Grosse Point Yacht Club,
Grosse Point Shores, Michigan.
owner, rescued her, and created Whaling
Enshrined, Inc., to refurbish and preserve
her. She was exhibited at Green’s South
Dartmouth estate until 1941 when the funding to maintain her ran out. Once again
under threat of being broken up, she found a
new home at the very last minute and ended
up on the waterfront at Mystic Seaport, a living maritime museum with the resources and
skills to keep her afloat.
Even lucky ships cannot escape the ravages of time. She underwent several major
restorations between 1953 and 1974, and
was rebuilt from the waterline up between
1981 and 1984. By 2008 most of the hull
below the waterline needed to be replaced.
The Morgan was moved to the Museum’s
Henry DuPont Preservation Shipyard, and
the Mystic shipwrights set to work renewing the vessel’s structure below the waterline, most of which hadn’t been worked
on or even seen since she was built over
170 years ago. The
Charles W. Morgan
has had at least as
many lives as a cat.
And that has given
more than 20 million
people the opportunity to walk the decks
of a whale ship and
firsthand. For more,
information go to,
— BETH LEONARD
PHOTOS: TOP, MYSTIC SEAPORT; LEFT, NOAA
APRIL | MAY 2013