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A Trip on the Whaling Ship Charles W. Morgan | History Under Sail

A Trip on the Whaling Ship Charles W. Morgan | History Under Sail
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The Charles W. Morgan will be docked and open to the public at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy in Bourne, MA from July 26-27. A homecoming celebration is scheduled for the ship at Mystic Seaport in Mystic, CT on August 9.

The launch left at dawn. Easing into Provincetown Harbor, the captain turned his back to the whipping flags of MacMillan Wharf and cut a quick path to the breakwater. The gaggle of reporters and dignitaries aboard craned their necks to catch a glimpse of their destination as she emerged from behind the stony wall. Couched in the early-morning gloom, the Charles W. Morgan stood at anchor, as tall and still as a Scottish castle, patiently awaiting her guests.

The call had gone out the day before that the ship would sail as planned on July 15. The clinging dampness in the air that morning was enough to confirm what the meteorologists had been warning: A front was moving in fast and would sock the Cape in with thunderstorms for days. The decision was clear: Sail now or get comfortable in Provincetown. Luckily for those of us asked to tag along on this voyage, the crew had commitments to keep in Boston.

For everyone aboard the launch, the day promised to be a memorable one. Sailing on the Morgan would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, because it’s very possible that the Morgan might never sail again in our lifetimes. The fact that she was sailing at all was a miracle five years in the making.

In the spring of 2009, while the economy wallowed in the worst of the recession, the administrators of Mystic Seaport struggled to find some plan to boost the museum’s fortunes—something that would be, as museum president Stephen White put it, “different and magnificent.” Their eyes quickly turned to the restoration of the Morgan, which had already begun the previous fall. Just to keep the ship tied to her dock, as she had been for the previous 68 years, they’d have to repair or replace everything below the waterline. How much more would it take to make her seaworthy? How much more would it take to bring her back to life? Speculation quickly turned into a plan. Once she was sound, the Morgan would sail again—the 38th voyage of her storied career—on a tour of the ports of southern New England.

On May 17th, 2014, the Morgan began her passage, easing through the mouth of the Mystic River and tasting the open sea again for the first time since 1941. At every port of call—New London, New Bedford, Vineyard Haven—she received a hero’s welcome. Now she stood poised just outside Provincetown, ready to complete the last outward-bound leg of her journey before starting back to Mystic. The care and skill of hundreds of craftsmen, sailors, and museum staffers had seen her this far; she awaited only her passengers before making the final push, racing the storm across Cape Cod Bay and then passing triumphantly through the Harbor Islands into Boston.

As we passed the breakwater, the captain opened up the engines, and we sped over the last few hundred yards to the ship. The Morgan’s triple masts loomed over our launch, and for the first time the ship seemed truly tangible. No longer a misty dream on the horizon, she welcomed us—solid, ancient, and eager.

 — — —

Justin Shatwell


Justin Shatwell


Justin Shatwell is a longtime contributor to Yankee Magazine whose work explores the unique history, culture, and art that sets New England apart from the rest of the world. His article, The Memory Keeper (March/April 2011 issue), was named a finalist for profile of the year by the City and Regional Magazine Association.

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6 Responses to A Trip on the Whaling Ship Charles W. Morgan | History Under Sail

  1. Sandy Purkiss July 24, 2014 at 7:41 pm #

    Thank you for this beautiful romantic discription of this magnificent ship ,love the read ,all the way through ,
    I used to live in New Hampshire and Maine and have traveled in mass. I am currently living in payson az. And miss my New England , u brought home so many wonderful memories and again I thank u

  2. Joyce Adrian July 24, 2014 at 8:11 pm #

    No mention of how long the restoration took (five years?), and that the Morgan docked in New Bedford, her original home port, during bad weather on her way to Boston. Thank you for this story.

    • Mel Allen July 29, 2014 at 10:19 am #

      Carol, in celebration of Yankee’s 80th anniversary, the special September/October 2015 issue will include a feature story on the Charles Morgan and the people who got her sailing again. Justin will again be the writer. He will show why restorations like this one mean so much to New England’s heritage.–Mel Allen, Editor

  3. Carol July 25, 2014 at 12:18 pm #

    I love this – I have been onboard the Morgan MANY times at the Seaport – and watched her thru her restoration – which began in 2008 I believe.

    Will there be a printed version of this? I hope so !!

  4. Chris August 11, 2014 at 8:59 am #

    Yankee, please! Kip’s schooner in Rockland is “Victory CHIMES” not “Victory BELLS”! Please correct this egregious error!

    • Brenda Darroch August 11, 2014 at 9:40 am #

      Thanks for bringing this to our attention, Chris.

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