Whale Ho
February 15, 2014 4:33 PM   Subscribe

The Charles W. Morgan is the world's last remaining wooden whaleship. Her unusually long career included 37 whaling voyages between 1841 and 1921. Over the past few years, she's received a full restoration by the skilled shipwrights at the Mystic Seaport Museum Shipyard, and is in the final stages of outfitting for her 38th voyage, an ambituous plan to make her seaworthy enough to sail her one final time and visit her original homeport of New Bedford, MA, along with many of the ports she frequented in her working days, before she returns to her permanent berth. Among the crew will be one stowaway, a crew member chosen via a selective process including a video application, who'll use video and social media to tell the stories of the voyage, the crew, the accompanying scholars and artists, and what it's like to make amends with whales.
posted by Miko (21 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
Wow. Rounding the Horn in that vessel must have been scary.
posted by Danf at 4:49 PM on February 15, 2014 [4 favorites]

Fun fact: if you've ever seen a deck prism, it's probably a replica of the last surviving one from the Morgan.
posted by djb at 4:54 PM on February 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

I recently finished the book Leviathan, the History of Whaling in America. It an excellent book and very readable. The Morgan's voyages are cover in some detail.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 5:03 PM on February 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have been on this ship twice during the restoration. When we were there this summer, she had just been eased into the water for the first time in years.

While the ship was being worked on, she was up on blocks next to the docks. The ship seems at once very large (you climb three flights of exterior stairs to get from the ground up to the main deck) and small (once you go belowdecks it's small in area with low ceilings).

The idea of being aboard at sea is daunting…but also terribly exciting. :7) I look forward to following this voyage.
posted by wenestvedt at 5:11 PM on February 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

My grandfather started his sailing career as a stowaway. He was a wanted man in his home country of Estonia. He was a member of an "athletic club" (really a political organization), who would try to get the occupying Cossacks to not be so cruel to the populace (their strategy was to buy them drinks in a bar, evidently it worked so well that the Russians would have to rotate in new soldiers after a while). But some of them just like bullying people, and the worst were marked for elimination. This was done by waiting in an alley with a club that had a railroad spike driven through the end, then whacking the victim in the back of the head when he walked by.
My grandfather bribed a sailor to hide him in the cargo of a ship carrying lumber (he had sewed a few gold russian rubles into the lining of his coat for emergencies). When they got underway, the sailor would bring him food and a coal shovel for a bathroom (the evidence went into the boiler's firebox). Eventually, he emerged and became part of the crew. He went on to sail on many ships all over the world.
posted by 445supermag at 5:14 PM on February 15, 2014 [24 favorites]

We went here today as a belated Valentine mystery trip. Pretty sure we saw an oil painting of the Morgan, and I hope she stops here on her victory lap.

edit: oh cool. coming this summer to good old Tisbury!
posted by vrakatar at 5:30 PM on February 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

Fun fact: New Bedford is still the top commercial fishing port in the U.S. by catch value. The city's harbor is also protected by a rather impressive hurricane barrier.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 5:42 PM on February 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

I hope she stops here on her victory lap.

She's scheduled to! Weather permitting.
posted by Miko at 5:58 PM on February 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

I visited Mystic was I was 10 or so and even then I couldn't believe how small the bunks were on the Morgan. They didn't live in comfort, not by a long shot.
posted by tommasz at 6:07 PM on February 15, 2014

This is like a triple combo pinball shot on my mind.
posted by mwhybark at 6:09 PM on February 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

For someone who has never been out of sight of land, I have an outsized love for wooden sailing vessels. The day we spent in New Bedofrd was the most memorable of my week in Mass. a few years back, having just finished Moby Dick & In The Heart of the Sea. I hope to make it back some day to see this jewel.
posted by Devils Rancher at 6:09 PM on February 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

Devils Rancher, try to get to Mystic Seaport (where the Morgan has been for her long refit) some day. It's totally a theme park for America's and New England's life along the sea!
posted by wenestvedt at 6:20 PM on February 15, 2014

Just in case y'all didn't notice, those stowaway applications are open until the 18th...
posted by Miko at 6:24 PM on February 15, 2014

A slice.
posted by ovvl at 7:28 PM on February 15, 2014

Mystic sells an amazing video showing movie footage filmed by (and narrated by) Irving Johnson on his first trip Around the Horn (short section). The whole video is routinely taken down off the web for copyright, it's for sale on Amazon.
posted by 445supermag at 7:47 PM on February 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

make amends with whales

There's something really off-putting about this, to me. First, some humans hunt you and kill you and use you for lamp oil. Later, other humans have - what? a little ceremony? - and feel better about the first part. What's in it for whales? Not much!
posted by thelonius at 12:54 AM on February 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

Nothing's in it for the whales. In the leadup to the project there was even conversation about trauma - North Atlantic Right Whales can live as long as 70 years and possibly up to 100. It's possible that if any such whales are still alive and on Stellwagen bank, they might remember the size and shape of a whaleship. I think chances are pretty slim. In any case, it's definitely more a gesture for contemporary humans than for whales - but who knows, whales are smart. They might understand the gesture but also be like "this is great, and yet you keep finding new ways to fuck up the planet."
posted by Miko at 6:53 AM on February 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

The Charles Morgan may be the last wooden whaleship, but I can think of at least one other surviving American wooden ship built to catch (and kill) a whale: the Adventuress, built in 1913 for John Borden to "acquire" a bowhead whale for the Museum of Natural History.
posted by The Bridge on the River Kai Ryssdal at 9:27 AM on February 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

You could call the Morgan the last commercial whaling ship to be more specific. She represents the height of pre-engine commercial technology.
posted by Miko at 9:43 AM on February 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

Holy crap, I hadn't even considered that there may be whales that might recognize a ship like this.
posted by thelonius at 10:08 AM on February 16, 2014 [3 favorites]

My application is in. I'll let you guys know if I'm selected :D
posted by absquatulate at 11:49 AM on February 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

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