Restored whaling ship returns to its birthplace

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Residents and leaders in New Bedford, Mass., hope the return of the 19th century Charles W. Morgan whaleship will signify a rebound for the town.

When the ship returned Wednesday to the harbor where it was launched 173 years ago, it carried the hopes of city leaders who want it to draw attention to New Bedford’s revival as a vibrant port.

They want to showcase their vision of the city as a leader in that most 21st-century of energy sources, offshore wind, and shed the image of a decrepit former mill town with high crime and unemployment rates.

“If you start with the presumption that the place is in tough shape, you can find evidence to support it, but there’s more than meets the eye,” Mayor Jonathan F. Mitchell told the Boston Globe.

On Wednesday, Mitchell stood at the bow of the Charles W. Morgan and took in the crowds of onlookers along the shore as the whaler, accompanied by a five-cannon salute, glided beyond the hurricane barrier at the entrance to New Bedford’s port. People lined the harbor waiting for the vessel to dock.

It was the whaler’s first visit in seven decades, an absence that symbolized New Bedford’s 20th-century decline.

After its last whaling voyage in 1921, the Charles W. Morgan was preserved in nearby South Dartmouth by a private benefactor, but after his death it gradually fell into disrepair. When New Bedford was unable to fund repairs, it was towed to Mystic, Conn., in 1941.

The ship’s return voyage after 73 years, Mitchell said, can be seen as a turning point.

“We should celebrate our past,” he said. “But one of our vulnerabilities here is the tug of the nostalgia. This week we can finally come to terms with the loss of the Morgan.”

The whaler will be open for the public to board from Saturday through July 6 as the centerpiece for whaling-themed activities, concerts and fireworks.