America’s oldest commercial vessel, the 1841 whaleship Charles W. Morgan, took to the water on Sunday for the first time in five years as a multimillion-dollar restoration project reached a significant milestone.
The historic 113-foot (LOA) ship was carefully lowered into the Mystic River in Connecticut in a public ceremony at Mystic Seaport. Since 2008 the Morgan has been meticulously rehabbed in the southeastern Connecticut nautical museum’s Henry B. duPont Preservation Shipyard.
“This launch is a milestone in the life of this great ship,” said Steve White, president of Mystic Seaport. “Today she turns 172 years old and we hope this restoration will help preserve her for another 172 so that future generations will be able to walk her decks and hear her tell the important story of our nation’s shared maritime heritage. This moment is a testament to the skill and knowledge of the shipwrights without whose hard work and dedication this day would not be possible.”
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The ship was christened by Sarah Bullard, the great-great-great-granddaughter of Charles Waln Morgan, one of the original owners of the ship and the man after whom she was named.
Richard Wing and his wife, Sue, sailed for 16 days from Charleston, S.C., to see the launch, according to a report by the New York Times. Wing is a descendant of the family of Joseph and William R. Wing, brothers whose company owned the ship for half a century, beginning in 1863.
“Being part of the lineage, I’m proud to be here,” Wing told the Times.
Documentary filmmaker Ric Burns, brother of documentarian Ken Burns, delivered the keynote address, stressing for the crowd the importance of America’s maritime history and the role the Morgan plays for the nation as an authentic link to an important chapter in the country’s past.
Describing the ship as “an ambassador from a crucial moment in American history,” Burns said in his keynote address, “This one ship has embodied, made possible, made real and brought alive the experience of whaling as no other single artifact on the planet."
The final phase that begins now will involve rigging, restoring her interior and installing temporary systems necessary to take her back to sea in May 2014. The ship made 37 voyages during her 80-year whaling career. For the Morgan’s 38th voyage, harpoons will be traded for scientific equipment to study marine life, according to White.
The U.S. Senate passed a resolution commemorating the Morgan’s launch and bestowing upon her the title “Ambassador to the Whales.” The resolution supports the plan of Mystic Seaport to “reinterpret the Charles W. Morgan as a vessel of scientific and educational exploration whose cargo is knowledge and whose mission is to promote awareness of the maritime heritage of the United States and the conservation of the species the Morgan hunted.”
Among the dignitaries in attendance was Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who announced a $500,000 contribution by the state to the restoration of the ship.
After a period of fitting out and sea trials based in New London, the ship will sail to Newport, R.I., and Vineyard Haven, New Bedford and Boston in Massachusetts. She also will venture onto the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary in partnership with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and will participate in the centennial celebration of the opening of the Cape Cod Canal.
The Morgan will continue to be open to visitors at Mystic Seaport while the restoration continues.
Click here for a report on the ceremony by The Providence Journal that details what went into the restoration, as described by Quentin Snediker, head of the Henry B. duPont Preservation Shipyard and the overseer of the restoration.