BUZZARDS BAY, Mass. — It took a team of 16 men seven months to build in 1841 – and that was including a month of strike for shorter hours — but five years and $7 million to restore so it could sail 173 years after its initial launch.
The Charles W. Morgan, the last remaining wooden whaleship in the United States, was made seaworthy again after an intensive restoration by the Mystic Seaport.
The vessel made the last of eight stops last weekend in Buzzards Bay, Mass., at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy. The journey was her first trip since 1921, when she
stopped sailing and whaling.
“We knew we had to do significant work from the waterline down,” where much of the construction dated back to her original construction, Sarah Spencer, a duty officer who sailed as a deck hand during one of the legs of the journey, told Soundings.
“We keep our ships in pretty good shape, she was fine for floating at the pier,” Spencer said of the 113-foot ship. “It was a matter of, if we’re going to spend the money, why not spend a little bit more and make her seaworthy again?”
The restoration philosophy was to replace as little as possible.
The wood used on the Morgan was primarily live oak, white oak, longleaf pine, and black locust for fastening pegs (trunnels).
Built in New Bedford, Mass., the Charles Morgan was taken to Mystic, Conn., in 1941, where she has been ever since.
“This experience has changed our interpretation of her completely,” Spencer said. “If you look at her, she looks like a bathtub. We thought she’d roll and be sluggish. We did 8 knots into New Bedford and we didn’t even have all the sails set. She handles beautifully. The welcome in New Bedford was — it raised the hair on your arms.”
The vessel will head back to Mystic on Tuesday, where she will be open for tours and demonstrations.
“It’s really great to feel her move,” Mystic Seaport volunteer David Engelman said. “She’s alive now.”