Yesterday Bonni and I visited the Mystic Seaport in Mystic, Connecticut. This is the largest maritime museum in the United States and is notable for its collection of sailing ships and boats and for the re-creation of the crafts and fabric of an entire 19th-century seafaring village. It consists of more than 60 historic buildings, many of which are commercial structures moved to the 19-acre site and meticulously restored. If you are in New England and interested in the life of seafarers and their communities you need to visit this museum.
The museum was established in 1929, however fame came with the acquisition of the Charles W. Morgan in 1941, the only surviving wooden sailing whaler. Charles W. Morgan made 37 voyages in her 80 years of service from her home port of New Bedford, MA ranging in length from nine months to five years (hard to imagine!). She brought home a total of 55,000 barrels of sperm whale oil and 153,000 pounds of whalebone. She sailed in the Indian and South Atlantic Oceans, surviving ice and snow storms. Her crew survived a cannibal attack in the South Pacific. She was based in San Francisco between 1888 and 1904.
Charles W. Morgan had more than 1,000 whalemen of all races and nationalities in her lifetime. Her crew included sailors from Cape Verde, New Zealand, the Seychelles, Guadeloupe, and Norfolk Island. The ship’s crew averaged around 33 men per voyage. As with other whaleships in the 19th century, Charles W. Morgan was often home to the captain’s family.
In 2010, Mystic Seaport engaged in a five or six million-dollar restoration, intended to restore the ship to seaworthy status. Charles W. Morgan was re-launched into the Mystic River on July 21, 2013, marking the 172nd anniversary of the vessel’s initial launch.
During the summer of 2014, she sailed her 38th voyage on tour of New England seaports which included New London, Newport, Boston, and her home town of New Bedford. She sailed under the command of my high school classmate Captain Kip Files (owner and captain of the Rockland-based schooner Victory Chimes).
The Seaport was one of the first “living history museums” in the US, with a collection of buildings and craftsmen to show how people lived; we especially enjoyed visiting the old drug store, the blacksmith shop and the ship’s store. The museum staff are very knowledgeable and eager to share information. We attended an excellent talk and demonstration at the clock and navigation shop on the history and methods of calculating latitude.
The museum also hosts Williams–Mystic in conjunction with Williams College, an undergraduate program in maritime studies. It turns out that none other than the multi-talented Mr. Eric Laschiver had a hand in developing this program when he was a student at Williams. The program just celebrated its 40th anniversary.
Bonni Jean will be hauled out for winter storage on Monday. She is getting the full winterization treatment which is far more time consuming and laborious than expected. Because of the cold New England winters we must remove liquids, drain and add antifreeze to vulnerable pipes, lay up the water-maker, a/c systems, generator and engines etc. Fortunately Bonni’s cousin Tyrrell who lives in Portsmouth and recently left the Navy will be giving me a hand with some of the heavy lifting next week. He is very knowledgeable and will, I am sure, be a tremendous help. Indeed, one of the unexpected benefits of our change in plans is that we’ve had an opportunity to get to know Tyrrell and his lovely (and loving) family a lot more!
We will attend Yom Kippur services at the Touro Synagogue where the community has made us feel extremely welcome.