NEW LONDON — After an overnight of storms and rain in the Mystic area, the weather cleared just after dawn on Saturday, May 17, and presented a spectacular day and ideal conditions to move the 1841 whaleship Charles W. Morgan down the Mystic River and on to New London, Conn. on the first phase of the ship’s historic 38th Voyage.
A brief ceremony was held at 8:45 a.m.in the Henry B. duPont Preservation Shipyard, the ship’s home for the last five years of a comprehensive restoration. Several hundred visitors gathered to listen to comments from Rep. Joe Courtney and a moving blessing by Capt. Van Dickens, the Command Chaplain at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. Mystic Seaport President Steve White then read and presented Capt. Kip Files, the 22nd captain of the Morgan, with his Letter of Instruction that formally entrusted the well-being of the ship to his care.
Lines were cast off at 9:11 a.m. and with the help of the tugs Sirius and Thuban — one in front pulling and the other pushing from the stern — the Morgan slowly made her way off the pier and into the Mystic River Channel in a procession that included the Museum’s fishing vessel Roann, the steamboat Sabino, the launch Necessity, and five whaleboats rowed by Mystic Seaport staff and volunteers. Timing was very important as the ship needed to make the 10:05 opening of the railroad swing bridge and high tide at the mouth of the river near Noank.
Cheers erupted from crowds lining the shoreline throughout the down river trip and the procession was accompanied by many spectator boats, many of which followed all the way to New London.
A high point of the journey was the Morgan’s passage through the Mystic highway bridge in the heart of downtown. The ship had never been below the bridge since her arrival on November 8, 1941, and the moment drew loud applause and cheers from hundreds of onlookers as Capt. Files and the crew carefully threaded the ship and tugs through the constricted channel beneath the bridge.
Once clear of the river, Sirius dropped back in standby and Thuban towed the Morgan to New London at a relatively swift 8 knots. Upon arrival in New London, the Morgan tied up at a berth at City Pier at 12:48 p.m.
When asked, “What did we learn today?” Capt. Files said that they learned that the ship tows easily and faster than they anticipated.
“Now we have to get her ready to go sailing!” he added.
On board the Morgan for the trip was a combination of project supporters, restoration volunteers, members of the news media, and some Museum and Shipyard staff members.
A special passenger was Hermine Dudda, who is one of the few remaining witnesses to the ship’s arrival to Mystic in 1941. Dudda was 10-years-old at the time and walked down to the river with her twin sister Ernie to see the ship pass by.
“I remember I wasn’t so impressed with the Morgan then because she was in such shabby condition,” she recalls. “But to see this ship 72 years later and be on board today is an honor and privilege, and I feel like I am living a part of history.”
“This is the culmination of so much planning and execution on the part of so many people in the Mystic Seaport community, it is hard to describe the emotion this seemingly simple act of taking the ship down the river generates,” said Museum President Steve White. “It is a proud moment for everyone: We achieved what we set out to do.”
The arrival in New London starts a very busy week for the crew and select Shipyard staff as the need to finish ballasting the ship, bend on the sails, and pass a U.S. Coast Guard incline test to prove the ship’s stability under sail. During that time the ship will be closed to visitors, but she will open on four weekend days for the public to board the ship and to experience the traveling dockside exhibition that will accompany the ship to other ports on the voyage. Those days are May 24-25, 31 and June 1, and the hours are 9 a.m.-5 p.m.