After a nearly five-year restoration in the Henry B. duPont Preservation Shipyard at Mystic Seaport, the 1841 whaleship Charles W. Morgan was launched into the waters of the Mystic River today. The ship, a National Historic Landmark and America’s oldest commercial vessel, was carefully lowered into the water in a public ceremony to float on her own bottom for the first time since 2008.
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 which she was named. The bottle Bullard broke across the bow was filled with waters from the oceans over which the vessel sailed during her 80-year whaling career. Samples were gathered from the North and South Atlantic, the Pacific, and Indian Oceans. Water from the Acushnet River in New Bedford and the Mystic River were added to represent her original and homeports.
“This launch is a milestone in the life of this great ship,” said Mystic Seaport President Steve White. “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.”
He added, “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.”
Present at the celebration were numerous dignitaries. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy (D-Conn.) took the occasion to announce a $500,000 contribution by the State of Connecticut to the ship’s restoration. U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) read the text of a U.S. Senate Resolution passed last week commemorating the Morgan’s launch and bestowing upon her the “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.”
Award-winning filmmaker Ric 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.
The restoration of the ship began when she was hauled out of the water in November 2008. The focus of the project was to address the hull below the waterline, the majority of which dated to the ship’s original construction. The final phase that begins now will involve rigging, restoring her interior, and installing temporary systems necessary to take her back to sea for a ceremonial 38th Voyage in late May 2014 (the ship completed 37 voyages during her whaling career).
The 38th Voyage will take the Morgan to historic ports of New England. After a period of fitting out and sea trials in New London, the ship will sail to Newport, Vineyard Haven, New Bedford, and Boston. She will also venture onto the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary in partnership with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and she will participate in the centennial celebration of the opening of the Cape Cod Canal. The Voyage will be a commemoration of the role of the sea in the history of America and an appreciation of our changing relationship with the natural world.
The Morgan will continue to be open for Museum visitors to board while the restoration continues.
Watch the Launch
Editor’s Note: The launching of the Charles W. Morgan on July 21, 2013 was streamed live on the Mystic Seaport website. Featured below is a video of the event which was recorded by the Museum’s Film & Video Department.