Whaleboat launching echoes Martha’s Vineyard history

Sharpen up the harpoons, a new whaleboat is launched. — Photo by Steve Myrick

With a whoop and a holler, and a good deal of grunting, a crowd of smiling boat enthusiasts hoisted a replica whaleboat out of the Gannon & Benjamin Marine Railway boat shed Saturday afternoon, hauled it down to the water, and after an impromptu outfitting with oars, shoved her off into Vineyard Haven Harbor.

Six months in the building, the historically authentic whaleboat will go aboard the Charles W. Morgan, a 19th-century whaling ship with Martha’s Vineyard connections from stem to stern.

The Mystic [Connecticut] Seaport Museum has nearly finished restoring the historic vessel.

The Charles W. Morgan was built in New Bedford by a family of shipwrights originally from Chilmark. Seven of her masters called Martha’s Vineyard home, as did many of her crew on 37 voyages to distant oceans.

Her 38th voyage, next summer, will include a layover in Vineyard Haven.

Before the launch, Mathew Stackpole of West Tisbury and the Mystic Seaport Museum, intoned the names of more than a dozen Vineyarders who first sailed aboard the ship.

“We’re coming back to Martha’s Vineyard, and the Morgan will be visiting some of the descendants of the men that took that very first voyage.”

Dozens lent a helping hand along the way, but the shipwrights who put the most heart and soul into the project are Nat Benjamin, Ross Gannon, Nathaniel Quinn, Ryan Payne, Matt Hobart, and Brad Abbott.

Work began in January continued through the winter months in the austere surroundings of the Gannon & Benjamin shop, which, but for the use of electricity, resembles a 19th-century shipwright’s premises. By February, she was blocked up and braced, with the bow headed toward Vineyard Haven Harbor.

The Mystic Seaport Museum welcomes donations to support its educational and historical mission. Contributions may be sent to Mystic Seaport Museum, c/o Gannon & Benjamin, P.O. Box 1095, Vineyard Haven, MA 02568