Whaleship Charles W. Morgan arrives at Vineyard Haven

First Martha’s Vineyard visit in her 80-year career.

Aase Jones takes a picture of the Charles Morgan. — Photo by Michael Cummo

During her 80-year whaling career, which included 37 globe-girdling voyages, the Charles W. Morgan never visited Vineyard Haven. Built in New Bedford in 1841 and now preserved, reconstructed in authentic detail, and relaunched by the Mystic Seaport Museum in Connecticut, the Morgan, Captain Kip Files, arrived at the Tisbury Wharf Company’s dock Wednesday, after a splendid day’s sail from Newport.

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Vineyard Haven is one of several stops along a promotional route that will have her visit such New England ports as New London, Newport, New Bedford, Boston, Provincetown, and cruise over the right whale sanctuary at Stellwagen Bank.

After a longish tow from her Ft. Adams dock, at the end of a hauser from Ralph Packer tug Sirius, Captain Paul Bangs, Morgan dropped the towline and added sails as she approached Gay Head. Robert McNeil’s Cangarda, a restored 19th century steam yacht, joined a growing flotilla of small craft, sail and power, trailing the Morgan, delighted and astonished at this visitor from two centuries ago. Bailey Norton of Edgartown was aboard Cangarda. He is a descendant of Thomas Norton, captain of the Morgan on her first whaling voyage.

Rounding West Chop, Captain Files chose to take a hitch into Vineyard Haven Harbor, before turning around clew up his sails and take Sirius alongside to move her to her mooring at the Tisbury Wharf Company, which has been dredged and deepened especially to make a comfortable berth for the whaleship, which draws as much as 17 feet.

The cluster of smaller craft, some of which had trailed Morgan from Rhode Island Sound, but also including Vineyard Haven craft, including the schooners Charlotte, Malabar, Perception, Alabama, and Ishmael (never seeming so brilliantly named) followed her. Crowds watched her progress east in Vineyard Sound at West Chop, and Islanders gathered at Coastwise Wharf and Tisbury Wharf, and anywhere else that served as a vantage point, to welcome Morgan in her 21st century incarnation.

Morgan is a barque, which means three masts, with square sails on the foremast and the main and fore and aft sails on the mizzen. She was launched originally as a ship, which means square sails on every mast. Today, in addition to two jibs and a staysail, plus mizzen and mizzen topsail, she carries a course foresail, with two topsails and a topgallant sail above. On the main, there is the course, two topsails, the topgallant and a royal at the very apex of the rig. By contrast, Shenandoah, Vineyard Haven’s square-rigged centerpiece since 1964, carries two square sails on her foremast, a topsail and a topgallant. She’s known as a topsail schooner.

Nantucket was a prosperous, world-famous whaling hub. New Bedford became the world capital of the whaling industry and the richest city in North America in the 19th century.

The Vineyard, apart from shore whaling by Wampanoag Indians, lived on farming, shore fishing, and coastwise schooners passing north and south through Nantucket and Vineyard sounds. Its contributions to the 19th century heyday of American whaling were crewmen — Azorean sailors, Gay Head (Wampanoag) Indian harpooners, and Vineyard sailors, mates and captains. The Morgan’s visit memorializes their vital places in her celebrated commercial history.

The Vineyard and Gay Headers were represented Wednesday by Elizabeth James-Perry, a Wampanoag descendent for whom the trip was a spiritual recapture of sorts, and Matthew Stackpole of West Tisbury, a professional fundraiser for Mystic, who has helped raise millions of dollars for Morgan’s reconstruction. Another Vineyarder, the craftsman, boatbuilder, and artist Frank Raposa, who is among his many talents an expert caulker, joined the Morgan construction team in Mystic when it came time to caulk Morgan. And, Gannon & Benjamin, the Vineyard Haven boatbuilders, constructed one of Morgan’s whaleboats, hanging in davits today.

Morgan’s maiden voyage, 35 in her crew, took her back and forth across the Atlantic, around Cape Horn to the Arctic and back again around Cape Horn, to her New Bedford home port, three and a third years in all. The captain was Thomas Norton. He and many of the crew were Vineyarders. Fortunate and profitable throughout her career — despite howling storms, Arctic ice, hostile natives where Morgan stopped for water and provisions, attacks by Confederate raiders — Morgan, an early factory ship, came home with a variety of products in demand worldwide and especially sperm oil, the premium lubricant and fuel for lanterns and machines until petroleum was discovered and refined. As many as six of Morgan’s 21 captains during her whaling career were Vineyarders and many of her skilled crew, harpooners and boatsteers were Gay Headers. Morgan was a profitable business that enriched her owners and investors, and created livelihoods for captains and crewmen.

Morgan, a National Historic Landmark, the oldest operating American commercial vessel still afloat, and the last wooden whaleship remaining in the world, was decommissioned in 1941 and became a Mystic Seaport exhibit. Today, she did what she knows how to do very well – sailing fast, handling well, getting where she was going efficiently and with an easy motion that her passengers, most of them at least, found comfortable.

Visitors welcome

Vineyard residents and visitors are invited to board the 173-year old whaleship Charles W. Morgan, faithfully restored by Mystic Seaport shipwrights, on her third port stop on her historic 38th Voyage. The whaleship, built in 1841 in New Bedford, will be moored at Tisbury Wharf in Vineyard Haven and will be open to the public June 21-24.

Morgan’s last whaling voyage, her 37th, ended in 1921 at New Bedford, and although she did not sail from Martha’s Vineyard or discharge her cargos at Vineyard ports, on this 38th voyage, she is paying a call at Martha’s Vineyard to recognize the contributions to her commercial success made by dozens of Vineyard captains and crew members who sailed in her.

Visitors who tour the Morgan during her Vineyard stay will learn about whales and whaling in the Mystic Seaport Museum’s 22,000 square-foot dockside exhibition. There will be video on the history and significance of the meticulously restored vessel, and a series of panels explain the role the American whaling industry had in this country’s history; how the Morgan and other whaleships connected distant and varied global cultures; and how Americans’ perceptions of the natural world have changed since the Morgan’s whaling career. Hands-on activities include knot tying, handling samples of wood used in the restoration, and searching the Morgan’s crew lists for familiar names or hometown connections.

Spouter, a 46-foot-long, life-sized inflatable model of a sperm whale will be on hand, and visitors may join in “What Bubbles Up?,” an opportunity to write down their whale related memories, questions, or sketches and attach them to a humpback whale sculpture.

Mystic Seaport representatives will demonstrate the 19th-century maritime skills of a cooper, shipsmith, ropemaker, and whaleboat oarsman. There will also be live performances including sea chanteys, the interactive “Tale of a Whaler,” and a condensed rendition of Moby-Dick,  “Moby-Dick in Minutes.” Visitors may even take a turn rowing a whaleboat.

And, the 38th Voyage partner, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, will be at hand to explain how the National Marine Sanctuaries interpret America’s maritime past, promote ocean conservation, and engage in cutting edge research. They will show how whales feed and what they feed on, and there will be videos that describe the National Marine Sanctuary System, whales, whale research, and whaling heritage. Kids can even create their own whale hats.