The whaling ship Charles W. Morgan arrived for her homecoming celebration in New Bedford, MA, Wednesday, June 25, as part of her six-week voyage along the eastern seaboard. She has returned for a visit to the city where she was built and launched in 1841, during the time when New Bedford was the “whaling capital of the world.” The wooden whaleship will be open to the public beginning Saturday, June 28, through Sunday, July 6, at the State Pier. The Morgan, owned by Mystic Seaport in Connecticut, is the oldest American commercial ship still afloat and the last of her kind in the world. Her story includes 80 years, or 37 voyages, of whaling. This 38th voyage is her opportunity to share that story and to reconnect with the city where it began.
Dockside exhibitions open at 9:00 a.m. June 28. They include the history of whaling and the role it played in the U.S., information about whales and about New Bedford, and a video about the Morgan. The ship opens to the public following the 10:00 a.m. ceremony that is her official welcome with author Nathaniel Philbrick giving the keynote address. During the other eight days of the celebration, the ship will open at 9:00 a.m.
Hands-on opportunities offer lessons in knot-tying, handling samples of the different woods used in the Morgan’s restoration, and looking up names of former crew members. Demonstrations of specialized, 19th-century maritime skills will highlight the work of a cooper, rope maker and others. Visitors will also meet Spouter, the 46-foot-long inflatable model of a sperm whale.
Throughout the Charles W. Morgan homecoming festival, the influence of New Bedford will be highlighted. This is the city described in the opening of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick and the church service in the novel takes place at Seamen’s Bethel. A non-denominational service is scheduled on June 29 at the same location. Later that day, New Bedford Harbor will be the scene of a boat parade of commercial fishing boats, sail boats and many others, as they pass by the Morgan to welcome her home.
A four-day whaling symposium is scheduled on the State Pier with guest speakers who are artists, museum curators, historians, writers and scholars from organizations like Mystic Seaport, the New Bedford Whaling Museum, and The Melville Society. Topics will range from the scholarly to nautical lore associated with whaling. In addition, the exhibit, The Art of Seeing Whales, has its opening reception at the New Bedford Whaling Museum the evening of July 1. This exhibit was largely inspired by Melville’s writings. He had shipped out aboard the whaler Acushnet in January 1841, the same year Morgan was launched.
The New Bedford fireworks display takes center stage on the 4th of July as America’s independence is celebrated. Homecoming festivities resume in full swing July 5 as crews test their ability to maneuver whaleboats in a morning skills challenge. That is followed by a two-day folk festival of 70 performers and 90 arts and crafts vendors. The New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park will be filled with folk music from 11:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, July 5 and 6. To add to the folk festival, the 42nd annual Cape Verdean Recognition Parade, honoring those with Cape Verdean ancestry, also begins at 11:00 a.m.
The last weekend of the festival also showcases whaleboat rowing races and a whaleboat sailing race. The course for the rowing race follows the one used in 1857. The winner will receive a replica of the silver pitcher awarded that year. The sailing race features two Azorean whaleboats and two new wooden whaleboats starting at the State Pier, following a triangular course in the harbor and returning to the pier.
Besides the Morgan, other ships at the State Pier will also be available for public tours. Scallop and commercial fishing boats will be open from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. every day during the festivities as will the 1894 schooner Ernestina, the official vessel of Massachusetts.
The public will bid farewell to the whaling ship, Charles W. Morgan, as her homecoming to New Bedford comes to a close. She retired in 1921 after 80 years of sailing in search of whales for oil used in lamps and soap, whalebone for corsets, collars, and utensil handles, and the decorative carvings known as scrimshaw. As she sails out of New Bedford Harbor and out of Buzzards Bay to the Atlantic Ocean, she will be wished “fair winds and following seas.” For detailed information about the schedule of events, the link is provided below.
By Cynthia Collins