The last remaining New England whale ship with Vineyard connections — the Charles W. Morgan — may sail again. The president of Mystic Seaport spoke at a private fund-raising function recently in Edgartown, at the home of S. Bailey Norton, to report on the Morgan, now undergoing a $6 million restoration effort. It may take another $2 million to do the necessary work to get her to sail.
Steve White, the new president of New England’s largest and most active maritime museum, said he began his job earlier this year and couldn’t help but raise the question: why not sail her? As so much money and resources are being put into the vessel now, to tie the vessel right up to the dock may not be enough. Why not at least raise the question and do the feasibility study to get her to sail. “Shouldn’t we entertain the idea? Wouldn’t it be grand to have her sail?” She is planned to be relaunched in the summer of 2011.
The whole ship, from the waterline down, will be replaced with new wood. There is a lot more of Martha’s Vineyard and New Bedford in the old whaling ship’s life at sea than there is Mystic. Yet it was only Mystic in 1941 that had the vision to keep the vessel alive.
The Morgan had seven whaling captains from the Vineyard.
The great-great-uncle of the host of the cocktail gathering, Thomas A. Norton of Edgartown, was the Morgan’s first captain.
Fund-raising efforts are doing well, said Mr. White, so the next step seems obvious. He said he sees the vessel sailing under her own power to New Bedford, her home, to Stellwagen Bank, where the whales reside today and to the Massachusetts Maritime Academy.
Matthew Stackpole, of West Tisbury, is heading up the fund-raising efforts to restore the ship. Mr. Stackpole shared stories of the great whale ship and her connection to the region, the Vineyard and the nation.
Many of the crewmembers that sailed on her were Vineyarders. In her first voyage, 17 of the crew of 31 were from the Vineyard.
The designer and builder of the vessel, Jethro and Zachariah Hillman, were Chilmarkers. The last port captain of the vessel, George Fred Tilton, was a Chilmarker.
There are other connections between the whaling ship and the Vineyard. In addition to Mr. Stackpole having a key role in the future of the ship, Richard Vietor, the chairman of the board of directors at Mystic Seaport, has deep Vineyard connections. His brother, David, of Edgartown, was at the reception.
Since the vessel was brought to Mystic Seaport in December, 1941, Mr. Stackpole said more than 20 million people have visited the vessel. “Her cargo is the knowledge of the past,” Mr. Stackpole said.
Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket and New Bedford have a key place in the building of the young nation. There were 2,700 whale ships, and they conducted 14,864 documented voyages all around the world in a span of time from the 1700s through the 1800s. Mr. Stackpole reminded the audience that the Charles W. Morgan is the only ship left. He called the vessel lucky.
The setting for the gathering of more than 25 people was in an open living room in the Norton homestead. High over Mr. White and Mr. Stackpole were two large 19th century oil paintings of whale ships at sea. In another room, Mr. Norton displayed his collection of whaling scrimshaw.
Mr. Norton and his wife, Joan, and brother, Floyd, were nearby and listened intently to the announcement.
To fund the sailing project, Mr. White said the museum now seeks 30 patrons who would each donate $30,000 to the cause.
This is not the first time that Mystic Seaport administrators have come to the Vineyard to share their story and seek public support.
The 60-foot eastern rig fishing vessel Roann, which was rebuilt at the Mystic Seaport and relaunched a year ago, originally belonged to and was built for Roy Campbell of Vineyard Haven. The 52-year-old vessel is considered the last of her kind, from a time when fish were more plentiful in these waters. The design and building of the Roann connects two dots, bridging older fishing boats that only sailed to newer ones that were powered entirely by diesel. Roann has many elements of both. She has the hull of a schooner and the pilothouse and design of a engine-driven boat.