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Whaleship Charles Morgan in Boston in time for weekend visits

Charles W. Morgan under sail off the Massachusetts coast.
Charles W. Morgan under sail off the Massachusetts coast.
Courtesy of Mystic Seaport

Continuing its victory lap, the Charles W. Morgan, has left the New Bedford and Provincetown areas and has taken up a berth at the Charlestown Navy Yard, close to another historic ship, the USS Constitution. This is a great opportunity to see, and go aboard the Charles W. Morgan without a trip to Mystic.

Old ships, new lives

It is interesting to compare the two ships, now berthed together in Charlestown. The USS Constitution is a warship built in 1797. By 1841, she was 44 years old but still on active duty as the flagship of the Pacific Squadron off American shores and in South America. Since that time she has undergone many life-sustaining rebuilding’s during the 20th century, setting sail for her own Bicentennial in 1997 for the first time in 116 years.

While Constitution was with the Pacific Squadron, the Charles W. Morgan was being built in New Bedford, Massachusetts. Launched in 1841, she spent the next 80 years in pursuit of whales for their oil, highly prized as fuel for lighting in homes and offices. She made 37 voyages all over the globe until her whaling days ended in 1921 as a result of declining demand for whale oil. From 1921 until 1941 the Morgan served as a private attraction until moved to Mystic, Connecticut. Although well cared for by Mystic Seaport, the Charles W. Morgan reached the point where major restoration and rebuilding was needed. Restoration began on November 1, 2008 when she was hauled from the water. Since then there is barely any of her that has not been prodded and repaired, until the work was completed in early 2014. On June 15, 2014, she left her fitting-out port of New London and began her victory tour of New England ports.

A visit in Boston

The Charles W. Morgan will be at the Charlestown Naval Shipyard and open to the public from July 18 through July 22 and admission to the ship is free. Visitors on board can experience the life and times of the whaling industry, which extended from the late 18th century well into the early 20th century. The Charles W. Morgan, the last of more than 2,700 wooden vessels that engaged in the industry, is the last physical tie between our lives today and the industry that made Massachusetts the economic powerhouse of the whaling age.

More than the ship, a 22,000 square foot exhibit

In addition to the chance to board the ship, the Morgan brings with her a 22,000-square-foot exhibit documenting her own history and the extent and importance of the whaling industry in New England history. More importantly perhaps, the exhibit also documents the effect of the industry on whales, the efforts being made to restore the viability of whales and the roles they play in the health of the oceans. As part of that effort the Morgan spent several days sailing in the Stellwagon Banks off Provincetown. Kids in the family will be particularly enthralled by Spouter, a 346 foot long replica of a sperm whale. The exhibit also includes live demonstrations of skills needed on sailing ships during the height of the Morgan’s career at sea. A list of the daily activities at Charlestown is available on the National Park Service website. The Morgan is expected back at Mystic Seaport by August 9. After visiting the Charles W. Morgan in Charlestown, give serious thought to visiting Mystic Seaport to experience the ship in the setting in which she worked.

Getting there

Take the T to North Station, exit the terminal and take Causeway Street and turn left, crossing over the bridge. At the end of the bridge turn right onto Chelsea Street and then right onto Warren Street. There is an immediate left onto Constitution Road. Go through Gate 1. It is an interesting 15-20 minute walk.

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