Published June 22. 2013 4:00AM
On Monday the whaling ship Charles W. Morgan begins her journey back to the sea. The restoration of the Morgan, America's oldest commercial ship and the last wooden whaling ship on Earth, has been a marvelous achievement for Mystic Seaport and for the uniquely skilled shipwrights and riggers who got the job done.
As was the case with every step in the five-year process of restoring the Morgan, while maintaining its historical integrity, the trip back to the Mystic River after five years out of water will be painstaking.
The process of moving the 300-ton ship sideways about 200 feet is expected to be completed Wednesday evening. The destination is a ship lift that will leave the Morgan perched over the water in preparation for her July 21 re-launch, the 172nd anniversary of the vessel's initial launch in New Bedford.
Rebuilding the Morgan to the point of seaworthiness is an accomplishment that arguably could not have been realized anywhere else but at this living maritime museum. The Seaport estimates about 15 percent of the original wood, including its keel, remains part of the Morgan. The restoration work should assure the Morgan is still shipshape when celebrating its 200th anniversary.
Once back in the river the ship will again be open to Mystic Seaport visitors as craftsmen complete the final steps in the restoration project, including detail work and rigging. The excitement will then build toward the spring of 2014, when the Morgan will take a ceremonial voyage - its 38th - and first since it came to the Seaport in 1941.
The trip will begin in New London and include visits to Newport, New Bedford, Boston and Stellwagen Bank. It is an ambitious and imaginative plan, something that few could have expected to see.
The voyage promises to spark renewed interest in Mystic Seaport and its mission "to create a broad, public, understanding of the relationship of America and the sea."