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Hartford — Gov. Dannel P. Malloy on Wednesday declared that the 2013-14 school year will be known as the “Year of the Charles W. Morgan,” honoring the world’s last wooden whaleship, which is undergoing restoration at the Mystic Seaport.
“It is a great ship,” Malloy said of the 170-year-old vessel, also the oldest American commercial ship in existence. “I’ve been on lots of ships, but it is a great ship.”
Museum President Stephen White presented Malloy with one of the vessel’s original 5,000 tree nails. The governor said he would proudly display the object, called a “trunnel,” in his gubernatorial office.
“This trunnel symbolized the spirit of American enterprise,” White said.
The formal proclamation encourages educators across the state to teach the colorful history of the Morgan and its place in Connecticut’s whaling industry and maritime heritage. Thousands of schoolchildren will be invited aboard for tours, and the museum’s staff will participate in off-site education programs on the young nation’s whaling fleet.
The Morgan is on schedule to re-launch on July 21, 2013, the 172nd anniversary of its original launch in New Bedford, Mass.
But whether the ship is in the financial shape for a planned 2014 voyage to historic New England ports could depend on the political skills of area legislators, who are now seeking $4 million in state funds to fill a fundraising gap.
The Morgan’s restoration and ceremonial voyage carries a total $10 million price tag. So far, fundraising has netted roughly $5 million from about 650 individual donors, said White, the museum president.
“We’ve had some good success, but it’s a difficult climate in which to raise money,” White said following the governor’s news conference at the Capitol. The restoration itself is expected to cost about $7 million, with the additional $3 million needed for the ship’s exhibition, education programming and the 2014 sailing trip.
In addition to White and the Morgan’s historian, Matthew Stackpole, Malloy was joined Wednesday by state Commissioner of Education Stefan Pryor and a delegation of area legislators including Sens. Andrew Maynard of Stonington and Andrea Stillman of Waterford, and Reps. Elissa Wright of Groton and Diana Urban of North Stonington.
“If the worst came to pass, we would figure out something — we could delay the voyage,” White said of the fundraising struggle. “But there is no delaying restoration. That’s urgent because she has to go back in the water, otherwise she dries out and she’ll cease to be a ship; she’ll just be a dry hulk.”
To lend a hand, Maynard said he is working with his colleagues and Malloy’s office to obtain $4 million over two years in state bonding funds.
Maynard said he is optimistic, as this is a one-time request for a ship of immeasurable historical value that would draw many visitors to Connecticut and the Mystic Seaport.
“It’s important to have a state partnership on something as important as this,” Maynard said. “This would really bolster the state’s tourism economy.”
Mystic Seaport has been a final homeport for the Morgan since 1941.