Paddling Alongside History: A Kayaker's Perspective Of The Whaleship Morgan

Assorted vessels accompany the restored whaling ship Charles W. Morgan down the Mystic River en route to New London Saturday after it departs Mystic Seaport for the first time since 1941.

As the Charles W. Morgan, the world’s last surviving wooden whaleship, edged Saturday morning toward the downtown Mystic drawbridge for the first time in nearly three-quarters of a century, throngs on shore cheered, a flotilla of vessels blasted air horns, cannons roared, banners fluttered, church bells rang, chanteymen sang and a fireboat sprayed an arching plume of water over the Mystic River.

“It’s great to get such a wonderful greeting,” my buddy Bob Carlson, paddling a kayak next to me, joked, pretending to acknowledge the thousands of jubilant spectators packed on piers, lawns, sidewalks and moored boats south of Mystic Seaport, where the Morgan, pushed by a tugboat, had departed moments earlier.

We were among hundreds of kayaks, canoes, sailboats, runabouts, rowboats, inflatable dinghies, yachts, cabin cruisers and whaleboats accompanying the newly restored Morgan from the Seaport toward City Pier in New London, where workers and crew will spend the next month making final preparations for a summer-long celebratory voyage to New England’s historic ports, including New Bedford, where the vessel was built 173 years ago.

Saturday’s spectacular sendoff reminded me of the Seaport’s launch of the Amistad replica in 2000, which I also witnessed by kayak.

I applaud the Seaport for having the skill and vision to pay tribute to two vessels that were associated with dark periods in history – slavery, in the case of the Amistad, and the slaughter of whales during the Morgan’s heyday. We obviously do not honor either practice, but must heed George Santayana’s imprecation: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

When I watched the Morgan bob past the mouth of the Mystic River at Noank and enter Fishers Island Sound, I thought of how for a mercifully brief period whale oil was such a precious commodity the entire region thrived on harpooning giant marine creatures.

Many of the homes and mansions within my vision were built on the fortunes of whaling.

Having observed whales several times in their native habitat – humpbacks and minkes off Cape Cod, and one extraordinarily close encounter with a finback while kayaking from Maine’s Monhegan Island back to the mainland at Port Clyde – I can’t imagine living in an era when killing them was acceptable.

Happily, the Morgan’s whaling days are behind it.

I can’t wait to see the 113-foot ship finally hoist its sails next month and sail off in celebration of its past, and future. Bon voyage!

Reader Comments

MORE BLOGS

How to Build a Stone Wall in 14,863 Easy Steps

I realized long ago that you’re never really finished building a stone wall, even after you’ve dragged and hefted into place what seemed like the final boulder, exhaled mightily and stepped back to admire your work.

Just in Time for the Holidays: Fagin's Annual Gift Catalogue for the Discerning Outdoorsman and Outdoorswoman

How often does this happen to you: You’re merrily tearing through the woods in your four-wheeler and come to what looks like a shallow stream but turns out to be a deep, water-filled ditch, so your beloved machine sinks like a stone beneath...

Arduous Autumn

In spring we crawl out of our cocoons and celebrate bursting rejuvenation; in summer we play outside from dawn to dusk; during the dark, frigid winter we hunker down like hibernating bears – which leaves fall, when we try to set aside time...

Chain Saw? We Don't Need No Stinking Chain Saw…

So, did you hear that doctors have developed a new method of performing an appendectomy without using anesthesia? It’s exactly like the old operation, except it hurts like a son of a b.

You CAN Go Home Again: A Run Through My Old West Haven Stomping Grounds

Although for decades I’ve been living in a home surrounded by trees that is heated primarily by wood stoves, and I enjoy kayaking, mountain climbing, building stone walls, growing organic vegetables and many other active outdoor pursuits,...

Utah Rocks Part II: Kayaking Down The Colorado River

Propelled by a swift current on the Colorado River earlier this month, my son, Tom, and I gazed at red rock cliffs gleaming against an azure, near cloudless sky. The rustle of aspen and cottonwoods in a gentle breeze mingled with the rush of...

Utah Rocks: Adventures Among The Arches And The Rapids (Part I)

You know how it feels when you witness something so astonishingly exquisite and surreal it literally takes your breath away, and all you can do is gasp in amazement?

Oops. I Meant To Say, Whatever You Do, NEVER Try To Pose For A Selfie With Bear Cubs While Mama Grizzly Is Watching, And Other Corrections

• Alert readers have correctly pointed out a slight flaw in my instructions for the proper rock climbing command when you have unclipped from your rope. You should loudly announce, "Rappel off," not "On rappel."...

Use It Or Lose It: Trails Disappear If Nobody Hikes Them

Nature really hates a vacuum when it comes to paths.

Plunging Through Plum Gut And Bongo Sliding Through The Race In A Kayak: Maybe There Is Such A Thing As Too Much Fun

So a rabbi and a psychiatrist are kayaking in the ocean when a giant wave crashes over them and knocks the rabbi unconscious. The psychiatrist manages to pull the rabbi ashore, where he regains consciousness.

Once Again, Pink Gloves (Plus a Clever Signal) Help Save The Day At The Josh Billings Runaground Triathlon

"On your left!" Phil Warner shouted from the bow of a tandem kayak, racing toward a buoy during the paddle leg of last Sunday’s Josh Billings Runaground Triathlon in Lenox, Mass.

It's Swallow Time Again On The Connecticut River

Early Thursday evening was a magical time to paddle on the lower Connecticut River near Lyme.

Rocks In Their Heads Again: Another Bunch Of Idiots Knock Over An Ancient Stone Formation, This Time In Oregon

"Every now and again people do something so monumentally destructive, dimwitted and dishonorable it belongs in a class of disgracefulness normally reserved for trophy hunters ... It’s almost as if they wake up one morning and say to...