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

Jenna Cho 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

Rocks In My Head, Part 37,482

Descending New Hampshire’s Mount Washington in a blizzard some time ago, a friend and I briefly strayed from the ice-encrusted Lion Head Trail – not all that surprising considering wind-whipped snow reduced our visibility to...

Hey, Unless Your Head Is Made Of Cement, Wear A Bike Helmet!

Last Saturday was glorious, perhaps the last sunny, warm day of the season, so a couple friends and I set out for a 50-plus-mile ride on Rhode Island’s magnificent East Bay Bike Path, one of my favorite places to pedal.

How to freeze your - - - off in four easy steps

I know you’ll find this rather shocking, but all those white things in the new picture of me aren’t really snowflakes – they’re feathers from an old pillow, which we thought would be a clever way to illustrate a...

Hey, Unless Your Head Is Made Of Cement, Wear A Bike Helmet!

Last Saturday was glorious, perhaps the last sunny, warm day of the season, so a couple friends and I set out for a 50-plus-mile ride on Rhode Island’s magnificent East Bay Bike Path, one of my favorite places to pedal.

Forget San Juan Capistrano – If You Want to See Hundreds of Thousands of Swallows, Check Out the Lower Connecticut River

Like the first snowflakes of an approaching blizzard, a small flurry of tiny birds flitted across the slow-moving water of the Connecticut River earlier this week, just as the sun began to dip below the western bank in Old Saybrook.

Celebrating the Spirit of Johnny Kelley, as We Dedicate a Statue in His Memory

Participating in weekly runs with legendary marathon champion Johnny Kelley back in the 1970s was a lot like attending a religious service.

Pink Gloves Save The Day At The Josh Billings RunAground Triathlon

Paddling a tandem kayak in the second leg of the Josh Billings RunAground Triathlon in the Berkshires of Massachusetts is a lot like competing in a combined NASCAR, Formula One and Demolition Derby race, what with every manner of vessel...

A Three-peat Victory, Redemption and Inspiration at Norwalk’s Lighthouse to Lighthouse Race

As Ian Frenkel and I stealthily steered our 22-foot tandem kayak toward Greens Ledge Lighthouse on Long Island Sound off Norwalk Saturday, we closed in on our good friend and arch rival Phil Warner, who was racing in his 24-foot two-man...

The Elegance (and Pain) of a White Mountain Presidential Traverse

Most hikers traipsing among New Hampshire’s White Mountains consider peaks in the Presidential Range – Madison, Adams, Jefferson, Washington, Monroe, Eisenhower – a worthy day hike, and many break up ascents of the more...

Superior Kayaking in Minnesota

Over the years I’ve heard many sounds while kayaking – roaring rapids, crashing waves, rumbling thunder, whistling wind, pelting rain, quacking ducks, barking seals, crying loons, splashing whales, screeching eagles –...

You Can't Mess With Mother Nature (But That Doesn't Stop Me From Trying)

In his book "The Control of Nature" John McPhee chronicles such futile human efforts as spraying fire hoses on a volcanic lava flow that threatened an Icelandic fishing village, building dikes along the flood-prone...

For the Ultra Athlete, Nothing Succeeds Like Excess

At 5:40 Thursday morning the sun had yet to poke above the horizon, but Laura Ely of Stonington and Pam Dolan of Mystic already had begun a 20-mile cycle through the hills of southeastern Connecticut.

A Fox in the Blueberries and Other Garden Surprises

    When my wife returned from the garden the other day, somewhat breathless and empty-handed, she announced, "You’ll never believe what’s trapped in the blueberry enclosure."