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

Cross-Country Skiing and Snowshoeing in New Hampshire's White Mountains, Part I: A Voice in the Wilderness Saves the Day

While snowshoeing on a tamped-down section of the Ethan Pond Trail in New Hampshire’s White Mountains the other day, our group approached an untrammeled stretch of the Zeacliff Trail that descended into a ravine below frozen-over Whitehall...

Who Doesn't Love a Blizzard? (OK, Maybe a Few Softies and Killjoys)

I know there’s a good chance I’ll be eating these words when I’m shoveling, shoveling, shoveling, or huddled with a candle next to the wood stove while melting snow for drinking water after the power has been knocked out for...

Destructive Deer, Bugs, Vines and Snow: It's Always Something

In a "perfect" world – i.e., one in which all living creatures and meteorological phenomena benefited human comfort and bowed to our supremacy – there would be no need for deer fences, bird netting, herbicides,...

Prime Time for Eagle-Watching by Kayak on the Connecticut River

While kayaking just north of Lyme’s Hamburg Cove on the Connecticut River the other day, Robin Francis, Phil Warner and I watched a wildlife drama unfolding above us.

In Waning Winter, An 'Above Par' Snow-Kayaking Adventure

With snow cover stubbornly lingering and whitewater kayaking season still more than a month away, what’s an impatient paddler to do? Easy: Snow-kayaking.

What Snow and Ice? The Maple Sap Is Running!

Every year about this time, after having spent the past few months shoveling tons of snow from the driveway, lugging tons of firewood from the shed, getting out of bed dozens of times at 3 a.m. to stoke the stove, hauling countless buckets of...

Finally! A Worthy Snowstorm -- Maybe Even a Bombogenesis!

Just when we winter worshipers had resigned ourselves to another snowless season, and only a day after the temperature climbed ridiculously into the 60s, our prayers have been answered not just by an ordinary storm but by a meteorological...

Animal Tracks in the Snow: They All Tell a Story

If you thought most forest animals hibernated in winter, or at least slept through the night, take a stroll through the woods the morning after a snowfall.

What Does the Fox Say? Yip-yip-yip! Chance Encounters With Creatures Great and Small

While I lugged logs from the woodshed the other morning a yip-yip-yip! pierced the still air. First reaction: Did the neighbors get a dog? No, they were out of town for a few days. Yip-yip-yip!

Ringling Bros., SeaWorld and the Columbus Zoo: Pitfalls of Keeping Elephants, Orcas and Gorillas in Captivity

Large, wild animals belong in the wild, not in a circus, aquarium or zoo – a point reinforced by events involving three prominent, unrelated institutions in the last couple weeks.

Our Debt of Gratitude to President Obama, the Environmentalist-in-Chief

As we prepare to inaugurate a president who has repeatedly called climate change a "hoax," appointed as Environmental Protection Agency administrator an Oklahoma attorney general who is suing that agency, named the CEO of ExxonMobil as secretary...

Call of the Wild: A Clash Over Cellphones in The Great Outdoors

"Yeah, I’m standing on the summit now! … The view is incredible – I can’t believe I’m getting a signal up here!"

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year: Plunging into Icy Fishers Island Sound at the Annual New Year's Day Run-Swim

Look, I’m not going to lie: While some longtime participants in one of southeastern Connecticut’s most enduring, challenging and madcap traditions insist that plunging into icy water after a run on Jan. 1 is a refreshing and...