Two ships, two legacies, two courses

NOTE: The editorial was amended to correct the spelling of the word cetaceans.

The region's rich maritime history is rife with glorious fame and notorious infamy - Benedict Arnold's traitorous raid on New London and Groton in 1781; the launch of the Nautilus, the world's first operational nuclear powered submarine from Groton in 1954; OpSail 2000, when an international fleet of magnificent tall ships that sailed into New London Harbor attracted nearly a million spectators - so last weekend's voyages involving the Charles W. Morgan and the Amistad may not go down in local annals as the most significant water journeys ever, but they certainly have captured the most attention in recent memory.

The Morgan's extraordinary encounter with humpback and finback whales while sailing in the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary off Cape Cod is a stunning highlight of the vessel's celebrated 38th voyage that began last month. The world's last surviving whaling ship, meticulously restored at Mystic Seaport, once hunted whales in those very waters, and Day columnist David Collins, who was aboard Saturday, described the awed hush when it approached the feeding cetaceans.

"I feel like there has to be something better to say than 'wow,'" one Morgan visitor said.

Throngs had lined the Mystic River when the Morgan departed the Seaport; huge crowds welcomed the ship in New London, where it underwent final preparations for the voyage; enthusiastic spectators were on hand when it sailed into its original homeport of New Bedford; and excitement is building in Boston, where the Morgan is scheduled to be moored this week alongside the USS Constitution, the nation's oldest warship. But photos of it next to the whales are among the most breathtaking images of this voyage.

We applaud the Morgan's continued success and eagerly await its return to local waters at the end of the month.

This newspaper also was pleased to see the Amistad pull into New London Harbor Saturday during the Sailfest celebration.

Earlier in the week the financially troubled organization that runs the schooner - built at Mystic Seaport as a replica of the ship on which 53 kidnapped Africans revolted in 1839 and were liberated two years later - announced it would not be vising New London as promised, in part because of The Day's coverage of its travails.

This prompted a strongly worded letter from Gov. Dannel P. Malloy to Hanifa Washington, Amistad America's executive director, warning that continuation of nearly $400,000 in annual state payments to support the ship's educational mission were jeopardized by her decision. The state then announced it was suspending the funds until questions about finances are resolved.

Ms. Washington hastily hired a per diem captain to pilot Amistad from its berth in New Haven to New London, where crowds were welcomed aboard for tours and lectures about the Amistad revolt. She did not prevent a Day reporter or photographer from boarding the vessel, as earlier threatened.

Over the past year The Day has questioned how some $8 million in state funds for the Amistad have been spent. The newspaper also has reported that the nonprofit Amistad America has not filed federal tax papers, does not have an active board of directors to oversee operations, and has liens filed by merchants owed thousands of dollars for goods and services.

State auditors have been examining Amistad's records but their report is months overdue.

In the meantime, four state legislators who boarded the Amistad Sunday said they support the schooner's mission to promote freedom and human rights, but remain concerned about its finances.

This newspaper shares that concern and urges authorities to complete their investigation expeditiously. Like most, we'd like to see Amistad remain afloat - both literally and figuratively.

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