Published July 18. 2014 10:17AM Updated July 19. 2014 3:51PM
Boston — The Charles W. Morgan is no stranger to history. But when she sailed into Boston Harbor on Tuesday, the 173-year-old ship left yet another mark in the pages of history.
“It’s been over a century since a whaling ship sailed into this harbor,” Capt. Richard “Kip” Files said Friday morning as he surveyed his ship.
And once the Morgan arrived at the Charlestown Navy Yard here, the two oldest ships in the nation were together in the same port for the first time. The Morgan, the last remaining wooden American whaling ship, tied up on the same pier as the USS Constitution, the only American ship older than the Morgan.
“For the longest time, neither one of these ships could move,” Files said. “So now that (the Morgan) can get out and sail around, it was only fitting that we just had to come up here and visit.”
Each ship is a vestige of America’s past. The Constitution is a floating reminder of the country’s early naval defenses and the War of 1812.
Now a popular tourist destination, the 217-year-old Constitution earned its nickname “Old Ironsides’’ for its seemingly impenetrable wooden hull. During the War of 1812, cannonballs are said to have literally bounced off the ship. The Constitution won 33 engagements and never lost a battle.
And the Morgan, at 173 years old, is the last of an American whaling fleet that once counted more than 2,700 ships in its ranks.
The Morgan’s stay in Boston this week is likely its first time in the storied city’s waters, Files said. When it was an active whaling vessel, he said, the Morgan would have had no reason to venture north of Cape Cod.
On Friday morning, the Morgan welcomed visitors aboard, including the Naval History and Heritage Command Detachment members who are responsible for all the maintenance to the Constitution.
“There are a lot of similarities between the two ships, the Morgan is just on a smaller scale,” said Jim Almeida, a naval architect tech who said he and his co-workers enjoyed inspecting the Morgan’s recently restored framing and rigging. “The Constitution was built to be a warship. The Morgan, being a whaling ship, was built for a different life and a different function.”
Almeida said that because his job is to maintain a historic ship, he paid extra attention to the details of the Morgan’s restoration. One thing in particular caught his eye: the live oak planks used beneath the Morgan’s main deck.
The planks were discovered during the construction of a rehabilitation hospital near the Charlestown Navy Yard in what was once a saltwater timber storage basin where lumber used for shipbuilding was stored to keep it from drying out, he said. About 12 truckloads of the lumber was shipped to the Mystic Seaport to be used for the Morgan’s restoration, according to Files.
Also among those who toured the Morgan was a camera crew from Boston University’s Academy of Media Production.
“We were looking for film to show a flashback to the days of the historic whaling industry,” said Andrew Fewsmith, a teaching assistant at the academy. “This is precisely that. The authentic feel of the ship lets us shoot historic footage in modern day.”
Fewsmith said he is working with a group of high school students to produce a feature on modern conservation efforts, and that the Morgan’s past and its current mission fit the project’s goals perfectly.
Not all who boarded the Morgan on Friday were first-timers, though. Lorna Walker and Bette Scholter, both of New Bedford, Mass., said they have been tracking the Morgan during its 38th voyage this summer.
“We’re along for the voyage as much as we can be without sailing on the ship,” said Walker, who along with Scholter works at the New Bedford Whaling Museum. “We both grew up in New Bedford and know the story of Charles W. Morgan, so seeing it and going on the ship really means something.”
M.E. Miller, who works as a crew member aboard the Swedish tall ship Kalmar Nyckel, said she attended the Frank C. Munson Institute graduate program at the Mystic Seaport in 1960 and got to experience the Morgan then, long before it was again seaworthy.
“One of the recommendations I made then was to have at least one working sail on the Morgan to show how to set a sail and how to raise a sail,” Miller, of Frederica, Del., said. “So now it is wonderful to see the ship under a full suit of sails.”
Throughout the day, visitors positioned themselves at just the right spot on the pier to get a picture of the Morgan with the Boston skyline behind it.
The Morgan recently underwent a nearly six-year, multimillion-dollar renovation at the Mystic Seaport and is in the midst of its 38th voyage, which has taken it to historic New England ports, including Newport, R.I., and New Bedford.
Last weekend the Morgan made a whale-watching expedition to the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, where the Morgan sailed among the humpback and finback whales that were once its prey.
The Morgan’s journey is slated to continue next week as it sails through the Cape Cod Canal and docks at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy, where it will take part in a celebration of the canal’s 100-year history.
In early August, the Morgan will again dock at New London’s City Pier for a short stay before returning to its home at Mystic Seaport on Aug. 9.