Published August 06. 2014 2:17PM Updated August 07. 2014 12:09AM
Mystic — The Charles W. Morgan is home.
The world’s last wooden whaling ship, which set off on a tour of historic New England ports in May, was eased into Chubb’s Wharf at Mystic Seaport by two tugboats just past 5 p.m. on Wednesday.
As was the case with its departure from the museum in May, crowds lined the banks of the Mystic River and the museum waterfront to cheer its return home after its 38th voyage, its first since 1921.
As the lines were secured to the dock, Seaport President Steve White, who was praised for his idea to sail the 173-year-old ship after its five-year restoration was complete, called Capt. Richard “Kip” Files to sit next to him near the stern of the ship. White handed Files a cigar and the two men shook hands as they took the first celebratory puffs.
“This was an amazing experience. What we did with this vessel is unparalleled in maritime history,” Files told the crowd that gathered for the homecoming ceremony next to the ship.
He thanked his crew, White and the employees of the museum shipyard who completed the ship’s $7.5 million restoration and prepared it to sail again.
“I’ll tell you there’s not a faster and stronger whaling ship in all of New England,” quipped Files as the crowd laughed.
He said that someday, when he’s sitting in a wheelchair, he’ll have a smile on his face.
“If you wonder what I’m thinking about, it will be of this voyage,” he said.
After the restoration was complete and the ship spent a month in New London preparing for the voyage, it set off June 15 for Newport, R.I., Martha’s Vineyard, its original home port of New Bedford, Mass., the Cape Cod Canal and Boston. But the highlight of the trip for many came when the Morgan lowered it whaleboats and sailed alongside whales in the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary off Cape Cod.
On board for parts of the voyage were the great-great-great-great-grandson of “Moby-Dick” author Herman Melville and the great-great-great-grandson of Charles W. Morgan, the ship’s owner.
The Morgan left New London in the early afternoon Wednesday, towed by the Tisbury Towing Co. tugs that have accompanied the ship during the entire trip. The Morgan was led up the Mystic River by the Mystic Fire Department boat spraying water. Alongside and behind the Morgan were all sorts of small craft and the Seaport’s two whaleboats.
Sitting in Mystic River Park awaiting the ship’s arrival Wednesday afternoon was Ron Davis of Mystic.
“This is history. This is the last time she’ll be underway,” he said when asked why he had come down to see the ship.
As the ship eased into its berth, cheers of “hip, hip, hooray” went up from the crowd while tugboats blasted their horns.
Bagpipes played on one side of the wharf while a woman played “Yankee Doodle Dandy” on a flute on the other side.
White told the crowd, “It’s a marvelous feeling to be welcomed home so warmly.”
He said that on May 17, when the Morgan left the Seaport, he handed Files his three orders, all of which he completed.
Files was asked to complete a voyage to New England ports, gather all the knowledge he could, fill the ship’s hold with it and share that knowledge with all who would listen.
Files thanked White for having the wisdom to say, “Let’s take this ship sailing,” after the restoration was done, as there had not been plans to do so when the project began.
Files said that everyone who came aboard the Morgan was in awe of the ship.
At the end of the ceremony, as White looked at the ship and the crowd, he paused for a few seconds.
“It’s so hard to say, ‘That’s it,’” he said.
Several crew members also spoke.
Joee Paterson said that as the crew began packing up their belongings and preparing for new jobs in recent days, they realized that “the Morgan was our home and the crew was our family.”
She said the voyage “continues the legacy of this old ship.”
Matthew Porter, a deckhand and Seaport employee, said that “all of the experiences we’ve had brought us closer to the history we impart here to our visitors.”
Ryan Leighton, who was chosen as the ship’s “stowaway” and used his blog and Seaport website to discuss his experiences on board, said he felt a feeling of elation among the crew that “We did it. We pulled this off.”
“If you ever decide to have a 39th voyage, you’ll find me hiding below the decks,” he said.
On Saturday, the Morgan will resume its previous duties and reopen to visitors, but with a new, vibrant story to tell. With the success of the 38th voyage, the question now is for how long.
“In my opinion, this is not her last voyage. It just her most recent one,” said museum Vice President Susan Funk.