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Director Ron Howard tours Mystic Seaport's Charles W. Morgan

Mystic — Acclaimed movie director Ron Howard was at Mystic Seaport Tuesday afternoon touring the whaling ship Charles W. Morgan as he reportedly considers making a movie version of "In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex," an award-winning book about the crew of the Essex, which was sunk by a sperm whale in 1820.

The Morgan, the world's last surviving wooden whaling ship, is undergoing a $7 million restoration that is scheduled to be done next spring. With the 172-year-old ship then slated to sail to ports around New England next summer, the timing could be perfect for filming.

Howard, who was accompanied on his tour by museum shipyard director Quentin Snediker, climbed aboard the ship and down into the hull as Snediker explained the project to him. The two men were overheard discussing the similarities between the Morgan and the Essex.

Seaport spokesman Dan McFadden declined to discuss why Howard was touring the Morgan and whether the visit had anything to do with the Essex movie.

"We were more than happy to have him here and show him around," McFadden said.

Written by Nathaniel Philbrick and published in 2001, "In the Heart of the Sea" chronicles the saga of the 20 men aboard the Essex, which left Nantucket in 1819 and was later rammed by a sperm whale in the South Pacific. The men spent 90 days aboard three small lifeboats and at one point resorted to cannibalism. Eight men survived and were rescued.

The book won the National Book Award for nonfiction. The story of the Essex was an inspiration for Herman Melville's "Moby-Dick."

The Hollywood press reported in January that Howard is considering directing the movie version of the book for Warner Bros. Australian actor Chris Hemsworth, who recently starred in 2011's "Thor" and "The Avengers" last year, is said to have been cast in the movie.

Philbrick says on his website that feature film rights have been optioned for the book.

j.wojtas@theday.com

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Panorama: Inside the Charles W. Morgan

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