Clear sailing ahead for Charles W. Morgan

On a warm and sunny Saturday that was forecast to be anything but, the last wooden whaling ship, the Charles W. Morgan, left its home at the Mystic Seaport for the first time in over 70 years.

Rick and Lynn Gildersleeve of Portland didn't mind waiting on the benches outside Fort Trumbull in New London, since the unpredictable weather brought sun and warm temperatures instead of the forecasted wind and rain.

Rick's family has a history of shipbuilding, which dates back to the construction of gunboats for the civil war. The Gildersleeves have always been interested in Connecticut ships, including the restoration of the Morgan, and have memories of bringing their children to the Mystic Seaport.

"You (visit) as a family you (visit) as a school group and because you live here you don't really think about it," said Lynn, binoculars slung around her neck, waiting for the first signs of the ship. "Now it's going out to sea and that kind of ups the ante," she said.

The Gildersleeves and others will now have a new opportunity to visit the old whaling ship, this time while it is docked at City Pier in the Whaling City for the next month. It will be open to the public May 24, 25, 31 and June 1 from 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. each day

Carolyn Stearns of Mansfield watched as the Morgan left Mystic last Saturday then drove to meet it as in docked in New London. The relaunching of the Morgan adds a significant step in the ships story, which she has followed since childhood.

"To have the sky clear just as the chaplain blessed the voyage was like, okay, we're here with a higher power today," said Stearns, who plans to visit the ship while it's in New London.

"I really want to see the changes," said Stearns. "I was on, maybe a month ago. It will be nice to see some of the preparations they've done to take it out to sea (and) some of the modernizations that they will later take out."

During its month in the Whaling City, the last surviving wooden whaling ship will go on four sail training cruises, complete its rigging and obtain Coast Guard certification for its 38th journey - a month-long trip making stops in Newport, R.I., Martha's Vineyard, Boston and more - before returning to the Mystic Seaport in August.

In addition to the attractions available in New London, the Mystic Seaport has developed an exhibit that will accompany the Morgan. It's a multifaceted work, with everything from a video about the Morgan to a performance titled "Moby Dick in Minutes" that boils the epic tale down to less than 10 minutes. The most eye-catching component, though, is a 50-foot-long inflatable sperm whale. The creature, dubbed Spouter and made of vinyl-covered nylon, will stand atop a 6-foot pedestal.

When it returns to Mystic in August, the Morgan will resume its life as a dockside exhibit. There are no plans for a 39th voyage.

For Peter Santos of Mystic, the excitement surrounding the Morgan's 38th voyage reminds him that the area around Mystic and New London is still proud of, and connected to, its seafaring traditions and history.

A major historical happening like the relaunching of the Morgan helps residents to "be aware of the history around them," said Santos, in addition to helping "foster that sense of unification with your neighbors and friends" based on the area's traditions that Santos believes define the area of New London County.

"For me, the Morgan is not just the crowning jewel of the Mystic Seaport, it's the crowning jewel of New London County," said Santos. "The Morgan really sums up how remarkable the region is."

J.HOPPER@THEDAY.COM

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