National Geographic News

Rebecca Kessler

for National Geographic

Published July 24, 2014

The Charles W. Morgan, a 173-year-old square-rigger that was used to hunt whales around the globe, has been made seaworthy after almost a century in the docks.

This summer the whaleship is plying New England waters after an extensive five-year restoration at Mystic Seaport in Connecticut. The ship is bringing a public exhibit on America's whaling history to ports between New London, Connecticut, and Boston. The Morgan, a National Historic Landmark, is the second oldest ship in America after the U.S.S. Constitution, a warship built in 1797.

"No other ship like this exists," says Matthew Lawrence, a maritime archaeologist with the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary. "While we can study shipwrecks of whaling ships on the seafloor ... to really see the full fabric of the ship in operation is a tremendous experience."

"People think that whaling is just a New England story and don't realize that whaling products found their way into nearly every American home in the mid-1800s, and that whaling itself was also part of the American character," says Elysa Engelman, exhibits researcher and developer at Mystic Seaport.

Whale oil was once the main source of illumination in lamps and candles, she says, noting it was also the universal lubricant for everything from watches to factories that powered the Industrial Revolution. Whalebone was fashioned into fishing poles, buggy whips, and other items.

During 80 years of service the Morgan completed 37 three- to five-year whaling voyages. It sailed throughout the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans; into the Arctic; and around the treacherous tip of South America, according to Mystic Seaport. More than 1,500 sailors from at least 50 countries served as crew.

In 1921, with whale populations declining, petroleum replacing whale oil, and far more efficient mechanized whaling ships and weaponry coming into use, the Morgan was retired. It rested in the sand near a Massachusetts estate until 1941, when Mystic Seaport acquired it.

Rebecca Kessler is a freelance science writer based in Providence, Rhode Island.

13 comments
Antonio Falivene
Antonio Falivene

This is a great achievement! many congratulations to the men who made it possible. It is true there are other historic ships and we in Italy have the Amerigo Vespucci, neverthless this a wonderful ship!

Frank Reed
Frank Reed

For those of you puzzled by the statistics of the lengths of the whaling voyages, there are two distinct phases in the Charles W. Morgan's whaling history. The first twelve voyages spanning the years from 1841 to 1886, she was sailing from New Bedford on long global voyages with durations ranging from 3 to 5 years with an average of 40 months. She was at sea, or at least away from New Bedford, over 90% of the time. Beginning in late 1886, the Morgan sailed from San Francisco whaling primarily in the North Pacific. These voyages were typically 11 months in length with a few longer, bumping the average for those seventeen voyages to 12 months. She was at sea over 93% of the time in this period. For the final eight voyages from 1904 to 1921, the Morgan returned to the Atlantic and voyage lengths averaged 18 months. With whaling in steep decline, there were long dry spells, and the ship was at sea only 69% of the time.

For all 37 whaling voyages, the average duration was 22.5 months. The shortest (and the last, ending in 1921) was 8.5 months, while the longest, the tenth voyage from 1881-86, was 59 months long. During her 80-year whaling career, she was actively whaling for over 69 years.

Frank Reed
38th Voyage participant
ReedNavigation.com
Conanicut Island USA

Paolo Battestin
Paolo Battestin

No other ship like this exists,  Mr. Matthew Lawrence you forgot the Amerigo Vespucci is a tall ship of the talian Marina Militarebuilt in 1930 at the (formerly Royal) Naval Shipyard of Castellammare di Stabia (Naples). She was launched on February 22, 1931, and put into service in July of that year. The vessel is a full rigged three-masted steel hull 82.4 m (270.34 ft) long, with an overall length of 101 m (331 ft) including the bowsprit and a maximum width of 15.5 m (51 ft). She has a draught of about seven metres (23 ft) and a displacement at full load of 4146 tonsThe three steel masts are 50, 54 and 43 metres high, and carry sails totalling 2824 m² (30400 ft²) The Amerigo Vespucci has 26 sails – square sailsstaysails, and jibs: all are traditional canvas sails. When under sail in severe sea and wind conditions she can reach 12 knots (22 km/h). The rig, some 30 km of ropes, uses only traditionalhemp ropes; only the mooring lines are synthetic, to comply with port regulations.

Dave R.
Dave R.

In the winter of 1820, the New England whaling ship Essex was assaulted by something no one could believe: a whale of mammoth size and will, and an almost human sense of vengeance. The real-life maritime disaster would inspire Melville’s Moby-Dick. But that told only half the story. “Heart of the Sea” reveals the encounter’s harrowing aftermath, as the ship’s surviving crew is pushed to their limits and forced to do the unthinkable to stay alive. Braving storms, starvation, panic and despair, the men will call into question their deepest beliefs, from the value of their lives to the morality of their trade, as their captain searches for direction on the open sea and his first mate still seeks to bring the great whale down."  - Based on the book by Nathaniel Philbrick, '

In the Heart of the Sea' ; which inspired  Melville's 1851 classic,- Ron Howard at the helm and scheduled for a 2015 release. The book by N.P, was/is a masterpiece of nonfiction IMO...

BARBARA NECKER
BARBARA NECKER

Makes me think of Moby Dick,  the whale that prevailed

ELAINE GROVE
ELAINE GROVE

I'm told that my great great great grandfather was a sea captain of a whaling ship in the north atlantic.  This picture really made me think!  I wish I knew his name.  He was either Danish or possibly Scottish

jody johnson
jody johnson

That's true Mark but to have 3 to 5 year trips at least one had to be 5 years that's 113 years. 

36x3 = 108, 

1x5=5, 

108+5= 113

Mark Long
Mark Long

"During 80 years of service the Morgan completed 37 three- to five-year whaling voyages." 

That would mean she fit at least 111 years of voyaging into 80 years of service. One of those numbers must be off.

David Markham
David Markham

As an ex sailor and builder of model sailing ships I have always been intrigued by these masterpieces and their ability to travel the seas!  

edi sula
edi sula

Do not think that a ship that have this statistics: e the Morgan completed 37 three- to five-year whaling voyages. It sailed throughout the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans; into the Arctic; and around the treacherous tip of South America, according to Mystic Seaport. More than 1,500 sailors from at least 50 countries served as crew.: to sell


http://bit.do/whaling-ship


Mohammed Lovely
Mohammed Lovely

Hi Rebecca Learning about Lovely Charles W. Morgan Whaling Ship Was Very Amazing and thanks for bringing on National Geographic 

I  am delighted watching Classical Ship.

May Allah Peace On You.

Love you Rebecca.

Frank Reed
Frank Reed

@Paolo Battestin No other wooden whaling ship exists. There are, of course, many other historic sailing ships, including those in the collection of Mystic Seaport.

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