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Cruising Next to the Charles W Morgan While Under Sail

Charles-W-Morgan-Red-Right-Return-134x150This was an awesome, once in a lifetime experience! New England has a rich whaling history. Moby Dick, the captains’ houses in Edgartown, the harbors which must have had tens of whaling ships moored out during the heyday of whaling in the 1800’s. The towns along our coast were the oil boom towns of their day.

We visited the Charles W Morgan several times during its reconstruction at the Mystic Seaport . As a carpenter, I was very impressed with the quality of their shipbuilding. I was even more impressed as a captain while cruising next to the Charles W Morgan under sail down Vineyard Sound. There was no water being pumped overboard while underway. This is referred to as “de-watering” and my 2003 fiberglass boat runs its bilge pumps more often to get rid of water that seeps in. I mentioned this to one of the able-bodied seaman after the Morgan was safely docked in Vineyard Haven and he said that only 1-2″ per 24 hours seeps into the bilge. This is a real testament to today’s Mystic shipbuilders!

The other thing that struck me was how efficiently the Morgan traveled over the sea. In a moderate 15-17 MPH breeze and under partial sail, the Morgan made a steady 7.0-7.2 MPH with a 2-3 MPH favorable current. I watched the crew efficiently accomplish one or two tacks and strike sail. It is very easy to imagine how this ship could have made voyages halfway around the world in search of whale oil.

We even got to see the whale boats deployed while underway in order to get the boats cleared for a starboard side for dock. That would have been a pretty scary maneuver on the open ocean with a full crew including the harpooner. I need to re-read Moby Dick.

Upon reflection, my only misgiving is that yesterday was a once in a lifetime event. The Morgan’s 38th voyage will be its last in all likelihood. I think there are multiple reasons for this, but two primary ones. First this voyage is very expensive. It will be interesting to see if the donations for tours etc. even put a small dent in the cost.

Second, the Coast Guard will not provide a Certificate of Inspection (COI) in its current, historically accurate, configuration. I believe that the Morgan has received a special certificate for this voyage only. For example, Plan Sea is approved for carrying up to six paying passengers and requires no annual COI.

The Coast Guard has very strict regulations for approving a vessel’s COI. They want to make sure that the vessel is stable so that the crew, cargo, and overweight American passengers will not cause the vessel to heel or tip over excessively. They want to make sure that there are multiple watertight compartments so that if the vessel’s hull is breached it will not sink as quickly or at all. There are many, many more regulations in addition to stability and watertight compartments. These days in order for a vessel to receive a COI from the Coast Guard it needs to be built from the keel up as a commercial vessel. Retrofitting existing vessels is either impossible or too expensive. Retrofitting the Morgan would be very, very difficult and it would jeopardize its historical preservation.

It’s hard to imagine a more seaworthy vessel than the Morgan. It successfully completed 37 whaling voyages. I’m sure it weathered multiple major storms and had many hundred whales lashed to its sides without sinking. It’s a shame that the Coast Guard cannot make a permanent exception for the Morgan.

It’s a great idea to donate often to the Charles W Morgan fund at the Mystic Seaport (click here).

I’m so happy that I was able to spend time next to the Morgan at sea.

If you want to join Plan Sea for your once in a lifetime chance to see the Morgan’s Vineyard Haven to New Bedford leg June 25-27.

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