Since 1941, the 133-foot wooden whaler Charles W. Morgan has been docked quietly alongside a granite pier where it serves as flagship of the Mystic Seaport Museum, one of the nation’s most important maritime museums.
Now, with the help of modern science, restorers are spending $10 million and using sophisticated x-ray and laser imaging techniques in a quest to rebuild the world’s last surviving wooden whaling vessel and have her sail once more.
Built in the shipyard of Jethro and Zachariah Hillman in New Bedford, Mass., in 1841, Morgan spent eight decades sailing the globe in search of whales. Morgan brought home thousands of barrels of oil to light homes and cities across the nation and tons of baleen for buggy whips and corset stays.
To assure a successful restoration, shipbuilders and historians at Mystic need to understand precisely how the ship was built since no drawings or models exist and the New Bedford shipwrights who built her are long gone. The museum is deploying the latest in imaging technology and utilizing historians, restoration specialists and graphic artists to shed light on hidden details of the ship’s construction. Countless planks, nails, beams, ribs and pegs are being exposed and studied in a effort to better understand how the 350-ton ship is put together, especially below the waterline. Once the forensic work is complete, Mystic shipwrights will have a high-tech guide to aid them in rebuilding the historic whaler. According to shipyard director Quentin Snediker, “When we’re done she’ll be as strong or stronger as she was the last time she went to sea.”
During its long career, Morgan completed 37 voyages from home ports of New Bedford and San Francisco.
Following the hull restoration Morgan will be re-rigged in late 2010. By the summer of 2013 she be back on the water visiting her old home port of New Bedford after 172 years.