There are a couple of bits to add to the last post, which described one leg of Morgan's 38th cruise. I spent a 19th Century day sailing aboard her. More than 170 years after she began nearly a century of whale hunting, her travels this summer have an historical not a commercial purpose. She will raise the profile of Mystic Seaport Museum in Connecticut, which has funded this living and sailing exhibit with milions in donations and hundreds of volunteers. And, she will remind her audience along the New England coast of a maritime industry, launched and grown here, when the world needed whaling's products to improve the lives and fortunes of communities across the globe.
How did this relatively small, niche nonprofit, not dedicated to vast, global problems, realize what was by every reasonable measure a grand idea? I'd say passion and courage did it. Here are three examples.
Matthew Stackpole is a descendant of whaling families at Nantucket. His father, a newspaperman, novelist, museum curator, and historian, wrote an authoritative examination of the birth of the whaling industry in America called Whales and Destiny(University of Massachusetts Press, 1972). To understand this industry and what Edouard Stackpole called “A Whaling Kingdom Without a Country”, his book is the place to start. Anyhow, his son is steeped in whaling's history, its impact throughout the world, in the Charles W. Morgan's unique, surviving importance as a memorial to an American industrial era, and to life under sail, something he has experienced firsthand throughout his life. Matthew Stackpole helped raise the millions necessary to reconstruct – actually to revive – Morgan, and he has spent years talking to donors, to historians, to anyone who would listen about the value of the Morgan project and especially the value of rebuilding her so that she could embark on a 38th voyage. His was a passionate commitment.
Then there is Ralph Packer, a Martha's Vineyard resident similarly in the thrall of marine history and coincidentally the owner of a marine towing company and a substantial waterfront presence on Martha's Vineyard. On his own, to press along the notion of this early 19th century sailing vessel, authentically rebuilt, should sail again, Packer offered to supply at no cost a tugboat to shepherd Morgan on her summer-long 2014 cruise along the New England coast. Then he added space for her to moor at his Martha's Vineyard dock for a week, when islanders and visitors could inspect her and learn something about her history and the history of her industry. To make this latter offer, Packer had to spend three years getting permits to dredge the harbor in front of his wharf and then to do the dredging, all on his dime. That's a passionate commitment too.
Finally, there is the leadership at Mystic Seaport, which was not challenged by the ambitious goal of rebuilding the aged whaleship. That's a perfectly understandable museum-like project. Mystic has done such things in the past. But, here, challenged by the passions of those – like Stackpole, Packer, and others – there was another possible step – more expensive, riskier, horrifically more complicated – namely, to let Morgan, a National Historic Landmark, go sailing again. Making that decision took institutional courage on an exemplary scale.