Yesterday morning, Saturday, about forty of the 38th Voyagers met at the Visitor’s Center of the Mystic Seaport Museum for the voluntary “Training Day” designed to prepare us for the once-in-a-lifetime voyage we will each be taking this summer on one leg of the Charles W. Morgan’s transit from one New England port to another. A second training day will be held on Wednesday for the rest of our fellow voyagers. Our orientation was led by Susan Funk, Executive Vice President of the Mystic Seaport Museum. One of the most exciting things was just to see who we were as we stood in the Reception Center as Susan asked us to briefly introduce ourselves. Before becoming water-gazers on the ship in the summer, we were now busy gazing at each other. We richly embodied the notion of interdisciplinarity that had driven our selection for the privilege of being on this voyage.
The first voyager to speak is interested in the economics of whaling. Another is picking up on the family history of great, great grandparents who had been among the first whalers to settle in Australia and practice the trade more than a century and a half ago. Another is investigating the use of baleen from the mouth of the whale in high-end fashion in the late nineteenth century. Another is an undergraduate student at Middlebury College who will be composing music in response to the sounds of the ship. A couple of us, of course, are teachers of Melville in colleges, but we also have high-school, middle-school, and elementary school teachers who devote significant sections of their classes to whaling—and whose students are extremely excited that their teachers will be on an actual whale ship. I did not make a demographic analysis of our Saturday morning group, but I would say we range in age from about 20 to 75 and are about evenly divided in gender.
I was glad to see we have several visual artists as well as poets and writers of both fiction and non-fiction. One young woman has already written a novel about Manjiro, the shipwrecked Japanese sailor who was brought into New Bedford on an American whale ship and became the first documented Japanese resident of the United States in the early 1840s. Manjiro himself was a message in a bottle whose finding by Captain William Whitfield still resonates for many Americans, as well as Japanese, today.