Entry begun on Wednesday, July 30, at 1 pm
The Charles W. Morgan remained at State Pier in New Bedford from her arrival on Wednesday, June 25, until her departure for the Massachusetts Marine Academy on Tuesday, July 8. She was honored by the “Parade of Boats” on Sunday, June 29, by the Whaling History Symposium throughout the following week, and by a series of whaleboat races on Saturday, July 5 (after having endured the deluge from Hurricane Arthur the day before).
My friend and colleague Mary K Bercaw Edwards had led the Parade of Boats on June 29, from the stern of her Mystic Seaport whaleboat. After giving her talk and attending all the sessions of the four-day Symposium, Mary K coordinated the deployment of Mystic Seaport’s ten whaleboats on Saturday, July 5. In addition to rowing in one of the whaleboat races, she managed to keep track of every race and every Mystic rower, celebrating their exploits in issue #649 of the Squad News she distributed to her Mystic Seaport colleagues on July 8. The greatest exploit had been Mystic’s victory in the “featured” race of the day, the recreation of a legendary Independence Day Whale Boat Race of 1857. This race covered a two-and-a-half-mile course, departing from State Pier and going “out and around Putnam’s Island” before returning to the pier. Mystic’s winning time was 20:54 minutes, followed by Hull Lifesaving Museum at 22:47, New Bedford Whaling Museum at 24:19, and Gray Buzzards at 26:16. The New Bedford locals had kept the original watercolor for the commemorative poster of the Morgan’s visit in town by winning the auction at the Gala Banquet, but they could not hold onto the “silver pitcher replica” of the original 1857 Whale Boat Race trophy.
The Charles W. Morgan, its crew, and its sequence of Voyagers had some extraordinary experiences after its departure from New Bedford on the morning of July 8. I have followed its subsequent voyages primarily through Frank Reed’s listserve and the experiences of people I know who sailed on transits after the one I was on. On July 8 my MSCP colleague Wyn Kelley was a voyager on the transit from New Bedford out into and across Bussard’s bay to the Massachusetts Maritime Academy near the entrance to the Cape Cod Canal. Wyn, Mary K, and I had stood for a photo near the Morgan on the pier at New Bedford on the last day of the Symposium. One of Wyn’s fellow voyagers, Courtney Leonard, got a photo of her after the ship had landed at the Maritime Academy.
The informal notes Wyn shared soon after the voyage were very much like some of my blog entries. Anxiety before boarding the ship about the sleeping quarters and what she might have forgotten to bring. Unending admiration for the work of the crew throughout the voyage. And a certain kind of immersion in the moment that caused one to involuntarily suspend one’s habitual practice of recording and analyzing one’s experiences. Knowing “our voyage would be short,” Wyn “tried to make the most of every moment . . . . In fact, I couldn’t have done otherwise, since I found I had no volition of my own. Could not write, could not think. Just had to be in the moment, an odd and ideal state, and one that doesn’t happen very often. As a result, I was barely conscious of the time passing and the day disappearing.” After the voyage, Wyn was glad she had decided not to write very much on the ship itself; it was much better to have been “in” the experience. By this time the regulars on the Morgan were calling the yacht Rena, which continued to shadow each transit, the “stalker” boat.
In its essentials, Wyn’s transit to the Maritime Academy much like mine to New Bedford. The Morgan was again towed by the Sirius in and out of each port, with some fine sailing on Buzzard’s Bay in between. The round-trips out of Provincetown were strikingly different. The destination of these was not another port but the Stellwagen Bank off Cape Cod where whales congregate in great numbers during the summer months. The symbolism of a former whaling ship sailing out to visit, not hunt, the whales was lost on no one. A lot was expected of these visits in advance, but the result did not disappoint. In this case you could emphatically declare, as Ishmael does when he first sees Captain Ahab on the quarter-deck, that “Reality outran apprehension.” The signature image of the 38th Voyage of the Charles W. Morgan is not the commanding presence of a captain on deck, but rather a whale boat lowered to commune with, not “slaughter,” the cetaceans.
Once the whaleboat was lowered, amazing things began to happen. Photos and videos from each of the Provincetown-Stellwagen outings show very large whales in close proximity to the whaleboats as well as the ship. To be in one those boats would have been an absolutely unforgettable experience—especially given the century of killing in which this ship hadexcelled. But simply to see these encounters—either from the deck or at further remove in photos—is exciting enough. One of my favorite photos shows the flukes right next to the whaleboat:
Another shows the whale sounding very near the ship, making you wonder, where will it rise?
This photo of the whale calf right underneath its mother, with a friendly whaleboat nearby, made me think, of course, of the Mother and Infant section of our New Bedford exhibition.
So did this one of three whales and one calf:
The whale seems to beckoning to the whaleboat in the photo below, with Sean Bercaw in the stern:
In these waters off Cape Cod, as in the “Grand Armada” chapter, “Some of the subtlest secrets of the sea seemed divulged to us.”
These precious, historic interactions were well documented by the 38th Voyagers chosen for the voyage out of Provincetown—as well as by scientists, ecologists, researchers from NOAH, and videographers from OceansLIVE. One of the voyagers out to Stellwagen Bank was my dear friend and MSCP co-founder Beth Schultz. She retired from direct involvement in MSCP about a decade ago to give over more of her own eighth decade (she is in her late seventies) to the cause of ecology and the writing of poetry. A few years ago she was co-chair of an international Ecology Conference in Beijing, which is how she came across the extraordinary Moby-Dick cut-outs by Qiao Xiaoguang. Every year for about a decade she has self-published a chapbook of poetry distilling her experience at ecological sites around the world. When we had a long telephone conversation shortly after her day on the Morgan, she was still, as I expected, so flooded with sensation and wonder she felt almost unable to express it. When this experience sinks in and is distilled through her mind, eye, and heart, we will have an unforgettable poetic condensation of what she saw and felt. I absolutely admire her wish to wait until the time is right to try to share this experience with others. For some reason, I’ve had the opposite impetus in writing and posting this blog.
One of Beth’s fellow voyagers was Evan Turk. She remembered that he was “drawing all the time.” Many of these drawings are posted in “Evan Turk’s Reportage and Illustration Blog” (see the link I have proved in the menu for this blog). Several of his sketches depict subjects I have tried to describe in works. Many convey the generic experience of a 38th Voyager no matter which transit you were on. Here is the avuncular Captain Files:
Here is a figure climbing the rigging, with a close-up of hands grasping a line.:
Here is an abstract alignment of sails, with tiny sailors high above them.
Here is the dramatic movement of the mainsail billowing down:
And here are deckhands hauling, not the sail, but the anchor:
Of course, since Evan was out to Stellwagen Bank, some of his images are specific to that experience. Here is a whale from the deck of the Morgan:
Here are a whaleboat, two whales, and other floating objects:
And here is Beth Schultz, taking it all in:
Although Beth’s poetic response to the voyage on the Morgan is still very much a work in progress, she has allowed me to post the current draft of one of the poems here:
THE MORGAN ON STELLWAGEN BANK
We sailed amidst them,
out on Stellwagen Bank,
the old ship, no longer
armed with barbs or tricked
out with spears, but newly
rigged, spreading fresh
canvas on all masts, soaring,
rising up, up, upon the waves,
joyous and reborn, and soaring.
We met them on their
playground, a minke first,
arched and glistening,
forerunner for the humpbacks,
who frolicked in a pod,
making waves, their fins,
long white angels’ wings,
gyrating, beating upward
out of the sea, before diving
down, down, their signature
tails following them, curved
and hovering, heart-shaped,
shimmering, before dissolving
into depths, the flukes now
leaving shearwaters and terns,
circling like visible echoes
above their churning,
while we leaned out
on the ship’s rail, intent
on a second coming,
awed by such exuberance,
yearning for forgiveness.
Earlier in 2014, in another act of forgiveness, Beth paid a visit to the peoples of Viet Nam.
My good friend John Bryant was a Voyager on the transit from Provincetown to Charleston in Boston, where the Morgan moored next to the U. S. Constitution. John is founding editor of the Melville journal Leviathan and author of a biography-in-progress on Melville. His project was to enrich his imaginative sense of Melville’s life on a whale ship by observing, interviewing, and occasionally working alongside the crew of the Morgan. John has already written and posted a blog about his voyage, to which I have provided a link in my menu for this blog (“Melville, The Morgan, and Me: My First Day at Sea”). It is fascinating to see a biographer’s mind at work as he processes real-time experience on what is in essence a sister ship to Melville’s Acushnet. John took a fine gallery of photographs which he, too, has already posted. You see from his photo gallery his keen interest in the personae of the ship. You also see several subjects I did not think to photograph during my voyage, but which I keenly came to miss when posting my blog. With John’s permission, I will now fill a few of those gaps with his photos.
Here is John’s beautifully framed shot of the Sirius with the Morgan in tow:
During the morning of John’s voyage, the challenge of following the Sirius was compounded by fog. Aaron Gralnik, the steersman, could not see the Sirius from the wheelhouse even when the tug was actually in front of the ship. He therefore stationed a fellow deckhand at the bow to signal each deviation the Sirius made from side to side. Aaron was certainly as busy behind the wheel as I had been, as John has shown in a sequence of six photos on his blog.
John also got several welcome photos of Ryan Loftus, Foretek’s powerful male counterpart in hauling sail. In the image on the left he is waiting for just the right moment to pull. In the one on the right he is standing tall and self-contained, with Foretek reaching up toward him.
John, like me, took the opportunity to climb up the rigging as far as we were allowed to go. Unlike me, he successfully arranged for someone to photograph him up there. John, like me, and Wyn Kelley too, was blessed with the presence our Melville colleague Mary K Bercaw Edwards on his leg of the voyage. I love the photo he took of her, tending to a line.
As I began writing this blog entry on July 30, the Morgan’s miraculous summer at sea was essentially over. Having completed her last sail, from Boston to the Massachusetts Marine Academy, on July 23, she was now being towed by the Sirius all the way from Buzzard’s Bay to New London. After a few days there, she will return to Mystic to resume her life as a dockside exhibit.
Now that the 39th Voyage of the Morgan is ending, one wonders if the very timbers of the ship, from the keelson fathoms below the surface of the Mystic River to the maintop of the masthead leagues above its shallow waters, will soon be aching to return to the open ocean to ciommune with the whales. It’s amazing the degree to which the playful metallic print of Whales in the Sea that Robert Del Tredici sent me in advance of the voyage (first reproduced in “Fast-Fish & Loose-Fish” at the end of part 2 of this blog) anticipated the highlight of the voyage itself on Stellwagen Bank.
Frank Reed got a long-distance photo the Morgan on the way to New London. She was a skeletal ghost of a ship towed by an indistinct patch of white off the coast of Conanicut Island. “Under tow, and sails furled, she seemed asleep,” he wrote to our listserve. As he watched her near sunset through binoculars, “She was pitching dramatically. Seasickness motion. Must have been swells out there.” It is not known whether she will ever have a 39th voyage at all comparable to her 38th. But even if this voyage turns out to be her last, much is certain to follow in her wake, in thought and feeling as well as in text, image, and programming.
As I complete the text for this entry on August 1, many of my friends around the country (and several on Facebook) are remembering Herman Melville’s birthday. He was born in New York City on August 1, 1819, 195 years ago. Tomorrow, on August 2, I will turn 70 years old. My voyage on the Morgan has sent me into my own eighth decade with new wind in my sails.