Ship on Shore

Entry begun Friday, June 27. 7:30 am

Vanessa and I talked virtually non-stop from the Lighthouse to Vineyard Haven. That boxy old white bus really rolls through the narrow roads and comforting landscape of the northwest side of this island, beautifully wooded with occasional meadows and scattered settlements along the way. We knew we were in Vineyard Haven when everything slowed to a crawl heading down a hill, giving Vanessa the time to see a very early Volkswagen Beetle in a parking lot, the same vintage and color of the white one her father owned and wept after losing (not too much older that the blue Super Beetle I drove from New York to my new job in northern Kentucky in 1972—and enjoyed for seventeen years until the Sunday morning I was sideswiped by some high school kids running a red light on the way to an amusement park, totaling the car but not me).

As we got off the bus we looked for the whale ship, and there it was—around the curve of the shore to the right, looming large even though distant. One last trek with our gear, this time through soft sand with very little traction, and occasional obstacles causing us to angle in toward the road to get around this or that before reaching the ship. Finally we were there.

The whale shiip as seen from the way frm the bus stop in Vineyard Haven

The whale shiip as seen from the way from the bus stop in Vineyard Haven

Sue Funk and our fellow Voyagers were all in the general vicinity of a small white tent and a cluster of white plastic chairs not far from the ramp to the ship. The entire day had been sunny and clear in the 70s, usually with a fresh breeze, but here, without a patch of shade, was the first place at which I highly desired more protection than we now had from the sun, that currently being limited to the tiniest corner of the little tent.

Ship from shore next morning

Ship from shore next morning

Soon we gathered for instructions and introductions. I already knew Mike Dyer from the Whaling Museum, Peter Gansevoort Whittemore from the Melville family line, and Mary Wayss from a New Bedford school for girls. Voyagers I was now meeting for the first time included Revell Carr, an ethonomusicologist from the University of North Carolina Greensboro who had worked at Mystic when in high school and college; Matthew Bullard, a descendant of Charles W. Morgan, for whom this ship is named, now living in Idaho; and Rob Burbank, a New Bedford native whose uncle had sailed on the Morgan’s 35th voyage in 1917. After we went around the horn briefly identifying ourselves and our projects, Sue gave us the plan for the evening. A group photo. A barbecue with the ship’s crew, now being prepared along the shore. And then, at 7:30, the boarding of the ship.

Our Voyager cohort the evening before we sail for New Bedford.  Photo courtesy Jody Bullard

Our Voyager cohort the evening before we sail for New Bedford. Photo courtesy Jody Bullard

Peter Gansevoort Whittemore looking ahead to the next day's voyage

Peter Gansevoort Whittemore looking ahead to the next day’s voyage

It was great to have some free time with the Voyagers and to meet with the crew. Mike Dyer was sunburned like a lobster from his walk from Fairhaven to Mattapoisett and on to Wood’s Hole for the ferry from there, still highly charged from having carried out that wonderful walk. Peter Whittemore is as present and connected as ever, his spirit newly elevated by a five-day mind-and-body meditation retreat. Matthew Bullard is tall, young, and receptive, here with his wife and two-year-old son from Boise, where it turns out he knows my college friend Walter “Skeeter” Minnick (Whitman ’64) quite well from their shared ecological interests. His descends from six generations of Morgan ancestors, and he went west in part to carve out an identity separate from this rich, but inherited, one. He too is writing about his experience, and I am eager to see what he will produce. This whole adventure is very much a matter of “closing the circle” and “coming back home,” not only for him but for each of us, I suppose, in her or his own way.

Sean and Mary K Becaw on Vineyard Haven Shore

Sean and Mary K Becaw on Vineyard Haven shore

Among the crew of the Morgan it was great to get to see Sean Bercaw again, who will be our second mate. He was hearty and relaxed, very much present, especially after remembering me from the evening at Mary K’s before our Training Day. As we were talking, Mary K appeared, after having taken locals out in the whale boats during the six-day moorage here, which had attracted more than an thousand visitors more than they had expected. She’s still the same amazing Mary K, but I’ve never seen her lips so chapped.

 

 

For half an hour a mixture of Voyagers and crew members were casually sitting and chatting on those open plastic chairs (the barbecue itself was generic picnic fare—hamburger, hot dog, potato salad, and cole slaw, with cold beer and sodas). Having worked as a deckhand long ago, I was eager to speak with the crew members working this ship. I was soon reminded of something I probably should have remembered: some sailors don’t talk much about their work. As my fellow Voyagers also noted, there were quite a few somewhat short conversations in this first chance to gam with these future shipmates. How different it was the next day when we saw them in action!

38th Voyagers boarding the ship, June 24, 7:30 pm

38th Voyagers boarding the ship, June 24, 7:30 pm

The bunk I chose, forward on port side, under orange curtain

The bunk I chose, forward on port side, under orange curtain

At 7:30, as scheduled, word arrived that it was time to gather our gear, board the ship, choose a bunk, and get some instruction from the crew. I had been a bit apprehensive when first seeing our sleeping quarters in the forecastle in April, and I was not any less so now. I didn’t know whether to choose top or bottom, port or starboard, pointing ahead toward the bow or back toward the blubber room.  I finally chose the lower berth of a port-side bunk right up in the nose of the forecastle, with a pretty sharp angle at the bow where either my head or my feet would eventually be. Conveniently, there was enough room under my bunk to keep not only my shoes but part of my gear, from which I would now be able to retrieve this or that without bothering whoever will be sleeping above.

Third mate Rocky Hadler, beginning our orientation to the ship

Third mate Rocky Hadler, beginning our orientation to the ship

As soon as we made our choice, we went up on deck for the orientation to the ship by our third mate, Roxanne “Rocky” Hadler. Rocky went over the schedule for the departure in the morning: 6:45 wake-up call for breakfast; 7:30 mustering on shore for an introduction to the day passengers who would be sailing with us, requiring a new round of introductions; after which would come the boarding of the ship, the safety drills, and the beginning of the voyage itself.

Manila line against curving wood in bow of the hold

Manila line against curving wood in bow of hold

Unburdened by the gear we had been carrying, we got a quick tour of the blubber room and parts of the hold some of us had seen in April. And of course we were free to examine the deck to our own delight. I loved the look of a manila line against the wood of the hold. The masts and the rigging were absolutely beautiful in the evening light. Rocky took questions, after which Sue followed with some details specific to us as 38th Voyagers.

 

 

 

 

Morgan's masts on eve of voyage

Morgan’s masts on eve of voyage

The crew did not have to be present while we were briefed about the role of the Voyagers. Some of them did show a little more energy than when sitting in those white plastic chairs along the shore.  Two in particular drew everyone’s attention when one large and well-muscled deckhand carried another large and well-muscled deckhand down the boarding ramp as if they were Greco-Roman warriors—or she the Europa to his bull. They were exuberant enough to draw a measured command to keep it down, something the officers did not have to worry about with our 38th Voyagers contingent, with other kids of concerns spinning in our hearts and heads.

After the instruction, we were free now to do as we wished until 22:00 (10 pm), when the ship is to be silent for the night. No conversations or noises on deck. No phone calls. Nothing to disrupt the sleep needed by all hands for a day that would be exciting and challenging for whomever was on board, whatever their role. Most of us went below to sort out and arrange the stuff we had brought aboard, setting aside what we needed tonight and trying to have what we will need tomorrow available when we need to find it.

My bunk with stuff in it, June 24, 10 pm

Then it seems we all kind of melted away for the hour we had until lights out—some exploring the ship a little more, some going ashore to call or text friends or family, or maybe to take a final drink on land. Peter and I ended up alone on deck and had an excellent nighttime talk about our many mutual interests as we walked off the ship and meandered down the road toward the hotel at which he was to spend the night. I made a quick call to my wife Joan and headed back to the ship. As far as I could see no one was in a bunk yet (though you would not be able to know if that little curtain was completely drawn). I was feeling that the bunk was going to be uncomfortably confining, not so much physically as mentally, a feeling that continued as I crawled into it for the first time to see how it felt.

Returning to ship after walk with Peter Whittemore

Returning to ship after walk with Peter Whittemore

Sue had suggested that pointing my head ahead to the curve of the bow might be a little better because of a slight elevation of the bunk in that direction, and that seemed fine. I’m just under six feet and I fit in there OK, stretching out full if I wanted my feet to be flat against the next person’s headboard. I had forgotten to bring a pillowcase for the pillow that would be provided, but the 38th Voyager T-shirt I’d just gotten on shore slipped around the pillow very nicely. The silken sleeping bag liner was fine, as the temperature was quite comfortable, but as I was sleeping in my clothes I did not actually climb into it, which would probably have increased my already active sense of confinement, as it is shaped like those body bags designed for sailors who die at sea.

I went up on deck a little longer (I didn’t want to be the first one to try to go to sleep) and then a number of us began to wander in, and settle in. I kept part of my curtain open so I could see some light from the blubber room. I told myself there is nothing to worry about. Hundreds or thousands of others had slept in these boxy spaces since 1841, as my companions would be tonight, so there was no reason to feel terribly anxious. Not terribly, but anxious. Writing this brings to mind a lovely, short “bon voyage” email I’d received from the Moby-Dick artist Robert Del Tredici in Montreal, wishing me good luck for the “salt spray, wind punch, camaderie, and sublime anxiety.”

I did calm myself. I did get to sleep. This had been an excellent day, with everything going pretty much to plan. I knew that tomorrow would be even better, though I hardly knew what to expect, with everything being so new not only for me but for virtually everyone on board. I looked forward to the sunrise.

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Woman on Board

Continued this entry on Thursday, June 26, 7:30 pm

The 4:10 bus to Vineyard Haven was on time, and Vanessa and I resumed the wide-ranging conversation we had begun during the hour from Edgartown to Gay Head. She had then suggested that I begin reading a chapter in the book she was reading, a chapter which gives a detailed account of a purported autobiographical narrative thought to have been written by a woman who had passed for a man on an early nineteenth century sailing ship. This particular narrative was so popular that its story was extended through three successive volumes in a short period of time. It was written with such verisimilitude that few knew or even suspected that it had actually been ghostwritten by a man. It was quite a rollicking adventure, with an array of potentially compromising situations in which the female sailor’s gender was nearly, but not, revealed.

After we discussed the era and conditions under which such a narrative flourished, Vanessa told me in more detail about her project. Her chief intention is to honor the courage, gumption, and resourcefulness of the few women in history who actually did pass as men on ships. Unfortunately, their stories are known to us only by the wisp of a rumor, the shred of a second-hand document, not at all as well-known as the ghost-written narrative or any number of other attempts to concoct or falsify the history of actual women who tried to pass in this way.

Vanessa getting up from her reading outside Martha's Vineyard Museum

Vanessa getting up from her reading outside Martha’s Vineyard Museum

Vanessa getting hair cut to look more like a boy

Vanessa getting hair cut to look more like a boy

To enact her homage to these women Vanessa is wearing the white outfit in which she boarded the ferry to Oak Bluff. The white is to be soiled, not kept immaculate, by the shipboard experience. The shape of the outfit is designed to hide traces of her figure, an effect she has augmented by the tight bandages in which she has wrapped her chest (and which at times make it somewhat hard to breathe, giving her a new appreciation for women in the corseted era). To augment the appearance of a boy, she had her hair cut short, a process she visually documented by having her stylist wear Vanessa’s GoPro camera on a head strap while doing the job..

On the ship she will, it appears, have to be as resourceful as those early adventurers were, as she plans to film herself changing her clothes and bandages on a vessel with no real privacy. (In our cramped quarters in the forecastle, there is a curtain on a wire we can try to close after us after crawling through the coffin-like entry, but once I was in there I had very little room to do anything else than to try to calm myself down enough to try to sleep.)

Forecastle bunks with privacy curtains

Forecastle bunks with privacy curtains

Fortunately for Vanessa’s project, and for all of us 38th Voyagers, the Morgan for this voyage had been fitted with a several toilet stalls and one sink just beyond the blubber room. Each toilet stall provided just enough room in which to stand up or sit down, but this was enough to make Vanessa’s project a little easier than it might otherwise have been. In addition to adjusting her clothing and changing her bandage wraps in various ways, she planned to execute a few other tasks that would be particularly difficult a woman on such a ship during the nineteenth century. One of these was to figure out how to urinate over the side (this ship rides very high in the water). She already had an idea of how to achieve this, and when I asked her about it on board in the morning she said she’d already executed it. For this and other elements of her project, we’ll have to wait for the completed video.

Vanessa showing details of outfit to Lesley on shore at Vineyard Haven

Vanessa showing details of outfit to Lesley on shore at Vineyard Haven

I offered to film her with my camera or my GoPro when executing certain or her more public activities on deck, but she said that would not be necessary because her entire object was to see how much of her experience she could record by herself, since it was only by second-hand reports or fabrications by others that we know anything about the actual women she hopes to honor.

Vanessa Hodgkinson, Squeeze of the Hand, Crowell's Gallery,. New Bedford, January 2o14

Vanessa Hodgkinson, Squeeze of the Hand, Crowell’s Gallery,. New Bedford, January 2o14

Vanessa recently completed an M.A. degree at the Chelsea School of Art. Her thesis was a theoretical analysis of the function of grids (from circles and squares to more arabesque Islamic designs) in constructing the perceptions and habitations in which we live. That was a very satisfying project it itself, and it has richly informed her current practice as a painter (including in the Moby-Dick works by which I had come to know her). She had previously earned a Master’s deree from Cambridge in art history.  She has often thought of going on for a doctorate in some area of art history or practice, but is currently uncertain about the long-term personal worth of investing the years that would be required.

 

For now, Vanessa is happy to work for a commercial photographer to pay the bills, taking the commissions and grants she can secure when opportunity arises, and having the freedom to accept a project such as this one as a 38th Voyager (even though it was a real strain financially to take the time off from her commercial work to fly over here entirely at her own expense). She would have liked to stay for the Whaling Symposium in New Bedford next week, at which she would have been one of the speakers, but she has to fly from Boston to London on Sunday. Until then, she hopes to make considerable progress on her other “product” as a Voyager (beyond her film), a series of images in which she will respond to her experience on board the Morgan by painting in watercolor over a schematic outline of the ship itself she will have already imprinted on the paper.

Before leaving Gay Head we had both been shocked by the poster we saw for a play about The Whalship Essex currently being performed at the Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse. The Essex was the ship that had been stove in and sunk by a sperm whale in the middle of the South Pacific in 1820, one of Melville’s real-life inspirations for the ending of Moby-Dick. This poster, rather than showing the whale sinking the ship, makes it appear as if the whale ship is cutting the sperm whale in half.

Poster for The Whaleship Essex on shingled building at Gay Head

Poster for The Whaleship Essex on shingled building at Gay Head

Gay Head Lighthouse

As scheduled, the 2:12 bus from Edgartown got Vanessa and me to the Lighthouse at 3:10. We had a full hour to explore the lighthouse and its environs before taking the 4:10 bus that would get us to Vineyard Haven one hour later. The Gay Head Lighthoue crowns the peninsula that is the home of the Wampanoag Indians and is now known as Aquinnah.

Gay Head Lighthouse, June 24, 2014

Gay Head Lighthouse, June 24, 2014

Walking toward the lighthouse

Walking toward the lighthouse

I had heard there was a new Native American Cultrual Center at Aquinnah and had been looking forward to so seeing it. It was not open. We had missed it by one day, as its summer schedule runs only from Wednesday through Sunday. I had been interested in meeting some Wampanoag and learning about their culture because Tastego, the Native American harpooner in Moby-Dick, is from Gay Head. Ishmael in chapter 27 describes Tashtego’s homeland as “the most westerly promontory of Martha’s Vineyard, where there still exists the last remnant of a village of red men, which has long supplied the neighboring island of Nantucket with many of her most daring harpooneers.”

Lily tending Gay Head Lighthouse before going off to college

Lily tending Gay Head Lighthouse before going off to college

Not seeing the Cultural Center was somewhat made up for by meeting Lily, the young woman who tended the second level of the internal stairway that ascends the lighthouse. She has just graduated from high school and is gong to Emerson College in Boston in the fall to study film. She reminded me very much of some fo the young Makah Indians I had met on the Olympic Peninsula in my home state of Washington in July 2008, excited about preparing to enter the larger national culture but somewhat apprehensive about leaving, at least temporarily, her family and birth culture behind.

 

 

One thing Lily will probably not find at Emerson College are restroom doors like those provided for visitors to the Cultural Center at Gay Head: bright pink for the women, solid blue for men. Nor is she likely to encounter a trio of pink whale heads like those I saw when waiting for the bus at Edgartown.

Three pink whale heads waiting for the bus at Edgartown

Three pink whale heads waiting for the bus at Edgartown

As soon as we got off the bus, Vanessa and I found a shop owner who generously allowed us to stow our gear in a corner of her shop so we would not have to lug it over to the lighthouse. The promontory near the lighthouse provides a beautiful view of the the famous chalk cliffs below (though anyone who has walked the beach says what we saw is nothing like what you can see from down there).

Gay Head Lighthouse seen from promontory of lighthouse

Gay Head Lighthouse seen from promontory of lighthouse

Storm-blown parabolic arc carved in face of Gay Head Lighthouse

Storm-blown parabolic arc carved in face of Gay Head Lighthouse

Before we entered the lighthouse itself, I was fascinated by a parabolic curve cutting across its round brick face. The guy at the door who collected the $5 for us to enter explained that a violent storm years ago had cut a cable loose, causing whatever it was attached to to carve a unique branding on the tower. The storm had made the swinging cable a loose-fish, and a fast-fish, too.

 

Vanessa in red glow from Gay Head Lighthouse

Vanessa in red glow from Gay Head Lighthouse

Up in the tower it was great to think that tomorrow we will probably be able to see this lighthouse from out in Vineyard Sound before the Morgan turns in toward New Bedford. The cut glass in the lighthouse mirror was remarkably intricate and fine. But most remarkable was the heat of the rotating lamp as it fell on each of us in turn every few seconds, alternating between red and gold (the colors J. M. W. Turner utilized for his most magnificent sunsets when not depicting the wreckage of ships that had not been saved at such famous English lighhouses as Eddystone, Lowestoffe, and Land’s End). I especially liked the red light as it passed over Vanessa’s fair complexion. I hope the photos come out ok.

I wonder, would this lighthouse work like an actual enclosed tanning booth if one stood before the revolving light long enough?

Revolving red light in Gay Head Lighthouse tower, June 24, 2014

Revolving red light in Gay Head Lighthouse tower, June 24, 2014

Morgan Log at Edgartown

 

Transit Map and Schedule

Both the ferry landing and the street at Oak Bluff were full of people in vacation attire. The tourist season out here has definitely begun in earnest. At the third light pole we saw no terminal across the street, but we did see a big white bus from the Transit Authority. The ‘terminal” was a man in a wheelchair selling tickets, many of them the $7 day passes. Lesley got one too, as she had decided to go as far as Edgartown with us to see the Martha’s Vineyard Museum. The bus was entirely full as soon as we got on, our whale-ship gear sharing the aisle with those who came in after us. As soon as our driver stopped taking passengers, another bus came up and took those who were waiting.

Crowded bus from Oak Bluff to Edgartown

Crowded bus from Oak Bluff to Edgartown

Entrance to Martha's Vineyard Museum on School Street

Entrance to Martha’s Vineyard Museum on School Street

What a lovely drive along the shoreline from Oak Bluff to Edgartown, a leafy road with overarching trees followed by a long, narrow, flat road which was all that separated the ocean on the left from a pond of deep blue water to the right (later identified on a map as Sencekontacket Pond). The city of Edgartown turned out to be big enough that I wondered a little about how far we might have to walk, with all our gear, from the bus stop. It turned out to be no problem: up Church one block to Main, a quick right on School Street, and three blocks down. We reached the museum shortly after 11, just as I had hoped from the 10:30 arrival of our ferry.

Morgan log book kept by Francis C. Osborn.  Courtesy of Martha's Vineyard Museum

Morgan log book kept by Francis C. Osborn. Courtesy of Martha’s Vineyard Museum

Bow Van Riper, the chief archivist, was away in the state of Ohio, but he had set aside what we had hoped to see and had prepared Nathaniel Jannick, one of his assistants, to greet us. Nathaniel brought me the log of the Morgan’s first voyage and he brought Vanessa a box of material relating to Laura Jernegan, the young Vineyarder who had gone whaling with her parents at age 6 (whose story had been the  launching pad for the film Electric Oil by Vanessa’s friend Jessica Rinland). Vanessa sifted through that material quite quickly and spent the rest of the time before lunch under a tree reviewing the book about females who had tried to pass as male sailors on sailing ships in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries (part of the inspiration for her project on the Morgan).

Lesley and I spent most of our time, before and after lunch, reading and taking notes from the log of the Morgan’s maiden voyage kept by second mate Francis C. Osborn. The log of the Morgan begins toward the end of the volume in which Osborn kept the log of the whale ship Alexander Barclay of New Bedford from 1837 to 1840.  Francis Osborn writes very clearly. His logs are impressively legible. On the second page of the one for Morgan he repeats the whole first page, presumably to improve his handwriting.

First page of Osborn's log of Morgan's maiden voyage.  Courtesy of Martha's Vineyard Museum

First page of Osborn’s log of Morgan’s maiden voyage. Courtesy of Martha’s Vineyard Museum

In addition to his written entries, Osborn’s book has beautiful illustrations, placed so that one is not sure to which of the two voyages they refer. Inside the front and back covers are horizontal scenes on the vertical width of the page, somewhat crude in execution but quite visceral in their authenticity.

Whaling scene inside front cover of Osborn's log of Morgan's first voyage

Whaling scene inside front cover of Osborn’s log of Morgan’s first voyage

 Much later in the book, where the log of the Alexander Barclay gives way to that of the Charles W. Morgan, Osborn has drawn an absolutely brilliant vertical composition of two whales in black and blue, the body and tail of the black one nested within the larger body of the blue, the tail of each a beautiful example of the “crescentic flukes” that Ishmael celebrates in his chapter on “The Tail.” In addition to the positioning of the shapes, there is the coloristic saturation and finesse of the deep blacks and iridescent blues, not only in the compound whales but in the bird flying in from the opposite page.

Osborn's image of vertical whales and horizontal bird in Morgan logbook

Osborn’s image of vertical whales and horizontal bird in Morgan logbook

 At the end of the volume, after the portion of the Morgan’s log in this book, Osborn created two beautiful portraits of full length right whales, each facing left but upside down from each other. Both of these amateur drawings by a whale ship mate are much more accurate than any of the drawings by scientific authorities that Ishmael satirizes in his chapter on “The Monstrous Pictures of Whales” in Moby-Dick.

The author with Osborne's drawing of two right whales.  Courtesy of Martha's Vineyard Museum

The author with Osborne’s drawing of two right whales. Courtesy of Martha’s Vineyard Museum

Osborn's visual tally of the whales killed by his right starboard boat

Osborn’s visual tally of the whales killed by his right starboard boat

Osborn also drew a chart in which the whaleboat he commanded (the right starboard boat) is accompanied by a vertical stacks of generic shapes which correspond to the number of whales his boat had killed. Each whale is accompanied by the number of barrels of oil that creature had yielded to the industry of the chase. I remember Mike Dyer saying he thought this book was one of the most beautiful log books he had ever seeen, and now I can see why.

After the Morgan had departed from New Bedford on September 6, 1841, its log book did not record its first kill—signaled by the stenciled image of a black sperm whale in the log—until December 16, more than three months later. The log of the voyage contained in this volume continues into the month of May, but Osborn records not another single kill. Nevertheless, the log is very interesting to read.

Log book entry recording Morgan's first sperm whale kill, December 16, 1841

Log book entry recording Morgan’s first sperm whale kill, December 16, 1841

In Osborn’s hand the mundane aspects of the voyage attain a kind of folk purity. As Lesley knew from her study of other log books, Osborn is following certain traditionial tropes and formulas. I had noticed early on that Osborn often ends an entry with “So ends the day.” Then I began to see that he often personifies the day itself, as in the entry he begins with these words: “Wed. Jan. 26th comes with strong breezes from the SE.” By this time of the voyage, he ends most of his entries with “So ends,” knowing that the rest of the phrase would be completed in the mind of the reader.

Wednesday, January 12, 1841, “came in with pleasant weather.” The same day “So ends heading S. W.” In between, Osborn reports an exhausting morning, afternoon, and evening. “About 10 o’clock saw a large Sperm Whale. Lowered 4 Boats and Chased him untill one o’clock came in hand and got Dinner and then after again untill Night.”   The next day they “saw Whales, Lowered and chaised until it was Dark,” again without success.

Osborn's January 12 entry about "Large Sperm Whale" they chased all day without success

Osborn’s January 12 entry about “Large Sperm Whale” they chased all day without success

By noon Lesley and I had begun to savor the the rhythm and style of the log, so we took a break and joined Vanessa for lunch. We took the advice of Lara Ullman, the assistant of Bow who filled in for Nathaniel during his lunch. Her recommendation of Express Love, retracing our steps up School Street, was perfect. We found a shaded table out on the patio and had sandwiches and coffee in perfect weather in a relaxed conversation it would have been fine to continue all day. By one o’clock, however, I was eager to get back to the museum because Vanessa and I were to be taking the 2:12 bus from Edgartown to the Gay Head Lighthouse, and I was wanting to see as much as I could of the rest of the Morgan log book before we left.

Lesley Walker taking notes from the Morgan log book at Martha's Vineyard Museum

Lesley Walker taking notes from the Morgan log book at Martha’s Vineyard Museum

The longer Lesley and I spent in the log the more we enjoyed it, especially afrer the ship rounded Cape Horn and began to “speak” with other vessels. In early February, the ship anchored for nearly a week off Callao, the port city of Lima, Peru. The locals were celebrating “Feast Days,” giving the Port and Starboard Watches, in alternation, plenty of opportunity to enjoy the pleasures of land.  Lesley had been hoping to find some entries about the Australian islands at which her great-grandparents had entertained whalers, American and otherwise, but this portion of the Morgan’s log did not get anywhere near the western Pacific. Lesley nevertheless stayed on to read to the end of Osborn’s volume before returning on her own to board the Morgan in Vineyard Haven.

Vanessa and I continued on to Gay Head Lighthouse before taking another bus to Vineyard Haven for the 5 pm meeting with the rest of the 38th Voyagers. You can see the triangle of our day trip on the transit map below, running from Oak Bluff at the top right along the coast to Edgartown at the lower right before crossing horizontally to West Tisbury and then down to Gay Head at the far lower left corner before heading up through West Tisbury again to Vineyard Haven at the top center.

Map of Martha's Vineyard bus lnes, June 2014

Map of Martha’s Vineyard bus lnes, June 2014

Out to Martha’s Vineyard

Entry begun Tuesday, June 24, at 10:10 am

Slept well, got up for breakfast, looked out the window at the harbor in the morning sun, and finished typing up yesterday’s entry.

Sunrise through hotel room window, Tuesday June 24

Sunrise through hotel room window, Tuesday, June 24

I am now sitting on the shade on the top deck of the Seastreak ferry, which is truly streaking for Martha’s Vineyard. If it takes one hour flat out at this speed straight through Wood’s Hole, and across Vineyard Sound, one can only imagine how long it took Ishmael and Queequeg on the packet boat in the early 1840s to get to Nantucket, much farther out in the sea than Martha’s Vineyard.

Seastreak  heading to Oak Bluff on Martha's Vineyard

Seastreak heading to Oak Bluff on Martha’s Vineyard

The sky is a soft light blue this morning. The water is a deeper blue, but about as light as the sky where boats cutting through it here have left their wakes. Vanessa was telling me before we got to the boat about Eva Liput, a former New Bedford fishing captain iwho is now creating huge semiabstract paintings whose patterns derive from the wakes made by the boats she has sailed.  (This concept reminds me of the Circuit prints that Frank Stella made in the 1980s, inspired by the tracings he saw in the plywood backing after cutting the metallic shapes for his Circuit relief paintings.). We see no wakes in the water now, as we head east and look south.  Only the deep, blue, breezy sea all the way to the distant, unobstructed horizon line.

Ocean Horizon from ed 9-14

Unobstructed horizon line to the south

As Vanessa and I were standing here on the upper deck, we were delighted to see Lesley Walker, our fellow Voyager from Australia. So now we are three. Lesley had prepared for our voyage on the Morgan by going on her first whale watch, from Plymouth out to Stellwagen Banks, where she saw a profusion of humpbacks for more than an hour, plus a minke whale breaching. One of the humpbacks came right up to their boat, slowly rolled, and playfully slapped the water with its fin.

Lesley Walker and Vanessa Hodgkinson on Seastreak to Martha's Vineyard

Lesley Walker and Vanessa Hodgkinson on Seastreak to Martha’s Vineyard

Entry continued, Thursday, June 27, 7:30 am

The weather and the ride to Oak Bluff on Martha’s Vineyard were perfect. We had a quick, distant glimpse of the Charles W. Morgan at the dock at Vineyard Haven as we passed outside that harbor on our way around to Oak Bluff on Nantucket Sound.

Passing Vineyard Haven on the way to Oak Bluff

Passing Vineyard Haven on the way to Oak Bluff

I think the water, as we got off the ferry at Oak Bluff, is the purest translucent green I’ve ever seen. I asked at the ticket booth where to find the terminal for the Martha’s Vineyard Transit Authority, where we each planned to purchase a day pass for $7. The agent pointed along the shore and said it was “three lampposts down and across the street.”

Getting East

Entry begun Monday, June 23, 8:30 pm

Exultation is not the first word that comes to mind about travel these days. The airplanes that carried me from Cincinnati to Philadelphia and from there to Providence had the smallest seating space I ever remember. In Philadelphia there was barely time to get from one concourse to the next, connected by a shuttle bus, by the time the plane for Providence was supposed to board. I get there just in time but it wasn’t loading. There was an unspecified mechanical problem and no estimate yet about how long it might last. At least that would presumably give my checked luggage time to catch up with my plane, which was a very long distance from where we had landed. The delay lasted only about twenty minutes, and things began to get better. Beginning with the woman who had the window seat to my immediate right, even more confined than my aisle seat.

I love how you meet people traveling you would meet in no other way. Somehow Japan came up as the plane was preparing to taxi and it turns out she and her two teenage sons had spent six weeks backpacking on Japan’s public transportation, seing the sights and sleeping in the cubicle hotels, having such a good time they did not want to come home. Today’s mission was quite different. Her mother in the East is suffering from Alzheimer’s and is being nearly starved to death by the daughter (sister of my seatmate) who had taken her in, it turned out, only to siphon off the mother’s monthly benefit check. A sister in the South, and police in the town where the mother now lives, had agreed that the mother had to be extricated from this intolerable situation, an operation my seatmate, with the local police on call, was to perform tomorrow morning, taking Mom to Sis in Florida before flying back to the city near the Great Lakes where she works two jobs totaling 60 hours a week, both sons now having left the empty nest.

During the two flights I read about half of The Charles W. Morgan by John F. Levitt, first published in 1973 and updated by Mystic Seaport staff in 2013. This book is answering some of my questions and telling me many things entirely new. The cabin boy on this ship usually did sleep near the officers’ quarters, whereas the cook was sometimes assigned to the forecastle. The relatively spacious quarters of the “captain’s day room” in the Morgan has something to do with the fact that five different captains had wives living aboard with them, one of whom gave birth during the course of the voyage, the new son replacing the captain’s sixteen-year-old son from a previous marriage who had recently died in a fall from the mast. Yes, there were floggings on this ship, even after the practice was outlawed, and more than one near mutiny.

Dick Russell, Eye of the Whale, 2001

Dick Russell, Eye of the Whale, 2001

It might not be so surprising that Melville knew about the long history of the Makah Indians hunting whales along the Olympic Peninsula near Ozette, because the Morgan spent considerable time hunting in those very waters in the 1840s. In 1862, the Morgan joined the whale ships that had begun to send boats into the “shallow waters” of Scammon’s Bay in Baja California “to hunt down female whales and their calves.” One female fought back so strongly to protect her young that she “stove” two of the Morgan’s whale boats. In the 1850s, Charles Melville Scammon, for whom the lagoon was named, had been the first whaling captain to send armed whale boats into the gray whale lagoons for (usually) easy kills. He eventually had a change of heart and in the 1870s published an illustrated treatise on the species (Marine Mammals of the North-Western Coast of North America) that is still a classic (see Dick Russell’s Eye of the Whale).

Fairfield Inn, New Bedford

Fairfield Inn, New Bedford

 Things got better for me as soon as I saw the deep blue of the Atlantic Ocean through the window of the plane.  Ultramarine is the word that came to my mind and my eye at the same time. My checked bag in Providence got to the carousel almost as soon as I did. The Enterprise rental car agents were courteous and efficient. The air outdoors was fresh and breezy. Driving to New Bedford I saw two tug boats near the new bridge that skirts Providence, and the traffic was smooth the rest of the way on I-95. A huge new sign for the New Bedford Whaling Museum crowns the hill as you approach the city, a harpoon, rather than an arrow, pointing to the right. MacArthur Drive, the street immediately in front of my waterfront hotel was newly paved, no doubt for the arrival of the Morgan. I was a little before check-in time at the Fairfield Inn, but they were still able to give me a room with a view of the harbor.

Images laid out to hang, Center Stteet Gallery, June 23

Images laid out to hang, Center Street Gallery, June 23

After checking in, I went to the Whaling Museum, where Melanie and other staff members were installing our Art of Seeing Whales exhibition. It was wonderful to see the Dutch and Chinese whales ready to go up on the wall right inside the entry, and before I left they were up. All walls were lined with works waiting to be hung, more or less in the order in which they will be mounted. There was some confusion about certain frames and mounts that took a while to work out (I walked up the hill to the flat file in our Archive in the Whaling Museum’s Research Library to get some matts that had been used when some of our Matt Kishes went to Washington, DC), but I am entirely confident that Christina and her team will have the exhibition close to its final form by the time Mike Dyer, Vanessa Hodgkinson, and I get off the ship two evenings from now, if we sail according to schedule.  When Christina arrived from a meeting, we went looking for Skin’s Path, Aileen Callahan’s charcoal drawing of the whale’s skin, which will fit just right in a niche where a space had opened up because works that had been chosen turned out to be more suitable for display cases than mounted on the wall.

Cork Wine and Tapas, formerly New England Boilder Repair and Welding

Cork Wine and Tapas, formerly New England Boilder Repair and Welding

I saw Vanessa at Crowell’s Gallery and frame shop, where she had shown her Moby-Dick works in January—and where some of the works for the exhibition at the Museum were currently being framed. Vanessa came over to the exhibition space soon after I went back and helped with some questions about the installation. Christina took Vanessa and me out for a drink and tapas at Cork, one of the many flourishing restaurants and cafés from which one can now choose in New Bedford, a far cry from the situation when we began developing our Archive here a decade ago. Christina and I enjoyed hearing about Vanessa’s plans for her adventure on the Morgan and related projects, and Christina and Vanessa enjoyed the twelve new drawings by Matt Kish that I had brought with me from the Midwest.

After we parted, I had clam chowder up the street at Freestone’s and returned to my hotel to write out and type up this entry. Vanessa will meet me here at 9 am tomorrow to take the ferry to Martha’s Vineyard. Mike Dyer was not at the Whaling Museum today because he is walking from New Bedford to Wood’s Hole before taking the ferry from there, admirable devotion to the spirit, and locomotion, of the era in which the Morgan first sailed.

Part 3. EXULTATION IS THE GOING

Emily Dickinson’s “Exultation is the going” (c. 1859) is poem number 76 in the edition of the Complete Poems published by Thomas Johnson in 1955.   It is number 143 in the Variorum edition of the poems published by Ralph W. Franklin in 1998. These two versions of the poem differ slightly because (a) this and most other Dickinson poems were not published in her lifetime and her handwritten manuscripts can be difficult to read and (b) she often wrote out different versions for herself or friends, just as the author of a twenty-first-century blog might save successive drafts of an entry before deciding to post it.

ed ms exultation is the going

Dickinson manuscript at Houghton Library, Harvard University, posted on Dickinson Electronic Archive

Here is the full text of the poem as published in the Johnson edition:

Exultation is the going

Of an inland soul to sea,

Past the houses—past the headlands—

Into deep Eternity—

 

Bred as we, among the mountains,

Can the sailor understand

The divine intoxication

Of the first league out from land?

Dickinson poems are often double-edged with irony, but this one is not. Dickinson often creates intentional dissonance by using imperfect, or slant, rhymes, but not here. In the first stanza, the three syllables of “soul to sea” are a perfect match for “Eternity” in both in sound and meaning. In the second stanza “understand” matches up equally well with “out from land?”

No veteran sailor, Dickinson suggests, can possibly understand the “divine intoxication” felt by a mountain-bred soul on its first venture out to sea. The officers and crew who will be sailing the Charles W. Morgan this summer will be feeling a certain professional kind of intoxication (they are all experienced in sailing tall ships powered only by wind in the sails, but none has ever sailed an actual whale ship of this vintage). But that will differ from the kind that is felt by those among the 38th Voyagers who have never experienced anything remotely close to what awaits us.

Dickinson’s poem is ostensibly about a first voyage out to sea. But it is the “soul,” not the “body,” that is doing the voyaging. For that reason, “Exultation is the going” is applicable to to any intoxicating spiritual transformation. Its governing words, without irony and available to all susceptible souls, are “Exultation,” “Eternity,” and “divine intoxication.”