Sailing into summer

The MORGAN at Vineyard Haven

Summertime is at my fingertips. I can smell it. No, It’s not just the pine tar that stains my hands – it’s the warm fragrance that surrounds the island of Martha’s Vineyard.

We departed on June 18 from the busy yachting town of Newport. With Narragansett Bay at our stern, the seas began to swell. It took us a day’s sail to reach the island’s northern harbor in Vineyard Haven.

Nine voyagers had joined us for the journey. There was a playwright, a poet, historians, artists and a descendant from the the Wampanoag Tribe (Aquinnah) of Gay Head, Massachusetts. Each person applied back in December with a proposal for a project that would be enhanced by spending a day sailing aboard the Morgan.

One voyager I met was a naval historian named Jason Smith. As the Morgan rolled gracefully over the swells, Jason headed down to the fo’c’sle and climbed into his bunk. He later emerged and told me he was listening to the creaking of the ship’s timbers as the bow plunged from the crests into the swash below.

The other voyagers also appeared caught up in the day. They sang songs and read passages from Moby-Dick.

Matthew Stackpole, this ship's historian reads passages from Moby Dick.

Matthew Stackpole is the Major Gifts Officer for the Morgan‘s restoration and an expert on the vessel’s history. Here he is reading passages from Moby-Dick.

There is something magical about this ship that stirs emotion and enlivens the soul. I can see it in the eyes of everyone on board. When I went aloft, I took a moment to stop and gaze at the horizon.

Although I have only been living aboard the Morgan for three weeks, I’m beginning to reflect on what all of this means to me.

I often imagine myself living among the many hands who walked the decks of this ship over a century ago. Late at night, after everyone else has gone to bed, I sit in the hold reading stories of the ship from sources like John Leavitt’s enthralling history of the Charles W. Morgan and Nelson Cole Haley’s first-hand account in his book Whale Hunt. By the end of this voyage, I hope I can follow their example and have my own story to contribute.

By late afternoon we passed the sandy shores and bluffs of Cuttyhunk Island to the northwest, and for the first time in history, the Charles W. Morgan entered Vineyard Sound.

We arrived in Vineyard Haven to a warm welcome of honking horns and celebratory cannon fire. From what I’ve observed, the island appears flat, full of sand dunes and tidal inlets. Vintage cars and trucks trundle through town hauling various odds and ends, and everyone seems to move at their own pace. This is the island life.

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Gathering on the breakwater to welcome the Morgan

At the end of the long work day, some of the crew went swimming off the ship. I’ve recorded one of the deckhands Aaron practicing his heroic jump off the Morgan’s cathead. Can you tell he’s having fun?

I’ve spent the past two days helping with tightening the rig, and I’ve come to the realization that my work clothes will inevitably end up tarred and tattered. Such is the life on tall ships! Tuning the rig entails tightening the shrouds and the stays. Shrouds are rope ladders that sailors use to climb the masts, and stays are the cables that secure the masts and sails. After several days of sailing, the rig loosens slightly. So we secure the shrouds with homemade tourniquets made from battens twisted with a sticky rope called a spanish windlass. The lanyards that hold the bottom of the shrouds are untied and then cinched by the Spanish windlass. We then connect chain-falls to the tourniquet and take out the slack. It’s a timely process, and the tar on the shrouds tends to get everywhere, but the work has to be done to ensure the safety of the ship.

Pine tar, YUM!

Pine tar, YUM!

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Dan goes aloft for rig tightening

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The crew now sings while we work. The first mate was serenaded with a rousing rendition of the Disney musical “Newsies.” Although he won’t admit it, I think the first mate Sam secretly likes it. I’m hoping we get some chanteys under our belt before we get to New Bedford.

Starboard watch took one of the whaleboats out sailing yesterday. It’s really impressive to watch those little boats slice and tack through the waters. I will be making a whaleboat video soon, so be on the lookout! Here’s a preview.

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The weekend is almost here, and I’m looking forward to exploring the rest of the island. If you happen to be visiting the Vineyard, be sure to check out our dockside exhibit. The Morgan will be open for tours. Stop by and say hello!

Oh, and the crew have also settled on “Stowie” as my official nickname. Although there were many notable ones like “Baggiewrinkle,” “Dunnage,” and “Muktuk,” the name “Stowie” is what rolls off the tongue.

So call me Stowie.

More adventures to come,