Reflections of a Stowaway

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Last night’s voyage to New London offered me a rare and magical glimpse back in time.

The slack tide came late on July 29, so we couldn’t leave the Cape Cod Canal until noon. With seas at 3 to 5 feet, we prepared for the long 18 hour transit from Buzzards Bay to New London, CT.

I spent the afternoon in my bunk listening to the the sea swashing against the timbers. Occasionally the ship’s bell sounded when the bow crashed through ocean swells.

From Buzzard’s Bay we continued southwest through the chops of Rhode Island Sound. At 18:00 I was called up for watch.

It’s a rare sight sailing the Charles W. Morgan with no passengers onboard. The core crew living and working on this vessel worked her through the night.

For the first time I saw the lower topsails flying in the night sky. It was glorious. Our slacked lines swayed with the ocean’s roll,  and we furled the sails under the stars.

 A 10 second exposure revealed "questions" from the stars

A 10 second exposure revealed “questions” from the stars

Before this 38th Voyage, the last time the Morgan treaded these waters was 73 years ago on an overcast day in October of 1941. The Morgan was towed from Fairhaven to Mystic, the port that many assumed would be her final resting place.

The Charles W. Morgan in transit in 1941 during what was thought to be her final voyage

The Charles W. Morgan in transit in 1941 during what was thought to be her final voyage. Photo Courtesy of Edouard Stackpole/Meredith Press

The Morgan appeared to be in rough shape from the hurricane of ’38 that had ravaged New England. Her sails were torn from the yards, and sheets of copper plating and paint chips peeled off from her hull. Many assumed it would be the last time the Morgan would ever see open ocean again.

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Photo Courtesy of Edouard Stackpole/Meredith Press

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Photo Courtesy of Edouard Stackpole/Meredith Press

Only a few passengers were present for that trip from New Bedford to Mystic in 1941. One passenger was a New Bedford journalist named Everett Allen. This is what he wrote:

“Night adds much to the brief illusion that the past is close and the future shut out. I am writing on the bare wood mess table…Up through the center rises a raking section of the paint-caked mizzenmast. A sputtering yellow-burning lantern, resting on a pair of cracked-leather bellows for added height is the only light…It is not hard to hear the men and movements of a century ago, especially since we made our last tour of the ship by torchlight….the empty bunks seemed not quite empty.”

I’ve heard it countless times that this voyage only happens “once in a lifetime.” I have sailed aboard the Charles W. Morgan for two months now,  but I haven’t really been able to quantify that “once in a lifetime” moment. Until now.

I’ve seen and experienced some incredible things this summer, but gazing at the stars from midships as the world’s last whaling ship rounded Fishers Island is truly something I will probably never see or do again in my lifetime.

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Peering out into the open sea at midnight, I could feel a warm presence embrace us like a warm tropical breeze.

As we passed Fishers Island the lights of New London could be seen all aglow, guiding us to safe harbor.

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It was 02:15 when we arrived at the pier. This time there were no cannon shots or cheering crowds to welcome us. The tired crew slunk away to their bunks, and I went to bed dreaming of the restless sea.

Tomorrow we day sail,