Category Archives: 38th Voyage

Practical points about my 38th Voyage

I head to Connecticut this Friday, to start my brief experience on the 38th Voyage. It is true that it will start on Friday the 13th, but I’m not the least bit worried about that, since I was born on a Friday the 13th — in fact, a Friday the 13th in June, too: this Friday, in addition to starting my Voyage, is my 45th birthday. Sounds like a pretty great birthday present for me, I think!

The Voyagers consist of 8-10 people on each of the nine legs of the complete voyage. Each Voyager submitted a proposal and application, and then were selected by staff at Mystic Seaport. I believe there will be nine Voyagers on our leg (one seems to get added and dropped from message to message…); we’re all listed here, under the first leg from New London to Newport.

We will board the Morgan on Friday night, and will spend the night in the bunks of the fo’c’sle. On Saturday morning, because of tides in New London, we plan to depart at 4:30 am. Some guests, who won’t be sleeping on board, will need to arrive an hour earlier — yikes.

Anyway, my initial thought, when I heard we’d leave at 4:30, was “dang, that’ll be early.” Then I immediately thought “Whoa. We’ll see the sunrise.” and “That just means lots more sailing!” and “It’s only 24 hours; I want as much of it as possible to be at sea.” So now I’m pleased. I just hope I can sleep a bit, the night before.

We will be towed out from New London, by a tugboat that a family has donated (including the fuel!) to the Seaport for use throughout the voyage. Roann, another Seaport vessel, will be accompanying us the whole way, as well. We’ll get towed some distance toward Newport, and then the tow line will be dropped, and we’ll spend the day sailing. At some point, the tug will reattach the tow line, and we’ll be towed into port in Newport, at Fort Adams State Park.

Except we won’t! For some reason, we’ll be anchoring offshore, and taking small boats in to the pier. That sounds amazing to me. I hope we get to help drop those anchors. I also thought it’d be great if we could drop a whaleboat from the davits, as we used to do in Demo Squad, to head in. Who knows; maybe I can suggest it.

As to how much one will be allowed to do, I think each Voyager will pretty much be allowed to do as much as they want, as long as they’re not in the way. I hope to take a pen and paper (and camera) and hang out aloft for a while. And go out on the bowsprit, perhaps. And take a turn at the wheel. And furl a sail. And so much more…

Anyway, that’s what the day looks like. I doubt I’ll be able to post much while I’m on board, though I don’t know. If I can, I’ll post it to the Facebook page. I will spend time over the next week or so sharing images and experiences through the blog, and perhaps through some other photo sharing service, too.

38th Voyage Training: Climbing the Rigging

Back in April, when I went to the Seaport for training for the 38th Voyage, one big part of the day was to try climbing the rigging, in preparation for doing so while underway. I have climbed the Morgan’s rigging many, many times, but most often it was 20 years ago, when I worked on the Demo Squad at the Seaport. I’ve been aloft occasionally since then, but wasn’t sure how I’d do this time.

My main concern was my shoulder – I’ve got this annoying “frozen shoulder” that limits my range of mobility, and can occasionally be anywhere from painful to excruciating if it gets bumped in just the wrong way.

So, after spending the day in the Seaport library, I met up with a friend who has worked at the Seaport, and been in charge of the Demonstration Squad, for many years. She had some other friends who wanted to give a try at climbing before the full training day. She has the authority to let us try this when the grounds are closed – or, I imagine, whenever she feels like it.

We went over to the Joseph Conrad, because the rigging on Morgan wasn’t done yet, and it wouldn’t have been advisable to try climbing that rigging yet. I had been dressed for the library, but I gave climbing a try, anyway. We started heading up the foremast rigging, and I was very pleased to see that I did just fine. My lack of range in my shoulder isn’t that big a deal; you mostly keep your arms close in to you when you’re climbing. I didn’t climb over the top, but I felt like that was more because I was cold than because I couldn’t do it.

And the next day, with the other Voyagers, I did climb over the top on Conrad’s mainmast. Here are some photos I took from there.

IMG_3243   IMG_3245 IMG_3246These are all looking forward, from the mainmast to the foremast, where another Voyager (in yellow) was going over the top with the assistance of Seaport demo guy extraordinaire Tim (in orange).


Here’s a view from the main top toward the whaleboats that other Voyagers were in. We’d done some whaleboat rowing before going aloft. Whaleboats are a blast to row (and sail) and the Seaport received a set of ten new whaleboats for the voyage from a variety of schools and museums.

IMG_3254 Here’s a bit of a selfie from the main top. It was hard to take any good pictures of myself from up there, unfortunately.

38th Voyage training: Visiting the Library and Collections at Mystic Seaport

One of the great treasures of Mystic Seaport is its research collection. Like any museum, they are only able to display a very small portion of their collection at any given time.

I’ve spent a fair bit of time in the library there, both in its old and its new locations, but it’s always great to visit again. I have also often had a chance to visit the CRC, the building where the library, along with hundreds of small boats, and many other special items that can’t be on display, are stored.

Still, I never pass up a chance to visit the place. Here are a few shots of the hundreds and hundreds of boats in the mill:

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From there, we went to the collections storage area – ship models galore, paintings, drawers and drawers of scrimshaw, clothes and costumes, nautical instruments, and so much more.

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I can’t quite find ways to describe how important these collections, and the work they do, are. There’s so much more to a museum than just the exhibits, and the Seaport’s library, and its excellent staff, are a perfect example of that. Doing research in a collection like this makes it possible for people to learn new insights, discover old truths, and better understand what our ancestors did and why they acted as they did.

But libraries, especially specialized ones like the Seaport’s, generally don’t get a lot of financial support from their institution. Much smaller libraries (the Seaport’s is the largest maritime library in the US, and one of the largest in the world) have even less support, and are even harder pressed to justify their presence or growth of their part of the organization.

I feel certain that there must be ways to better monetize the resources in the research collection. I realize that could sound heretical, and probably sounds terrible. (I admit, “monetize” isn’t the loveliest word – but it is specific and accurate in this case, so I’ll stick with it.) But it is what needs to be done. A library needs to justify its value to the organization by generating revenue. There’s plenty that can be done for researchers that doesn’t involve revenue generation, but there is so much more that can be done for them, as well. And when it creates revenue, it gets attention within the organization, and is seen as a force for growth, rather than a drag on expenses. The fact that something cost money tends to give it greater ‘value’.

I would like to see maritime museum libraries work together to create tools that non-maritime people will want to use, and will want to pay for. I don’t know if it can happen, but if there’s a chance, I’d like to see if I can help make that so.

Training for the 38th Voyage: Visiting the Charles W. Morgan

In late April, I went to Mystic Seaport Museum, as part of training and preparation for the 38th Voyage. As previously noted, I’ve been to the Seaport many, many times, and have lived in Mystic twice – once while studying at the Seaport, and once while working there. So it is not a new place to me, but it is always a favorite.

This time, I went early so I could spend a day and a bit more working in the G.W. Blunt White Library, collecting information to add to my database. I got some help in the form of a smart young boy who was there with his mom; she was doing some genealogical research, and his computer wasn’t working, so I asked if he’d like to help me. I gave him a quick rundown on using the Library of Congress classification (because of course he was more familiar with the Dewey system used in his school and public libraries) and then we were off.

I had this view of a model of the whaler Two Brothers, from my desk:


After posting this on my Facebook page, several friends described how they’d seen the real ship, at its wreck site, in Hawaii.

The actual training program began the next morning. All the Voyagers who attended that training session (there was one other) gathered in the morning to do introductions, and learn a bit about the Seaport. As far as I could tell, only one Voyager had never been to the Seaport before. He was leaving early, too, to get to Vienna – I felt like maybe he wasn’t taking this thing seriously enough.

We broke into three groups, and my group was the first to visit the Morgan. Built in 1841, she has just completed a five-year restoration project. Many timbers were replaced, but some originals still remain, as seen here:


The portion on the left dates to the ship’s construction (so, 1840 or so) and the portion on the right is brand new, with this restoration, to replace rot.

In the hold, we saw some of the extensive fittings and changes made for the voyage. Extensive fire safety systems, and plumbing systems, have been installed for the voyage, including a bank of heads (toilets). While they’re installed in a permanent fashion, most of these will be removed when the ship returns to Mystic in August. Look at all of this:

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Here’s the crew bunks, where we’ll sleep. (We may have the option of sleeping on deck, if we so choose.) We’ll board at about 7pm the night before, spend the night on board, then sail away very early the next morning.


We then visited the Collections and Resource Center, which will get its own post.

38th Voyage: An Introduction

I’ve had a long relationship with Mystic Seaport. When I was 16, my mom, brother, and I drove across the country and my mom included a visit to the Seaport on our itinerary, along with museums like Colonial Williamsburg, the Chicago Art Institute, the American Natural History Museum, Plimoth Plantation, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and many more, with stops at the homes of friends and family in Ames, Iowa; Bloomington, Indiana; Winnetka, Illinois; and more. The ultimate destination was a week at a rented house on Martha’s Vineyard; on the way back to Seattle we drove up Michigan to visit Mackinac Island, then into Canada and back across, through Banff, Lake Louise, and Moose Jaw (in the distance).

It was a remarkable trip, and I suppose my introduction to Mystic Seaport on that trip represented a significant turning point in my life. A few years later, I learned about the Williams-Mystic Program in American Maritime Studies, and I delayed my graduation from college to attend the program. A year after that I returned to the Seaport for the spring, summer, and fall, to work on the Demonstration Squad. The Demo Squad shows visitors how all sorts of stuff is done, not just climbing the rigging and setting sails. When I was there, we would show how one splits a cod, we’d set up and run the breeches buoy tool that was used to rescue folks from near-shore shipwrecks, drop the anchor and then haul it back up with the winch on the L.A. Dunton, and of course we also set and furled sails on the Charles W. Morgan and the Joseph Conrad. That was a great work experience that I will always treasure; I made life-long friends while I was there for just a few months.

After that, I returned to attend Sea Music Festivals, either to listen the music, or to present at the associated symposia, or both. And then, my wife and I got married at the Seaport. I’ve returned whenever I reasonably can. Clearly, the place means a lot to me.

When I first heard about the Seaport’s plans to sail the Morgan at the end of her five-year restoration project, I didn’t believe it. I remember that my brother-in-law mentioned an article he’d read in the Hartford Courant, that mentioned these plans. When I’d worked at the Seaport, we had always said to visitors that the ship would not sail again; she was a museum artifact and that simply wasn’t in the cards. But my brother-in-law was right, and a few years ago, at a maritime history conference held at the Seaport, I heard the new Seaport president, Steve White, talk about the museum’s plans to sail the Morgan again. White talked at a jammed session in the Munson Room, in the library building. One audience member had many, many suggestions of where they could go to find sailors for the voyage. White gently assured the audience that finding people to sail on Morgan was the least of his worries at that point! I wondered how I could be one of those folks, but couldn’t imagine how I could possibly arrange it.

Fast forward a few years, to last fall, and the Seaport announced their “38th Voyagers” program. This trip will be the Morgan’s 38th voyage, and the Voyagers program is an application program in which 8-10 people will join each leg of the trip, to work on various projects related to the voyage, whaling, the impact of maritime history on American history, and more. I duly applied, and was thrilled to be accepted to the program.

In a future post I’ll write about what my project will involved (here’s a hint: you’re reading part of it), but for now, I want to briefly lay out what this voyage will look like. Later I’ll write about why I believe it matters so much.

The primary goal of the voyage was to create a homecoming for the Morgan in New Bedford, Massachusetts. The ship was built in New Bedford, and launched there, in 1841. The ship will be at State Pier in New Bedford for nine days, open to visitors, including over the 4th of July weekend. I understand that New Bedford is incredibly excited about the return of the ship, as they should be, and are planning to really put together a great visit for the Morgan. In addition to New Bedford, Morgan will make a number of other visits on the way to and from New Bedford, including Newport, RI, Provincetown, MA, and Martha’s Vineyard, and Boston.

The itinerary for the trip is shown below.

Morgan 38th outlineMAP

I went back to the Seaport in late April for a training day, and a chance to go climbing, in preparation for climbing the rigging while under sail. All in all, it was a great trip.

I will be sailing on the first leg, from New London, CT, to Newport, RI. I will post more about preparation for the trip, and other events related to it (and!) soon.

Welcome Back

This is the first of what should be many posts on the blog. I have had some problems with the blog for a while, but thanks to a crack team of experts, I’m back on track. I plan to be adding to the site a lot over the next few weeks.

Some will be about changes and improvements at (new content, for instance), plus recent conference trips, but a lot will be about the upcoming 38th Voyage of Mystic Seaport’s Charles W. Morgan. I’ll be sailing on the first leg, from New London, Connecticut, to Newport, Rhode Island, and I plan to share a lot about the trip before, during, and after, here on the blog. Please let me know what you think about the trip and my comments – I look forward to hearing from you!

Peter McC