Traverse City Record-Eagle

June 2, 2013

Maritime Alliance works to preserve an era

Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Michigan had been a state only four years when the Charles W. Morgan, a whaling ship, launched on July 21, 1841 in New England seas.

On July 21 this year — the Morgan’s 172nd birthday — the restored 113-foot ship and its eight replica whaleboats will officially celebrate a second christening. One of those replicas on board its decks will be built by three Michigan historic boat preservation groups, including Traverse City’s Maritime Heritage Alliance.

The Great Lakes Boat Building School, located in the eastern Upper Peninsula’s Les Cheneaux Islands, is putting the finishing touches on the almost 29-foot replica whaleboat similar to those used by harpooners in the 1800s. The boat is made of Michigan-only wood, primarily white oak and northern white cedar, and measures 28 feet and 5-3/4 inches long, with a 6-foot-5-inch beam (width at its widest point).

MHA shipwright volunteers are building the replica’s 16.5-foot mast, 24-foot boom and 23.5-foot gaff, all made from Douglas fir shipped from Oregon.

And the Michigan Maritime Museum Chapter of the Traditional Small Craft Association in South Haven is making oars for the boat and for another of the eight replica whaleboats to be constructed by historic boat preservation and restoration groups along the East Coast from Virginia to Maine. Each pair of oars is 15 or 16 feet.

The whaleboat will be a centerpiece at the Great Lakes Boat Building School’s graduation. After that it will come to Traverse City for a free public display on June 20 from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. in the MHA’s Edwin and Mary Brown Boat Shop in Building 1. Great Lakes Boat Building School instructors Bud McIntire and Pat Mahon will be on hand to discuss the project.

From there, they will trailer the replica to South Haven for a two-day boat conference and then continue the journey to Mystic Seaport Museum, the largest and oldest maritime museum in the United States, said Frank Clements, an MHA board member.

Originally constructed in 1841 by 31 workers over seven months, the Charles W. Morgan is the oldest surviving American commercial vessel. She sailed 37 voyages around the globe during her 80-year whaling career before retiring in 1921. She was preserved and displayed as an exhibit in South Dartmouth, Mass., until 1941 when she went to Mystic Seaport, a re-created 19th-century coastal village in Connecticut with historic ships, a working preservation shipyard and formal exhibit galleries.

The Morgan was declared a national historic landmark in 1966. More than 20 million museum visitors have walked her decks since then.

The United States dominated global whaling in the 1800s and the industry played an important role in the U.S. industrial revolution as well as Great Lakes development, manufacturing and shipping.

Whale oil was used to illuminate hundreds of Great Lakes lighthouses, including 126 in Michigan alone. It also was the only suitable lubricant for machinery in the country’s emerging industrial revolution prior to petroleum oils.

The whaling industry constituted nearly 20 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product in the mid-1800s, generating capital funds for investment in new industries such as textile mills railroads, foundries, coal mining and development of Midwest lands.

The Morgan is 27 feet 6 inches wide and its depth of hold measures 17 feet 6 inches. She has undergone several partial restorations along with annual maintenance. Her extensive three-year, $5 million final-phase restoration took place at Mystic Seaport’s Henry B. duPont Preservation Shipyard in Connecticut. She will embark on her 38th voyage to visit historic ports in New England in 2014.

The MHA is raising funds to cover the $1,500 cost of the fir timbers and shipping, Clements said. Anyone who gives $200 or more will receive a replica of the glass prisms used in whaleboats to refract light into the boat’s hold, he said. So far, the group has raised $960.

Tax-deductible contributions can be made by check, credit card or Paypal. Identify the contribution as “Whaleboat Fundraiser” and mail it to Maritime Heritage Alliance, 13268 S. West Bayshore Drive, Traverse City, MI 49684. For more information, go to:, the MHA’s web site.


Whaling boat historian to speak TRAVERSE CITY -- Matthew Stackpole, historian for the massive Charles W. Morgan whaling ship restoration, will speak in Traverse City Wednesday, June 5, at the Maritime Heritage Alliance benefit. The talk and slide presentation begins at 7 p.m. at the Edwin and Mary Brown Restoration Shop, 13268 West Bayshore Drive. An accomplished sailor, Stackpole spent time as a rigger and first mate on the schooner Shenandoah and is a former executive director of the Martha's Vineyard Museum. A reception for him and his wife, Martha, will be held after the talk. Light refreshments will be served. Tours of the MHA facilities and the schooner Madeline will be available. Reservations are required due to limited seating. A donation of $10 at the door is suggested. Call the Maritime Heritage Alliance at 946-2647 to reserve your seat or email