Published May 17. 2014 7:20AM Updated May 18. 2014 12:24AM
Spectators gathered at the Mystic drawbridge, City Pier in New London and points in between to watch the Charles W. Morgan depart Mystic Seaport for its 38th voyage Saturday.
Dozens of boaters took to the water to accompany the Morgan on its trip.
“We’re watching history,” said Mary Baudro of Gales Ferry. She said she prayed for, supported and watched the work on the ship.
“We’re ecstatic for this day, and I think God is, too, because the storm went away, and the sun is out,” she said.
The Morgan left the Seaport dock at 9:15 a.m. to the sound of cannon fire, while crowds cheered “hurrah!” and the sun burned through the clouds.
William Lawrence woke at 5:30 a.m. to travel from New Bedford, Mass., the ship’s original port, to see the Morgan make its way to New London. As a boy, Lawrence played on the decks of the Morgan, years after its whaling career was over. His parents’ summer home was next door to the estate where the vessel was moored in Dartmouth, Mass., and he visited her weekly.
“For 10 cents, I could roam the decks of the Charles W. Morgan,” Lawrence, 81, remembered Saturday morning as crews prepared for the departure. “... You never forget something like that,” he said.
Anne Nalwalk of North Stonington watched the vessel go through the drawbridge in Mystic.
“The height of those masts was what really got people’s attention,” she said. “They were awestruck.” Nalwalk drove to Avery Point so she could see it again.
Marilyn Brent of Niantic said the ship’s history was significant to her.
“I’m a Connecticut native and my roots are so deep here, it’s important to me,” she said, waiting for the ship at Avery Point. She thought of the millions spent and the work invested.
Brent’s late husband worked as a physician at the Coast Guard Academy, and he was buried at sea eight years ago, she said.
“He loved the sea,” she said.
On the rocky shores of University of Connecticut’s Avery Point campus in Groton, more than a dozen artists painted or sketched the vessel.
Joel LaRose of Ledyard used oil on canvas. His father, who served on a submarine during World War II and became an officer in the Navy, had a decorative plate with the Morgan on it.
“I still have it,” LaRose said.
The Morgan underwent a nearly six-year, multi-million-dollar renovation at the Seaport and had been there since arriving in 1941.
“This was a very gutsy move on the part of the Seaport and the board of trustees,” U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, said during a ceremony shortly before the ship departed. Labor, material and money arrived from across the country for the Morgan, he said.
John Dickens, chaplain for the Coast Guard Academy, prayed, “breathe life into her sails, O Lord.”
Donna D’Italia of Bolton remembers seeing the restoration work. “We’re members of the Seaport, so we climbed these stairs to get up to it, because it’s enormous. It’s so enormous,” she said. “You could see all the work they were doing. It was so incredible.”
Chris Jost of Groton said she moved into town when the work was just getting started.
She understood why people were so caught up. “It’s pretty historical to have this big community come together for it,” she said. “Everybody’s affected by it. It’s a sense of pride and community.”
In New London, people lined the edges of City Pier, some with binoculars, others using phones or iPads and cameras to capture the moment. At about 12:45 p.m., more than an hour ahead of schedule, the Morgan arrived in the city.
“It’s really something,” said Barbara Welsh of New London. “She’s always been a part of our past here, and it’s a pretty historic moment.”