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Whaler Morgan gets a rousing send-off as next leg of journey set to begin

By Johanna Somers

Publication: theday.com

Published June 13. 2014 3:06PM   Updated June 14. 2014 12:44PM
Sean D. Elliot/The Day
Mystic Seaport volunteer Bill Steinmayer, best known for his role reciting from memory chapters of "Moby Dick" at the Seaport, stands in period costume during a ceremonial send-off for the historic whaleship Charles W. Morgan Friday at City Pier in New London.

New London — During the sendoff ceremony Friday afternoon for the historic whaleship Charles W. Morgan at City Pier in New London, assorted lawmakers, New London’s mayor, the ship’s captain and other officials delivered farewell speeches before a crowd of about 100 people, some of whom were drenched by rain and others who were decked out in rain jackets and umbrellas. 

“I dare say I don’t know any state where they would have their senators and congressman standing in the rain on a day like this,” said Dan Basta, the director of the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, a part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. 

Several locals said nothing would have prevented them from seeing off the Morgan, which underwent a five-year restoration and is now prepared to undertake its 38th voyage. It will head to Newport, R.I., at 6:30 a.m. Sunday instead of Saturday as originally planned because of rough seas expected off Point Judith, R.I. 

“It’s been everything Morgan for the last several months,” said Trudi Busey of Montville, who volunteers at Mystic Seaport. 

East Lyme resident Janet Anderson said she’s an avid Morgan follower; she has a family portrait in front of the Morgan, and her grandchildren’s names are listed on pegs used in the restoration of the ship. “We’ve been to everything,” she said. 

Members of the Morgan’s crew also stood in the rain while the guests and their captain, Richard “Kip” Files of Rockland, Maine, addressed the crowd. 

Files said he is confident that the Morgan will sail well. “The whalers had figured it out by 1841. They had figured it out … but, boy, have I been shocked by how well she did it,” he said. 

Roxanne “Rocky” Hadler, who calls Houston, Texas, home and is the third mate on the Morgan, said once she heard Files was the captain, the decision to apply for work on the Morgan was a “no-brainer.” She said she negotiated with her previous boss on a steel tall ship to leave her job early to join the Morgan. 

“Everybody that I know in the tall ship world had said, ‘Congratulations, congratulations, congratulations,’” she said. 

Stephen White, president of Mystic Seaport, started the event by recognizing the whaleship itself. “Isn’t she beautiful?” he asked. “I think she anticipates what’s about to happen.” 

White remarked on the extent of the work done on the Morgan and noted that more than 5,000 people have visited it. “While here, she has sailed for the first time in over 90 years,” he said. “Not just once or twice, but four times she has sailed while here, and what a joy it has been.” 

The Morgan, the last surviving wooden whale ship in the world, is headed up the coast of New England for a two-month tour to Newport, Vineyard Haven, New Bedford, Provincetown, Boston and Cape Cod Canal before returning to New London and Mystic. 

New London Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio said during Friday’s ceremony that he would keep his speech short — just like his college commencement speaker did during a rainstorm. “My remarks are as follows — in their entirety,” he said. “To Mystic Seaport on its endeavors so far, congratulations; and to the captain and crew of the Morgan, good luck and G odspeed.” 

“Well done, mayor,” said one of the speakers. 

Several speakers emphasized how the Morgan’s modern-day mission was the antithesis of its very first — now its job is to teach people about protecting the environment and marine life instead of hunting whales. 

“Her cargo today is knowledge,” said U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn. “The whales she once sought to kill, she now seeks to protect.” 

Congratulations also were accorded the volunteers at Mystic Seaport, the crew members and the community for its support. 

Susan Funk, executive vice president of the Seaport, said that New London was the “perfect” place for the Morgan to have its sendoff ceremony. The river is flowing, a train is noisily going by and there is “energy” in the city, she said. 

“This is your voyage,” Funk said. “This is America’s voyage.” 

U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn, said he was proud of what the people of Connecticut and Mystic Seaport had done. “People in Connecticut don’t know that this city was the third most robust in the country,” he said. “It’s this ship now that will allow Connecticut to tell its story in a new way.” 

George Mathanool, chairman of Groton’s Economic Development Commission, agreed. “It’s fantastic that we have a new ambassador for the state of Connecticut,” he said. “This will be an attraction for the world over.” 

The Morgan represented Americans’ excellence in shipbuilding from day one, said U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District. 

Carl Swebilius of Orange, a scraping and painting volunteer for the Morgan restoration project, said the work he did — scraping away potentially dangerous lead paint and then repaint the ship — would have been tedious without the support of his fellow volunteers, some of whom called the years of restoration work calming. 

“It’s a form of meditation, and it really connects you with a piece of history,” said Wayne Dailey of Mystic. 

Before concluding the sendoff ceremony, the group gave the ship three rounds of “Hip, hip, hooray!” 

The cheers prompted volunteer Bill Jacobik of Griswold to point out that crowds aboard local ferries as well as on shore have been shouting the same chant at various points throughout the Morgan’s recent sea trials.

j.somers@theday.com

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