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First Person

Mystic Seaport’s shipyard director on a whaler’s restoration

As the antique Charles W. Morgan prepares to sail again, Quentin Snediker describes a find in Boston that helped make her whole.  

Dennis A Murphy

The Morgan’s career as a whaling vessel began in 1841 when she was launched at the Hillman Brothers Shipyard in New Bedford. That was the height of the sperm whale industry, and she represented the pinnacle of design for that purpose. She served 80 years continuously at sea whaling, with very short periods of layup between her 37 voyages. She has been [at Nystic] since 1941.

Three years ago, when we were at the height of reframing the ship, we got a call from a contractor in Charlestown who was building Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital. In the process of excavating the foundation, they found these large timbers, and fortunately one of the individuals recognized it as ship timber, and they called me to take a look.

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The Navy Yard there had a timber basin where large timbers were stored in saltwater so they wouldn’t rot. By 1912, the Navy was no longer building or repairing large wooden vessels, so they filled it in. It was covered with mud and saltwater for about 99 years, and when it came out, it was some of the best ship timber we’ve ever seen, made in the age of wooden ships by masters of their trade, from what was then virgin forest. Through the cooperation of Walsh Brothers, the contractors, we wound up getting about 18 tractor-trailer loads. It was manna from heaven.

Restoring the Charles W. Morgan is important because she represents a major industry that had tremendous impact on the American economy. She is the last of her kind, the last of well over 2,700 vessels. After the restoration, she’s probably in as good if not better condition than she was on her last whaling voyage. So if she was ever going to take another voyage, now was the time.     

— As told to Joel Brown

Morganmysticseaport.org
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