In 2005, web visitors and students from five Connecticut schools experienced the adventure of a lifetime - without ever leaving their computers. Through Mystic Seaport's web site, visitors accompanied the crew of the Picton Castle, a 179-foot tall ship, as she sailed around the world in a year-long voyage which included stops at ports once visited by the Charles W. Morgan, the last wooden whaleship in the world.
Weekly journals and photos transmitted from the Picton Castle, as well as historic photographs and journal and log entries linking the Picton Castle experiences to those of the Charles W. Morgan (which sailed from 1841-1921) were regularly posted on the site.
Students followed the voyage as part of classroom projects which began when each school sent a 'crew member' to join the Picton Castle's voyage. These figurines, complete with biography, were created by the children to travel aboard the vessel and serve as ambassadors to classrooms across the globe. Through the project, students gained a firmer grasp of what a whaler's life truly entailed, and the challenges they encountered while at sea. View a sampling of these 'crew members' and their bios below.
Picton Castle left Lunenberg, Nova Scotia, May 29. Stops included the Galapagos Islands, Fiji, the Cook Islands and Cape Town, South Africa. For more information, please visit www.picton-castle.com.
Photo courtesy of Captain Daniel Moreland, Picton Castle.
'Crew Members' of the Picton Castle
Dean's Mill School -- Sandy Steward Idler
Interdistrict School for Arts and Communication (ISAAC)-- William Matthew Green
Interdistrict School for Arts and Communication (ISAAC) -- James Younger
Montessori Discovery School -- Jeremiah Montessori
Pine Point School -- Nathaniel "Nat" Owen Coffin
DEAN'S MILL SCHOOL, Stonington -- My name is Sandy Steward Idler. I am the oldest child in my family. I have ten brothers and sisters. I am a girl. I am 20 years old.
Where are you from? I am an immigrant of Sweden. My family was poor and my father was put in jail because someone framed him and said that he committed a crime that he really didn't do. Therefore, my family is even poorer. I worked many jobs to get my father out of jail, and also to earn enough money to buy myself a ticket to America "to climb the ladder to success". I would cook, sew clothing and tutor the children on the stars and knot-tying for a wealthy family. When I arrived in America I noticed all the whaling ships. I became very interested and decided the best way to make a lot of money for my education and family was to do a man's job.
What is your status on board the ship? First, I was Navigator because I knew the constellations; my identity as a girl was discovered, but because I saved the ship from being lost in a storm, the Captain made me his 1st mate.
Why are you aboard this ship? To be adventurous and to do a job that only boys and men are allowed to do so I could make a lot of money for my education and family.
Is this your first whaling voyage? Yes
Did you come aboard this ship because you had no other options? Is this an opportunity for you or an act of desperation? It was an opportunity and an act of desperation to make money for my family, and so I could have an education.
What type of education have you received? None
Can you read and write? A little. I'm self-taught, especially in the constellations which are needed for navigation. I am also great at knot-tying.
Do you have family ashore? No (they're in Sweden!)
Are you the first person in your family to whaling? Yes
Are you well prepared to start this voyage, or might you have to buy something from the ship's store? I had to buy a knife to cut my hair to look like a boy, as that is the only way I could get a good-paying job.
What did you bring with you for this voyage? Nothing, but the men's clothes I made when I worked for the wealthy family, a knife and the sewing needle given to me by my parents when I left Sweden.
Before you went to sea, what was your longest journey? Was it by land or sea or both? Sailing to America on a ship of immigrants looking to "climb the ladder of success" in America!
What skills do you have that will help you aboard ship? Knowing constellations, sewing (where I've made myself some men's clothing), organization, knot-tying skills, bravery, confidence, curiosity.
Have you ever committed a crime? Yes, pretending to be a boy!
Are you sailing under your real name, or an alias? Sandy is my real name.
Do you know what whale oil is used for? Yes, oil for lamps and perfume.
Do you eat whale meat? No-only if there is nothing else to eat!
What will you miss about life ashore when you're at sea? Land!! Fresh meat like beef, vegetables, warm bread right out of the over, lemons and limes.
What frightens you about the upcoming voyage? Whales overturning our boat! Scurvy! And if it were discovered that I am a girl! Also, my family wouldn't know what happened to me! Storms! Sea monsters!
What excites you about the upcoming voyage? Seeing the world!
ISAAC, New London -- William Matthew Green, aka "Oink," was born on May 13, 1816 in Toronto, Canada. His father, William Charles Greene, was a successful blacksmith and his mother, Elizabeth Ann Greene, was a seamstress. He had three younger sisters, May, June and April. William grew up moderately well as a white boy. His family moved to Halifax, Nova Scotia when he was five. There he went to a public school until age fourteen, when his father started to teach him smithing. William became a successful blacksmith when he was fifteen years old when he sold his first item, a mast hoop for the lookout on a whaling ship. That's how he got interested in sailing.
After William became a blacksmith, he went back to school to learn his ropes. Literally, learn his ropes. His first ocean voyage was on the merchant ship Annelise, sailing to England. He was sixteen years old at the time. He fell over board three days after leaving port on a perfectly calm day. It was his watch and one of the livestock cages opened, sending a frantic pig charging at him. Will was knocked off the boat into the North Atlantic Ocean. He was recovered but ever since has been terrified of pigs. That incident earned him the nick-name: "Oink". By the time Will was nineteen he had sailed on a total of seven merchant voyages. During his most recent voyage across the Atlantic on the Lisa, a mutiny arose. The first mate spoke only French and William was the only other member of the crew who spoke French and English (the Captain spoke French and English but Will didn't want to alert him). Will was able to talk the first mate and his round robin friends out of the mutiny. The captain was grateful for his loyalty.
As a tall, muscular man at age twenty, with brown hair and a short beard, Will was quite a hit with the ladies. But finally he married Eglantine Moss and now has twins, Katherine and Anna. This will be his first voyage around the world and maybe as a sea worthy blacksmith. He enjoys sailing and hopes to make a living as a shipsmith. His hobbies include reading and tying knots and his favorite iron piece to make is a horseshoe. As a courageous, loyal man, William Matthew Greene should have no trouble on this Picton Castle voyage.
ISAAC, New London -- The name James Younger may sound like a gunfighter, but he isn't - he's a blubber-hunter. On March 1, 1781, James Younger was born in Mystic, CT. Twenty years later, the hard-working, serious, young European man set out to sea. He worked as carpenter aboard the Mystic whaleship Enterprise. This is the story of his life so far.
Younger was born an orphan. His father, John, had died, due to a wound received during the American Revolution, a month before the birth of his son. Mary, his mother, died during the delivery of young James. James grew up with his Aunt Dorothy. He lived a pretty decent life, mainly because of his father's $1,000 life insurance. He spent many a summer day sketching and reading in his Aunt's apple orchard. Before receiving his high school diploma, Younger met 17-year-old Nicole Mariachi. They met in their last year at school and started dating just after graduation. When Younger turned 20, his Aunt became handicapped. She fell off her horse when it bucked at a loud, sudden noise. James decided to take his bachelor's degree in architecture and his knowledge of carpentry to sea in order to earn some money for the family. Until he returned, Aunt Dorothy would live with Nicole's family.
The Enterprise was ship-rigged and carried three masts. It was an old ship that had been used as a merchant vessel before it became a whaleship. During James' voyage on the Enterprise, the crew caught an average of twelve whales a year. Unfortunately, the casks were infested by termites and they had to stop in Honolulu and hire a cooper to build more casks. They returned to Mystic in 1808.
Younger is still living strong. At 35, he sells model boats and once every eight years goes on another voyage. He married Nicole at 26 years of age and has three children: Daniel, 8, Joseph, 5, and Robert, 3. He is now looking into his third voyage aboard the wonderful, one-of-a-kind, Picton Castle.
MONTESSORI DISCOVERY SCHOOL, Norwich -- My name is Jeremiah Montessori. I am 21. I am originally from Italy. I came to Mystic, CT, an American state, when I was 13. It was my longest voyage. I speak English. I am first mate. I am here because it is an opportunity for me to write a story about a whaling ship. This is not my first voyage. I was educated in Montessori school until age 12, in Italy, so I can read and write. I have a wife named Isabella, 2 children named Samuel and Maria, and a dog named Sasha who is a German Shepard. I am the first person in my family to go whaling. I come well prepared with a sea chest, a change of clothes, a knife, and a New Testament Bible . The skills that will help me are experience, knowledge of tools, knowing how to heal wounds, raise sails, tie knots, cooking blubber, and flensing. I am good at spotting whales too. I am traveling under my real name and have never committed a crime. I am very superstitious so do not bring a black cat with you. I know that whale oil is used for lamp oil, margarine, and shoe polish. I do not eat whale meat. What I will miss most of all is my children. The things that frighten me are dying, and a disaster such as a whale crashing into the ship. The things that excite me are catching my next whale, being on a ship again, being first mate, and seeing new places.
PINE POINT SCHOOL, Stonington -- My name is Nathaniel "Nat" Owen Coffin. Growing up on Martha's Vineyard, a small island off the coast of Massachusetts, gave me many opportunities to explore the life of the sea. My father was a whaler who was lost at sea when I was 10 years old. My mother's life was hard bringing up my sister, my brother and me. My brother, Ed, and I have signed on to this voyage in the hope of having money to bring back to our mother so we can take care of her. While we are on our voyage, she is living with my sister and her husband. I know this will most likely be a long expedition because I have been whaling once before and was gone for three years. I hope that my mother is still alive when my brother and I return.
At 22, I am four years older than my brother who is also going on this trip. He is a carpenter by trade and communicates through "island sign". I will be able to help him when he needs to "talk" with others on the journey. Before my father died, I went to a one room schoolhouse where I learned to read, write and first heard of some of the places I later saw. After my father died, my uncle Jonas Burrows taught me how to read the stars and told me stories of the whaling life.
On the voyage, I will be a boatsteerer. Once a whale is spotted, I will be in the whaleboat with other men. My job is to row and approach close enough to the whale so that I can spear it with my killing lance. After the whale is killed the work continues to get the oil from it. The oil will be stored and taken home to be used for fuel for lamps, candles, shoe polish and soap. Getting the oil from the whale is a messy, long process. I have brought three changes of clothes with me and hope that I do not need more. I had to buy clothes and a blanket from the ship's store on my first journey, and I returned home owing the captain.
I will keep a journal of my trip recounting my experiences. While I will miss the rest of my family, I am lucky that my brother is with me. We will see many new places together.