In Honor of Captains

A friend of the Museum recently surprised me with an interesting letter which included a poem by Stephen Vincent Benet called “Clipper Ships and Captains.” I had not read this poem before, but I found that it spoke of two things that are so important to us at Mystic Seaport: captains and great ships. We are, of course, entirely focused on the Charles W. Morgan’s 38th Voyage which begins in just over a month’s time on May 17. Captain Kip Files will be the Morgan’s 22nd captain, following the tradition of successful leadership. It is the combination of a talented captain and a great vessel, along with an able crew, that makes a voyage successful. In fact, if one looks at the Morgan and her distinguished record, there are literally no accounts of a poor captain, and thus her great success.

Mystic Seaport is filled with vessels of various types and legacies, many of which have had long-serving captains over their interesting careers as working vessels and yachts. The stories of each vessel are often directly related to the work of her captain and the choices he or she made along the way with respect to seamanship and the care of the vessel. We honor the work of those captains at Mystic Seaport and their various stories that are told across Museum grounds by our interpreters, some in more detail than others, but all with a deep respect that a captain warrants. A good ship is made even better by a great captain, but a great ship can be lost under poor leadership.

As I think of the storied vessels at Mystic Seaport and their captains, we know of the 21 captains that served the Morgan; the three captains who devotedly managed Roann; the seven captains, including its first two owners, of Brilliant; and the numerous captains of the workhorse L.A. Dunton. Also Alan Villiers of the Conrad…now there is a captain with a story or two.

So as the Morgan prepares to leave the safety of the Mystic River for her 38th Voyage, we entrust Captain Files with our great lady and know that he will return her home in August having watched over every element of her voyage from tow to sail to dockage and, in doing so, will have continued on in the great tradition of sailing masters and their personal relationship with their ships. Captain Files, you will make history and also bring back new stories to be told on the decks of the Morgan for generations to come.

Steve White