Boston Colors

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The Charles W. Morgan, the oldest wooden commercial vessel afloat, is currently docked next to the U.S.S. Constitution, the world’s oldest commissioned naval vessel. It’s a rare sight to see them together. During the past couple nights, spectacular sunsets have backlit our rigs.

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At night the Morgan stows its colors.

On American vessels the ensign only flies during daylight hours unless it’s illuminated at night. When the lights go down in Boston, the deafening sound of a cannon shot from the U.S.S. Constitution thunders across the harbor. The flags are lowered and all ships fall silent.

The city is rich with early American history. Right down the street from where we’re docked in Charlestown is Paul Revere’s house. If you go two blocks further, you’ll find a tavern where George Washington ate.

The Warren Tavern

The Warren Tavern

With both ships opened for public tours, I had some free time to stroll around Boston’s North end. Along the cobbled streets and Italian cafés I discovered the North Bennet St. School, the oldest trade school in America.

The former entrance to North Bennet Street School. The new school is on North Street.

The former entrance to North Bennet Street School. The new school is on North Street.

I toured the school’s newly renovated facility on North Street, and although it was summer and school was not in session, some students had rented out work spaces for their projects.

North Bennet Street School is unique environment where students learn to bind books, tune pianos, build stringed instruments, fix locks, construct traditional furniture and restore historical buildings.

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The stringed instrument department. It takes a full year to build a violin.

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I thought the Morgan’s rig was complicated…until I discovered the many odds and ends of book binding.

Here, a woodworker named Jonathan Wasch was putting the finishing touches on a custom-made tool cabinet, when I interrupted him with questions. Originally a photography teacher at Andover High School, Wasch is one of the 140 or so students ages 17 to 70 who enroll here to learn a traditional craft or trade skill.

Wasch told me his first three months at North Bennet St. were spent drawing plans and just working with the wood to understand the way it responded to the physical world. With hand tools he carved the dovetail joints for his cabinet.

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Jonathan Wasch

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I can understand the skill and precision that goes into this kind of tactile craftsmanship. As the stowaway, I’ve definitely had the hands-on experience working on the Morgan. I’ve tightened rigging and I’ve hauled lines until my blisters grew blisters. As I’ve explored the ship, I’ve marveled at the skills of Mystic Seaport’s master shipwrights.

As the world changes, it’s comforting to know traditional crafts are being preserved and shared with future generations. This has been one of the core goals of the Morgan restoration project as well.

In the next few days I will take a behind-the-scenes tour of the U.S.S. Constitution, and study the differences between “Old Ironsides,” and the vessel that I now call home.

See you soon,