The Charles W. Morgan typically carried seven 28-foot double-ended open whaleboats during her whaling career. To complement the 1841 whaleship’s restoration, organizations from around the country built a fleet of new whaleboats to equip the ship during her 38th Voyage in 2014. In all, 10 groups from seven states took part in this national whaleboat project. Although only seven were on the Morgan at any one time during the voyage, each boat spent at least some portion of the journey on board.
The necessity to build authentic whaleboats to go on the whaleship, accurate in every detail, expanded the educational opportunity to pass on traditional knowledge and skills beyond the Morgan to small boat construction, all as part of a nationally important historic restoration. By building one of the finest examples of an American-developed small boat, one whose remarkable seaworthy design was required by the boat’s function, the builders are Mystic Seaport’s partners in an extraordinary enterprise to help all remember and learn from this nation’s maritime past and all of its complex elements.
The Whaleboat Builders
Alexandria Seaport Foundation (ASF), located in Alexandria, Virginia, was a natural fit to join the Morgan whaleboat project. Since 1993, the organization’s primary focus has been to use traditional boat building to help disadvantaged youth improve their lives. ASF’s signature Boat Building Apprenticeship Program helps at-risk youth between the ages of 18-22 acquire the job and social skills necessary to secure a successful career path. Along with career and woodworking skills, apprentices improve their academic competencies through project-based learning and in the context of traditional wooden boat building.
ASF christened their whaleboat in a ceremony on Capitol Hill on March 12.
The Apprenticeshop, located on the waterfront in Rockland, Maine, has been dedicated to inspiring personal growth through craftsmanship, community and traditions of the sea since 1972. Five students — Daniel Kreisher, Kirk Folk, Simon Jack, Tim Jacobus (project leader) and Chris Konecky — were assigned the whaleboat project in August 2012. Their task, which they successfully completed, was to build a replica of a 29-foot, 10 1/2-inch New Bedford whaleboat, designed by Ebenezer Leonard, from plans dated 1935. The Apprenticeshop boat is the only whaleboat that was built to the Leonard design. The other boats are all Beetle designs.
After an open water voyage of some 300 miles, the crew of The Apprenticeshop delivered their whaleboat to Mystic Seaport in June, 2013.
Beetle Boat Shop, located in Wareham, Massachusetts, was famous for its building of whaleboats in the mid to late 1800s. James Beetle built more than 1,000 whaleboats between 1834 and 1854 in New Bedford, many of which ended up on the Charles W. Morgan. Today, the boat shop is dedicated to preserving the art of traditional plank-on-frame wood boat construction, using the highest quality of materials and craftsmanship. The Beetle Boat Shop’s whaleboat for the Morgan was built for the New Bedford Whaling Museum, which is historically significant as New Bedford was once the whaling capital of the world.
After the 38th Voyage, the New Bedford Whaling Museum plans an active use of their boat in the whaleboat races that already take place in New Bedford and, potentially, as part of their exhibits and outreach programs.
Gannon & Benjamin Marine Railway, located in Vineyard Haven, Massachusetts, was established in 1980 by Nat Benjamin and Ross Gannon and has built more than 50 substantial vessels, mostly to Nat’s designs. Built in plank-on-frame construction (lapstrake or carvel, steam bent and sawn frames), their boats range in size from an 8-foot dinghy to a 65-foot schooner. The 28-foot whaleboat for the Morgan was built using traditional methods and was launched in June, 2013.
Having a boat built on the Vineyard is particularly appropriate as the first captain of the Morgan, Thomas Adams Norton, and five other of the ship’s total of 21 captains hailed from the island.
Great Lakes Boat Building School, located in Cedarville, Michigan, offers a highly rated educational program designed to teach quality wooden boat building skills and preserve craftsmanship. Students at the school built their whaleboat from Mystic Seaport’s Beetle plan-set, thought to be the most elegant of whaleboat designs. This design was based on the improved whaleboat design of Charles Beetle, who learned to build them in his family’s boat shop as an apprentice. His father, James Beetle, built the first of the Beetle whaleboats.
Support for the project came from Michigan’s Maritime Heritage Alliance in Traverse City, who made the spars, and the Michigan Chapter of The Traditional Small Craft Association, who made the oars.
Independence Seaport Museum, founded in 1960 and located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, contributed two whaleboats to the Charles W. Morgan. Bruce Mackenzie led the project, and workshop employees Jeff Huffenberger, Newt Kirkland, and Jeff Chelf, along with many volunteers, assisted with the project. Nick Pagon facilitated hands-on lessons for the approximately 50 students from The Philadelphia Wooden Boat Factory, Charter High School for Architecture and Design, and UrbanPromise as they worked on both whaleboats.
Independence Seaport Museum’s whaleboats were at Mystic Seaport to witness the launching of the Charles W. Morgan on July 21, 2013.
Lake Champlain Maritime Museum, (LCMM) located in Vergennes, Vermont, believes that historic maritime skills and traditions can encourage and inspire people to healthy and constructive lives in supportive and welcoming communities.
The organization will launch the whaleboat they built for the Charles W. Morgan on May 22, 2014. It will then join the whaleship’s fleet of newly constructed whaleboats.
Lowell’s Boat Shop, located in Amesbury, Massachusetts, was established in 1793 and is the oldest continuously operating boat shop in America. The shop is cited as the birthplace of the legendary fishing dory, and skilled craftsmen continue to build wooden boats in the Lowell tradition on the property purchased by founder Simeon Lowell in the 1700s.
Lowell’s Boat Shop built their whaleboat to the Beetle design, using as few modern materials as possible without shortening the life of the boat. This required the finest white oak and cedar available. Apprentices were involved in every aspect of the construction.
Rocking the Boat, located in Bronx, New York, empowers young people challenged by severe economic, educational, and social conditions to develop the self-confidence to set ambitious goals and gain the skills necessary to achieve them. Students work together to build wooden boats, learn to row and sail, and restore local urban waterways. Adam Green launched Rocking the Boat in 1996 as a volunteer project in an East Harlem junior high school, and it has since developed into a fully sustainable independent non-profit organization annually serving nearly 3,000 young people and community members.
Seven Rocking the Boat Job Skills apprentices constructed the 29-foot whaleboat for the Morgan. Building the whaleboat was the largest and most complex construction project that Rocking the Boat had ever undertaken. The whaleboat was launched on June 1, 2013 and the young builders then brought it to Mystic Seaport.