I arrived before the doors opened at The Mystic Harbor Seaport Museum & saw bird activity in a rain garden. I noticed a frequent landing area & snapped off some decent images. Watching them fly on the breeze was a prelude for seeing some old sailboats.
The signature exhibit is the Charles W. Morgan. Like most boats large or small they don’t make pretty pictures sitting at the dock. Built in 1841 she is the last wooden whaling ship. Voyages lasted from 9 months to 5 years during her 80 years of hunting whales. The Seaport took 3 years to make her seaworthy & she sailed on her 38th voyage to New England seaports in 2013. If I hear the Morgan is going to be setting sail, a repeat of my last road trip may be in order.
Last Summer I made an unsuccessful attempt at getting images of the replica Norwegian Longship the Draken Harald sailing on the Great Lakes. With a symmetrical bow & stern powered by a single square sail, she is a style of a boat not seen on the water for hundreds of years. After taking the Erie Canal across New York last fall she ended up at Mystic for the winter. Images of her at the dock without a sail are blah. However, the detail of the craftsmanship put into the ornamented patterns is very impressive.
Who doesn’t enjoy the sounds of a good sea shanty? The rhythm of the songs was used onboard ships to coordinate the hauling of the many lines for the sails. They were work songs where lyrics & tempo were customized for the task. I didn’t learn if the position of shanty-man was assigned or earned by a member of the crew. If I could go back in time I think that is a job for me.
Using nothing but hand tools, barrel makers during the 1800’s are a testament to the ability of human craftsmanship. When these barrels were full of the oil processed from the blubber of whales the ship would return home. For some ships that would be 80,000 gallons. The discovery of less expensive petroleum in Titusville, PA replaced the markets for whale oil. Trying to comprehend how close we came to the extinction of whales just because we had to fill these barrels with oil makes me question the judgment & motivation of the industry surrounding this short-sighted business.
I would occasionally get a call from a friend about producing a video that I would make enough money to buy “that wooden sailboat I had dreamed of.” He didn’t understand that the purchase price is only a small part of the equation. My respect & thanks go to all of those that routinely do the maintenance on these gorgeous yachts. During WWII the schooner Brilliant was a submarine patrol boat. Now she is an offshore classroom for teaching seamanship.
The Seaport Museum is really a port village with shops, working craftsmen & displays of nautical history. I was anticipating seeing their collection of figureheads. I was less than thrilled with the lighting & the room but surprised at the diversity.
I knew Mystic was a working shipyard but taken back when I saw the current project of rehabbing the Mayflower II. This 60-year-old replica of the boat that brought pilgrims to Plymouth almost 400 years ago is big. It is 106 feet long with a displacement of 236 tons. It is a unique opportunity for the 30 plus workers who are involved in making this vessel seaworthy. Sailboat, wood & history…yea this place is a three-fer for my inspiration. Maybe I will plan a return trip in 2019 when the Mayflower sails for Plymouth to get sunrise images of her on the water.
Accurate time is something we take for granted. Long before GPS satellites, the only way to navigate at sea was by taking settings of the sun or stars with a sextant & plugging that info into an equation. Part of that equation requires using the precise time. Making accurate clocks that could work on land like this one were easy compared to the challenge of making a chronometer that would work aboard a ship sailing long distances. An Englishman, John Harrison was a self-educated watchmaker & carpenter who solved the problem of east/west navigation in the 1770’s by making a clock accurate to within a minute over 50 days. The cost of these devices was 30% of the cost of a boat. My time wandering through sailing history by was priceless.