Two gorgeous old historic ships are in the news this week. Both of them were built here in Massachusetts (although more than 40 years apart), both of them are among the last surviving examples of classic American wooden shipbuilding, and both of them are ships I have visited more than once over the years. One is the oldest vessel in the United States Navy, and the other is the last surviving wooden whaling ship in the world.
First, the famous old frigate U.S.S. Constitution (launched here in Boston in 1797) sailed out into Boston Harbor for its annual turnaround, making a 21 gun salute near Castle Island and a 17 gun salute near the Coast Guard station in Boston. I wish I could have seen it. The “Old Ironsides” won’t make another trip like that for a few years as it undergoes some restoration work. Seeing something like that with your own eyes is just so much better than trying to just see photographs or video.
The second vessel is a ship Kelly and I saw together at Mystic Seaport a few years ago, the Charles W. Morgan. Another gorgeous vessel, launched in New Bedford in 1841, and undergoing extensive restoration when we saw it up on dry land. Now she is all back together and she looks just amazing. What’s more, she has returned home to New Bedford.
The ship was launched from New Bedford the same year that Herman Melville signed on another whaler, the Acushnet, that sailed to the Pacific from Fairhaven across the river. Melville said that, “a whale ship was my Yale College and my Harvard”, one of my favorite quotes from Moby-Dick and one I used in a commencement speech I gave a few years ago. And having descended from Portuguese who had whaling and fishing in the blood, I have often wondered what life was like for those ancestors of mine and whether any of them sailed on ships like this one. So yeah, you might say that whaling, Melville, and the like have had some influence on me. And I would really like to see this ship again. I may just have to make a special trip to see it soon. The ship is still in New Bedford, where she is riding out this week’s storms, just as she also rode out the 1938 hurricane in New Bedford.
Good luck, old gal, we’ll see you soon.