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Whaling ship Charles W. Morgan restores mast with silver half dollar under base for luck

By Joe Wojtas

Publication: theday.com

Published October 17. 2013 1:00PM   Updated October 18. 2013 1:27PM
Sean D. Elliot/The Day
Staff at the Mystic Seaport's H.B. duPont Preservation Shipyard watch as the foremast is lowered the final inches into place on the mast step in the hold of the whaleship Charles W. Morgan Thursday, October 17, 2013. The foremast will be the first of the ship's three masts to be stepped as the ship is fitted with its standing rig (the rigging that supports the masts and spars) this fall. The Morgan, the last remaining wooden whaling ship remaining and the oldest American commercial vessel still in existence as well as a National Historic Landmark, was re-launched on July 21, 2013, and will embark on its 38th voyage, a tour of historic New England ports, in the summer of 2014.

Mystic — With more than 100 people looking on in the Mystic Seaport shipyard Thursday morning, another milestone was reached in the restoration of the whaling ship Charles W. Morgan as workers reinstalled the first of the ships three masts.

The 68-foot-long, 4-ton foremast dangled from a cable as a massive crane lifted it over the hull and then down between the decks, where it was notched and wedged into place.

Before that occurred, though, 9-year-old Dylan Conforti of Charlestown, Mass., whose grandfather is a former chairman of the museum's trustees, placed a 1941 U.S. Walking Liberty silver half dollar on the spot where the mast would sit. It was in 1941 that the now 172-year-old ship arrived at Mystic Seaport.

Museum President Steve White explained to the crowd that there is a long maritime tradition of placing coins under the base of the mast to bring the ship good luck.

A 1841 U.S. Liberty seated silver dollar representing the year the Morgan was first launched and a 2013 U.S. silver dollar symbolizing the current restoration will be placed under the main mast and mizzen mast when they are installed Oct. 31.

White said the mast installation represents another important milestone in the restoration of the world's last surviving wooden whaling ship and in the preparation of its 28th voyage next summer, when it will sail to historic New England ports.

Later this fall, the seaport is expected to announce who has been chosen to be the captain for the voyage. The museum has undertaken a nationwide search for that person.

In addition, the museum will also be announcing a contest to choose a "stowaway" who will be aboard the ship for the entire trip next summer and post items and video on his or her blog and Facebook page.

Shipyard crews will work through the spring preparing the ship for the voyage. The schedule now calls for the ship to leave Mystic Seaport for New London on May 17, 2014. There, the remainder of its ballast and rigging will be installed, and the ship will undergo sea trials.

The ballast work must be completed in New London because the Mystic River is not deep enough to accommodate the fully ballasted Morgan.

j.wojtas@theday.com

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