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Restoring Connecticut's historic whaling ship

At the Mystic Seaport, the world's last surviving wooden whaling vessel undergoes a three-year, $5-million restoration before the curious eyes of tourists.

July 05, 2009|Stephen Dunn

MYSTIC, CONN. — She has weak knees, her front and rear ends sag, and Quentin Snediker worries about what else he may find when he digs deeper into her stout frame.

Snediker is director of the Henry B. duPont Preservation Shipyard at Mystic Seaport. The weak-kneed "she," the Charles W. Morgan, is the world's last surviving wooden whaling ship, among Connecticut's most popular tourist attractions.

Launched in 1841 in New Bedford, Mass., the Morgan sailed until 1921. It made 37 voyages, the longest almost five years. In 1941, the ship arrived at Mystic Seaport, where it spent much of its life embedded in a berth of sand.

Since being refloated in 1973, the Morgan has been maintained and refurbished faithfully. After being hauled out of the water in November, it is now in dry dock undergoing a three-year, $5-million restoration, the most extensive yet. Snediker and eight professional shipwrights have been charged with rebuilding and replacing many of the ship's frames and interior planking.

All the work is done in accordance with the ship's official registry as a National Historic Landmark. Each piece of wood and fastening is documented before it is removed.

Visitors to Mystic Seaport are encouraged to climb aboard to watch the restoration. They can speak to the shipwrights as well as the seaport representatives on the vessel. More than 20 million visitors have walked the decks of the Morgan since 1941.

"It is imperative that this vessel is preserved for the future," Snediker said. "It is the last of its kind."

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sdunn@courant.com

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