A Forum for Discussions among Voyagers and Others related to the 38th Voyage of the Charles W. Morgan
From: John Bryant
Date: 2014 Jul 6, 18:20 +0000
Your delicious explanation is fascinating, and adds more depth to what I anticipate will be one of the deeper experiences of my life: sailing on this vessel.
You raise the parallel to Theseus' Ship, which is an old paradox that has been used in other fields, in particular one that I am engaged in, when I am not writing this Melville biography, and that is Textual Scholarship and the creative process, in particular a field of study I sort of inaugurated called "the fluid text." The idea is that a written work exists in multiple versions, and over time a text will "evolve" through various versions that the author has no control over but which reveal fascinating aspects of our culture. Translation is one such "revision" of a text into a thoroughly different "version." And any form of adaptation—Moby-Dick appears as a children's book, games, films, plays, operas, music—also generates numerous versions of the work.
The fluid text approach is not to say that the original of MD is any less important, only that the many versions of it are also an important way of mapping how a culture reads MD. Anyway, I have used Theseus' Ship in talking about fluid texts to ask how far along, from one version to the next can we go, before we find that the version in hand is no longer a version of the original but another original of its own. And my answer to this is "only when we forget the links that connect the versions." In short, memory is what keeps Theseus's Ship still identifiable as Theseus's ship, even though every plank and line has been replaced. And only memory, or our making histories of fluid texts, keeps us conscious of the "version" being a version.
So what I draw from this is that the Morgan is like Theseus's Ship, which is like Moby-Dick. We keep generating versions of them and if we keep remembering our continued and evolving experience of the Morgan, we won't scoff simply because the planks under
our feet are not the very molecules that were first placed there. Culture is memory, and things like the 38th Voyage keep culture alive because it creates new memories about the same object, or version of the original object. So a new plank is a version of
the old plank, and the person who placed the new plank is a version of the first ship's carpenter who placed the old plank; and we voyagers are versions of the original whalers, at least to the extent that we can relate our experience to theirs, critically
and with imagination.
But having said this, I want to know how many of us will want to see, touch, and feel some part of that 10-20% of the ship that Frank tells us is "original." Can we touch the keel, without jumping over board. (Melville, or rather Ishmael, has a chapter on the risks of knowing what the whale's spout is: you risk death finding out; but I won't get into that.)
Founding Editor, Leviathan: A Journal of Melville Studies
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Sent: Sunday, July 6, 2014 1:26 PM
To: John L. Bryant
Subject: [38Talk] Re: Any photos yet?
Revell, you wrote:
"I'm pretty sure that photo is from late 1974 or early 75. She had been in a sand berth at what is now Chubb's Wharf from the time she arrived in Mystic until January 1974, at which time she was carefully excavated from the sand, and moved to the DuPont Shipyard for her first major restoration as a museum ship. I believe these photos are when she returned to the newly constructed Chubb's Wharf, afloat again."
You're very close. There are three key bits of evidence in those two photos I posted.
First clue: the Morgan is afloat. As you note, this means that we must be past the refloating which happened late one night in early 1974. I grew up in Noank, and I was ten at the time. This was big news around the water cooler in the fourth grade the following day! For those unfamiliar with this part of the story, the Morgan was berthed high and dry in sand during her years at Colonel Green's estate in South Dartmouth through the 1930s. She was briefly floated to be towed to Mystic in November of 1941. And then she was once again high and dry in a sand berth from then on until early 1974. There was great suspense locally when she was re-floated forty years ago: would the keel be broken? would she sink right to the bottom of the Mystic River? But even after the various restorations in the 1970s and 80s, the Morgan never once left the Mystic River estuary after 1941 until May of this year, and she was only rarely away from Chubbs Wharf, as in the photos, from 1974 to 2014.
Second clue: the faux gunports are gone. If you look at photos of the Morgan through most of the 20th century, she was painted in a style that was apparently popular during and after the US Civil War with alternating black and white squares along her sides resembling gunports that were originally designed to make the vessel look menacing but probably were little more than fashion. After the first restoration in the 1970s, she was re-painted in the plain black with white trim that we see today, a scheme which is found in most photos of the Morgan during her later whaling career. Some of you probably know the schooner "Mystic Whaler". It's a steel-hulled day-sail tourism schooner which was launched in the 1960s, and it was considered a shameless attempt to mislead folks looking for Mystic Seaport at that time (decades later, all is forgiven). It was painted with that faux gunport scheme to more closely resemble the Morgan, and it still has that paint scheme to this day. Hey, whatever happened to that part of the 38th Voyage plan? Wasn't the Mystic Whaler supposed to accompany the Morgan on at least some portion of the voyage?
Third clue: big windows on the stern! These were considered historically inaccurate and during the restoration in the 1980s, if I remember correctly, they were replaced with two small portholes, as we see today.
So that pins things down: after 1974 and before about 1985. The actual photo dates (on the back of the prints --I no longer have the negatives) were September, 1978. For a few years in this period, there was a "ritual" of turning the ship for even weathering once a season. That's what we're seeing here: a nice sunny afternoon when the Morgan was turned around in the channel just west of Chubbs Wharf and then brought back port side against the wharf (bow in). It was a rare sight.
Revell, you added:
"When I think about how uncertain people were back then about just floating the Morgan it's amazing to think that 40 years later we're actually sailing her, it is mind boggling."
I agree, and yet... there was an inevitable logic here, too. When the decision was made in the early 1970s to remove the Morgan from her sand berth, it was a conservation decision with profound consequences. Rather than being a historical artifact, the Morgan necessarily became a living ship. Protected in sand, nearly everything below the waterline was "original fabric" (19th century wood) and a lot above the waterline, too. It was estimated that the vessel was 50-60% original fabric. But after re-floating, it became necessary to restore and replace planks and beams and everything else on a regular basis. Now the Morgan is less than 20% original fabric and by some estimates only 10% original fabric (mostly the massive keel). Is this an old vessel? By the standards of living ships, yes, it is. On wooden vessels, rotten planks get replaced. But by the standards of other artifacts, it surely isn't a historical "artifact". If someone sold you a desk manufactured in 1841 and then explained after you bought it, that 90% of the wood had been replaced within the past thirty years, you might be appalled! The Charles W. Morgan has become a literal Ship of Theseus (though it certainly has a stronger claim to being an old vessel than the US Brig Niagara --is that vessel the second oldest in the USA, as Erie Maritime maintains, or is the Charles W. Morgan, as Mystic Seaport claims?). As a completely restored and renewed sailing vessel, some have argued that the Morgan must sail, at least for one last summer and maybe more. And even in 1974, I remember some curmudgeonly locals arguing that it had no other fate except sailing cruises for well-to-do "tourists" once it was removed from the safety of that sand berth. Living ships must sail.
Revell, you concluded:
"BTW, I was 6 years old when this happened, and I remember riding aboard the Morgan then as she was towed back up the Mystic River to her new floating berth."
Now that's a great story! I know your father worked at the museum for many years. He wasn't yet President in 1974, was he? I was a volunteer in the summer of 1978 and then a paid employee at the planetarium, working with Don Treworgy and Sue Howell through my high school and college summers.
Conanicut Island USA