Saturday, June 23, 2007
Before Fossil Fuel
At the moment, we are touring New England and our stop brought us to Mystic Seaport in Mystic, CT. This is the first time I have been to the museum and I would highly recommend it to anyone with an interest in all things maritime. While I am fascinated by the ships and machinery (which my wife sees as a "guy" thing), she loved the buildings and grounds with its beautiful landscaping and unique setting.
I particularly wanted to see the whaling ship, Charles W. Morgan. I built a model of the Morgan as a kid. It was from a Revell kit as I remember. I managed to string all the thread to give the ship the right "fully-rigged" look. I remember being enthralled with the idea of a whaling ship. Maybe it was that I watched Gregory Peck as the mad Captain Ahab obsessing over the Great White Whale.
When I went aboard the Morgan today, it was immediately clear that this ship was really a floating factory. While it took the whalers out to find the whales, it real purpose was to process and store large quantities of processed blubber. The Morgan extracted more than 54 thousand barrels of whale oil during its 80 year career. That oil lit the lamps of generations of homes and businesses. When fossil-based oil was discovered in Pennsylvania, the whale oil business started into as steep decline and within two decades that reason for whaling was gone.
Whales are still, unfortunately, hunted today but not for the oil. I just read last week that a large whale was killed by whalers and the whale carried a harpoon from an earlier attack almost a century ago. Too bad the whale didn't escape the second time. The crew of the Morgan didn't know anything about conservation and probably wouldn't have cared if they had known. They were just trying to make a living as best they could. But in its working life, the Morgan did its fair share of damage to the world whale population.
When I saw the Morgan today, some of the bloom had come off the rose that I felt about her as a kid. The ship did not seem so romantic. It seemed like a well-preserved factory. I doubt that I will be building another model of her.
(Photo from Wikipedia)