Sacred Heart teacher sets sail on whaleship

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Greenwich teachers are embarking on some exciting adventures this summer. In the case of Cristina Baptista, an English teacher at Convent of the Sacred Heart, she is participating in the 38th Voyage aboard Mystic Seaport’s 1841 whaleship the Charles W. Morgan.

Cristina Baptista

Sacred Heart teacher Cristina Baptista stands at the stern of the Charles W. Morgan while at the New Bedford State Pier, while waiting to set sail, on the morning of July 8.

Here is her account of the maritime expedition.

CRISTINA BAPTISTA:

“This summer, I have been playing the role of Time Traveler.  Last week, I joined Captain Kip Files and his Crew of the 19th-century whale ship, Charles W. Morgan, as a 38th Voyager, during a portion of the ship’s historic voyage, began earlier this year and concluding with a Homecoming celebration at Mystic Seaport in Mystic, Connecticut on August 9.  The Morgan, a 113-foot-long wooden vessel first launched out of New Bedford, Massachusetts in 1841 and the oldest and last of her kind in the world, has sailed the ocean for the first time in over 90 years.

“During the Voyage, roughly 80 “38th Voyagers” from all over the globe were selected, after an application process, to participate in this public-history event of unprecedented proportion.  Using the Morgan as a focal point for our discoveries, we Voyagers—artists, educators, scholars, whaling crew descendants, journalists, scientists, students, and more—will each craft a personal work that reflects upon our experience.  These sundry projects will eventually become a part of an exhibition at Mystic Seaport that will open in 2015.

“As a first-generation Portuguese-American writer and teacher, I hope to re-evaluate the role of immigrant whaling communities and give recognition to the contributions, failures, and successes of these whalemen who have made significant impacts on the American global culture.  My intended poetry collection will reflect and give acknowledgement to the original Charles W. Morgan voyagers. Some sociologists have called the Portuguese in America an “invisible minority” but anyone who reads about the Morgan, studies the history of whaling, peruses the works of Herman Melville, or interviews any New Bedford native as did I over the past several weeks quickly understands just how integral the Portuguese (and immigrant) presence was to the whaling empire that, essentially, helped America gain such an economic stronghold in the nineteenth-to-early-twentieth centuries.  To sail on the Morgan, to press my ear to the ceiling of the exposed wood in the hold and hear the bubbling water, to sleep in the cramped berths of the forecastle or “fo’c’sle,” to handle halyards and help secure a sail—these are the experiences that transport me (us) back to the origins of our country and ensure that we understand and appreciate fully who we are as human beings.

“Our transit delayed a day due to Hurricane Arthur, the nine New Bedford to Massachusetts Maritime Academy Voyagers, including myself, slept aboard the Morgan on the evening of July 7th before a 5:45“muster” (or wake-up call) the following morning.  The people of New Bedford, as I learned from my stay there before and after the Voyage, were torn between feeling overjoyed that the ship had come “home” and bitter about letting her sail off once more.  I myself feel privileged that I was selected to board the Morgan in this particular town, to walk in the footsteps of so many other Portuguese whalemen who lived and forged this city, to reflect upon the Lusophonic influences that permeate the local exhibits, and to sit in Herman Melville’s pew at the Seamen’s Bethel, thinking about how this city played such a significant role in shaping the world of Moby-Dick (1851).

“To sail aboard a 173-year-old ship—held together with over 7,000 tree nails and still using her original keel—is nothing short of awe-inspiring.  What history is— any history— is our own lives forming before we are even alive and present.  To be a part of this Voyage means to simultaneously revisit and create history and be one of a few hundred living people who will be able to say that they have sailed on a whale ship.  Instead of a cargo of spermaceti, whale oil, or baleen, however, the 38th Voyagers are collecting a “cargo of knowledge,” as Mystic Seaport celebrates.  I hope to have much more to share from this “cargo” with the Convent of the Sacred Heart community when we return for a new academic year in the fall.

“In the end, for those looking for a way to return to the past, and with fewer resources than necessary to build a working Time Machine, the Charles W. Morgan is another option for hobnobbing with ghosts of the past and the ancestors of American and global history alike.  During the 38th Voyage, the ship has been visiting historic ports across Southern New England.  Currently, she is docked beside the U.S.S. Constitution in Boston, where the two ships—together for the first time in their long careers—will be open to the public from July 18 throughthe 22nd.  I invite all those who are able to visit the Morgan at one of her final port visits or at Mystic Seaport’s Chubb’s Wharf sometime after the ship’s homecoming next month.   Another Voyage is not planned and following the 38th Voyage, the Morgan will resume her role as a historic vessel, docked at the Seaport.  Please visit and spend some time withthe remarkable Charles W. Morgan, survivor of tempests, fires, whale attacks, German raids, war, and Arctic ice—a ship so lovingly and properly dubbed the “lucky ship.”

“To follow the 38th Voyage in full, please visit www.mysticseaport.org/38thvoyage.   Additionally, information about each Voyager and his/her individual projects can be found here: http://www.mysticseaport.org/38thvoyage/voyagers/.

“Lastly, anyone who would like more information about the Voyage is also welcome to contact me (Dr. Baptista) at baptistac@cshct.org.”

 

 

 

Paul Schott

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