Mystic, CT - Events of Wednesday, September 18 to Thursday, September 19, 2013
Wednesday was another short travel day with a two-hour drive to Mystic, CT where we stayed at Seaport RV Resort. Seaport RV Resort is a recent acquisition of Sun RV Resorts, which is the same company that owns Blueberry Hill where we stay in Florida in the winter. In fact, the couple that managed Blueberry Hill during its makeover after having been bought by Sun two years ago is now at Mystic, and they spent the summer overseeing the makeover of Seaport RV. We don't know what Seaport RV was like before, but from what we hear it needed a lot of work. Thanks to Skip and Donna's oversight, it looks great now.
Seaport RV Resort has about 130 sites, about 25 of which are pull-throughs. Roughly half the sites have 30-amp electric and half have 30/50 amps. All the pull-throughs have 30/50-amp electric. Although there are no sewer hookups, free pump-out service is available every day but Sunday. Cable is free, and Wi-Fi is available for a fee. There is fairly strong Verizon 4G coverage at Seaport RV.
The roads are dusty gravel. That's the one thing that still needs to be done, but presumably they held off getting new gravel for last because there is still a little construction going on. The pads of the pull-throughs are fairly fresh gravel while the pads of the back-ins are mostly grass. The sites are pretty widely spaced for a private campground except that the pull-through sites have side by side hookups, which means the sites are pretty close together on the drivers side because you're sharing pedestals. That also means you also sharing living space on the door side. However, the pull-throughs are so long that the RVs can be positioned so they aren't immediately adjacent to one another so it isn't too bad.
Mystic, CT has a rich, seafaring history, and it is the location of Mystic Seaport, which is one of the largest maritime museums in the United States. Mystic Seaport was started in 1929 as the Marine Maritime Association. We headed to Mystic Seaport on Thursday.
Mystic Seaport has a large collection of sailing ships and boats that includes the last remaining wooden whaling ship, the Charles W. Morgan. There are also around 60 historical buildings than have been relocated to Mystic Seaport and restored to recreate an 1800s seafaring village.
One of the advantages to sightseeing after Labor Day is smaller crowds. One of the disadvantages is school groups. Two school buses pulled into the parking lot about the same time we did. It took a while to get all the kids off the buses and organized, so we were a little ahead of them. We figured they were most likely to go the the Charles W. Morgan first, so went directly there as soon as we got our tickets. Admission is $24 for adults, $22 for seniors over 65 and $21 for AAA members.
We saw models of the Charles W. Morgan at the New Bedford Whaling Museum, so we were looking forward to seeing the real thing. Paul kept looking for the masts sticking up above the buildings and was surprised when we rounded the corner of the last building and saw the hull of the ship sitting there at the dock with no masts.
It turned out the Charles W. Morgan was undergoing a restoration. She has undergone two previous restorations. The third and latest one began in 2008 when the vessel was hauled out onto the drydock of Mystic Seaport's restoration shipyard to renew the hull from the waterline down and to address problems with the bow and the stern. The hull was re-launched on July 21, 2013. Restoration of the deck structures, the masts and the rigging continues. The Charles W. Morgan will celebrate the completion of her latest restoration in 2014 with a voyage to several historic New England ports.
We also got to watch them lower lead ingots down into the hold to be used as ballast. They would have used stones for ballast back in the day, and the stones would have been tossed overboard as they hunted whales and put more barrels of oil into the hold. Lead is being used today because more dense to save space, and the rectangular ingots won't roll around as easily.
The Charles W. Morgan was built in 1841 in New Bedford, MA. She was named for her original owner, a Quaker whaling merchant. During her life, she made 37 voyages. The last whaling voyage was in 1921.
On the deck of the Morgan, we got a good look at the tryworks, which is the brick furnace that held several large cauldrons where the blubber was heated and processed into oil. After rendering, there was still enough oil remaining in the blubber that it made good fuel to fire the furnace.
After exploring the decks and hold of the Morgan, we headed to the shipyard to check out the work on the masts. On the way, we stopped for a photo beside one of the whaleboats, in which 6 or 8 men would pursue the whale and harpoon it. Can you imagine hunting a 60-foot whale weighing 125,000 pounds in that little boat?
From the gallery, we could see workers shaping and sanding new masts for the Morgan.
There was also a nice display on shipbuilding back in the 1800s. We learned about that when we visited the Maine Maritime Museum in Bath several weeks ago, and the exhibit at Mystic Seaport added to our knowledge. Mystic had a display of a number of shipbuilding tools with a video playing beside each one so we could see exactly how the tools were used back in the day.
There was also a diagram that showed how different types of wood were used for different parts of the ship. For example, live oak is used for some critical parts of the ship because of its high strength. Wood salvaged from live oak trees downed by Hurricane Katrina was used in the restoration of the Morgan.
There are dozens and dozens of smaller wooden sailboats at Mystic Seaport along with several larger sloops and schooners. The ship in the photo below is the Joseph Conrad, which is one of the few iron-hulled ships at Mystic Seaport. She was built in 1882 in Denmark, and she was used as a ship to train seamen. During WWII, she trained U.S. Merchant Marine personnel in Florida. After the war, she was turned over to Mystic Seaport where she is still used in the museum's youth sailing program.
The masts and rigging have always been part of the allure of tall ships.
After checking out the sailing ships, Paul tried out a dory.
One of the buildings has a 50-foot long scale model of the Mystic River area in the 1800s.
There were many shipyards along the banks of the Mystic River, most of which specialized in clipper ships. As we learned, clipper ships were built for speed. Their popularity was born out of a high demand for tea from China starting in the 1840s and was spurred by the California Gold Rush of 1849 and by one in Australia a few years later. The opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 was the beginning of the end for clipper ships, because they had difficulty getting through the canal.
Another building had the hull of the schooner Australia. The Australia was built in 1862 as the Ella Alida, and was used as a blockade runner for the Confederacy. She was captured by the Union and renamed the Alma.
After the Civil War, she was again renamed, this time as the Australia, and she carried lumber, grain and shellfish to various ports around the Chesapeke Bay. In 1939, E. Paul DuPont bought the Australia and converted her into a yacht. Upon DuPont's death, the family donated the Australia to Mystic Seaport.
The Australia was a floating dormitory for boys and girls in Mystic Seaport's youth training program. She was hauled out in 1964 for restoration and was never returned to the water. From the looks of what is left of the Australia, we're supposing they removed the planking from the hull to do repairs and gave up when they saw what bad shape she was in. There is evidence of rot and shipworm damage in many of the main timbers.
In addition to the many sailing boats, there are about 60 restored buildings from the 1800s that have been relocated to Mystic Seaport. Some of them are buildings related to maritime trades and some are homes, shops, schools and churches that would exist in any thriving seafaring community of the time. We'll explore some of the buildings of Mystic Seaport in our next post.