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Sunday, February 3, 2013

Whaleboat for Charles W Morgan

There is an old tradition at work in Martha's Vineyard

This winter, Gannon & Benjamin Marine Railway on Vineyard Haven harbor is at work recreating a small piece of the nation's maritime history. The Island boatbuilders, designers and builders of pleasure craft large and small, power and sail, are building one of the whaleboats that will be carried by the Charles W. Morgan, the last remaining wooden whaleship and the oldest American commercial vessel still in existence.

In all, nine whaleboats are under construction by third parties that include, in addition to Gannon & Benjamin, the Lowell Boat Shop and the Philadelphia Independence Seaport Museum.

Meanwhile, work has begun in the austere surroundings of the Gannon & Benjamin shop, which but for the use of electricity, resembles an 19th-century shipwright's premises.

According to Virginia Jones, Gannon & Benjamin office manager, the Morgan was built by the Hillman family who originally came from Chilmark. Seven of her series of masters were from Martha's Vineyard, as were many of the crew on her 37 voyages.

"We feel that it is particularly appropriate for a Vineyard boatyard to participate in this noteworthy project," Ms. Jones said in an email to The Times that highlighted many of the past and present Island connections to the project.

Ms. Jones said Morgan's last skipper was Captain George Fred Tilton from North Road, Chilmark. He served as port captain for the Morgan. He wrote about his sailing adventures, although not on the Morgan, in a book titled "Cap'n George Fred," which includes an account of his efforts to save an Arctic whaling fleet caught in the ice. "A must-read classic for every Island school kid," Ms. Jones said. "His perilous walk is quite an adventure story."

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