Poetry at sea


Members of the Charles W. Morgan crew furling a sail. Courtesy of Dr. Cristina Baptista

After over 170 years of use, the Charles W. Morgan whale ship set sail for its “38th Voyage,” carrying 85 passengers including one of Convent of the Sacred Heart’s own, eager to relive history in the modern day.
Dr. Cristina Baptista, Sacred Heart Upper School English Teacher, was one of the designated poets on the three-month voyage. Her passion for American Literature and history heightened her appreciation for the historic value of the trip.

Members of the Charles W. Morgan crew furling a sail. Courtesy of Dr. Cristina Baptista
Members of the Charles W. Morgan crew furling a sail.
Courtesy of Dr. Cristina Baptista

“When I was on deck and the ship was under her own sail for the first time, and I felt the swaying and the way it changed the way I moved and held my body—this is how it felt to walk on the ship when it was first made,” Dr. Baptista said describing her experience on the ship.
Over its 80-year whaling career, the Morgan, one of the oldest American whaleships, embarked on 37 voyages. Not until 2008 was the ship restored at Mystic Seaport for its first excursion since 1941.
“This is an extraordinary undertaking and it will be exciting to take this ship back to sea to discover and share what it was like to operate a wooden whale ship as they did throughout the 19th century,” captain of the ship, Richard “Kip” Files said, according to mysticseaport.org
Dr. Baptista and her fellow passengers comprised of artists, researchers, historians and scientists departed from Connecticut at Mystic Seaport May 17 and returned August 6.
The vessel traveled to New London, Connecticut, New Bedford, Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Maritime Academy and locations in between.
During the expedition, Dr. Baptista used her writing and poetry skills to create an original work that would reflect the spirit of the ship to raise awareness for America’s maritime history. The end result will be a collection of poetry in which she documents the impact that immigrant whalemen had on American global culture, according to mysticseaport.org. Consequently, her findings will be compiled into a creative project shared with the public at the Mystic Seaport museum.
On the trip, she learned that one of her ancestors embarked on an earlier Morgan voyage. This information added to some of the other influences on her poetry, such as her Portuguese heritage. She plans to structure her work after the framework of a ship which follows a rule of threes.
“I have been toying with the idea of writing from three points of view.  In other words, writing a third of the collection from the perspective of the original Portuguese whale men, a third from my perspective while on the ship during the Voyage, and a third in hindsight, after I’ve digested information and experience,” Dr. Baptista said.
Ultimately, Dr. Baptista hopes to incorporate her adventure into her American Literature classes to help her students get a broader sense of American history. Her experience can relate to some of the texts she will be teaching in class, such as The Scarlet Letter and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
“These ships are like history’s time machine, allowing us to go back to a time we could not fathom,” Dr. Baptista said.
– Cheyann Greirson, Staff Writer