Charles W. Morgan

38th Voyage of the Charles W. Morgan

Charles W. Morgan
The whaling ship, Charles W. Morgan (Photo credit: M. McKee/NURTEC)

The world’s last remaining sail-powered whaling ship, the Charles W. Morgan, conducted her 38th voyage this past summer traveling from Mystic, CT to the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary (SBNMS) as a symbolic journey to one of the world’s premier whale watching sites. This voyage captured the renaissance of the Morgan from a whale hunting ship to an emissary of ocean conservation. While in the sanctuary, researchers, historians, artists and authors on board the Morgan conducted research and outreach activities to highlight the sanctuary’s role in whale conservation and ocean research.

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The Northeast Underwater Research, Technology and Education Center (NURTEC) was asked to work with partners from NOAA, SBNMS and the Mystic Seaport to establish a comprehensive ship to shore broadband wireless network to support telepresence broadcasts from the Morgan as she sailed in the Sanctuary in the Gulf of Maine. The concept of telepresence as envisioned for the Morgan’s voyage was not simply broadcasting a single camera feed, but to turn the Morgan into a mobile “news studio” that allowed multiple cameras onboard to focus on the business of sailing the ship, interviews with experts in maritime history and marine mammal biology onboard, and other onboard programming. The onboard studio was able to interact with historians, scientists and archaeologists across the globe (at other National Marine Sanctuaries for example) with interesting and associated content to offer.

NURTEC developed the capacity to conduct low-cost, broadband, telepresence broadcasts from ship to shore nine years ago in support of similar maritime heritage focused projects with the SBNMS. This capacity includes both ship-side and shore-side equipment and the know-how to design, install and operate this equipment to set up a ship to shore network with enough throughput to deliver compressed high definition video from ship to shore. In 2005 NURTEC and SBNMS conducted a “live dive” that featured live underwater video from the Center’s ROV as it explored the wreck of the steamship Portland that was then sent from the RV Connecticut over 20 miles back to shore to the Pilgrim Monument in Provincetown, MA, and from there onto the Web. The Center conducted a similar, but more complex telepresence activity with SBNMS in 2006 to highlight from the wreck of the twin schooners the Palmer and the Crary.

Panoramic view from the top of Pilgrim Monument
Panoramic view from atop Pilgrim Monument, where directional radio antennas provided a strong wireless connection from the Morgan to the World Wide Web.

The public was able to follow the Morgan’s visit to the sanctuary on OceansLIVE (oceanslive.org) that broadcast three live shows daily from the vessel and other locations on July 11-13th. Each of the shows featured interviews and commentary with historians, scientists, authors and artists discussing the shift from whaling to watching in New England. The OceansLIVE website has archived the shows that are available for viewing at the oceanslive.org web site.