Ahab Beckons finally made it to the longest-running Moby-Dick Marathon—that organized by the Mystic Seaport Museum. This (2018) was its thirty-third annual outing. Mystic sticks to a July 31 start, ending on August 1 (Melville's birthday), no matter the days of the week. If you're not willing to call in sick, tough toenails.
Side note: New Bedford adhered to a January 3 start (the date of Melville's sailing on the Acushnet) until MDM14 in 2010, if memory serves. It then settled on the first weekend after January 1, greatly increasing attendance.
- The entire reading takes place aboard the whaleship Charles W. Morgan. Overnight space is limited. Call a few weeks ahead to reserve. Details on the museum website.
- There is ample free parking across the street from the Seaport; well signed.
- You'll need to purchase admission to the Seaport area. Online tickets receive a 10% discount.
- There is Wi-Fi in the Seaport area; spotty, as you'd guess. The entrance desk will give you the password.
- Food and drink are not allowed on the Morgan. Water bottles were permitted. Some folks left their bag of provisions at the foot of the gangway, then left the ship to make a picnic. There is also a pub and sandwich shop on the grounds.
- Experienced marathoners brought folding chairs. Recommended.
- There is not a lot of shade or rain cover on deck; mosquitoes could be a problem; it can be chilly and damp at night. Be prepared.
- The deck is not lit. Bring a lantern/flashlight/headlamp to read & maneuver.
- Lots of folks slept on deck; bring a pad, pillow, and sleeping bag. Some slept below, where it was warm, stuffy, and brightly lit. Earplugs and a sleep mask are the ticket.
- Organizers maintained a sign-up sheet by chapter number. Each reader delivered an entire chapter. (Yes, even The Town Ho's Story!) If you have a favorite chapter, talk to the staff early.
- Check with the entrance desk if you want to leave the Seaport. There should be no problem getting back in.
- The Seaport area is closed from 6 P.M. until 9 A.M. The marathon staff will tell you how to get out/in after hours.
- Don't mess with the ropes (sheets, halyards, and stays) or belaying pins!
Photo: Gilles Renault
"Post-Mortemising" the Mystic MDMNoon: Board the Morgan from the port side, and try to find a spot in the shade of the "spare boat rack." (What's the correct term?)
The Morgan has a tiny cabin (built for a captain's seasick wife) in the center of the deck, just before the mizzen-mast. Readers stand aft of the mainmast and address the audience sitting on either side of that cabin.
"Mr. Melville" recites the Loomings chapter from memory(!); something of a tradition, I gather. Sorry I didn't get his name, or thank him for his fine performance.
There is no podium, no microphone. Almost all readers are clearly audible; some painfully so. Every reader gets a round of applause when finished.
The ship remains open to museum visitors. Tourists filter through the reading and stare at us as if we're some weird exhibit.
As darkness gathers, we feel like a group of friends sitting around a campfire or in someone's living room.
Mary K. Bercaw Edwards directs staff members as they set the Morgan's sails for the day. She announces that a whale will be sighted soon...
Ahab howls. Mr. Melville waits to read "Epilogue."
Nearly all the readers at Mystic seemed to be very conversant with the text. Their delivery was smooth and confident. This might be a by-product of the marathon falling mid-week when "youngsters" are less able to attend. There were never more than about thirty attendees, so lots of folks read multiple times. (When the marathon falls on a weekend, is the ship overcrowded?)
All-told, this was a cozy MDM, without the technology and "stage management" of the New Bedford MDM. Nor did Mystic have the ancillary events we love in New Bedford: "Stump the Scholars" and "Scholar Chats." Still, an MDM set on an authentic whaleship in a pretty harbor on a beautiful summer evening is not something to miss.
The south coast of Connecticut is prime country for Lyme disease. Did I pick up a tick on the Morgan (perhaps carried aboard by mice) or while strolling the grounds of the Seaport; or before leaving home?
A couple of days after the Mystic MDM, I began to feel a cold coming on. Within another day or two, this developed into all the symptoms of the flu, minus the congestion. "Flu" in summer leads one to suspect Lyme disease. My doctor put me on doxycycline and took blood. Test results came back quickly. The diagnosis was anaplasmosis, which merited a third week of doxycycline. Now, nearly three months later, crisis seems to have been averted, but I lack the stamina to hike mountains (as I've done every summer for years). Full recovery is expected, but it's slow in coming.
If I were to return for another Mystic MDM, I would bring my own chair, sleep in that chair, treat socks & shoes with permethrin, and avoid walking through the grass at the Seaport.