Lagoda, Life Aboard
Named by mistake
When the original Lagoda was built in 1826, the owner meant to name it after Lake Ladoga in Russia. However, as the letters were applied to the transom, the “d” and the “g” were misplaced. Sailors believed that correcting the name would bring bad luck, so the vessel sailed as the Lagoda. Built of live oak, with three masts, it had a square stern and a billethead – a decoration on the bow, in place of a figurehead. The Lagoda sailed for more than 60 years.
From merchantman to whaling ship
For its first fifteen years Lagoda was a merchant ship. Purchased by Jonathan Bourne of New Bedford in 1841, it was converted to whaling by adding tryworks (an onboard brick hearth with iron pots, used for processing blubber), whaling gear, and five whaleboats.
A “greasy” ship
Lagoda‘s whaling career made a net profit of $651,958.99 for Jonathan Bourne. One of the most successful ships ever to set sail, Lagoda was considered very “greasy” (the whaleman’s term for profitable).
From ship to bark
In 1860, Lagoda became a bark, which meant that its rigging was changed to cut down on the number of crew needed to handle the sails. From the 1860s to the end of the nineteenth century, the bark was the most popular type of whaleship because it could sail closer to the wind than a full-rigged ship.
Surviving an Arctic disaster
In 1871, Lagoda was among 40 vessels that searched for whales in the Arctic. One day at the end of the season, the wind shifted and ice began to pack in around the ships. Lagoda sailed south, narrowly escaping. Thirty-three ships were crushed, 22 of them from New Bedford. The 1,219 survivors sailed and rowed whaleboats through fierce gales to seven vessels which had survived outside the ice pack. Lagoda was one of them and carried 195 people to Honolulu.
The end of the great days
Jonathan Bourne sold his bark in 1886, knowing that the great days of sperm whaling were over. Lagoda sailed from the United States for the last time on November 12, 1889 and ended its career as a coal hulk fueling steamers at Yokohama, Japan. C. F. Keith has noted that it is “. . . ironic that the Lagoda‘s last days should be spent serving. . . the steam vessels that were to spell the doom of her type of craft.” Sold again in 1899, the bark later burned and was broken up at Kanagawa, Japan.
Above detail of photograph by Joseph S. Martin, 1916. #2000.100.85.1