Beloit College Magazine

Beloit College Magazine

Fall/Winter 2014 (November 4, 2014 at 12:00 pm)

On a Historic Whaling Ship, a Chance Encounter


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October 31, 2014 at 3:59 pm

By Hilary Dickinson

WORKING whaling ship
Photo by Kelly Jensen

It’s not uncommon for Beloit alumni to come across each other in unexpected places.

But Matthew Alan Porter’12 and Joee Patterson’03 met this summer on a ship making a historic voyage through New England.

And it was no ordinary ship. It was the Charles W. Morgan, the last of an American whaling fleet that once numbered 2,700 ships and the oldest American commercial ship still afloat.

“It was an unexpected connection for sure,” says Patterson, a professional deckhand.

During the trip, which coincidentally took place over Beloit’s 2014 Reunion Weekend, Patterson happened to overhear Porter tell a fellow deckhand that he attended Beloit.

“We had a little freak-out,” Porter says. “We formed an instant bond.”

Their connection was solidified when they discovered they had even more in common than their alma mater. They had both performed in the annual Chelonia dance concert during their time at Beloit, taken classes with Dance Professor Chris Johnson and Associate Professor of Theatre Arts Amy Sarno, and worked in the Neese Theatre shop.

“It’s a good feeling to be around someone who experienced a lot of the things you have and who has the same views and mentalities, especially with the dance background,” says Porter, a Machesney Park, Ill., native who majored in theatre with dance and acting tracks.

The day after they met, they got permission from the ship’s chief mate to perform a dance onboard that Johnson had taught them at Beloit. Porter retaught Patterson the moves, which proved to be a cathartic experience for her.

“Chatting with Matt has been a great little stroll down memory lane for me,” says Patterson, who hails from Anchorage, Alaska, and majored in anthropology. “It is nice to talk to someone whose memories of the school are so fresh.”

Before he graduated from Beloit, Porter auditioned for an acting job with Mystic Seaport, the maritime museum in Mystic, Conn., which owns the Morgan. Each summer since 2011, he has performed in dockside exhibits, while learning sailor crafts and trades along the way.

He was also hired for the summer as a sailing deckhand for the Morgan’s 38th voyage to historic ports of New England; the second time he was on the ship, he met Patterson. Since they connected, Patterson has been teaching Porter more about sail-handling.

In addition to meeting each other, both feel lucky to have been a part of the 38th voyage.

The Morgan, which was launched in 1841, embarked on 37 voyages around the world over 80 years and became a National Historic Landmark in 1966 before arriving at Mystic Seaport, where she underwent a major restoration.

The ship ended her three-month voyage in early August and now serves as an exhibit and flagship of the museum.

“People who go to Beloit do neat and unique things, so it’s actually not that uncommon that this would happen,” Porter says of meeting Patterson on the Morgan. “Maybe not on a wooden whaleship, but it’s not uncommon that two alumni would meet each other doing something really unique and amazing."

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