Monday morning brought bright clear skies with a light wind out of the NW. At 9 am we were ready to ease out of Onset Bay Marina. Once we started our engines, we had three guys show up and help with the lines. As I mentioned yesterday, this marina is one of the friendliest we have visited. This was just another example. Simultaneously all lines but the bow were off. Adrienne eased us forward, I removed the bow line from around a piling, and we were on our way.
With the current ebbing from the northeast and the northwest wind, Buzzards Bay had only the slightest chop. While there was some commercial traffic, the waterways were largely empty. More importantly, between Onset and New Bedford, we saw only one lobster pot. Smooth cruising all the way.
Calm Buzzards Bay
Commercial Traffic on Buzzards Bay
By 11 am we were in sight of New Bedford. We turned up the Fort Pierce Reach – the entrance channel to New Bedford. We passed a beautiful 3-masted sailing vessel and a tug pushing a barge at almost the same time. The juxtaposition of the new and the old on the water was striking.
Tug Coming Out of New Bedford
Three Masted Vessel
Sailing Out of New Bedford
New and Old
Entering the channel on our port side was Fort Rodman Military Reservation and then Butler Flats Lighthouse. From there we could see the massive hurricane wall that was built in 1950s to protect New Bedford and Fort Pierce on the starboard side. During World War II, New Bedford was heavily defended to prevent attacks from the sea. In fact my father had been stationed theer in the early days of the war as part of the artillery units designed to protect the harbor. Other than a German submarine firing on a scallop boat, I don’t know that New Bedford was ever in any actual danger.
Fort Rodman Guarding New Bedford Harbor
Butler Flats Lighthouse – New Bedford
Entering the harbor through the hurricane wall, I could see the New Bedford fishing fleet off to port. While several vessels were heading out as we entered, there were a lot of vessels sitting at dock. Not a good sign. We headed over to Sea Fuels Marine, a commercial fuel dock, to fuel up for our trip south. After fueling we went over to Pope Island Marina for the night. For the first time in a long time, we were at a fixed dock – a very tall fixed dock. Two dockhands helped us tie up and by 12:30 pm, we were in.
Massive Sea Wall – New Bedford
The dock was so tall that we needed to use our upper gate to reach a ladder to climb up on the dock. When docking we had lined up the gate with the ladder so we could reach it. Thanks goodness, Fleming had the foresight to add gates to the upper bow of the boat. While we’ve never it before, we were certainly glad to have it in New Bedford.
After a thorough wash of the boat and lunch, we headed over to see New Bedford. The marina is about 1 mile or more from town, so we took the water launch over to the harbor. The launch dropped us off right at the City Pier and we headed up Union Street to the New Bedford Whaling Museum. Union Street is an old cobblestone street with beautiful architecture on both sides. However, what should have been a vibrant business area seemed dead – no tourists, many closed store fronts, and no one really on the streets.
We continued up to Johnny Cake Hill Road, where the museum was located. Across from the museum was the Seamen’s Bethel. Bethel is Hebrew for house of God. In the 1800’s, the citizens of New Bedford were concerned that the whalers were leading dissolute lives – they would come in from sea and within a few days would spend a year’s wages on liquor and women and then with no money and nothing to do cause disorder in the town. This was particularly disturbing to the town’s Quakers.
The Bethel was created to give the seamen a place to go. The ground floor had a large room where Quaker women taught the seamen to read. However, because the seamen were too proud to say that they did not know how to read, the room was not referred to as a classroom but rather was called the Salt Box. Along the walls of the Salt Box were pictures of the some of the pastors of the Bethel and the women who taught reading. One wall displayed four or five life rings from boats that had been lost at sea off New Bedford, some quite recently. The ground floor also housed a small organ and a wheel barrel that the organ could fit in. The Quakers would wheel the organ down to the docks and play hymns for the seamen. Today, the organ is still taken down to the dock on Memorial Day and played as part of a service to remember all the seamen who have lost their lives at sea.
On the upper floor was the Bethel Chapel, made famous in Moby Dick. Herman Melville had attended the Bethel before he had gone whaling for eighteen months (in fact there is a little plaque on the pew he used). In Moby Dick, Melville describes the Whaleman Chapel, as he called it, having a pulpit shaped like the bow of a ship. In reality, the pulpit was a typical Quaker pulpit – rectangular and plain. However, after John Huston’s movie, Moby Dick, was released showing a bow-shaped pulpit, tourists kept showing up wanting to see that pulpit. So in the early 1960s, the Bethel built a bow-shaped pulpit. Tourists are much happier now.
Seamen’s Bethel Chapel
Around the walls are a number of memorial plaques for seamen lost at sea. Called cenotaphs, they are the equivalent of gravestones for seamen whose bodies were never recovered. One of the cenotaphs describes a whaling captain who was drowned when the line from a harpoon, which had pierce a whale, wrapped around his leg and dragged him to his watery death. Sounds like Ahab.
Cenotaph in Chapel (gravestone that are memorials when there is no body).
Cenotaph – Reminiscent of Ahab
After the Seaman’s Bethel, we went into the Whaling Museum. The first thing you notice on entering are the large whale skeletons hanging from the ceiling. They are massive and fill the entire atrium. One is a juvenile blue whale and the other is a female Northern right whale that was killed when a commercial vessel cut off most of her fluke. She was 10-months pregnant at the time, and the skeleton of her fetus is displayed next to her. It might have been a 10-month fetus, but it was massive too.
Juvenile Blue Whale
Right Whale with Fetus Below
Most of the collection is devoted to whales and the whaling industry in the United States from the 1600s to the 20th century. One room is devoted to a scale model of the whaling ship, Lagoda. The original ship was twice the size of the model, but the model is large enough to board and explore. Supposedly it is the largest model ship in the world. In any event, it gave you a good idea of a whaling vessel’s size and organization.
There were all types of harpoons and other implements for flaying the whale once it was brought alongside the main ship, as well as all the other implements involved in rendering the blubber, and processing the whale bone, and all the other parts of the whale because apparently very little of the whale was wasted. I suppose that is one good thing about whaling.
We also watched a video of an actual whale hunt conducted by whalers in the Azores in the 1960s. It was pretty interesting because the whalers were using hand-held harpoons. You got a very good idea of what it took to chase and bring down such a large creature. I think we both appreciated the skill involved but didn’t particularly enjoy watching the whale being killed.
We took in the rest of the museum’s collection, which included a room filled with elaborate cut glass, glass gas lamp shades, and glass bowls and figurines. Apparently New Bedford became a major glass production center because it was such a large vendor of whale oil that was used in the 19th and early 20th century gas lamps. The industry started with the lamps and then extended to these other items. There were also many examples of scrimshaw and walking sticks with carved whale bone handles. All in all, we thought it was a very well done and fascinating museum.
New Bedford Harbor (from roof terrace of the Whaling Museum)
After leaving the museum we wandered about the downtown historic district. It was a lovely area and a beautiful afternoon. Our thought was to grab dinner downtown, but as we walked the streets we couldn’t find any restaurants that looked interesting. There were one or two pizza places and some fast food places, but not much else. It was such a disappointment.
We decided to walk back to the boat since it was such a nice late afternoon. We got back shortly before 5, kicked off our shoes and relaxed with the cruising guide and the chart. Our plan was to go to Newport the next day and then Stonington, CT the day after that. We were going to get together with Adrienne’s college roommate, Anne, and her husband, Henry, on Wednesday. They spend the summer at a cottage in Old Saybrook, CT. Wednesday was our only day to do this because of other plans that Anne and Henry had and Anne’s commute to work, which is an hour from the Old Saybrook cottage. That meant they would have to drive to Stonington to pick us up and then drive us back the next day. We realized that if we skipped Newport and went straight to Stonington, we could get to Old Saybrook by Wednesday with ease, avoid the shuttling and have more time to visit with Anne and Henry. The trip from New Bedford to Stonington would be about 7 hours, but the forecast for Tuesday looked perfect for a long cruise. If we left early in the morning we would be in Stonington by mid-afternoon. So we plotted the course, took care of some Maryland chores, did the engine check and then cooked dinner on board. We were set for a 7am departure the next day.