By Steve Urbon
August 02. 2015 8:00PM
NEW BEDFORD — The demise of the Boston bid for the 2024 Olympics wasn’t good news to many people. But the whole episode may have given a serious boost to recreational marine traffic in New Bedford harbor.
As we know, the Boston Olympics committee had given the green light to New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell’s proposal that the sailing events be held in his city, with its easy access to some superb sailing on Buzzards Bay.
Suddenly New Bedford was on the map for a lot of people up and down the coast who may have never given it a second thought. Boaters, especially. The decision created a real splash.
This may explain what is happening, the mayor said. And what is happening is all good.
Last year about five “cruising clubs” made New Bedford a destination, each with anywhere from three boats to a dozen or more.
This year, according to acting Harbor Director Ed Anthes-Washburn, the number is 14 and counting, an increase of 180 percent.
The city-owned Popes Island Marina is at 97 percent capacity, Washburn said, up 80 percent over last year.
Finally, the number of people using the city’s launch water taxi service, which began last year, is up 43 percent.
The harbor is clearly on a roll, and it’s entirely possible that boaters who have good experiences are going to help the harbor build on its successes through word of mouth.
The launch looks to be an amenity that was long overdue.
Brian Joseph, one of four launch pilots, sees first-hand how visitors use it alll the time at the bargain price of $3 per trip.
Typically the launch will dock at Pier 3 on the New Bedford waterfront. But in practice it’s very, very versatile. Joseph said that the launch will take a passenger anywhere they want to go along the harbor inside the hurricane barrier, particularly restaurants that are at or near a place to dock.
Last Friday, during a brief tour with a reporter aboard, a cell phone call turned him around to pick up a woman whose yacht was at Popes Island but her husband was at St. Luke’s Hospital, and she was returning to her boat after a visit.
Many boaters use the launch for its primary purpose, taxiing people from their moorings in the harbor. They will use it even if they have dinghies, Joseph said, because many times they are all dressed up for dinner and “a dinghy is a wet boat.”
There are a couple more factors at work here. The city has been setting up at boat shows in New England, and has been doing some targeted advertising in sailing magazines.
Finally, there’s the new harbormaster, David Condon, who is proving to be the glue that is holding all the harbor activities together. It’s a vast departure from previous years when it wasn’t clear who was in charge.
So never mind the Olympics. This summer has been a clear win for New Bedford, and perhaps the start of a whole new chapter in New Bedford’s role in recreational boating in the Northeast.
Steve Urbon’s column appears in The Standard-Times and SouthCoastToday.com. He can be reached at email@example.com or 508-979-4448. Follow him on Twitter @SteveUrbonSCT
By Steve Urbon