New Bedford Tells Its Story in Creative Ways

Classic Yachts Play New Bedford Waters for Layover
By Don Cuddy
Standard Times Staff Writer

NEW BEDFORD — With a fine easterly breeze filling their sails, the line of classic yachts gliding through the hurricane barrier lent an air of gentility to the New Bedford waterfront Wednesday afternoon.
It is a sight that many along the shore are hoping will become more commonplace, among them economic development director Matt Morrissey, who went out in a launch to greet the boats as they sailed in from Edgartown just after 1 p.m.
“It’s great to see these beautiful boats entering our harbor,” he said. “We continue to support the working waterfront, but the harbor is large enough to accommodate a mix of uses. We see a real opportunity now to bring in more recreational boating and to market the harbor to different populations.”
The arrival of the beautifully restored yachts represented something of a coup for the city, Mr. Morrissey said.
Led by the 160-foot, three-masted, staysail schooner Arabella, the visiting fleet also included several Concordia yawls, among them the Captiva, owned by John and Laurie Bullard.
“New Bedford is known around the world as a commercial harbor, but as far as yachts go, it’s a secret,” Mr. Bullard said. “So when we bring in a fleet like this and they see the port and the services we have here and the nearby historic district, they are going to come back. New Bedford is an interesting and multi-dimensional port and, without interfering in any way with the working harbor, we have the potential to reap the economic benefit here that yachts bring to places like Edgartown and Newport.”
The classic yacht cruise is sponsored by the International Yacht Restoration School in Newport, R.I., which is in the business of preserving old boats. This is their eighth cruise, but the first occasion the city port was included in the itinerary — and that came about fortuitously, according to Mrs. Bullard.
“I was at a nice dinner and met the man responsible for reviving the cruise, and I told him I would help him if he included New Bedford on the cruise track,” she said. “So he and James Russell, the vice president of IRYS, were able to convince the board of trustees to consider it. They came here in January and we took them out on the harbor and then they walked around the historic district and said, ‘We’re in.'”
Harbor Development Commissioner Kristin Decas accompanied Mr. Morrissey around the harbor, welcoming the crews and presenting each boat with a block of ice, Black Whale T-shirts, Port of New Bedford hats, and an impressive goody bag featuring a bottle of champagne with a customized label displaying the name of each individual boat, a glossy booklet describing the city and its attractions, a fleece top from Guy Cotten, Titleist golf balls and a flag from the Coalition for Buzzards Bay.
The gaff cutter Peggy Bawn, built in Carrickfergus, Ireland, in 1894 and still using cotton sails, was the oldest boat in the fleet, which included a number of extreme racing craft such as Nor’ Easter — an Alden “Q” boat — and the 1955 Concordia sloop Harrier, famous for winning all six races at Cowes Week in England that year, with the present owner Jesse Bontecou aboard.
“This is my first visit to New Bedford in about 60 years,” Mr. Bontecou said. “What a great welcome we’ve had!”
James Russell of the International Yacht Restoration School said the effort put forth by the city was overwhelming.
“We’re humbled,” he said. “The warm welcome the fleet received coming in with escort boats, bottles of champagne and all that the mayor and the Economic Development Council has laid on for us has been absolutely stupendous. We’re thrilled to be here, and I know we’re going to want to come back.”
After a gathering at Cork bar, the crews attended a dinner party at the Whaling Museum Wednesday evening and were scheduled to explore the waterfront and visit a fish processing plant today.
The cruise will end Friday with the fleet’s return to Newport.
By Wednesday evening, Mr. Morrisey was declaring the visit an unqualified success.
“The response we are getting is very positive. Everyone is saying that New Bedford is an undiscovered gem,” he said.
August 23, 2007

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