Preeminent Northeast Sailing Magazine Features New Bedford as Destination Port

Destination: New Bedford Harbor
WindCheck Magazine, Laurie Bullard

If you think you know the port of New Bedford, MA, think again.

The secret is getting out!
If you have not recently docked at this historic seaport, it is well worth taking the time to visit an authentic working waterfront and explore a seaport where people have gone to sea for 250 years. That relationship continues to define New Bedford. Experience a harbor that is home to both working boats and yachts and the perfect layover-destination and a welcoming port for recreational sailors. Hidden in plain sight on the north side of Buzzards Bay, you will find everything you need from excellent marine services to restaurants with fresh seafood to the nearby National Park and Whaling Museum. With over 1,000 recreational boat slips and moorings, New Bedford Harbor is a newly-found hot-spot for recreational boating.
The harbor is located at the mouth of the Acushnet River, which flows south into Buzzards Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. This is a deep-water port with depths up to 30 feet. The harbor features a hurricane barrier that stretches across the water from the south end of New Bedford to the town of Fairhaven. The barrier’s 150-foot opening closes during coastal storms and hurricanes. As a result, the harbor is one of the safest havens on the eastern seaboard. With close proximity to Newport and the Islands as well as the Cape, many of the yachts from these ports seek safety inside this hurricane barrier during major storms.
This large and active harbor is one of the nation’s major fishing ports, ranked #1 in the U.S. based on the value of product landed. The $240 million annual catch is more than all the other New England ports combined. The fishing fleet includes more than 250 vessels rigged for ground fish, scallops and clams. The harbor’s seafood processing industry is recognized both nationally and internationally. In addition, Maritime International has one of the largest U.S. Department of Agriculture- approved cold storage treatment centers on the East Coast for the use of restricted imported fruit and fish. Support industries in the port include vessel maintenance and repair as well as equipment and provisions.
The services and amenities available are sure to please the recreational boater. Equipment and provisions including food, block & crushed ice, fuel, oils, electronics and other products are available dockside or nearby. Eight marinas, many with multiple services, are located within the harbor. A water taxi and a tour boat operate in the port. Pump out is available for recreational vessels both dockside or yacht side. The waterfront includes a fine city-owned marina, Pope’s Island Marina, with full services including laundry, showers, grills, meeting rooms, moorings, slips and dockside water and electricity available for yachts up to 150 feet as well as 24/7 security. All recreational boats are welcome. West Marine’s first store is right across the street. There are new dinghy docks both at the Marina and downtown New Bedford, allowing for easy access to the historic district. And a new supermarket is opening soon just north of the Route 195 overpass.
The New Bedford Harbor Development Commission has reconfigured the harbor to be friendlier to visiting yachts, designating mooring fields, anchoring areas and shipping channel – all newly marked and color-coded. A new website (newbedford. is/harbor) has a fine map with all the important locations for the recreational boater identified. Check it out before casting off for this new destination. Included on this website is a delightful alphabet listing of everything a yachtsman or woman might need beginning with Anchors and Awnings and ending with extra parts for just about everything, yacht brokerage services and Zodiac dinghies.
On the Fairhaven side of the harbor is Fairhaven Shipyard Companies, one of eight marinas in the harbor. Adding the former D.N. Kelly Shipyard, Fairhaven Shipyard is a major state-of-the-art marine shipyard with an established reputation that includes both commercial and yacht services, new construction, and a full service marina with 24/7 security, ship’s store, transient slips, water and fuel. In addition, the Fairhaven Seaport Inn and Marina offers rooms, casual dining and dockage for smaller watercraft. The town of Fairhaven has its share of historic sights and shops as well.
New Bedford is best known as the inspiration for Herman Melville’s classic, Moby-Dick. Melville shipped out of New Bedford onboard the Acushnet in 1841 when New Bedford was the whaling capital of the world. Its waterfront teemed with sailors and trades people drawn from all over the globe by the whaling industry’s promise of prosperity, and its wide residential streets sparkled with the mansions of the wealthy whaling families. In the 1850s, more whaling voyages sailed from New Bedford than from all of the world’s other ports combined. As the whaling industry declined, the emergence of the textiles and needle trades brought about the construction of endless miles of huge brick mills and neighborhood housing for the workers, gathered once again from all over the world. Such famous names as Wamsutta and Berkshire Hathaway were recognized as two of the largest mills in the nation, producing the best quality woven products in the world.
New Bedford is a modern city of nearly 100,000. That history of seafaring traditions and industry continues today and the harbor bustles with activity. Fishing boats set out for and return from voyages to George’s Bank. Fuel barges service the boats between trips. Ferries whisk passengers to Martha’s Vineyard and Cuttyhunk. The historic fishing schooner/arctic exploration vessel/Cape Verdean packet Ernestina (ex- Effie M. Morrissey) is tied up nearby. Two active whaleboat rowing clubs add to the unique feel of an active urban harbor. In addition, with over 1,000 recreational boat slips and moorings, New Bedford Harbor is an important center for recreational boating, significantly larger than the more familiar yacht harbors like Padanaram, Marion, Mattapoisett and Cuttyhunk. While the fishing industry gives New Bedford harbor its flavor, there is plenty of room for visiting yachts.
New Bedford’s industry includes fishing, cultural tourism, biotech and life sciences, marine sciences, yacht based industry including design and services, and a new and growing renewable energy industry. New Bedford has beautiful beaches, a number of tranquil parks and a world-class small zoo. The historic downtown center is experiencing a renaissance with the presence of the National Historical Park, the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth and Bristol Community College, young 30-something entrepreneurs, new restaurants, a thriving creative economy with the Zeiterion Performing Arts Center, galleries, artist studios, museums, gift shops, and new residential housing. And, a number of the ruggedly handsome mills stand today as well, cleverly restored and adapted for reuse – artist lofts, apartments, condominiums, and home to a number of high-tech industries. One mill, the Joseph Abboud factory, continues to produce the finest in men’s fashion.
You are invited to visit New Bedford from the sea, as the mariners of old. As you pass through the Hurricane Dike, you will see Palmer’s Island to port, the lovely homes of Fairhaven on the starboard. The harbor will be filled with yachts of all sizes, both motor and sail, gently bobbing at moorings, the large fishing fleet tied three and four deep at the docks on both sides of the harbor. Following the channel north into the heart of the harbor, take note of the skylines of New Bedford and Fairhaven with their tall church spires, stately homes with widows walks and cupolas, busy marinas and shipyards.
You may even see one or more James Beetle replica whaleboats, 28 feet long, with five oarsmen (or women) and a steerer enjoying a row around the harbor. Call the New Bedford harbormaster on Channel 9 and 74 to pick up a mooring or secure a dockside slip and be greeted by a friendly chap with a packet of brochures and an offer to help arrange tours, provisioning, or reservations. He’s even been known to bring you coffee and the newspaper the following morning! Once secured, collect the garbage, grab the ice bag and take the water taxi (Channel 72) or row your dinghy ashore and stroll New Bedford’s cobblestone streets, view Melville’s “brave houses and flowery gardens, each harpooned and dragged up hither from the bottom of the sea” and the buildings, banks and storehouses from the days when New Bedford was the whaling capital of the world. Tour historic structures, gardens, and museums and visit the working waterfront.
Highlights include the New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park visitor’s center, the world-class New Bedford Whaling Museum, The Seamen’s Bethel, Schooner Ernestina, the Rotch- Jones-Duff House and Garden Museum, and the Nathan and Polly Johnson House, where Frederick Douglass sought asylum as a freeman. And the New Bedford Art Museum and Art- Works! always have new and exciting exhibits. The free public library has on display works by world famous New Bedford artists Albert Bierstadt, William Bradford and Albert Pinkham Ryder. James Arnold, whose gift established the Arnold Arboretum, lived in New Bedford. Joshua Slocum built the Spray in Fairhaven, departing from Boston to sail alone the world in 1895.
There is a small park dedicated to Slocum on the Fairhaven side of the harbor. Another Fairhaven native, Henry Huttleston Rogers, and Standard Oil magnate during the late 1890s and one of the wealthiest men in the United States (not to mention Mark Twain’s patron), generously gave back to his town with the construction of some of the grandest architecture to be seen. Visiting boaters can admire the skyline of Fairhaven thanks to Mr. Rogers as they enter New Bedford Harbor.
In addition, a stroll through New Bedford’s historic downtown also includes a number of galleries, gift and antique shops, and retail establishments. Need a beauty or spa day? These too are readily available downtown. Most sites and sights are within walking distance from the waterfront but a trolley can be arranged for larger groups wishing to make a full day of sightseeing. Tours of such places as Foley Fish processing plant, Joseph Abboud textile manufacturing mill, Edson International, Schaefer Marine and Maximus Instruments, as well as assorted fishing vessels can be organized. By special arrangements, authentic whaleboats, the very same as those used by the whalemen to chase their prey, are available to row and race. The National Historical Whaling Park offers numerous walking tours as does the Preservation Society. New Bedford is host to numerous festivals during the summer months and monthly AHA! (Art, History & Architecture) evenings throughout the year.
Concerts in the park take place all summer. In addition, The Zeiterion Performing Arts Center offers world-class performances throughout the year. The New Bedford Symphony has a full schedule of quality orchestral performances, and The New Bedford Festival Theatre offers an excellent summer community performance during the summer months. Evening tours of the waterfront will be offered during the summer months.
A Marriott Fairfield Suites and Inns will open this June, just across the street from the harbor with a full compliment of suites with harbor views, light meals, and conference rooms. The historic downtown is within easy walking distance for meals, shopping and sightseeing.
New Bedford has its share of fine, casual and ethnic dining experiences. Several are within walking distance from the water taxi and dinghy dock: Cork Wine & Tapas bar; Waterfront Grille, serving the freshest of seafood; Cat Walk; Freestones and Café Arpeggio for simpler and casual fare; Northern Italian fare at Café Balena, across the street from the New Bedford Whaling Museum and Candleworks, housed in the original candle works factory, offering elegant Italian and American cuisine. Further afield are some of the area’s best Portuguese restaurants: Antonio’s, Café Funchal, M&C Café, Café Mimo and Vasco Da Gama to mention only a few, as well as Davy’s Locker, a long time fresh fish establishment located near the beautiful south end beaches.
The City of New Bedford invites you to visit. Discover the secret of this multi-dimensional harbor that has been hiding in plain sight for so long. You will be pleasantly surprised and find that you will want to return again and again. For more information, visit or
Laurie Bullard is a professional photographer and a member of the New Bedford Economic Development Council. You can view her portfolio of prints and note cards at
June 2010
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