New Bedford Whaling
Jun 30, 2008
|New Bedford, Massachusetts - Monday, June 30
The Herron’s hospitality seems to know no bounds, and today they took us to New Bedford, Massachusetts. It’s a drive of over an hour and we crossed a number of bridges and waterways on the way. There are wooded hills here, but they are the low coastal variety. From any height you can see for quite a long distance. The beaches are sometimes sandy, but more often rocky - and it’s the picturesque scenery I’ve always associated with the shores of New England.
New Bedford was once the whaling capital of the world, and in the 1800’s it was home to tall ships that made the harbor a forest of masts. Some great fortunes were made in whaling, and it provided livelihood for a large community in it’s day. As whaling declined, other fisheries arose, and New Bedford is still home to a very tough and sturdy looking fleet of boats. Rand says it is in decline as well, and it is nothing like it once was, but not having seen it before it looks quite impressive to us.
Rand grew up on Cape Cod and has been a commercial fisherman himself. He has dived for lobster, and like his generosity his experience also seems to know no bounds. We benefitted from both, and it was wonderful to have guides so intimately familiar with the area as Rand and Marcia.
We stopped at one of the Visitor Centers and learned about the harbor and the fish auctions that once took place here. Marcia and Rand had prepared a lunch, and before we went any farther we had a picnic right there at the edge of the water. A sleek and patient gull watched us eating, and his patience was rewarded when Rand and Marcia took the rest of the tuna and gave it to him on chips. Happy as that made him, it got even better - and when Marcia gave him the last two prawns he got that glassy eyed look that said, “I think I just died and went to heaven!”
From there we parked a few blocks away, and after visiting the National Park Service Visitor Center we walked a block to New Bedford’s fine Whaling Museum. From the blue whale skeleton over the entry hall, to the half scale model of a square rigged wooden whaling vessel upstairs, it’s a wonderful place and we thoroughly enjoyed it.
For a museum they are fairly tolerant of photography, and while there are restrictions there are also many things they allow you to photograph. One thing that fascinated me was the skeleton of the sperm whale, which is the largest toothed creature on the planet. I’ve seen skeletons and various vertebrae and skulls of many other whales, but they’ve all been baleen whales and none had teeth. Sperm whales are smart and anger easily, and they have sent many whalers and their boats to a watery grave.
Rand then took us on a drive around the harbor, making several stops at interesting places. Most interesting of all was the Hurricane Barrier that protects the harbor from storm surges. In 1938 a hurricane brought with it a storm surge of some 18 feet, destroying many boats and a damaging a number of docks and structures. After that they constructed a huge rock and concrete barrier across the whole waterfront of the town, protecting it from future surges of that kind. The barrier has a wide gate which is the only way into the harbor. Normally the gate remains open, but today it was closed.
As we approached it a siren went off and the gates began to open. A small barge tow was outbound and the gate opened to let it through, then promptly closed again. We asked the gate keeper why it was closed and he said it was because today’s tide was expected to reach five feet above normal. He said they close the gate for any tide that is more than four feet above normal, which happens about 25 times a year. So even Rand and Marcia learned something today!
From there we went to dinner at Antonio’s, a Portuguese restaurant where they feed you so much I walked out feeling like a goose that’s been stuffed for pate. The food was delicious, and the portions were so large that no one walked out of there empty handed. On the drive home the bridges and waterways were beautiful in the sunset. We arrived at dusk and said ‘goodnight’ and went our separate ways. I went to bed thinking about all we’ve seen and done this past few days. It is a lot to absorb, and if I’ve forgotten the names of some of the refuges and beaches we visited it is not for want of trying. It was all fascinating and we will never forget the images or the feelings this remarkable visit has given us.
Thank you Rand and Marcia! Thank you for everything. We appreciate your generous hospitality more that we can ever express.