Yesterday the nice weather continued (after overnight showers), so we took off along the western shore of Cape Cod Bay with blue skies and flybridge-quality warmth. Initially we’d planned to swing by some of the towns on Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard, but we’ll try to catch them next summer. For now, we’re just trying to finish the Down East Circle. Which meant cutting through the Cape Cod Canal. Starting at the rather industrial north end.
Along the canal we passed a mural depicting a solitary sailboat—with full sails—gliding along peacefully. Quite picturesque. Except this is a commercial canal. Sailing strictly is prohibited. Hmmmm. Driver’s Education, on the other hand, is allowed in the canal. Which is a good thing since the Massachusetts Maritime Academy uses it for training. Ranger is one of the school’s training boat. We assume there was a competent instructor aboard, but we still gave them a wide berth just like you do when passing a slow car with the telltale “Student Driver” sign on it.
The canal’s very existence was a bit of a surprise when we first learned of it, because we always assumed that Cape Cod was, well, a cape. Capes usually are connected to land. When the canal was completed in 1916, however, Cape Cod became an island as clearly depicted by our course to New Bedford, since we stayed aboard and afloat the entire time.
In case anyone wants to see what transiting the canal looks like when the water is bouncy, here’s the time-lapse.
We’ve been though lots of scenic canals. This ain’t exactly one of them, but at least it was easy.
New Bedford sits a mile or so up the Acushnet River. The Port is home to some five hundred commercial fishing boats and generates over $10 billion a year in revenue. They’re not going to let stinking hurricanes come in and ruin all that, so they built doors to keep them out. Literally. We took a photo going in, and then later got a drone shot for perspective.
Obviously those gates won’t stop the wind, but it’d take a pretty massive surge to drive water over the wall. All we could think about was some poor slob traveling at trawler speed minutes ahead of The Perfect Storm but arriving just after the doors closed.
Thankfully the doors were open for us. Despite some wind issues we made it to Pope’s Island and hid Misty Pearl amongst a bunch of other white boats.
Now some more about New Bedford. Portugal dedicated a statue of Prince Henry the Navigator here. Which is sweet and all, but also puzzling. Prince Henry did develop some sailing techniques that still are used today and he did do some epic exploring, but he never made it to New England. The plaque lists a bunch of Portuguese settlers so that’s probably the explanation, tenuous though it may be. What is very clear, however, is that New Bedford has a long history with boats.
Although Herman Melville wasn’t from New Bedford, Moby Dick brought attention to what was the whaling capital of the U.S., if not the world. And the place still is all about whaling in one form or another.
A dead whale or a stove boat? Wow that seems unnecessarily dramatic. How about you don’t kill the whale AND your boat stays intact? That’s a pretty obvious win-win, at least nowadays.
We visited the whaling museum but in that same vein found it more than a little disturbing as well. We get that customers wanted whale oil and venders from New Bedford needed to make money, but they’re a little too proud of their role during the age of slaughter for our taste. What New Bedford actually should be proud of is the oldest continuously-operating elevator in the country. The town still pays an operator to take people up and down in the ordinary course of business at City Hall.
The elevator has seats and a 360° view of the inside of the building. Doug rode up with a clerk and down with a mailman, who said it takes about 20 trips a day to deliver all the mail.
Our last scary hurdle is Buzzards Bay, which apparently is under a perpetual Small Craft Advisory because of waves. We plan to tackle it tomorrow on our way back to the Guilded Age of Jay Gatsby, or at least whatever’s left of it in Newport.