Whaling City Welcome

Palmer Island Light, with downtown New Bedford in the background. Photo Tom Richardson

When Joe Myerson, a longtime boating writer and Buzzards Bay sailor, suggested that the 2009 Cape Dory Owners Association rendezvous take place in New Bedford Harbor, some of the members expressed trepidation. After all, the city was no Newport or Nantucket, and had a certain “gritty” reputation. Even Myerson himself grew concerned as the event drew closer.

“Frankly, we were all a bit skeptical about what we’d find, so we were pleasantly surprised by the city and the harbor,” he says. “There’s a good public marina and moorings, and the downtown offers so much to do and see, so much history. Plus, the variety of restaurants, galleries and shops is truly amazing.”

One of New Bedford’s many fishing boats approaches the hurricane barrier. Photo Tom Richardson

Easy Downtown Access

In the years since Myerson’s visit, the recreational boating infrastructure in New Bedford has been further improved, and now it’s even easier to visit the city by boat.

“Over the past 5 years. we’ve been aggressively upgrading moorings, adding dinghy docks, renovating Pope’s Island Marina and investing in other projects to provide the recreational boating community with a friendly, unique and authentic experience in America’s number-one fishing port,” says Ed Anthes-Washburn, New Bedford Harbor Port Director, alluding to the fact that the city ranks first among the nation’s fishing ports in terms of catch value (sea scallops are the main catch these days).

That means you can expect to see a lot of fishing boats, both inside the harbor and on the approach from Buzzards Bay, on a trip to New Bedford. To access the inner harbor—part of the Acushnet River estuary—you first have to thread your way through a series of ledges and rocks. Pay close attention to the charts and keep an eye out for trawlers and ferries as you head for Butler Flats Light. Another hazard to be aware of, especially when approaching from the north, is Egg Island ledge. This shallow area has some nasty rocks that lie just under the surface and extend close to the main channel. Give it a wide berth.

Mysterious Crow Island. Photo Tom Richardson

Moorings & Marinas

Once inside the Hurricane Barrier, there are several places to stash your boat while you go ashore and explore the city. The best deal in town is the municipal moorings, just south of Pope’s Island. The moorings, identified by their yellow floats, are free to use during the day and can be rented nightly for $35. From the mooring you can hail the Whaling City Water Taxi on VHF 72 for a lift into town, or take your dinghy to the free dinghy dock next to the Schooner Ernestina, on the south side of State Pier. (Note: the Ernestina is currently undergoing an extensive renovation, but is expected back in New Bedford by 2020) After tying up, you might want to tour the 120-year-old former fishing schooner, which also made several Arctic expeditions before being converted to a passenger ship. She brought thousands of Cape Verdeans to New Bedford before being bequeathed to the city in 1982 as a historic icon.

If you’re looking for greater creature comforts during your stay, the city-owned Pope’s Island Marina offers seasonal and transient slips with electric and water. The facility is locked and secure, and also features laundry and showers. Adjacent to the marina is a free dinghy dock.

Fort Tabor. Photo Tom Richardson

From the marina, you can take a short walk or ride via dinghy or water taxi to the downtown area, where you’ll find easy access to historic Johnny Cake Hill. This multi-block section of the city is part of the New Bedford Whaling National Historic Park, which is dedicated to preserving the city’s numerous historic buildings and educating visitors about its varied past. The Park Service headquarters is located in a former bank on William Street, which makes a good starting point for a walking tour along the cobblestone streets of the Hill.

The New Bedford Whaling Museum is filled with artifacts from the city’s whaling days. Photo Tom Richardson

Whale of a Good Time

Once known as the “City That Lit the World,” New Bedford was the largest exporter of whale oil and the richest city in the country until just after the Civil War. Hundreds of whaling ships launched from the harbor, inspiring the famous Melville novel Moby Dick, which is read aloud in its entirety each January at the New Bedford Whaling Museum, also just steps from the waterfront.

This splendid museum provides a thorough look at the history of whaling in New Bedford through thousands of artifacts, artwork and exhibits. Kids will love the half-scale model of the whaling barque Lagoda and the massive whale skeletons suspended from the ceiling in the lobby.

Trailer-boaters can easily access the inner harbor from the Jim Holmes Memorial boat ramp on the Fairhaven side of the harbor. Photo Tom Richardson

Aside from its rich history, the downtown area thrives with restaurants, shops and galleries. In fact, there are some 20 eateries and 15 galleries within a five-block radius of the waterfront. Also of interest is the Zeiterion Performing Arts Center, which hosts live musical performances, plays, comedy acts and more throughout the year.

Of course, New Bedford makes a great jumping-off spot for side trips to other boating venues, including the various harbors of Buzzards Bay, the Elizabeth Islands and Martha’s Vineyard. Many recreational fishermen also launch from New Bedford Harbor because of its proximity to a host of fishing grounds that serve up terrific action with striped bass, bluefish, scup, sea bass, tautog, false albacore and fluke (see sidebar).

So whether your pleasure is fishing, sailing, cruising or simply checking out interesting new destinations, New Bedford is worth a look. Pay it a visit this season and you may be pleasantly surprised too!


New Bedford is one the country’s largest fishing ports. Photo Tom Richardson


New Bedford Names & Numbers

Getting There:

To access New Bedford’s inner harbor—part of the Acushnet River estuary—boaters must first thread their way through a series of ledges and rocks. Pay close attention to the charts and buoys, and keep an eye out for large fishing boats and ferries as you head for Butler Flats Light and the Hurricane Barrier opening.Charts: NOAA 13232, 13230

A potential hazard to be aware of, especially when approaching from the north, is Egg Island ledge. This shallow area holds some big, nasty rocks that lie just under the surface and extend quite close to the main channel. Give it a wide berth.

Once inside the Hurricane Barrier, there is deep water right up to Popes Island and the marinas along the Fairhaven side.


Dockage, Moorings & Service:

  • Popes Island Marina (508) 979-1456: This city-run marina offers slips and moorings at the head of the harbor. Moorings are free during the day, $35 per night. Water taxi service provided by Whaling City Launch. Slips have electric and water. Showers, laundry and pump out available. Gas and diesel are available at the Sea Fuels dock, just north of the ferry terminal, as well as on the Fairhaven side of the harbor.
  • Whaling City Moorings (508) 984-4979:  Mooring rentals near downtown New Bedford, as well as water taxi service and boat tours.
  • Bayline Boatyard (508) 994-2944: Seasonal and transient moorings in the southwest corner of the harbor.
  • Niemiec Marine (508) 997-7390: Full-service yard and small marina on the north side of Popes Island. Sometimes has transient slips available.
  • CE Beckman Marine Supply (508) 994-9674: Venerable marine supply store in the heart of New Bedford.
  • New Bedford Ship Supply (508) 994-2961: Marine supply and hardware store on Front Street, across from State Pier.
  • Pump-Out Service (508) 979-1456 or (508) 989-4279: VHF 9 (preferred) or 74

Launch Ramps:

  • Pease Park (Middle Street, just south of Rte. 6): This 2-lane ramp has a $7 daily fee and offers 2 floats and all-tide access to the inner harbor. Parking for some 20 rigs.
  • Gifford Street (inside the western arm of the Hurricane Barrier): Two-lane ramp with all-tide access and a long dock for tie-ups. Ample parking. Daily fee $7.
  • Clarks Cove (west of the harbor). Double-lane ramp with parking for 20 rigs. Daily fee $7.

Where to Eat:

  • Brick Pizzeria (508) 999-4943: Amazing brick-oven pizzeria on Union Street.
  • Cork (508) 994-9463: Wine and tapas bar on Front Street, across from the harbor. Outdoor seating in summer.
  • No Problemo (508) 984-1081: Authentic Mexican taqueria a few blocks from the Whaling Museum.
  • Freestone’s City Grill (508) 993-7477: Popular downtown restaurant and bar featuring appetizers, pizza, fajitas, steaks, seafood, burgers and more.

Cool Shops:

  • Arthur Moniz Gallery (508) 997-8644: View the works of talented New England maritime artist Arthur Moniz, across the street from the Whaling Museum.
  • Travessia Winery (774) 929-6534: Urban winery producing white and red wines made with grapes grown exclusively in the Southeastern
Massachusetts. Open every day for tasting and sales from noon-6 p.m. (contact winery for seasonal hours).
  • Calico
 (508) 999-4147: Vintage shop specializing in women’s
clothing from the ‘60’s through ‘80’s, with a focus on dresses. Also carries vintage accessories, bags, shoes, and sunglasses, as well as unique new designer labels.
  • Whaleman’s Shipping List (508) 990-3786: Unique shop on Johnny Cake Hill that buys, sells and appraises nautical antiques, books and collectibles.

Things to See & Do:

  • New Bedford Whaling Museum (508) 997-0046: Learn about whales, whaling and the “City that Lit the World” through exhibits and presentations.
  • Zeiterion Performing Arts Center (508) 997-5664: Catch live concerts, plays, musicals and more at this historic theater a few blocks from the waterfront.
  • Buzzards Bay Coalition Center: Steps from the waterfront, the BBC Center offers interactive exhibits, an extensive library and information on the Buzzards Bay watershed.
  • Schooner Ernestina: Tours are available aboard this wooden fishing schooner, built in 1894 and docked next to State Pier.
  • Working Waterfront Festival: An annual, two-day celebration of the city’s fishing heritage, with great local food, scallop-shucking contests, demonstrations, boat tours and live music.
  • AHA! (Art-History-Architecture): Nights are free arts and culture events held the 2nd Thursday of every month in downtown New Bedford.


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