Fairhaven

Fairhaven has at least two distinct faces, each of which contributes to its appeal as a cruising destination.

Introduction

“Come to Fairhaven and I’ll give you a ship. . .”

This offer in 1892 from a retired whaling captain was apparently irresistible to Joshua Slocum, a blue-water shipmaster stuck in Boston without a command. The next day Slocum was in Fairhaven to begin a six-year project that would make him the world’s first solo circumnavigator.

The ‘ship’ in the offer “proved to be a very antiquated sloop called the Spray. . . affectionately propped up in a field, some distance from salt water. . .” where she had been for seven years. But after “$553.62 for materials and thirteen months of my own labor” Slocum had the newly rebuilt Spray ready to slide into the Acushnet River.

{Slocum, pp 72-76}

Slocum’s account of his adventure may not be the founding narrative of small boat cruising. (In New England, that distinction probably belongs to Robert Carter’s 1864 A Summer Cruise. . .) But Sailing Alone Around the World has rightfully inspired every subsequent generation of both cruising sailors and armchair explorers.

📷 Geoff Rand
A replica whaleboat and modern dragger represent the old and the new in the maritime economy of Fairhaven/New Bedford harbor. For most of the 19th century the port was home to the world’s foremost whaling fleet. Today the scallopers based here typically bring in the nation’s largest annual catch as measured in dollars.

Navigation

Approaches

The channel in to Fairhaven/New Bedford runs for about 4 miles from the open water of Buzzards Bay through a series of disorganized shoals to the Hurricane Barrier at the harbor mouth. It’s easy to navigate day or night – straight, well marked and well lit. Especially in the dark, though, keep an eye on the slight cross-channel set.

Traffic in the channel is frequently busy. Commercial fishermen, ferries, whale watchers, boats under sail and boats under power are likely to pass in both directions throughout the day. Smaller vessels with local knowledge will cut in or out of the channel at just about any point. It’s not crazy like an outdated interchange on Route 128, but it’s a tough place to let your helmsman’s attention wander.

Not for navigation

Hurricane Barrier

The defining feature of Fairhaven/New Bedford harbor is the Hurricane Barrier – or the Dike as it’s sometimes called locally – that protects the harbor entrance. It’s a 4500 foot long earth and stone structure that stands 20 feet above high tide, with a 150 foot wide gate for boat traffic. Current through the gate does run over a knot, but it’s not particularly turbulent and presents no great obstacle to a typical auxiliary sailboat.

The gate is controlled by the Army Corps of Engineers. It’s closed whenever storm surge threatens the port, and when astronomically high tides combined with weather make flooding likely. In a typical sailing season the gate may be closed a few times even if there is no significant tropical storm. Closures are announced on channel 16, and there is a system of traffic lights, described in a note on Chart 13230, that gives a 20 minute warning. Routine closures around big high tides may last only 2 or 3 hours; sailors who plan to get inside the dike for a storm, however, should arrive well ahead of both tide and weather.

📷 Geoff Rand
C&C 38 Melissa leaves Fairhaven through the Hurricane Barrier.
📷 Geoff Rand
Typical mild confusion in the channel out of Fairhaven. Boats cross paths while rolling in the wake of an outbound whale watcher.

Slips

Just inside the Hurricane Barrier on the right-hand side is the Fairhaven Shipyard — a unique facility with three distinct businesses. For the cruising sailor it’s a full-service marina with transient dockage and the ability to repair anything that breaks on your boat. It’s also a busy shipyard with the capacity to handle construction and repair of the big draggers in the local scallop fleets along with ocean-going fishing vessels from all over the east coast. It’s often host to several visiting mega-yachts as well.

The blend of such different constituencies gives the Shipyard a friendly and easy-going mood. And it’s a great spot to walk around gawking at boats.

Pope’s Island Marina is at the head of the harbor, on the bridge between Fairhaven and New Bedford. It’s run by the City of New Bedford, but it’s about the same walking distance to the heart of Fairhaven as is the Shipyard. They maintain several slips for visiting boats.

Not for navigation

Charts

Not for navigation. Charts are not updated. 

Going Ashore

Fairhaven has at least two distinct faces, each of which contributes to its appeal as a cruising destination.

The industrial waterfront has a number of active shipyards with ferries, workboats, fishermen and big yachts undergoing repair. And though most of the fishing fleet moors across the harbor in New Bedford, there are likely to be commercial boats tied up two or three deep at Fairhaven’s town wharf.

Move just a street or two in from the waterfront, however, and Fairhaven is a town of quiet residential neighborhoods whose architecture spans the entire period of settlement from the 17th century down to the present. Interspersed are some magnificent public buildings, many of which were donated to the town by the philanthropic native and later summer resident Henry Huttleston Rogers. These include the Town Hall, Library, High School, Water Company, and a park.

Two locally well-regarded restaurants owned by the same family are not ten minutes north of the Shipyard. They share a similar menu. Margaret’s is the original; it’s smaller, quieter and closes earlier. It’s BYOB. Elisabeth’s is newer, a bit bigger, serves later, and features a full bar, decent beer selection and simple wine list.

📷 Geoff Rand
Monuments on the Fairhaven waterfront mark the gravesite, according to legend, of John Cooke, the last surviving male Pilgrim from the Mayflower, as well as the start and end point of Joshua Slocum’s solo circumnavigation.
📷 Geoff Rand
Fairhaven native Henry Huttleston Rogers (1840 – 1909) was an early entrepreneur in the Pennsylvania oil fields and later a top executive at Standard Oil. Various lists that adjust for changes in the size of the US economy over time rank him as one of the 25 wealthiest Americans ever.

Off the Beaten Path

The little waterfront park, pictured above, that commemorates John Cooke and Joshua Slocum is simple and contemplative. Head north from the Shipyard, cross Route 6 and you’ll end up walking parallel to the harbor on Main St. About 1/4 mile further, take a left on Pilgrim St.

One Hour Ashore

Take a right out of the Shipyard gate and walk about a half mile south to Fort Phoenix. It has old guns, stone walls, interesting historic plaques and wide views across Buzzards Bay. From the fort, you can also walk out along the hurricane barrier.

Or take a left from the Shipyard and walk about the same distance north for ice cream at Brady’s.

Maritime History

A sign at Fort Phoenix describes the “first naval battle” of the American Revolution, in which members of the Fairhaven militia sailed from the harbor in May of 1775 to capture two British boats.

Rainy Day

There’s a small Historical Society with summer hours Saturdays 10-2. If you’re seriously weather-bound, it’s worth the effort to get across the harbor to the New Bedford Whaling Museum.

Services

Facilities

The “Yachtsman’s Haven” at the top of the Shipyard gangway is open from 6am until 11pm each day. In addition to heads, showers and laundry there’s a little sitting area with TV, a modest assortment of books and a snack machine. On weekend mornings they have coffee and donuts.

Outside there are a couple of grills and a covered picnic area.

Fitting Out

Diesel, water, ice and laundry are available at the Shipyard.

There’s a big Shaw’s, a Super Stop & Shop, a liquor store and West Marine about a mile and a half from the Shipyard at the interchange of route 6 and I-195.

There’s a pumpout facility at Pope’s Island Marina, but it’s worth calling ahead to be sure they are open. The New Bedford Harbormaster also runs a pumpout boat on weekends that can meet a boat from Fairhaven in the middle of the harbor.

Contacts

Fairhaven Shipyard
1-508-999-1600
VHF: 09

Photos

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Fairhaven

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