THE WCR WHALEBOATS

In 1997 a group of people interested in the races formed "Whaleboats for the Whaling City" under the auspices of the Waterfront Historic Area League (WHALE). This group raised over $60,000 to build the three Beetle whaleboat replicas that are now used in the Independence Day Whaleboat Race during SummerFest. The Whaling City Rowing, Inc. was formed in 1998 and WHALE donated the whaleboats to the WCR in 1999. 

The major contributors for building the boats were Titleist and FootJoy Worldwide, Compass Bank, Aerovox Corp., the New Bedford Area Chamber of Commerce, Mayor Kalisz and the City of New Bedford and the Crapo Foundation.  In addition, Edson International donated the oarlocks for the boats. 

In honor of the boats that won the Independence Day Whaleboat Races (see below) in 1857 and 1859, the WCRC named two of the whaleboats the Skylark and the Flying Fish.  The third boat is named the Herman Melville, to honor the author most identified with New Bedford's maritime heritage  The WCR has organized the Independence Day Whaleboat Races at SummerFest since 1999..

The Whaling City Rowing’s whaleboats are fiberglass replicas based on the classic whaleboat design of New Bedford's James Beetle. James Beetle and his sons had a boat-building yard in the South End of New Bedford in the 19th century.  They built over 1000 whaleboats during the heyday of whaling.  The boats sold for about $50. 

These new boats, built in 1999, cost $15,000 apiece and were made by Edey and Duff Boat Builders in Mattapoisett.

The whaleboats are 28 feet long, with a six-foot beam.  They weigh about 1,000 lbs. empty.   They row a crew of five people, plus boatsteerer.  There are three rowers on the starboard side and two rowers on the port side.  The uneven number of rowers is unusual for row boats and is due to the fact that the bow rower would turn harpooneer when the boat approached a whale. 

The oars vary in length to compensate for the narrowing beam fore and aft.  The mid-ship oar is 18 feet long.  The oars on either side of the mid-ship (oars 2 and 4) are 17 feet long.  The oars in the stern and bow (oars 1 and 5) are 16 feet long.  The steering oar used by the boatsteerer is 21 feet long.

The Charles W Morgan Homecoming

The Homecoming of the Charles W Morgan was a wonderful ten days for New Bedford and especially for members of Whaling City Rowing. WCR members rowed out beyond the hurricane barrier to welcome the Morgan. They were among the whaleboats leading the parade formally saluting the last wooden whaleship in the world. They assisted Mystic Seaport in offering free rowing to visitors. WCR members, finally, provided a great day of whaleboat competition for Morgan visitors to see.

The whaleboat competitions on Saturday, July 5, 2014 were a great success. The day before, Hurricane Arthur threatened to force cancellations. As it turned out, Arthur passed well south, but it dragged in high northwest winds. On Saturday winds in the harbor were at 20 knots and gusting higher.

Mark Hurley put together the Whaleboat Skills Challenge, where two boats at a time executed close quarters manuveurs including a pirouette, a slalom and a start-stop sequence. Fourteen teams entered. In the wind, some of the fun appeared to require survival tactics. Pirouettes “in place” found boats blown 100 yards down the course. Slaloms which were supposed to take the boats around four buoys were considered good if the boats managed a single turn before being blown to the last buoy. A few boats barely managed the last event, “The Friendly Locals”, where all six aboard were to wave and smile while rowing past the judges. Our Sirenes, however, lived up to the team name and overwhelmed the judges with their sinuous waves.

Saturday afternoon was devoted to the Independence Day Whaleboat Race. Whaling City Rowing had run that race for a dozen years through 2010. It was in turn a revival of the first whaleboat races which occurred in New Bedford harbor in the 1800s. In the first recorded instance of that race, in 1857, the whaleboat Skylark won and was awarded a silver pitcher. A replica silver pitcher was given to the winner of the 2014 rave. Charles Smith, Ralph Eustis and Liz Labelle were in charge of the race.

The race had two divisions. The pro race took boats on the 1857 course, from the start line off State Pier, out around Palmer’s Island and back. The hurricane barrier, which was built in 1966, created a problem with the old course because it created a narrow passage between the island and the barrier. To avoid overlaps in the passage, boats were sent off one at a time. The eight boats had an easy time with the first leg, which was more than offset by the effort required to row back upwind to the finish.

The amateur race was half the distance of the pro race, around buoys set near the lightship Nantucket, which was anchored in the middle of the harbor. Two heats of four boats each were staged. Whaling City Rowing’s team The Shiverin’ Timbers was second in the co-ed group and our Dirty Oars team won the women’s group.