“This is the best hurricane hole along the entire East Coast.”

As seen from the Museum’s Davis Observation Deck, New Bedford’s inner harbor is crammed with vessels of every size and draft, as showers and a soupy haze descends. In the distance, the Hurricane Barrier remains open, but is scheduled to close as Hurricane Irene makes landfall over Long Island.

That’s how Captain John Ayer of the American Star described New Bedford Harbor in a news article in the Standard-Times – a seasoned mariner’s compliment for this deep water port, which is protected by a nearly four-mile long hurricane barrier. The harbor’s geographical position has always made it an excellent shelter from northeast gales, more typical here in fall and winter than the occasional hurricane. When hurricanes do make landfall to the west of Buzzards Bay, storm surge piles up in its myriad coves and inlets. The bay is like a 3-sided box, and with no where for it to go, the sea floods inland.

In the Great Hurricane of 1938, before the barrier was built, the water rose 11.53 feet above high tide. With additional hurricanes in 1944, 1954, and 1960, the decision was made to build the barrier. It took four years and $18.5 million. The work was nonstop from 1962 to 1966.

American Star is one of the vessels of American Cruise Lines, whose  passengers are frequent visitors to the Whaling Museum and we are glad they’re tucked in, safe and sound tonight, as Hurricane Irene makes her approach.

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