Tag Archives: swing span bridge


At about a quarter to three, Carol and I decided to take a walk. We were both working at home this afternoon, and wanted to get out before the sun set.

We decided to walk to Pope’s Island, and as we got on the bridge from New Bedford to Fish Island we saw that the big freight ship that had been offloading fruit at Marine Terminal had just gotten underway, and was rounding Fish Island. Just then, the bells for the crossing gates at the swing span bridge started to clang, stopping vehicular traffic on Route 6 so the bridge could swing open for the freighter.

Late last week, I had been walking on the New Bedford side of the hurricane barrier that protects the harbor just as the freighter, River Phoenix, came into the port. It’s probably on the large end of the ships we see coming into the harbor, somewhere around 400 feet in length overall, a big white reefer with “NYK Lauritzen Cool” painted in huge bold lettering on the side, the red British ensign snapping from the stern. It was quite something to see it come through the hurricane barrier, the bridge superstructure and derricks towering over the hurricane barrier. Two tugs came out to meet it: I could see that Jaguar was the tug at the stern, but I couldn’t see which tug was at the bow. The black and yellow pilot boat came zipping out, but I couldn’t make out whether they took the pilot off once the tugs had the ship under control, or whether the pilot stayed on until the ship was docked. All this while, the swing span bridge was swinging slowly clockwise so as to open the channels into the upper end of the harbor.

From where I stood on the hurricane barrier, I had a clear view straight up the eastward channel of the swing span bridge; River Phoenix is big enough that it pretty well filled the channel, and it must have been a neat bit of piloting to take it through. There was a stiff westerly breeze, and you could see River Phoenix moving slightly eastward under the influence of the wind, but the pilot (or the tugs, whoever had it under control) nicely adjusted for the influence of the wind.

When I walked out to Pope’s Island on Sunday to buy a newspaper, I could see them unloading what looked like boxes of fruit.

And then this afternoon, there was River Phoenix rounding Fish Island, about to head through the swing span bridge. By the time the swing span bridge had swung open for River Phoenix, Carol and I had walked right up to the edge of the westward channel to watch.

The tug Jaguar was at her stern, and we watched as Jaguar cast off the stern rope. River Phoenix swung slowly around in a wide arc towards the eastward channel of the swing span bridge. “Too bad,” I said. “I thought it would go through this side of the bridge.” I thought she would keep to the starboard, but Carol said that the one other ship of that size that she had seen heading outward through the bridge had kept to the port heading out.

It looked to me as if River Phoenix were swinging a little too wide, but of course I’d never seen a ship of that size heading outwards through the bridge and I really had no idea of what too wide would look like.

“I don’t see how they get through there without hitting the bridge,” said Carol. “I wonder if they’re going to hit.” “Oh, they must know what they’re doing,” I said. But then, a couple of weeks ago, the tug Fournier Boys had been heading in the westward channel of the bridge to assist another big freighter out, and the tug had hit the pilings along the channel on the Fish Island side. I looked down and could see a piece of one of the beams Fournier Boys had shattered, still resting there on top of another piling. When she had hit, it had been quite a crunch.

River Phoenix was quite a sight as it passed through the channel. The setting sun cast shadows of the bridge superstructure on the white side of the ship sliding down along. I noticed one of the crew on the deck started to run, and then several things happened almost simultaneously: there was a crunching, scraping sound; the swing span of the bridge rotated a little bit clockwise, seemingly beyond where it usually stops; the crew member in his bright orange jacket peered over the railing, looking down where the steel side of the ship was scraping the steel girders of the bridge; and Carol said, “Oh my God, it hit!”

We stared in disbelief. The scraping sound stopped, and the part of the ship that had hit the bridge appeared beyond the end of the bridge. There two long dark lines where the white paint had been scraped off the ship’s side. I was looking at those scrape-marks in amazement when I heard another scraping sound: River Phoenix had hit the bridge again, near her stern; an even worse sound of crunching and scraping; but this time the bridge didn’t seem to move much at all.

“Look, there’s the bridge operator,” I said to Carol. He had come out of the control room which is mounted high in the center of the bridge’s superstructure. He stood on the walkway up there, watching the ship pass slowly by. At last she cleared the bridge, without hitting again. The bridge operator was talking into a radio or cell phone, I couldn’t see which. He came down the steep steps to the main deck of the bridge, and leaned over the far side inspecting the damage. The tug Jaguar steamed briskly through the bridge after River Phoenix. The bridge operator climbed back up to the control room, still talking to whomever.

“I don’t think we’re going to be able to finish our walk,” I said to Carol. “I’ll bet they won’t try to swing the bridge back after that.”

We waited for a while. Carol had somehow had an idea that the ship was going to hit the bridge, and we talked about that. We watched as River Phoenix slowed down in the middle of the harbor. Then we started walking back the way we had come.

We told several of the cars that were waiting for the bridge that they shouldn’t bother waiting any more; the ship had hit the bridge. One woman tried to argue with us. “I recognize that fishing boat coming in,” she said — there was a blue trawler far down the harbor towards the hurricane barrier — “I work on the piers, they’re just holding the bridge for that boat.” Nearly everyone else, though, turned around and started driving towards Interstate 195, in order to cross the harbor there.

We walked down to State Pier, and River Phoenix was out in the middle of the harbor with an anchor chain coming down from her bows into the water. As she swung slowly, majestically, around to face the northwest wind, we could see that her crew had lowered her gangplank. We guessed that the captain was going to be picked up and taken ashore to talk about what had happened to the swing span bridge.

As we back across the pedestrian overpass over Route 18, we could see cars and trucks still heading towards the swing span bridge. We could see flashing blue lights on the Fairhaven side, but no police presence on the New Bedford side yet. We discussed how long it might take to reopen the bridge to Route 6 traffic: surely they’ll at least have to inspect the bridge; perhaps repairs will be necessary. Maybe everything is fine, and they’ll reopen the bridge soon. I have my doubts, though, and wonder when we’ll be able to resume our favorite walk across the bridge to Fairhaven. As usual, I was way too gloomy — by 5:15 pm, the bridge was operational again.

Ship information from the NYK Lauritzen Cool Web site: River Phoenix, 394396 cubic feet, 4537 square meters, built 1993, speed 19 knots. No length given, but I estimate about 400 feet.

Harbor watch

Late this afternoon, I stood at the pivot point of the swing-span bridge that connects New Bedford and Fairhaven, one of the best places to watch the harbor.

Out in the distance, I could see a blue fishing boat coming into the harbor  through the hurricane barrier. She kept to starboard, and a small recreational boat darted past her out into Buzzard’s Bay. The lighthouse on Palmer’s Island was stunningly white in the bright late afternoon sun.

Over at State Pier, the Kent Explorer was docked [her picture on a Dutch shipping blog]. At a little over 400 feet (123 meters) length overall, this is one of the larger ships I’ve seen in the harbor. The bridge was eight or nine stories from the deck, and so the ship towered over the ferry terminal building; even the open hatch covers were taller than the ferry terminal. The two cranes, one fore and one aft, were unloading what looked to be plywood or other sheet goods.

Next to the Kent Explorer, the fishing boats and the ferries looked tiny. New England Fast Ferry has brought in their other fast ferry and it is now docked at the State Pier; the summer schedule starts up again on May 15th, only two weeks away.

On the other side of the bridge, over at the Maritime Terminal, the Silver Fjord (320 feet/ 97.6 meters LOA) was taking on cargo. Two days ago, Carol and I tried to figure out what they were loading. It was something packed in white cardboard boxes, and I thought perhaps it was some kind of frozen seafood. MarineLink.com reported on March 20 of this year that Green Reefers shipping line has purchased Silver Fjord, and will rename it Green Tromso. Since Green Reefers ships call here regularly, there’s a chance we will be seeing Green Tromso, a.k.a. Silver Fjord, sometime again.

Over on the south end of Fish Island, I saw a boat I hadn’t seen before. Barbara Joan, out of Montauk, is sitting on one of the old piers up out of the water, and presumably she’s being stripped; a large dumpster sat on the pier beside her. She looked like she once was a small fishing boat, but once a boat gets over to that end of Fish Island, it pretty much means it’s now scrap.

I began walking back. It was a fine day, so there were a fair number of idlers like me: a man fishing off the swing-span bridge, a cocky young man strolling along the other side of Route 6; once I got back down on MacArthur Drive, three young men came out from behind Crystal Ice whooping and hollering; as I climbed up the stairs for the pedestrian overpass over Route 18, I could hear some teenaged girls laughing and giggling on the observation deck above.

Just before I started across the overpass, I glanced out and saw that blue fishing boat I had seen coming through the hurricane barrier was now waiting for the swing-span bridge to open up for it. A cloud of gulls swarmed around it, waiting for scraps of fish to hit the water.

Green Spring

On my afternoon walk today, I decided to head out and cross the harbor via Pope’s Island. Just as I got in sight of the swing bridge, it began to close: the gates came down, and pretty soon the bridge started to turn so some boat could pass. I looked to see what boat it was. It was a fair-sized ship, about a hundred yards long, helped along by a tugboat. I kept walking towards the bridge, until I could read her name in white letters on the green bow: Green Spring, a ship in the Green Reefers line; you could see “Green Reefers” in big white letters on her side, and the rakish “GR” painted on her smokestack. The black and white tugboat accompanying her through the bridge, and tied to her stern, was named Jaguar. Jaguar’s skipper gave two short toots as they went through the bridge.

Once Green Spring got through the bridge, you could see Jaguar’s propellors churning up the water, stopping Green Spring’s forward motion, starting to swing the big ship’s stern over towards the Maritime Terminal dock. Jaguar tooted her whistle now and then; presumably to signal what she was going to do next, though I thought that he two ships must have communicated mostly by radio. Once Green Spring’s forward momentum was stopped, Jaguar untied from her stern and maneuvered over to her starboard side, about a third of the way up from her stern. From there, Jaguar began to nudge Green Spring’s stern around Fish Island and towards Maritime Terminal. Tiny little Jaguar pulled her, nudged her, pushed her gently back, and back, and back. Every now and then you could see the wash from Green Spring’s propellors helping Jaguar pull her backwards towards her berth.

It was more than twenty minutes from the time Green Spring passed through the bridge until she approached the dock; I stood in the sun, watching her slow stately progress over that short distance; watching Jaguar nudge and pull and ease her into her berth. A fellow walked up, unshaven, knapsack on his back, coat open, and stood beside me, also watching. He kept up an intermittent commentary, so softly I had to keep asking him to repeat himself; I think he was talking more to himself than to me. He said something about, what if she broke away and hit the bridge we were standing on? Where we stood was a little lower than Green Spring’s after deck; I had already thought briefly about what would happen if she hit us. “You know it’s gotta happen,” said the unshaven man. He went on to say something about aircraft carriers. “What’s that?” I said. “I don’t know what the Nimitz would be doing here though,” he said.

Another man, walking purposefully, paused a little ways away, watched for a few minutes. The bright late afternoon sun shone down. The longshoremen caught the heaving line, and hauled the first stern rope up onto the wharf. Once it was looped over the massive cleat on the dock, the crew of Green Spring, clad in blaze-orange jumpsuits and white hard hats, turned on the winch and pulled the slack up out of the water. The unshaven man gave up and walked away; I didn’t see the other man leave but after awhile I noticed he was gone; I stayed to watch a little longer.

Jaguar pulled her stern out a little, swinging the bow in. After two abortive tries, the longshoremen threw the heaving line back up to the crew, who sent two more stern ropes to them. Watching this, I missed them getting the first bow line tied off to the dock. By now, I had been standing there for a good forty minutes. The sun was sinking ever lower, the cold was starting to seep in. The crew started to winch the bow in towards the dock. Good: I’d seen enough; as far as I was concerned, Green Spring was safely berthed.

On my way back a half an hour later, I saw that the gangplank ran up to Green Spring’s deck, that no crewmembers stood on her deck any longer. I imagined that one or two of the ship’s officers were up at the U.S. Customs House a block from our apartment, taking care of whatever paperwork had to be taken care of; I imagined most of the crew wandering New Bedford, maybe finding a friendly bar; I imagined one crew member, unlikely as it seems, visiting the Whaling Museum to find out how mariners of the past once fared. Tomorrow, the crew will be back on deck; the semi trucks will be backed up to the loading dock next to the Maritime Terminal building, the crew will be at the ship’s cranes swinging cargo onto the dock, the forklifts driven by longshoremen will be whizzing back and forth, they will be loading the reefer trucks and one by one sending them on their various ways.

For a picture of tugboat Jaguar, visit this tugboat fan page, and scroll down almost to the bottom of the page.


Carol and I walked to Fairhaven along the sidewalk beside US 6, which leads over a short, low bridge, then Fish Island, then a swing bridge, then Pope’s Island, then another low-to-the-water bridge to Fairhaven. You pass three or four marinas, on the two islands, along the way. But the best part is the swing bridge section, which I have to explain to my readers who don’t live in the area. The bridge rotates about its center axis so that it lies ninety degrees to the main highway, thus allowing two channels for shipping to use to access the inner harbor. Since the bottom of the bridge is only abouteight feet above the water (depending on the tides), it has to be swung open to shipping regularly.

On the walk back to New Bedford, the bridge operator was climbing up to the control room at the center peak of the bridge just as we were walking across it. We stopped just over the bridge on Fish Island. The gates across US 6 came down, and traffic came to a stop. Most drivers shut off their engines. We watched as he unhitched the bridge roadway from the main roadway, spun it slowly around, watched the large pleasure boat cruise through, and then he swung the bridge slowly back.

My inner five-year-old was immensely pleased to watch this whole process, all ten minutes of it. Heck, my inner adult thought it was pretty cool and wanted to explore the machinery under the bridge and later sit up in the control room and learn how to run it. The small pleasures of living in a working port city.