Fairhaven Memorial to Fishermen and Their Families

New Bedford/Fairhaven harbor in Massachusetts lands more pounds of seafood than any other port in America and deserves a tribute like the whaler memorial to all sailors lost at sea--fisherman included.

New Bedford/Fairhaven harbor in Massachusetts lands more pounds of seafood than any other port in America, and deserves a tribute to all sailors lost at sea–fisherman included. The inscription behind the New Bedford statue above hearkens back to Melville — “A dead whale or a stove boat.” Life on the sea has always been dangerous for those who make their living there.

Just the other day I discovered a lady working on tribute to lost fisherman in my hometown of Fairhaven, Mass. Debbie Charpentier works at the town’s public library as an archivist. I had gone to her in her capacity on the Historical Society board, in need of help in tracking down the history of an old 1790’s house my parents had left in their will.

Debbie didn’t have much time for my project, as she explained that she was working on this memorial to sailors lost at sea, but instead directed me to another board member who might get me some answers. During our conversation, I became interested in her project, not because I had gone to sea from this same small town — most boys choosing either commercial fishing, or my route, the merchant marine — but because Debbie was doing something unique. She was personalizing the loss of over 300 sailors, most after WWII, by showing the impact on the wives, children, and society left behind. She was carefully and meticulously researching the people and what their loss meant in wider terms.

A few weeks ago, I had abandoned a blog I was writing, something I rarely do, about safety at sea and my religious zeal for basic training for new boaters, thinking that it sounded too preachy to an audience already enamored with boats. As I climbed down off my bully pulpit, Debbie’s project reminded me of just how dangerous a life at sea can be.

She’s hopeful that her web project will be similar to the Gloucester Fisherman’s Memorial  and the Gloucester Lost at Sea program. After all, New Bedford/Fairhaven harbor still has the largest seafood catch in the country in pounds landed (mostly scallops) and deserves a tribute to those who gave their lives to the perilous pursuit of putting food on our tables.

I can see that Debbie intends to develop the same level of careful detail about the men and ships that the Gloucester Lost at Sea project has, but also hopes to expand it  to who these sailors were, and  those they left behind in the community at large.  It should remind us of the bigger impact that a dangerous life at sea can have to families whose breadwinner is lost.

With all this in mind I still advocate safety and operation training for new boaters. It would be nice if people did it without being required by law to do it. Just think, most of those dying at sea had a fair amount more experience than a new boater. I’ll be sure to give you an update as the memorial project proceeds. Meanwhile, if you haven’t done so, get yourself comfortable and confident by taking a serious boating course, and teach your children boating safety, too.


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