Shipping Into Boston

The ships that come to one of the greatest harbors in the world.

USNS PomeroySome of the earliest paintings of Boston are focused on the water. You might observe countless sailing vessels waiting by the docks, distant workers moving among stacks of goods, and a low level of houses and buildings that served as a nexus for early maritime commerce. For ages, the nation’s developing economy depended on the input and output of valuable commodities, and to this day, those commodities are shipped through Boston.

Despite aggressive waterfront development over the last decade, Boston still retains a connection to maritime business. Many years ago, I worked for a newspaper in East Boston. Our office commanded a spectacular view of the cityscape, and I could watch every vessel through my window as it steamed in and out of the harbor. I often recorded the names of those ships in a notebook. Last night, I came across this old relic and counted dozens and dozens of ships on a single page. Of course, I missed many more visitors when I was away on assignment. In nearly two years, I had the following count:

  • 35 tankers of various types, including the enormous liquefied natural gas (LNG) vessels that arrived every seven days or so in winter.
  • 19 United States Navy ships; the Navy makes regular port visits to Boston in good weather. Visitors like the guided-missile cruiser USS Hue City (CG-66), guided-missile frigate USS Mcinerney (FFG-8), and coastal patrol boat USS Firebolt (PC-10) were some of the warships to come to Beantown.
  • 16 automobile carriers, essentially floating garages, that transferred new cars to dealerships all over the region.
  • 6 Canadian Navy ships; Canadian warships like HMCS Montreal (FFH 336) were some of the first to enter Boston Harbor in the tense days after September 11. They also make regular port visits to the city. Their sea-green hull paint is very much in contrast to the gray shapes of their American counterparts.
  • 5 freighters of various types.
  • 3 bulk carriers.
  • 2 cruise ships; most cruise ships dock at the Black Falcon terminal in the Seaport, which remained out of view from my window.
  • 2 ocean survey vessels.
  • 1 container ship; most container ships docked at the Conley Terminal and were serviced by large, blue Panamax cranes. Those containers were subsequently shipped by truck or rail throughout the region.
  • 1 oil cleanup vessel.
  • 1 ferry; most ferries docked across the harbor, but I believe the one marked in my notebook was a promotional visit from the fast catamaran from Bay Ferries, the CAT, which once offered service from Maine to Nova Scotia.
  • 1 tug; the tug was likely visiting from out of town or headed in for service. I saw the Fornier Girls out of Maine in for work at the East Boston Boatyard. Boston retained its own small fleet of tugs that moved out regularly in the early morning to take in all manners of large vessels.
  • 1 sailing barque, the U.S. Coast Guard’s Eagle, which made regular visits to Boston. Sadly, after so many years living and working in Boston, I never had the chance to visit the Tall Ships event that brought Eagle and many more of these masted marvels into harbor. The Coast Guard base in Boston’s North End has a number of active medium endurance cutters and patrol vessels.

The gargantuan vessel pictured above is USNS Pomeroy (T-AKR 316), one of Military Sealift Command’s roll on/roll off (Ro/Ro) cargo ships. Pomeroy has a displacement of well over 62,000 tons and plenty of space for military vehicles, equipment, and supplies. A big stern ramp folds down from the back of the ship to allow vehicles to literally drive in and out of the interior. At the time, the Ro/Ro was in for work at the big dry dock at Boston Line and Ship Repair. Needing a birds’ eye view of the giant vessel, I took this snapshot from an adjacent office building. (In the background, one can see the blue Panamax cranes of the Conley Container Yard, always a busy part of the city.)

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