Day 10. Boston to Fall River.

Blacktop, Battleship, Baccala

In which we collect a car, drive on the wrong side of the road, which is the right side of the road, see several ships, and eat Portuguese food.

On the road

Driving in a foreign country for the first time can be daunting; different road rules, different cars … wrong side of the road! You get used to it pretty quickly, but the first time can be a trial.

Tourist tip – ease into it. Don’t pick up your car in the middle of the city and make congested urban driving your first experience. We booked a pickup a few kilometres out of town in a location where we could quickly and easily get onto I-93, which would be the first part of our route today. Driving on the freeway for the first bit lets you get used to your car, where the controls are and all that kind of thing, without the stress of turns, stoplights or anything much in the way of having to interact with other traffic. So we Ubered down to the car lot and picked up our car for the next ten days or so.

Also, get an E-ZPass. I feel like I shouldn’t need to say that, but I will anyway. Automated tolls are the only way to go.

This is from a few days later. Mr Cow is enjoying the view somewhere in Vermont.

And I can say with confidence that it was a car. Our Nissan Sentra had four wheels, an engine, a body and everything else it needed to qualify as a car. We couldn’t get our phones to sync with the infotainment; it had the get-up-and-go of a tree sloth on valium; getting up to speed on the interstate meant putting your foot down quite hard for quite a while; and it had all the interior quality that you would expect from a cheap, fleet econobox. I’ve never owned a car with worse road handling (although I rented a Mitsubishi ASX once which was about as bad).

In it’s defense …. ummm? It was economical to run, cheap to hire, and even for long driving periods the seat wasn’t too uncomfortable. And, side note, I did all the driving as Doreen didn’t feel comfortable with being on the wrong side of the road. It’s okay, she has agreed to do all the driving when we are in Germany next (although I get at least one go on an autobahn).

So off we went, down I-93 to the 24 – not a difficult or long drive, in the spirit of easing in gently – and on to Fall River.

Or, to be more precise, to Battleship Cove.

Battleship Cove

Battleship Cove is a naval museum (mostly, there are a few non-naval exhibits) located in Fall River, Ma. The pride of the collection is the battleship USS Massachusetts. In 1962 when she was being stricken from the reserve, a public appeal raised enough funding to buy the ship and set up a trust to maintain her as a museum ship.

Photographs struggle to do justice to these giant machines. 210 metres long – the length of a Melbourne CBD block. 38,000 tons of metal, another 7,000 tons of fuel, water and supplies. 2,500 men. All being driven through the ocean at 50 kilometres an hour.* A photograph like the one above lacks the perspective to show how immense they really are. And a photograph inside the ship only shows you a distance of tens of feet.

* Did I mention I’m a huge naval nerd?

USS Massachusetts from the bow.

Showing scale from the human to the immense can be a challenge. Maybe this photo is better. The fore turret is about two or three times the height of a person. The bridge is about twice as high as two turrets. The top of the conning tower is about twice as high as the bridge. We won’t count the radar and comms masts. So that’s, what, forty metres? The height of a ten story building. Plus the distance from the waterline to the main deck, another four stories. That’s big. Really big.

Looking upwards at the main mast and the forward director from the bridge deck.

Enlisted bunks on the Massachusetts. 2,500 people living in that space didn’t leave much room, and privacy was not an option.

The enlisted heads also left a lot to be desired. No slow-close hinges on these toilet seats. Also, no doors. I wonder what rank you needed to be to do your business in private?

While there wasn’t a lot of creature comfort, sailors did have access to the latest in 1940s dental technology.

As a keen cook and eater I always get excited by kitchens. Here, a row of giant steam kettles to cook soups and stews on an industrial scale. I mean, 7,500+ meals per day doesn’t leave time to position microherbs with tweezers.

And the bakery is on a similar scale. I don’t have a decent photo of it but there is a recipe in the bakery for a batch of biscuits (that’s savoury scones in Australian) . Just shy of 300lbs in a batch.

  • Flour ………………………. 200lbs
  • Sugar ………………………… 16lbs
  • Salt ……………………………… 5lbs
  • Baking Powder ………… 22lbs
  • Shortening ………………., 48lbs

But creature comforts were not completely lacking. American battleships and aircraft carriers were fitted with ice-cream machines and had a soda fountain installed. And where there’s a soda fountain …

Being attached to a US naval force was very popular with Commonwealth ships in WWII because of the availability of ice-cream and soft drinks. It was equally popular with the American ships, as they were alcohol-free (medicinal reasons excepted), while Commonwealth ships had a daily issue of beer or rum for all hands (medicinal reasons excepted). I’m not saying swaps happened. But … swaps happened.

But USS Massachusetts was, of course, a battleship. It wasn’t all eating, sleeping and pooping.

The fire-control calculator was the height of 1940s electro-mechanical calculation. Battleships would be shooting at their targets from up to 20 miles (32km). In the 40 seconds or so it took for the shells to travel the distance, the target would have moved up to 500 metres. The calculator would account for the speed and course of the firing ship, and attempt to do so for the different speed and course of the target, air pressure, wind speed and probably other things too.

Shell hoists would feed ammunition from the armoured magazines below the waterline up to gun positions. These hoists would feed 5″ shells to one of the turrets of the ship’s secondary armament.

40mm anti-aircraft battery on the foredeck beside B-turret.

Besides the main and secondary gun batteries, Massachusetts had over 100 anti-aircraft guns aboard. Their efforts no doubt contributed to her good fortune in getting through the war without any combat casualties.

But wait, there’s plenty more to see at Battleship Cove!

USS Joseph P. Kennedy Jr, a WWII Gearing Class destroyer, was converted to an anti-submarine fit-out in 1960. She’s a well-preserved example of the type and it was interesting to see the 1960s-era remote-controlled drone – you can see the helicopter hanger above the aft gun turret in the photo above.

Joe Junior himself is a fascinating and little-known footnote to history. Son of Joseph Kennedy and older brother to JFK, he was the beneficiary of Joe Senior’s ambitions and was groomed to go into politics and perhaps ultimately the Presidency. He served in WWII in the US Navy as a patrol bomber pilot, and was killed in what sounds like such an unlikely circumstance that it should have come out of a novel, not real life. The Aphrodite project was a B-17 bomber crammed full of ten tons of high explosive. Designed to be taken off by a pilot who would then bail out, the bomber would them be remotely guided from a chase plane to impact its target. Joe Jr volunteered for the project, and during a test flight the bomber exploded, probably due to a short circuit, killing him and his co-pilot.

JFK was steered into politics in his brother’s stead, and history was made.

Battleship Cove is also home to the US Navy PT boat museum. The light, fast torpedo boats (as seen in the excellent documentary series “McHale’s Navy”) were known as “mosquito boats” for their nasty sting, and each boat squadron had its own insignia.

Also available to tour is the USS Lionfish, a Balao class submarine also from WWII. We’ve been on a few submarine museum ships and were short on time, so we skipped the Lionfish on this visit.

Finally there is the USNS Hiddensee, a Cold War era guided missile corvette built in the USSR, operated by the East German navy, transferred to the German navy on reunification and then to the US Navy in 1991 who used her for testing and systems evaluation before she was decommissioned in 1996. Very interesting to look at from the dock, but there is no access on the ship for visitors.

So that’s Battleship Cove. If you are into naval history there is a wealth of content there. We got there a bit before 10am and left shortly before 5pm with just a short break for a sandwich at lunchtime.

Turning Portuguese

Massachusetts has a strong Portuguese community. There was a wave of immigration in the late 19th century and again after the Second World War, and many of the immigrants settled in Massachusetts because of the availability of unskilled jobs in the mills and factories of New England. One of the happy side-effects of this is the availability of delicious Portuguese food.

Sagres is a delightful family-owned restaurant in Fall River. There is a bar area, a dining room area, and a large wine collection visible through glass walls from the dining room.

We had never eaten Portuguese food before, so after a long day walking around ships and a (deliberately) light lunch, we headed there to try as much variety as possible.

Ameijoas Espanhola, littleneck clams in a tomato broth rich with garlic, onions and parsley.

Lulas, fried calamari with lemon and a dipping sauce.

Piexe a Portuguesa – fresh cod cooked in a tomato sauce with herbs and onions, topped with roast potatoes. Lovely flavours with the potato cooked to that perfect degree of rich crispy brownness.

Bacalhau a Gomes de Sa – salted cod which has been soaked then baked with onion, potato & garlic, garnished with olives and chopped boiled eggs. The fish was dense yet tender and packed with flavour.

Classic Portuguese flan, a delicate baked custard. Light, sweet, eggy. We were so full we definitely didn’t need this – we took half the main courses home to have for lunch the next day – but the waitress talked us into it and who were we to say no?

All the food was delicious. Simple, strong, robust flavours combined in traditional Portuguese dishes.

So back to bed. We stayed at the Holiday Inn in Swansea, just a ten minute drive out of Fall River. It was cheap, convenient, perfectly pleasant and with a breakfast buffet included in the price with hot eggs, bacon and sausage was a good deal.

Tomorrow, we head off to Newport, Rhode Island. Where we go Full Mansion.

Comments Off on Day 10. Boston to Fall River.