Call Me Ishmael, Boston Harbor

I spent a morning off the coast, captaining a sea vessel and taking in the sights from a wholly different vantage

I must admit, the prospect of joyriding a boat around Boston Harbor, as the so-called captain, had me, in a word, terrified. I'm not a great swimmer, and, according to my husband, I'm not a great driver. Add in the fact that the harbor is the largest, busiest seaport in New England, and this isn't an activity I'd ever considered slating on my bucket list. But when opportunity knocks, you've got to answer, right?

Of course, yes!

The vessel I wrangled through the waves was a bright yellow F-13 speed boat, owned by Boston Harbor Mini Speed Boats out of India Wharf. (Note to other riders: India Wharf is a private wharf tucked between Central Wharf and Rowes Wharf, and it's kind of hard to find. Easiest way to do so is to start at New England Aquarium, skirt the shoreline with the water to your left, and you'll come right up on it.) 

With so many harbor cruise options available to travelers to Boston, it's hard to know which one is a good fit. This one suits moderate adventure seekers who'd also like to learn a few fun, historic facts. Hardcore history buffs and/or adrenaline junkies need not apply.

The F-13 maxes out at 30 mph. That's not that fast—in a car. On a tiny boat, it was pretty snappy.

Boston Harbor Mini Speed Boats owns about a half dozen vessels that each seat two people. This means you may have a caravan of participants during your experience; we had four, including our tour guide. For the first half of the 90-minute jaunt, we leisurely tooled around Fort Point Channel, getting a much different perspective of city sights than you would from the street or larger watercraft. It's neat to see beneath the Boston Tea Party Museum and look up at its ships, which appear even more majestic from a lower vantage.

After exiting the channel, we drifted around the rather artful John Joseph Moakley United States Courthouse and picked up the pace as we coursed past iconic attractions of the Seaport District, like the Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston, the Seaport World Trade Center and the No Name Restaurant on the Fish Pier.

Depending on the day, the other clippers, barges and boats on Boston Harbor can vary vastly. We spotted the Navy’s USS Oak Hill, a 609-foot-long amphibious assault ship that weighs more that 16,000 tons, gorgeous private sailing yachts from the Marshall Islands, and a quirky pontoon contraption that I was glad not to be aboard.

Next stop, offshore Castle Island. This rendezvous is cool for two reasons: From land, you can't really get a good view of the landmass because it is surrounded by water, a marine terminal, and a really long causeway that connects it to South Boston; but from the water, the popular recreational park looks spectacular.

Castle Island is also the spot from which we get to kick our F-13s into high gear.

For the remainder of the ride, you create a wake from South Boston to Dorchester, and back to the heart of the city past other islands, Logan Airport, the Nantucket Lightship, and Charlestown Navy Yard.

Heed your tour guide's advice when he tells you to break a wave at a 45-degree angle. This comes in handy when the "experienced" tour participant goes rogue, sending your line formation into swells of chaos.

But most of all, have fun. I sure did! 

My Top Tips for the Ride

  • Wear sunscreen—on your legs, too. Just do it and thank me later.
  • Bring your sunglasses.
  • Bring a camera. It won't get wet unless you're a total maniac. 
  • Bring some baby wipes, even if you don't have a kid. You'll want to wash your face after. Yes, Boston Harbor is much cleaner now, but still. Is dried salt from its waters something you really want to lick off your lips?

Season runs May 23-Sept. 14. Tours daily, call for reservations: 617.725.0900.

Leigh Harrington
About the author

Leigh formerly served as the Boston editor for Where and was the br...