My childhood home featured the constant hum of a nearby Diesel plant, frequently punctuated by the explosive passing of freight trains. When a train rattled our little brick house down to its foundations, visitors to our home would jump, while my family carried on, long inured to the local earthquake.
Thus, when I first moved to Boston in 1984 no one was surprised that I rented an attic room overlooking the most industrial area of Charlestown, deep in a working class neighborhood. There was an active Domino sugar refinery at the end of the street and I enjoyed the familiar childhood hums of nearby industrial production. I remained in Charlestown throughout graduate school, marriage, a condo purchase and the birth of two sons–until our 650 square foot third floor walk-up we owned became a trial. Coming home with groceries and two tiny boys became kind of like the classic fox and chicken river crossing: which child would I leave down on the street while I hauled up the groceries and other boy, knowing I could not leave a toddler alone with a newborn at either end?
We pulled the trigger on a move to the suburbs–and stayed there 22 years. Last summer I chronicled the effort of unwinding a full household and a return to the city. Right back to Charlestown, in fact.
Now we are renters in an apartment building in the Navy Yard. When we left Charlestown in 1992 this massive complex of 130 acres was largely abandoned, and in the early stages of redevelopment. My main interaction with the harborfront back then was taking our tiny boys to a terrific (and dangerous!) granite water park to escape the heat. It was almost the only thing to do in the Navy Yard, beyond visit the U.S.S. Constitution.
22 years later, the Navy Yard’s a place full of marine heritage, which remains very present even as the massive stone and brick buildings are being steadily converted to hospital lab spaces, condos, hotels and even a YMCA–over a decades-long process. The harbor is constantly bustling with commercial and pleasure craft and our apartment building is near the neck of the waterway to Chelsea where large tankers and auto carriers go to discharge their loads, and other ships go to refuel. I’ve frequently had the startling sensation of being heads-down in a project at my desk and then looking up to see much of my distance view blocked by the colorful and massive sides of a ship.
For months I’ve been watching the construction of a large new complex outside my window, in the formerly open waters, The Charlestown Marina.
It has to be a very rare endeavor to build a robust marina on the waterfront of a major city–but I had no idea of the technical and environmental innovation happening right in front of me until I read this great piece in the local paper. The owners Chuck and Anne Lagasse committed to fabricating much of the marina locally:
“In fact, the gigantic [900 foot] breakwater on Pier 8, the towering pilings and accompanying finger docks were constructed across the Harbor at East Boston’s Boston Bridge & Steel using local workers who pounded out the super-strength steel in two shifts all winter long. Then, using local labor and a work boat that had been employed in the Gulf of Mexico oil spill cleanup, the newly fabricated flotilla was dragged to Charlestown over water, piece by piece, to avoid menacing truck trips through the neighborhood.”
Here’s a photo of that special work boat dragging away a particularly ugly gazebo that was sitting on the unused site for years.
I was really impressed that the deepwater driving of dozens of pilings was happening during the worst winter in Boston history. Below is a photo of me standing (between storms) in front of the site just before the pilings started getting forced in the sea floor…up to 80 feet deep into clay. (The useless metal gazebo is barely visible on the distant pier, next to my right ear.)
Here’s a photo of the site, in progress–the first boats arrived last week as two of the docks closest to shore and our building are wired and plumbed:
And here’s a photo showing three workers placing a finger dock, further out in the harbor just this morning.
I caught some video of the same maneuver. It gives a good sense of the setting for the marina as well, with gorgeous sunrise light.
The marina’s Facebook page has a great gallery of construction photographs.
Even if you do not own a boat, you could experience this special marina by staying at the Green Turtle Bed and Breakfast...which was just floated into place this weekend and is already booking. Imagine waking up to this view!
And if you are a true sailor, you will covet these boats, below. My master plan: make a couple new friends who do own such boats conveniently docked steps below our apartment building. The boat owners are all working feverishly to get ready for the season while I casually walk by enjoying the sunshine and taking pictures.
Eventually they will need a first mate, or two, for evening cruises, no?