People of this fine port city, it is time we pay tribute to the unhumble barge.* Ostentatious in size, reserved in demeanor, self-contained in all respects, the barge floats like one big fact upon the sea.
The Sound is no size queen—the body admits a ferry or water taxi as soon as it admits a barge. But it lets the barge linger, lets the barge unload its cargo. Aqua Mac truck, dry leviathan, so upfront about its emotional unavailability that ghosting doesn’t register as an insult.
For the last month I’ve been collecting photos of the sexiest barges in our fair harbor. Behold:
Each night this American President Line barge dresses up like the aquarium and offers up his bouquet of containers filled with coal and plastics. Each night the aquarium declines the gift. But she can’t resist the approach, and neither can we.
This liner knows the appeal of the peep show. Hiding its tip behind a mixed-use building, it beckons us to walk down the hill, jump into the Sound, and embrace the parts of it we can’t see.
At a certain distance nearly everything looks naked, especially a barge.
This barge knows how to make the thrill of the chase last a long, long time.
No matter how old we get, we'll never tire of watching a fully stacked barge plow into a terminal with a month’s worth of supplies on its back. “You think it horrible that lust and rage / Should dance attention upon my old age;” William Butler Yeats writes in "The Spur." He continues: "They were not such plague when I was young; What else have I to spur me into song?" You know it, we know it, and this barge knows it: nothing else exists but the lust of the load.
The only flag we fly above the American flag is a yellow-geared American President Line barge. The company is a French outfit now, and its previous owners were based in Singapore, but our attraction to this barge is 100 percent American.
Some might think this barge looks sickly, skeletal, emaciated. But we see a barge alive with potential, a barge with a spine strong enough to bear the bounty to come. This barge flaunts that spine, and we swoon.
Once upon a time, Robert Frost wrote a poem about a man who took his own wife out on a bad Tinder date. They go to a west-running brook in a part of the country where most brooks run eastward toward the ocean. As they lie beside the brook talking about man’s relationship to nature, she argues that nature seems to like humans. But the man thinks something different. To illustrate his idea he points to a wave, the kind of eternal wave that forms when a stream catches on a sunken rock, and says, “See how the brook / In that white wave runs counter to itself. / It is from that in water we were from / Long, long before we were from any creature…It is this backward motion toward the source, / Against the stream, that most we see ourselves / The tribute of the current to the source. / It is from this in nature we are from. / It is most us.”
This barge exhibits the hot defiance Frost sees as essential to the nature of all living things. It sails against the rock, against the tide, and into the sun. While the above barge is a particularly premium specimen, all the barges on this list share this essentially defiant nature. Active opposition to the water keeps the boats afloat, active opposition to ocean currents makes their engines roar, and all this opposition sends us into a froth.
*Listen, I know these boats are actually called “container ships” and not “barges.” But "barge" is so much more sonorous than "container ship," and the spirit of the word more accurately embodies the spirit of the vessel in my mind. I feel so strongly about this fact that I may petition Dictionary.com to include "container ships" in its entry on "barge." But until they have time to process my request, I must humbly ask all boat purists to suspend their disbelief for a few moments, if only for the sake of my obsession.