We arrived in Gloucester in early evening: too early to quit the day. So we went to the beach in search of a lighthouse, and found two.
It is said that Gloucester has the oldest seaport in the U.S., with documented use by Europeans since 1616. I’m sure the Wampanoag tribes were using it before then.
Eastern Point Lighthouse on Gloucester Harbor is operated by the Coast Guard and today is not open for visitors. You are allowed to park in a nearby parking lot and walk the beach, however. It is photo-worthy and worth the visit. The Eastern Point Lighthouse also has an interesting history.
In the 1820s, to protect mariners and their interests, the community at Gloucester Harbor lobbied for a lighthouse. In 1829 President Andrew Jackson tried to block construction (the lighthouse friends website notes that Gloucester had not supported Jackson in the 1828 election), but Congress overruled and work eventually went ahead. So many costs were cut in construction that the original 1832 structure was poorly made. It was soon battered and decayed in the harsh conditions of the seashore, and appeals went out for it to be replaced.
The next lighthouse was completed November 3, 1848. The current tower was built in 1890.
Originally the Eastern Point Lighthouse had a fixed white light. For a time it had a fixed red light, then a flashing red light. Today it has a white light that flashes every 5 seconds. For those who aren’t familiar, lighthouses employ different strategies to differentiate themselves from each other in the night or in a fog, such as colours or the seconds in between flashes of light.
Since we were there anyway, we walked out along the huge granite stones placed along the Dog Bar breakwater. A few people were out there fishing from the breakwater. We walked to the very end and that’s where we found Dog Bar Breakwater Lighthouse, which doesn’t look like more than a shack with a light on top, but in the fog, it’s really all you need.
The breakwater was constructed over Dog Bar Reef. It is 2,250 feet long and constructed of local granite blocks. Built to further protect the harbor, construction lasted from 1894 to 1905. So many ships crashed into the breakwater during construction that it became obvious that another light was needed to help ships avoid it. Before automation, the lighthouse keeper had the additional duty of attending to the breakwater light, which could be a treacherous journey under crashing waves and icy granite boulders in the winter. Yikes!
We watched a golden sunset and made our way back to the beach and called it a day.
The next morning we had planned to spend all morning on the sea for a whale watch. The weather was cold and raining and windy, so that was perfect. Not. But at least the weather was not so bad that the whale watch was canceled. I put on the warmest clothes I had, put a fushia raincoat over the top of that, and off we went!
Cape Ann Whale Watch does a pretty good job of taking care of their passengers. They provide safety instructions, informational talks, educational talks, and updates on what’s going on. They guarantee a whale sighting on every trip, and we definitely saw whales. But for the first 3 1/2 hours, we saw a whole lot of rain on the waves, each other, and nothing else. One really awesome thing is that this was my very first trip on the Atlantic Ocean!
Cruddy weather notwithstanding, the group of about 100 passengers on board was excited. While we waited to leave the dock, most people were outside on the deck, smiling, joking around, taking photos of the sights in every direction. While waiting, we watched a ship dropped from dry dock into the water. I was interested because I had never seen that happen before. I think working sea vessels have a great look about them, and I enjoyed all the sights of the shore.
When we were finally underway, there was no lollygagging! We headed out to sea quick, quick. For a solid 90 minutes aboard the Hurricane II, we left solid ground behind us. The Hurricane II claims to be the largest and fastest whale watch ship in the area, and can cruise up to 30 knots! Speeding along out at sea in that weather drove almost everyone indoors.
I was soon soaked through and went indoors to warm up and to buy snacks because we had skipped breakfast. We sat indoors and read information placards on the walls that provided whale information. Did you know that since whales have to actively remember to breathe, they can never actually go to sleep? They go to sleep with half their brain, while the other half reminds them to surface and breathe, then the active half goes to sleep and the rested half wakes up and takes over. Did you know that the white and black pattern on the tails of Humpback Whales are unique, so that’s how they can be identified?
The woman providing annoucements also told us about the mysterious sea serpent believed to be in the area. The first recorded sighting is dated 1638, and sightings continued through the 1800s. There were many sightings in 1817 near Ten Pound Island, just offshore from the city of Gloucester. Possibly the “sea serpent” was a whale.
Will is better at being cold and wet, but I am sensitive to cold, so he followed my lead on indoors vs. outdoors. When I thawed out, we went back on deck. Every 45 minutes or so, we would get an update over the loudspeaker that went something like, “Well, we saw whales here yesterday, but now we don’t see anything, not sure why. We’re gonna head up north and check it out there.” And later, “We haven’t spotted any whales here, so now the Captain’s gonna take us over to this one place where there are usually whales.” And finally, “As you know, whales are wild animals, and they don’t come when we call. We are glad that these whales are free to live in their environment without restraint and we can continue to learn about them. We are heading back in folks.”
Grumpy, cold, wet people (many of whom had been drinking for three hours with nothing else to do), complained about the absence of whales. And then, viola! Whales everywhere. In the next 30 minutes as we headed toward shore, the crew spotted six whales and some dolphins. It was still raining and the visibility wasn’t awesome, but we definitely saw them. The whale pics are all Will’s photos, because my fingers were frozen and I kept my gloved hands in my pockets for extra warmth.
With great relief, the crew did not have to go back on their word about guaranteeing a whale sighting on every trip. They handed out little cards as we got close to shore. The cards were brief surveys. Apparently there was supposed to be some kind of environmental education during the trip, because the final question was, “What changes will you make in your personal life to support a safe and healthy environment for the whales?” Since I didn’t know what they wanted to hear from me, and since I already try to minimize my carbon footprint and protect the environment, I didn’t know what to write. Will suggested “Eat less whale.” So that’s what I wrote on mine. I am fairly certain I’ve never eaten whale, but I’ll continue to avoid it.
The incentive to get us to fill out our cards was that all completed cards would be submitted to a drawing for a free whale watch. Guess who won a free whale watch!! I laughed out loud and was convinced that someone must have got a kick out of my promise to eat less whale. The whale watch was a $45 value and transferrable and had no expiration. Though I doubt I’ll want to repeat this experience, I have lots of Boston friends who might.
Back on shore I wanted to ride around in the car for a long time with the heater on, to dry my jeans out. Will drove and I rested my hands on the heater vents and finally I got warm again.
We explored the Gloucester seashore, and found that it is a city that loves its monuments. We found a bunch of them in a short amount of time.
We saw a plaque for the Ten Pound Island Lighthouse, which the Hurricane II passed close by earlier in the day. Though the website for Eastern Point Lighthouse claims that Winslow Homer lived there, it looks rather that the famous painter lived with the Ten Pound Island lighthouse keeper in 1880. While there he painted harborscapes that remain famous today.
The Fishermen’s Memorial commemorates the many lives lost at sea. It includes a quote from the Bible, “They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters; These see the works of the Lord, and His wonders in the deep. Psalm 107 23-24.” And also: “Men known to be lost at sea and honored here: 5,386.” The total is lives lost from 1716-2001. Think about that: 5,386 lives lost. As of 18 years ago. The people honored at this monument include the crew of the Andrea Gail, lost at sea in 1991, whose story was told in the book and movie The Perfect Storm.
When we had our fill of monuments, we hopped in the car, said goodbye to Gloucester, and made our way toward Boston. On the way we drove past Hammond Castle. It was closed, so we just looked at it from the parking lot. This place was built in 1926-1929 as a private residence. Whoah. Today it’s a museum and hosts events like medieval festivals and halloween parties – of course! Lots of people have their wedding photos taken there. I’ve included a shot of the other side of it that I grabbed off the interwebs.