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Dog Bar Breakwater Lighthouse at the end of the day.

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.

Looking back at Eastern Point Lighthouse from Dog Bar Breakwater.

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!

Dog Bar Breakwater Lighthouse.

The fishing boat Still Kicking approaches, with the Boston city skyline visible on the horizon.

Still Kicking makes her way safely around the end of the breakwater.

From shore we looked back across the water, lit up in the sunset, to the breakwater light you can pick out on the left.

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.

We looked at all the activity around us while the boat was still docked.

I thought this old mill building was really pretty.

Thatcher Island Twin Lighthouses. If a ship puts sights on both towers, they point to true north, so that sailors can check and/or adjust their compass.

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.

A few of us tried to stay outside and make the most of our whale-less morning.

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.

Here’s me, demonstrating my balancing skills as the boat tossed around on the waves. {photo Will Murray}

A whale tail! You can see the white markings on the black skin. {photo Will Murray}

The crew spotted six humpback whales with their binoculars, but we only followed one at a time, and the passengers got to see two of them up close. {photo Will Murray}

This is what the whales looked like diving. {photo Will Murray}

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.

A monument to Ten Pound Island lighthouse.

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.

Along the Gloucester beach there are many monuments, such as this one that acknowledges the mariners that have died at sea here since 1716.

“In honor of an intrepid son of Gloucester, Nathanial Haraden, sailing master of the US frigate Constitution, commended for gallantry in action at the seige of Tripoli, August 3, 1804.”

Fishermen’s Wives Memorial with the family poignantly looking out to sea.

Gloucester’s most famous memorial, the Fishermen’s Memorial.

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.

Photo from medievalart.org

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.

Our view of the back of Hammond Castle, through the trees. Not impressive in a photo, but it was cool to see it in real life.

Vistior’s Center at the Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge near Newport, Rhode Island.

For my birthday this year (January 9), I took a cold & windy walk along the Atlantic seashore at Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge. The visitor’s center was closed because the government is shut down. No comment.

My five days in Rhode Island were to see my friend Will, who was my guide and chauffeur. Will and I picked a path and started, since one doesn’t need a visitor’s center to go for a walk. As soon as we struck the trail, we met a woman leaving who was excited to have spotted some wildlife. She told us we would not see the Snowy Owl, as though she suspected that was our specific goal.

Our goal was simpler: just to be outside and look at the landscape. For my birthday I asked Will for two of my favourite things: a walk in nature and seafood.

The Ocean Trail wraps around the peninsula and has stunning sea views at all times.

Looking back the way we had come, along a tidal strait called Sakonnet River.

We drove south from Providence to a large island in Narragansett Bay, that is officially named Rhode Island (also called Aquidneck Island), from which I must assume the state takes its name, since this is the location of the earliest settlements here. Sachuest Point NWR is “242 acres that provide an important stopover and watering area for migratory birds,” as it says on their trail map. I liked this place from among other trails in RI because it is surrounded by the sea. If I was traveling from one ocean to another, I  would spend at least one day at the Atlantic, to truly make the trip coast-to-coast.

More than 200 species of birds visit this refuge, and we quickly spotted ducks that were too far away for a photo with the lens I brought. They might have been part of the largest winter population of Harlequin Ducks on the East Coast, but we didn’t identify them for sure due to distance and the raging wind making me reluctant to hold binoculars to my face for very long. Harlequin Ducks are wonderful to see. Here’s a photo I took of Harlequin Ducks near the end of a different post from 2016. Sachuest Point hosts a bunch of different kinds of raptors (hunting birds – I love them!), but I didn’t spot any. Much of the time I had my head bent into the wind, with a foot behind me bracing myself so the wind didn’t blow me over! It was hard to spot birds under these circumstances.

Will spotted a dark animal in the underbrush that we couldn’t identify until another one ran across the trail in front of us later on. It was a mink! I have never seen one in the wild. It was black, and fat, and just exactly as I imagined them. We also spotted a small group of white-tailed deer. The deer were like my “pet” deer at home, in that they let us get very close to them and were unconcerned. They were unlike my deer in that they are a lighter, golden colour, and are bigger and fatter.

A view from Prince’s Neck Overlook. See the two people in the lower left?

Will spotted deer! I was too short to see them until I stood up on my tiptoes.

…but then we rounded a bend and came upon these two beauties.

It was early afternoon, and since it’s winter, that means the sun was setting. Not really, but the sun was low on the horizon for a long time, making it seem like we were experiencing a three-hour sunset. Despite the frigid biting wind coming at us from the sea, we gazed out over the water much of the time. We noticed massive swells rolling in and then crashing as waves once they got closer to shore. I made a comment about how exciting those swells would be if I was still surfing, and Will said there were probably surfers out today. I thought he was joking around with me, but when we left the point that day and passed a different beach (sans all the huge and deadly rocks), sure enough, the water was filled with surfers!

Sun is low over Narragansett Bay

Swells roll into Narragansett Bay

Look at that smile! What cold wind?!

It had been at least an hour out there in the ridiculous freezing wind, and I could no longer feel my ears. I took off my scarf and wrapped it around my head because I had neglected to bring a hat. That helped immensely. I was still very very cold and unable to enjoy the sights much anymore, so we stopped most of our lollygagging and trucked on down the trail back to the visitor’s center. The sunset just got prettier, and I stopped for a few more photos because I’m incorrigible. I did force Will to endure some extending whining about how cold I was. I have lived in places of deep winter and below freezing temperatures most of my life, but more than a decade of living near Portland, Oregon has wiped out all my tolerance for other peoples’ winters.

Light on the water was so beautiful I stopped for more photos, despite wind chill in the single digits.

On the last stretch of the trail I spotted a beautiful church in the distance. When we got back into the car, I asked Will to take me there so we could explore up close.

What I had spotted was St. George’s School, an exclusive, prestigious boarding school. Still in the remaining light of our long sunset, the buildings at the school were illuminated and needed to be photographed.

From the grounds of St. George’s School, looking back toward where we had just come from.

Photo taken by Will, looking down the hill to Sachuest Point where we had walked.

A building at St. George’s School.

The front of the school

And of course the classic gothic chapel, the tallest structure around, on top of the hill, and drawing me here.

Dragons!!!

Irish pub?

Our raw bar selection

It was time for my next request: Seafood! We drove into the town of Newport and had the place mostly to ourselves because of the season. I could easily see this is a tourist town, and must be packed with humanity on warm days. We made our way to the docks and saw that my birthday sunset just kept going on and on, and made a few more stunning scenes. We wandered for a little while around the characteristic old sea town, but could no longer resist the pull of a good meal, not to mention heated indoor seating. We walked into The Mooring, and were told that Wednesdays are half price on the raw bar. We couldn’t resist that, and chose a selection of raw oysters, clams, shrimp, and lobster claws. Will isn’t an oyster lover, so I greedily ate them myself, liking the Rocky Rhodes the best. This fresh food only wheted our appetites and then we ordered full meals. I finally got warm. We had a window seat and watched the sun finally set for real.

Streets of Newport are clear in January.

Black Pearl and Cook House, two seafood restaurants that called to us.

A view from the docks.

The longest birthday sunset I can remember, lingers over Bannister’s Wharf.

One of my many guises

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