Gloucester Massachusetts, September 2003
I’ve always wanted to go to the East coast – I just love the sea, the crashing surf, the shorelines lined with rocky cliffs which is what I picture when I think of the East coast. The coast of Maryland, at least the areas I went, were beaches rather than the rocky coast lines I had envisioned. I decided to go to Gloucester Massachsetts for a week. I am upset with myself that I didn’t keep a journal. I started to, and never kept up with it after the 1st day. This is the first vacation that I have taken in over 10 years. I hope that it is just the start of many more!
There were indeed many, many rocky shorelines – the problem was, most were on private property. I’d always heard about the old money in this area, the Hamptons, Cape Cod, Nantucket….. well there sure is! The homes are absolutely gorgeous and huge! I’d call them estates actually. It seemed just about everywhere that I drove in the area, there were “Private Property” signs posted along the roads. Sigh.. I didn’t get to see much of the coastline like I wanted to.
The town of Gloucester is quite small and just what you would picture a seaside fishing town to be. The buildings are quite old, some cobblestone streets, tiny little shops selling mostly, trinkets geared toward the tourist trade. And of course, working docks. I spent quite a bit of time watching different fishing boats being unloaded. I could sit for hours and watch the activity.
The Andrea Gail of The Perfect Storm fame. The Andrea Gail was a reproduction of The Lady Grace
I ate in town a few times to try the local seafood, which of course, was quite good and very fresh. I am amazed at the size of the portions that you get. I had a shrimp dish one day for lunch and there were 15 huge shrimp tossed in the garlic and butter pasta along with some veggies and it was under $15.00. It was more than I could eat for lunch, but I made sure I ate all the shrimp out of it. Another day I went back to the same place to get a fried fish platter and oh my gosh… it was enough food for 3 people for under $9.00. I also got lobster at another restaurant a few doors down (both of these were right on the water near the docks). They served lobster in too many ways to list and you had your choice of sizes as well. I got the boiled, 1-1/2 pound (the smallest they have) with fries. The waitress was kind enough to show me how to eat it – how to get all the meat out of the tail, the claws as well as all the little legs. The legs are the sweetest meat, but also, the hardest to get out. I only succeeded in getting the very sweet tender meat out of 2 or 3 legs. What a mess it is to eat a whole lobster! Oh yes, the bib they give you is much needed. It was worth the $16.99 I paid. When I think of what we pay for only the tail here in the Midwest I appreciated it all the more.
Driving in Massachusetts was not my favorite thing. I thought the ‘turnabouts’ would be a problem, but after you go through one, you pretty much get the hang of it. No, what was more a problem was how the streets are marked, or to be more accurate, how they are not marked. There were many times that the street sign was not on the corner of a street, but rather, they are down a ways on the street itself. In other words, you need to get to the street, or past it, in order to see the sign. Some streets just are not marked at all. One way streets are also very common. Many, many times I missed the street and went up a block thinking I could just go around the corner, only to be met with so many one way streets that I would get temporarily lost because of all the zigzagging around I ended up doing. It was very frustrating going places let me tell you.
I drove to Salem one day but got frustrated driving around trying to find a place to park. The 3 public parking lots I found were all full. There was no street parking since I didn’t get there until around 10:30 in the morning. Much of what there was to see, cost money and were such a tourist trap, I simply had no interest. The wax museums, other “museums” that were really nothing more than a way to charge money to see someone’s idea of a “frightening haunted house” type thing. Souvenir shops were in abundance. I walked through one of the graveyards a little bit, but honestly, how interesting is it to look at gravestones?
I drove to Rockport several times which is a little north of Gloucester. Another quaint, tourist town. I walked all through the town visiting several shops looking for tee shirts. The streets down by the water are lined with hundreds of people milling about. A photo of Motif No. 1. – the most photographed building in the world (at least that is what I read somewhere).
I walked along the waters edge in Gloucester several times looking at the memorials. The most famous being of course Man At The Wheel. It’s pretty eerie reading all the names of the lives lost at sea – which is all in a days work for these communities. It is a hard life that’s for sure. These statues are rather sobering when you see them on the water’s edge. I couldn’t help but stop and just stand in silence and think about all the men, and some women, that had been lost at sea over the years.
One thing that I did that I will forever remember, is going on a whale watch tour. If you ever have this opportunity – go for it! You will not regret it, it’s well worth the money. These gentle giants are amazing! I had the good fortune of going on a tour on a very lucky day. Whale watch tours are usually 2 to 2-1/2 hours in length. We were out for a little over 3 hours because the sightings were so good. The tours are conducted by marine organizations working on protecting the whales, and in many cases, saving them as so many get caught in fishing nets. They teach you so much on these tours, more than I could ever hope to remember. They are very interesting however, and because they study these whales, they can identify them all. Every whale has a distinguishing marking of some kind – normally on the fluke, and no 2 are alike. Some of these whales that we saw were the babies of others that they’d tracked over the years. It was overwhelming what we learned on those 3 plus hours.
They have named the whales that they see each year. It seems as though most return year after year. The Minke and Humpback whales are seen quite frequently on these tours. They are the smaller of the baleen whales. By small, I mean the Humpbacks we saw were 30-40 feet in length, the Minkes are around 20 feet long. We traveled out to Stellwagen Bank which is a feeding ground about 25 miles off the coast of Boston. The reason we stayed out so long was that we came upon 3 Fin Back whales! These are the 2nd largest mammal in the world second only to the Blue Whale. Fin Backs are more rare to see, so this was a very good day. They were feeding and were 15 feet from our boat! It was absolutely incredible! They were 70-80 feet in length! It is hard to get any real good pictures because of their coloring – they blend in with the water (or maybe that’s just to me since I am color blind). They hover just below the surface while they’re feeding. One of them surfaced and with open mouth made a sweeping pass by the side of the boat scooping up krill as he went. It was something I’ll never forget – unfortunately, I wasn’t quick enough with my camera to catch it. Not to mention, the boat is not very still, so I was concentrating more on not falling over, or into the person next to me. You do that quite a bit anyway, you can’t help it. To see an 80 foot long giant rush by you, with it’s huge head out of the water, mouth open, is just something that has to be seen to be appreciated. When he did this, he was literally just 15 feet away. Everyone did a quick step back and gasp. They take in thousands of gallons of water each time they do this. I was amazed at how graceful these giants are. They are absolutely magnificent up close; being able to see a mammal of this size and how absolutely still they can be, it is almost calming. Until you realize the power that is within, it is just mind boggling. To say they are majestic is an understatement. I cannot say how amazing it was to witness this, let alone 3 of them. I will never forget it as long as I live.
Whale “watch” is exactly what you spend a lot of time doing once they are sighted. The boat speeds up to where they were seen (you see the spray of water in the distance) and wait for them to surface. They can stay down for quite some time. It depends on how long they were at the surface as to how long they can/will stay down. It is usually in equal amounts of time. We waited as long as 20 minutes in some cases. And of course, they move while they are submerged so you don’t always know where they will surface. So to be ready with the camera is kind of hard. Have you ever seen the movie Moby Dick? Think of the scene where they are all standing around, waiting in the eerie silence for Moby Dick to breech. That’s exactly what it was like. The only sound is the water lapping against the hull of the boat, and the birds overhead, everyone is just standing, watching, going from one side of the boat to the other, watching, waiting. And then, you see the spray and there they are. They just popped up out of the water, but again, not their whole body the front half, or at least to the dorsal fin, was what was we saw. There was no breaching that day – which would’ve been so very awesome to see. When they dive, it is so graceful; the water barely moves. There’s no splash, they arch, their back comes up out of the water, then you see the fluke, which you get a full view of, before it vanishes once again to the depths below. Here are a few photos that I was able to capture. The guide told us this particular whale was just about 80 feet long. I don’t remember his name.