We're on a mooring buoy in Gloucester, Massachusetts and I am awakened at 3:30 a.m. by rapid movement of the water. I go upstairs to see who is moving about at this early hour when a fishing boat similar to the infamous Andrea Gail passes before me. Four or five boats go out after, all heading out with the hope for a good day's catch. I am reminded of the book and movie, The Perfect Storm.
There is an ease to Gloucester that began the moment we entered the harbor. Aside from the unexpected European Castle perched on a bluff and three solar windmills that seemed to lurk over the inner-town, the air smacked with the scent of fish and the shoreline suggested modesty, pride, and a simpler way of life. But, there is also a sadness to Gloucester, a visual story that seemed to play out before our eyes as we boated past fading structures and foundations falling into the sea. A township whose fishing structure reflects a dying trade. You've got to admire those who are still succeeding, but....
How many times have we all held on to a sinking ship tied with a frayed line of hope?
History of the town
Gloucester is probably best known as the fishing town of the Andrea Gail; the fishing boat lost in the inescapable perfect storm. While fishing has been a big part of the communitie's livelihood, Gloucester was once also a thriving granite industry. Discovered in the early 1800s, the Cape Ann peninsula began cutting 450 million-year-old granite into blocks and stone. In the 1900s the quarries actually superseded the fishing industry until the Great Depression ushered in the collapse. Anchored by the city of Gloucester, the entirety of Cape Ann lies within Essex County. The nexus of the dwindling fishing industry, Cape Ann also includes Rockport, Essex, and Manchester-by-the-Sea.
Gloucester was founded by an expedition called the "Dorchester Company" in 1623. It was one of the first English settlements in what would become the Massachusetts Bay Colony and predates both Salem in 1626 and Boston in 1630. However, life on Gloucester was harsh and short-lived. By 1626 it was completely abandoned. Over time, people started to return and in 1642, it was formally incorporated. Like most of the English settlements, Gloucester's namesake hails from South-West England.
The hardships of the American Revolution devastated Gloucester. Fishing vessels were commissioned as privateers and crew taken as prisoners of war. British warships all but destroyed Gloucester's fishing fleet and interrupted the profitable trading established in previous years. In the end, nearly 400 residents died and an industry lost was not easily rebuilt.
Photos below: The draw bridge that brings you through the man-made canal that makes Gloucester an actual island; one of many failing buildings in the harbor; foundations slipping into the sea.
To me, the most moving experience in Gloucester was its people. We visited the Cape Ann Museum which offered amazing exhibits of art by some of America's most celebrated artists and a wealth of historic pieces of Cape Ann's past. But, what really struck me was their exhibit, Portraits of a Working Waterfront, in which photographer Jim Hooper photographed portraits of 71 men and women of Gloucester today, who make their livings working the fishing trade. This poignant book is available for purchase here.
The awkward castle perched on the rocky bluff as we came into port intrigued us. Upon research, we learned it was the home of scientist and inventor (and clearly, eccentric) John Hays Hammond Jr. built in 1926, and now a museum.
Constructed under the design and guidance of Mr. Hammond himself, the now Hammond Castle Museum reflected a medieval castle and was custom built to encompass his private collection of artifacts spanning from ancient Rome through the Renaissance. Most fascinating to us was the organ with 8,400 pipes and a tropical courtyard constructed in a way that he was able to control the weather within. Sadly, the upkeep is not being done and is becoming very evident.
I would like to share a beer with a fisherman of Gloucester to learn his story, but the opportunity did not present itself. I did, however, enjoy chatting with many locals and a few very nice women who gave me this valuable lesson: people from Gloucester appreciate when you pronounce the name correctly. In order to do so place your tongue to the back of your throat and with a long draw say "glaw". Now quickly breath out "str" Nope, don't pronounce the vowel, just the str. Tad said I was practicing in my sleep! (wink)
The City of Gloucester rents out 30 transient moorings for vessels up to 60 ft. There are three locations; The Inner Harbor (we moored here and there was a lot of water movement), The Southeast Harbor, and the Western Harbor.
Radio: VHF 14
Pump Out: no
Fresh Water: no
Other amenities: Launch service is free of charge with your reservation. Contact VHF channel 72 or 978-726-0155
Only drawback: We stayed in the inner harbor where all the activity took place. While interesting to see the fishing vessels go by, the movement and sloshing was constant.