August 03, 2014
BY MARILYN JONES
GLOUCESTER, Mass. — The Privateer IV gently rocks as Captain Sebby Lovasco navigates the waters between Gloucester and Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary in Massachusetts Bay.
The journey is offered by 7 Seas Whale Watch several times a day in the spring, summer and fall, allowing tourists to view some of the world’s largest mammals.
After nearly two hours, I see the first whale spout on the horizon as naturalist Jay Frontierro announces that the Privateer is near the whale’s feeding grounds.
Then it happens.
A circle of bubbles appears on the surface. Seagulls shriek and gather as several humpback whales suddenly burst from the water with open mouths, devouring the fish they’ve corralled in this circle of air.
Over the next hour, we watch humpbacks, along with fin, minke and sei whales, and harbor porpoises skim the surface near the boat. Newborn calves propel through the air to the cheers of onlookers. Camera shutters click as more and more whales appear.
“We always see whales, but we don’t usually see this many whales,” says Frontierro. “This is an exceptional day.”
Beginning to lose the light, the boat turns and we start back toward Gloucester.
Northeast of Boston on Cape Ann, the area’s heritage is fishing. But its 21st-century identity is tourism. From historic destinations and artist colonies to nature walks and award-winning restaurants, the charming seaside communities of Gloucester, Rockport and Essex welcome thousands of tourists each year looking for relaxation, great seafood and adventure.
“The movie ‘The Perfect Storm’ did a lot for tourism here,” says Tony Sapienza, one of the owners of Blue Shutters Beachside Inn. “People heard George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg were here filming and they arrived by the busload. Now a lot of visitors are interested in finding the stars of the TV show ‘Wicked Tuna.’”
Gloucester was settled in 1623 by the English Dorchester Company. Life was harsh and the settlement was short lived on the island; its residents moved to what is now Salem. Over time the area again resettled and the town was formally incorporated in 1642.
Two streets define the main downtown tourist area — Rogers and Main.
Rogers hugs the harbor and offers an educational look at the fishing industry, with lobster traps stacked on the docks and boats lined up along the pier. The Gloucester HarborWalk begins here. Following numbered plaques, I learned about the fishing industry of yesteryear as well as today.
Also along Rogers are the whale watch cruise companies. In addition to 7 Seas Whale Watch, there are Capt. Bill & Sons Whale Watch, Cape Ann Whale Watch and other charter services.
Several excellent restaurants are located along the two streets as well. But for shopping, Main Street is generally your destination. From clothing and toys to souvenirs and gifts, dozens of exclusive offerings can be found.
On Western Avenue is the Gloucester Fishermen’s Memorial and Fishermen’s Wives Memorial. Both vividly illustrate the dangers and sacrifices fishermen, and their families, have faced for centuries.
Across the harbor is Rocky Neck Art Colony, one of the oldest working art colonies in the country. Artists have been drawn here since the mid-1800s by the area’s beauty. Many well-known artists — including Fitz Henry Lane, Emile Gruppe, Childe Hassam, Milton Avery, Jane Peterson — made, and make, the Neck their home.
There is only one way in and out. During the summer, plan to arrive in the morning to find a parking spot and while away the hours by visiting art galleries and working studios before settling in for lunch at one of the waterfront restaurants. The Cape Ann water shuttle is also available from downtown Gloucester to the art colony.
Gloucester occupies most of the eastern end of Cape Ann. At the far tip is the town of Rockport. Originally part of Gloucester, the area was at first uninhabited, its timber used for shipbuilding.
In 1743, a dock was built at Rockport, followed by the opening of granite quarries in the 19th century. By the 1830s, Rockport granite was shipped to cities and towns throughout the East.
Rockport was incorporated in 1840, and its streets are lined with mansions and summer homes, with a small commercial area along its pier.
In the 20th century, as the demand for granite decreased, the area thrived as an artists’ colony because of its popularity as a vacation spot. Tourists flocked to the village for its rocky beaches and fishing harbor — and its place in Rudyard Kipling’s “Captains Courageous.”
A red fishing shack on Bradley Wharf, known as Motif Number 1, is said to be the most painted and photographed landmark in the United States.
Tiny fishing cottages painted deep reds, slate blue and a rainbow of pastels in the heart of the village now serve as gift shops, art galleries or restaurants. Walking along, a gentle breeze cools the air with the scent of the sea and the memories of generations of hardy souls. To journey here is to visit a storybook image of an iconic fishing village.
The first European settlers arrived in 1634 in what is now Essex, a small village west of Gloucester.
Although it has a rich shipbuilding history, its claim to fame is the fried clams first prepared by Chubby Woodman early in the 20th century. “My grandfather taught Howard Johnson how to fry clams,” says Steve Woodman of Woodman’s of Essex. “It’s our 100th anniversary this year.
“We have been in business for five generations. We have fifth-generation employees and forth-generation customers,” Woodman says.
Truly, Essex could be described in three words: Seafood, tourism and antiques.
Due to the exceptional quality of the clams in the tidal river, local restaurants flourish by preparing them along with other types of seafood.
Main Street is lined with antiques shops. The town boasts of being the municipality with the greatest number of antiques shops per square mile in the nation.
Essex also has an abundance of natural beauty and is popular with birdwatchers. Cogswell’s Grant, the onetime summer home of Bertram and Nina Little (celebrated country art collectors), includes 165 acres overlooking the Essex River.
The property is available for bird watching daily from dawn until dusk. Although there is an admission to tour the 1728 house, there is no fee to hike on the property, which hosts several birds including the bobolink with its R2-D2-like song, common yellow-throated warbler and red-breasted grosbeak.
If you go …
Where to eat
Oceanfront Waterfront Breakfast Café at Atlantis Oceanfront Inn,125 Atlantic Rd., Gloucester; (800) 732-6313; atlantisoceanfrontinn.com.
Woodman’s of Essex, 121 Main St., Essex; (800) 649-1773; woodmans.com.
Passports, 110 Main St., Gloucester; (978) 281-3680;passportsrestaurant.wordpress.com.
Latitude 43, 25 Rogers St., Gloucester; (978) 281-0223; latfortythree.com.
Magnolia 525, 12 Lexington Ave., Gloucester; (978) 525-3230; 525magnolia.com.
Franklin Café, 118 Main St., Gloucester; (978) 283-7888; franklincafe.com.
Where to stay
Blue Shutters Beachside Inn, 1 Nautilus Rd., Gloucester; (978) 283-1198;blueshuttersbeachside.com.
Atlantis Oceanfront Inn, 125 Atlantic Rd., Gloucester; (800) 732-6313;atlantisoceanfrontinn.com.
For more information