Friday, August 14, 2020


 I enjoyed our stay in Gloucester (pronounced locally as “glosta”), a famous, slightly down-and-out fishing town with good beer and delicious lobsters.

On Wednesday we sailed from Provincetown to Gloucester, motored actually, as there was very little wind. It was a straightforward passage in calm seas, nothing much to do but stay on course. That and kill flies. We were overrun by many dozens of biting black flies that required manual extermination with the fly swatter. Lisa killed over 50 while on watch, I sent over a dozen to their demise in my cabin and the master head compartment was the site of major carnage, the flies being trapped in a small space and thus victims to a human whirlwind of determined swatting.

Arriving in Gloucester harbor, it took us a while to find a place to anchor where we wouldn’t  run afoul of one of many, many mooring balls dotting all of the protected anchorages. We ultimately found some room in the southeast part of the harbor, not far from the harbor entrance in about 37 feet of water. Taking into consideration the rising tide and the height of Intermezzo’s bow above the water, we had to pay out over 200 feet of chain to achieve a 5:1 scope. Our location was open to the south, but winds were light and shifted north during out stay, so we enjoyed calm waters except for the occasional rogue swells (one set big enough to break a cup and emptied a locker) and boat wakes.

In the morning we took a leisurely dinghy tour of the harbor. Gloucester is famous for its fishing fleet, much diminished now since the collapse of the cod fisheries but still the most prominent feature of the town. A dozen or so big trawlers were tied to the town’s piers, along with many more lobster boats on the surrounding docks. The big Gorton’s fish processing plant hummed away on shore, making fish sticks and other prepared frozen seafood. There are quite a few historic sailing vessels, too. I don’t think I’ve seen as many wooden masts in such a small area before. This is the port of the famous “Gloustermen”, the legendary fisherman who would brave all conditions to land their catch, a story most recently told by the book and movie, “The Perfect Storm”.

As we slowly motored towards the end of the harbor, a lobster skiff passed by us. I decided I’d keep an eye on where it was headed, as I figured it would be selling its catch. Up ahead was an old warehouse, paint peeling, surrounded by lobster traps, its main doors open to its dock. I got a whiff of slightly sweet, salty, fishy air and told Lisa, “It smells like lobsters to me.” Sure enough, the skiff pulled up to the dock and unloaded its catch of lobsters. Manned by what appeared to be father and son, we asked how was their catch and were told, “Okay, enough to pay for the bait and fuel”, which didn’t sound that okay to me. We figured this might be a good place to buy lobsters for dinner, but needed to explore the local lobster market further.

We tied the dinghy up at the harbormaster’s dock and began a wandering tour through town. From the harbor we headed north along a main street dotted with vacant storefronts and struggling businesses, many unusually closed on a weekday. I don’t sense that business was good before the pandemic and now it is decidedly bad. Yet, just like its fishing fleet, it seems that Gloucester is no stranger to tough times. I get the sense that the people here just hang on, get by, deal with it. The houses along the residential streets are modest and faded, but in serviceable condition. The streets are clean, patched up but free of potholes. It’s like the city has figured out over the past 400 years how to keep going, no matter what happens, without much ado or drama. I like and respect this sort of town spirit more than I do the Disneyland-like main streets of Nantucket, Martha’s Vineyard and Provincetown given over to tourism, more prosperous but a big departure from their historic roots. I like the grittiness, authenticity, survivor instinct of Gloucester.

Gloucester does have a small tourist area with a few cafes, restaurants, shops and modest hotels. This part of town seems to be doing a bit better economically. We stopped at a restaurant to satisfy my noon beer habit and I discovered a delicious IPA that was on special for 16 ounce pours. It was good enough and priced right for me to have two glasses, much to Lisa’s dismay as unofficial ship’s dietician. Every glass of beer, every rum sundowner, every cake and cookie that I have is closely monitored and regulated. Two pints of beer put me way over the daily allowance and I expect I will be put on short rations over the next few days.

We stopped by several seafood wholesale places and checked prices. We asked locals where was the best place to buy lobsters. All pointed to Captain Joe’s, the old warehouse we had reconnoitered in the morning. We brought the dinghy round to a nearby public landing and walked a short distance to Joe’s. More lobster traps surrounded the building on the land side. We entered the big open doors, into the dark, dank coolness of an interior lined with tubs full of lobsters. We were asked what size lobsters we wanted, two-and-a-half-pounds-plus, and a blue plastic tub was yanked down off a rack from which we could have our pick. We picked two of the bigger ones which together weighed 5.2 pounds, for which we paid $39, less than the price of two small lobster rolls in Provincetown. We carried the lobsters back to the dinghy in a big plastic bag and brought them back to the boat where they were put into a five gallon bucket of salt water to spend their final hours.

Five-plus pounds of lobster is a lot for two people to eat. We boiled them up one at a time and ate them with corn on the cob and salad. The meat was tender, sweet and tasty. We did messy dissections of the heads and bodies to make sure we got every last bit of meat from among the biomatter of various colors and textures that inhabits the front portion of a lobster. It is nice eating lobster on a boat, where you can discard the empty shells overboard and rinse your hands and plates in the sea as you go. We were both quite gorged full as we finished the last morsels. I expect quite a few more lobsters will meet the same fate as we travel northward to Maine.

This morning we upped anchor and motor-sailed against a northeasterly breeze to Isle of Shoals, a group of small islands about six miles offshore that straddle the New Hampshire-Maine border. We arrived this afternoon and hooked up to one of the free mooring balls in a cove between two of the largest islands. It’s not clear if we are allowed to go ashore on the main island, which has a big old hotel and other interesting looking structures on it. We might only be allowed on a much smaller uninhabited one. We’ll figure that out tomorrow.

It looks like we may be here a couple days, as a cold front is supposed to be passing through and with it some high northerly winds.  No point in beating against the weather if we don’t have to.

Old paint factory, Gloucester harbor
Members of the modern Glouster fishing fleet

Classic wooden gaff-rigged boat in Gloucester harbor
Vintage Gloucester diner
Gloucester's modest version of Eureka's Carson Mansion (Ingomar Club)
The real Ingomar Club in Eureka
Captain Joe & Sons, best place for lobster in Gloucester

One of the yummies, pre-disection
Gloucester schooner