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Cape Anne

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Just to the northeast of Salem is Cape Ann, a rocky thumb jutting out into the North Atlantic. Cape Ann is a wild landscape with high cliffs, lighthouses, scenic harbors, beaches, charming towns, seals, whales, seabirds, hiking trails and sea kayaking. It's a paradise for artists and photographers. This is the greatest traditional fishing center in North America. Boats still go out every day, nets dry on racks by water's edge, lobster traps are stacked on docks, and dories sit in yards everywhere. Cape Anne is a land of small boats sailed by one man or a crew of three or four, boats pulled up into yards or tied up at family docks. It's really an island, as Gloucester Bay and the Assaquam River separate the cape from the mainland. It's a corner of America not overrun by tourism or modern development. While you're visiting Massachusetts, we urge you to spend at least a day there. Once you see it, you may decide to come back for a week or two.

Cape Ann map
Gloucester harbor Just before you reach Cape Ann, you'll pass the turnout to The Essex Shipyard to the north. It's only a village, but it played a huge role in the economy of New England and especially Cape Ann. The Essex Shipyard was actually a several mile riverfront with dozens of families each in business for themselves. In the 1600s the families of Essex started building boats for their own fishing, but they soon found they could make more money with less risk by building boats for others. They learned by trial and error and by the 1700s they were building the finest fishing boats in the world. They designed the classic fishing schooner and built over 4000 of them in a 350 year span. Gloucester became the greatest fishing town in the world using Essex boats. Some were shallow hulled for use near shore, and some were deep hulled for long ocean forays. Today, the Essex Shipyard is administered as a museum by the Essex Historical Society. It could be a morning visit en route to Gloucester and Cape Ann.

Gloucester is the most famous fishing community in the world. The fisherman statue at right sits at the entrance to Gloucester and commemorates fishermen who have perished at sea. Overfishing by nations as far away as Russia and Japan have seriously depleted the North Atlantic, but the Gloucester fleet still brings back five tons of seafood every day. You can take full day charter deep sea fishing trips. To fully appreciate Gloucester, before your trip read and watch The Perfect Storm, about the 1991 storm which was the worst in recorded history. . You'll learn about swordboating, or longlining, the expeditionary fishing Gloucester excels at. You'll learn about the Andrea Gale, the boat and crew which was caught far out at sea and had to battle the storm (seen in the artist's portrayal below), and the Crow's Nest, the famous local tavern (although 40 year bartender Ethel Shatford, who was in both the book and the movie, has passed away). You can stop by the Crow's Nest, right on the waterfront, but it's just a classic bar (pool table, pin ball machine, dart board, dark and smoky), not a restaurant.

Fisherman statue, Gloucester
Perfect Storm scene In addition to its fishing, beaches and scenery, Cape Ann is famous for its weather. It can change in 30 minutes. Even in mid Summer some of the worst storms you've ever seen can blow in from the northeast. Rain falls horizontally and wind shreds tents. To be a fisherman here is thus more than a job; it's a show of courage.
This is Gloucester as seen from the harbor entrance. It's a beautiful town, here since the 1600s, with homes climbing a rocky hill so each one has a breathtaking view of the ocean. There are a dozen good restaurants here, another dozen bed & breakfasts, an assoretment of motels, lodges and inns, and 20-30 houses for rent by the week. Gloucester
The Dory is a highly specialized oceangoing rowboat in great use on Cape Anne. You can learn to build one at The Dory Shop (right). If you contact them a month ahead you can register for a day's session in which you construct a boat and, if you have a way to haul it, take it home. If you don't want to build one, you can still participate in a two hour program in which you learn the history of dories, learn how to maneuver them, then take one out on the open sea with an instructor and actually row it for an hour. Both programs are in Gloucester Harbor. When you're looking around Gloucester Harbor, remember the private sailboats and fishing boats are moored further out. They have less priority. The commercial fleet is anchored at The State Pier, close to servicing facilities. Here are the charter boats, the swordboaters, longliners, and dayrunners (those who come back each night to unload their catch). This should be the core of your trip. For 300 years this has been the most productive fishing fleet in the world.
Rockport Rockport is the town at the outer point of the Cape. It sits in Sandy Bay, but has gorgeous views of the ocean. There's a lively artist and photographer colony here. Like Gloucester, there are restaurants, bed & breakfasts, motels, lodges, inns and rental houses. Several great beaches are within a walk or short drive of Rockport. Recently the town has become a sea kayaking center. Because it juts so far out into the ocean, Cape Ann is a great shell collecting site, and the shore along Rockport is the best of all.
One opportunity you should seriously consider is Discovery Adventures. They offer kayaking and snorkeling. No prior experience is necessary. To find their headquarters, as you come in on 128, at the first rotary take the 3rd right, which puts you on 127. The sign says Lanesville & Rockport. Discovery is six miles on your right. They offer a long list of trips, but we recommend the 2 hour Intro, the 3 hr Ipswich Bay Tour, the 2 hr Sunset, and the 2 hr Full Moon . You can do a separate snorkeling trip, but we like the 4 hr kayak-snorkeling combo. This is an outstanding company. 978-283-3320. Discoadventures@hotmail.com.
This red fishing shack is so popular with artists and photographers it has been called the most frequently painted and photographed building in America, slightly ahead of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, Mabry Mill in Virginia and The Alamo. The harbors and bays of Cape Ann are filled with such structures; you can see another one, white and blue, behind it. At night, boats will be tied up along these piers. fishing shack
For lunch on Cape Anne we recommend the Harbor House in Gloucester. This is a great restaurant which turns into a bar with live entertainment and game tables after 9 pm. The lunchtime menu includes a long list of $7 items, all of which are tasty and substantial. We always get the Fresh Catch Sandwich for $8, which contains whatever is coming right off the boat so is deliciously fresh. But there are many sandwiches, salads and other items on the menu. There are also American and Italian items on the menu, but you can get those back home.

If you wanted to eat dinner here, the Baked Haddock and Baked Scallops are especially good, the Sea Sizzle is the specialty of the house and an entree most of our group likes, and the Seafood Medley and Seafood Fest are a good mix of everything. These items range from $14-17. There is a kids menu with all items at $5.

To find Harbor House, come into town on 128, come half around two rotaries (aren't they fun ??), stay on 128 through two traffic lights, and come up the slight hill for about 3/8 of a mile.

Lighthouse Six lighthouses guard the rocky shores of Cape Ann. Two are on islands slightly off shore, but the other four can be walked to. They're a magnet for artists and photographers, but it seems everyone loves lighthouses, and these are particularly popular because they're built on scenic rockscapes right on the water.
There are outstanding hiking trails on Cape Ann. This is The Atlantic Path,which follows the coast from Rockport to Halibut Point State Park. It's a 3-4 mile walk, depending on where you pick up the trail in Rockport. The route alternates between Maritime Forest and rocky shore, including tidal pools, broad ledges and rocky jumbles like the photograph here. You'll see everything from Whales and Porpoises out at sea to birds and invertebrates on shore. If you take a lunch, eat it at Halibut Point and hike back, this can be a whole day's experience. You could fill up a digital camera chip with photos along this one trail. The Atlantic Path is one of many hiking trails out here made possible by centuries old laws on "pedestrian access," which stipulate that walking trails are a public right of way even if they cross private property. Halibut Point


If you're into hiking or history, you should explore Dogtown. Despite its odd name, this is as mystical a place as exists in America. Back in the 1600s, when Native Americans and Pirates roamed the coastline, the first settlers of Cape Ann built their town on the high plateau in the center of the island. Huge boulders circled the plateau, allowing them to fortify it. They were only a few miles from the harbors, so they still fished every day. In the French & Indian War, the Revolution and the War of 1812, the French and then the British Navies patrolled the coast, so the inhabitants kept to their hilltop town, although they built boathouses, piers and other facilities on the harbors. Finally, after the War of 1812, it became safe to build the towns of Rockport and Gloucester. As the families moved into those towns, Blacks and outlaws moved into the abandoned homes, keeping dogs to protect them and their property. Finally even they abandoned the houses, which collapsed, leaving only the foundations. Descendants of the dogs remained there for a century but finally died out. Heavy forest grew up. Today the plateau is maintained as "The Commons," with hiking trails crisscrossing it. The old foundations still dot the forest, with a plaque identifying the family of each. There are also hiking trails in Ravenswood and Mt. Ann Park, where you can climb the Red Rocks or Hardy Mountain and see all the way to Maine.
One of the most exciting things to do on Cape Ann is to go Whalewatching. The ships go out every day from Gloucester to the Stellwagen Banks, a National Marine Sanctuary and home to a large whale population. This is a great experience. You will see whales, and you may get close enough to reach out and pet them. The boats are big and comfortable, and if hostile weather moves in you can retreat to the lounge and relax. whale and ship
If while reading here about Cape Anne and Gloucester, and researching it on your own, it appeals to you and you decide to extend your trip and adding a day or two out here, you need to consider lodging. Cape Ann Campground (right), has sites in the woods with boulders for privacy. Each site has tables and grilles. Bathrooms are spotless. Couples should consider The Emerson Inn (left), a very romantic waterfront lodge with a great restaurant. Groups will be happy at The Vista, a motel on Route 127 with a beautiful beach.
For dinner we recommend Cameron's, just down from The Crow's Nest. If you come in on 127 (The Scenic Route), stay on it until it reaches the waterfront and then look to your left for Cameron's. If you come in on 128, stay on it to the waterfront, then turn right onto Main (127). It will be a block. Cameron's has outstanding seafood at very low prices (they make their profits on the volume; people take the ferry up from Boston to eat here). The usual haddock, scallops, and other saltwater specialties are available, but Cameron also prides itself on its sirloin tips. There's a bar at one end of the restaurant. Adult beer conneiusseurs might want to order local suds from the Cape Cod Brewery, which Dave, our hops expert, ranks among the best.
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