You Win Some and You Lose Some
Salisbury, MA - Events of Monday, August 5, 2013
The area off the coast of New England is the summer home to numerous species of whales, and there are several whale watch boat cruises that depart from Gloucester Harbor about 30 miles from where we were staying in Salisbury. The most common species in this area are fin whales, humpbacks and minke whales.
We checked out the reviews for several of the cruises and decided to give 7 Seas Whale Watch a try because they offered a guarantee that if the cruise didn't see any whales, they would give you a voucher for another cruise. We weren't sure if we would have time to do the cruise twice if we didn't see a whale the first time, but the guarantee gave us some encouragement that they would at least try fairly hard to find the spot where the whales were.
The cruise is expensive - $48 for adults and $42 for seniors. However, Margery found a 40% discount mentioned somewhere on their web page, so that made the price a lot more affordable.
There are morning (8:30) and afternoon (1:30) cruises. We chose morning because the cruises last 3½ to 4 hours, and we thought the afternoon cruise would get us back to the motor home pretty late in the day. The morning cruise would require us to get moving a lot earlier than we usually do, but we would have time afterward in case we decided to do something else.
There is a free parking lot next to the dock. We arrived shortly after 8:00, parked the car and boarded the Privateer IV.
Gloucester was first settled in 1623 and is one of the first English settlements in Massachusetts predating Salem (1626) and Boston (1630). The first settlement at Gloucester was abandoned in 1626 because the soil was poor and not well suited to farming. The area was gradually resettled, and the town was finally incorporated in 1642. The later settlement also concentrated on farming. At that time, fishing was limited to areas close to shore.
It wasn't until the 1700s that Gloucester became an important seafaring town and shipbuilding center. Around the same time, fishermen from Gloucester began to fish the Grand Banks, a series of underwater plateaus off the coast of Newfoundland, and reap its rich bounty. Gloucester's most famous seafood business, Gorton's of Gloucester, was founded in 1849 as John Pew & Sons. Gloucester's seafaring heritage was evident as we pulled away from the dock and headed out of the harbor past numerous commercial fishing boats.
We also enjoyed seeing the picturesque waterfront area as we made our way out toward the open ocean.
New England is well known for its rocky shores and many lighthouses. We passed a couple of lighthouses on the way out of the harbor. The first marked Tenpound Island, which sits in the middle of the water near the entrance to the inner harbor.
Eastern Point Lighthouse marks the entrance to the outer harbor.
In the outer harbor, we passed a crew out practicing their rowing. they were making decent progress in spite of the choppy water in the outer harbor.
From the harbor, we headed southeast toward a shallow area known as Middle Bank. Middle Bank is actually an underwater extension of Cape Cod and is a place where whales are known to feed. As we headed out to deeper water on our way to Middle Bank, we passed Boston to our west.
The boat had a remote monitor for the GPS so passengers could check the boat's position. The boat is the dark spot in the center of the map. Gloucester is in yellow in the upper left of the map. Our speed is in the upper right and was 14.5 knots (16.7 mph). The water depth as shown on the left was between 150 and 175 feet. The red pushpin just ahead of the boat is where a whale was spotted on the afternoon cruise the day before, and it was where we were headed.
As you may have been able to guess from the title of the blog post, we didn't see any whales. We sailed several miles past the point where a whale was spotted the day before, but still didn't see anything. The captain then got a report from a fishing boat that a whale had been seen several hours earlier in the same area as the one was seen the day before. The captain announced over the loudspeaker he would be heading back to that spot.
The water was choppy as we headed southeast; but we were sailing with the wind, and the ride was fairly smooth. The captain warned that would not be the case as we headed back toward the northwest because we would be heading into the wind. He suggested those who were outside on the lower deck, especially on the port side, might want want to head into the enclosed cabin. We heeded the warning, and we're glad we did. Huge quantities of water splashed over the bow with each wave we hit. The water poured down the length and ran off the end of the bench where we had been sitting a little while before.
The water started out a little choppy leaving Gloucester, but by the time we turned around, we were in 5 to 6-foot seas. The captain decided it was too rough to continue looking for whales, and the naturalist onboard announced we would continue to head northwest back to port and that everyone would receive a voucher for another cruise.
Our experience is a perfect example of "sounds good on paper." All the advertisements show pictures of whale sightings and you think going on a whale-watching cruise is a great idea. However, it really is like searching for a needle in a haystack.
The ride back to Gloucester was pretty bumpy. The poor girl who was sitting behind us got seasick. Fortunately, she didn't hurl, but she spent the entire return trip slumped over the table.
All in all, once we were out of the harbor, the cruise was pretty boring, especially since we weren't rewarded with a whale sighting. We were glad when we finally approached Gloucester again and had something more interesting to look at besides waves. We passed a schooner that was very picturesque.
As we approached the harbor, the waves subsided somewhat. Once we were in the harbor, we were able to see some of the sights we missed on the way out because they were on the other side of the boat. The buildings in the photo below used to be a paint factory that manufactured copper paint used on the bottoms of ships to prevent fouling by marine organisms such as barnacles. The copper coating was one of the things that made clipper ships of the 1800s so fast because their hulls were free from fouling. The factory was closed due to environmental concerns.
After the cruise, we headed back to the motor home to let Freeway out and to relax a while. Later in the afternoon, we headed about 10 or 15 minutes south of Salisbury to Ipswich for lupper. We took a short detour on the way to stop and check out Salisbury Beach, which is only about 1½ miles from the campground. The beach itself was pretty nice, but nothing like the beaches in the panhandle of Florida with their white, sugar-like sand. The area near the beach where the shops and eateries are located is small and pretty tacky.
Ipswich has two restaurants that specialize in local clams - the Clam Box and the Ipswich Clambake Co. Both have similar prices, and both get excellent reviews. In fact, Ipswich Clambake seems to have slightly better reviews because they don't have as high a percentage of low reviews. Yet, there was a long line outside the Clam Box and only a few people at the Ipswich Clambake Co. We decided we didn't want to wait outside in the hot sun, so we went to the Ipswich Clambake. We had read that waits can be quite long at the Clam Box because of inefficient service.
Ipswich Clambake has other things on the menu besides clams like several kinds of fish, scallops, calamari and shrimp. We love clams, so we knew that's what we wanted. They have clams available as whole clams or as clam strips and as small plates (approximately ¼ pint of clams) with one side for $10 or as full plates (approximately ½ pint of clams) with two sides for $15. They also have clam strips in ½-pint boxes for $10.50 and 1-pint boxes for $17. Some of the sides are also available in pints and ½-pint boxes. We got a pint of clams, a ½ pint of onion rings and one side of slaw to share. We ended up with HUGE piles of clam strips and onion rings.
They were without question the best clams and onion rings we have ever had. Even the cole slaw was excellent. The clams and onion rings were both sweet and tender on the inside and crunchy on the outside.
Ipswich Clambake Co. reportedly changes their cooking oil twice a day. Normally, if we would eat that much deep-fried food, we would feel like we had swallowed a bowling ball. That was not the case at all. The clams and onion rings were amazingly light for being deep fried. Ipswich Clambake is a little hard to see because it sits back a little from the road, and a tree partially hides their sign. Nevertheless, with as good as the food was at Ipswich Clambake, we can't figure out why anyone would stand in a long line at the Clam Box when there is no wait just down the road.
We may have lost out on the whale sighting, but we definitely found a winner in the Ipswich Clambake Co. With our bellies full, we headed back to the motor home for an evening of TV.
In the end, we decided not to try the whale cruise a second time. We may have felt more obligated to go again if we not had the 40% discount; but with the discount, the cash outlay really wasn't too bad, and we just considered it a regular boat ride without whales. Not only that, but the vouchers are good indefinitely, so we can use them if we ever come back to the area at some time in the future.
Another reason we decided not to take the cruise again was we already had something else we wanted to do in the area before we left. We'll tell you about it in our next post.