29 Sept 2018 – Large whale and small rock


October 8th, 2018


North Atlantic 2017 – 2019, USA

Written by

Richard Farrington

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By Richard. Posted on October 8th, 2018 in North Atlantic 2017 – 2019, USA.

41:57.7N  70:39.9W


Gurnet Point: the Massachusetts equivalent of Rame Head (after which our boat is named…)

Plymouth Massachusetts turns out to be a very attractive place.  Flanked and protected by long, empty sandy beaches with Gurnet Point at the seaward end, it is a great natural harbour, albeit rather shallow and not well suited to major commercial maritime activity.  It’s a small fishing, recreational boating and tourist town that relies heavily on the draw of Plymouth Rock and the story of the English settlers who arrived in the ‘Mayflower’.  We inched in close to low tide with less than a foot of water under Escapade’s keel and picked up a buoy in front of the harbourmaster’s office just as it was getting dark. 


Escapade at Plymouth, Massachusetts

In the morning I went in search of some epoxy glue to renovate the patches on our trusty Zodiac rubber boat whilst Julie sorted out the whale watching and the harbor dues.  Captain John’s Whalewatching cruise left promptly at midday with about sixty passengers aboard.  We sailed for an hour and a half in quite lumpy seas towards the Stellwagen Bank, a shoal where the cold deep water rises up, bringing with it masses of nutrients to feed whales and a whole aquatic food chain.  The whales come here in the summer to fatten up, before moving south into the Caribbean to mate.  We were in sight of Provincetown, right on the northern end of the Cape Cod peninsula, when at last we found a big Fin Whale.  Given the poor visibility and the rough sea, I thought the crew did quite well to find this fellow and we escorted him along for about an hour as he cruised around, avoiding lobster pots and doing some casual fishing.  I think they decided to stick with him rather than go in search of other whales, so we didn’t get quite the same spectacle that Anna and Matt had enjoyed a few days earlier.  Nonetheless, it was as close as most of us will ever get to the second largest animal on earth and that’s got to be pretty special.


Despite his size, I found photographing this fin whale very difficult…the hazy cloud is his ‘blow’. Scale? Big. You can see about 6 metres of his back here.

Frankly, it was more special than Plymouth Rock turned out to be.  On our return to Plymouth we went for a walk along the seafront to see this famous piece of stone.  We nearly missed it.  It sits under the protection of a small Greco-Roman temple between the road and the water.  I thought it was a public toilet at first…  It turns out that it split in two at some stage in the past and one half was moved somewhere else for a while.  The two parts are now reunited in the temple (which also houses some remains of early settlers) and somebody has carved ‘1620’ on it, just to remove any doubt as to which rock along this foreshore it is.  There is no evidence to suggest that the Pilgrims gave any relevance to it: they spent several weeks in the area before selecting this part of the bay as their settlement and the rock only came to prominence several decades later when someone did some work on a pier.

I think the Pilgrims selected a good place to settle; better perhaps than the group who had such a torrid time in Jamestown, Virginia in 1607 (see blog entry dated 26 June 2018).  Nonetheless, they too nearly succumbed to a combination of disease and marauding Indians: around half of them died within six months of arriving in America.  A year later in October 1621, they celebrated their first harvest in a three day celebration attended by a majority of Native Americans which became known as ‘Thanksgiving’.   The rest, as they say, is history and I’m sure that the 400th anniversary celebrations will reflect the extraordinary resilience, faith, teamwork and optimism of those Founding Fathers.


Plymouth Rock

We sailed on Saturday morning for the Cape Cod Canal, on our way to Nantucket.


The sand dunes protecting Plymouth – a view that the first settlers might recognise