Across the deck, next to Captain Courageous restaurant, is the colorful Fisherman's Wharf (map 9, 4), in the 1930's the home of the Atlantic Supply Company and its fleet, managed by Ben Pine, whose racing schooners brought twilight fame to Gloucester. From the small park at the dock's edge we can almost picture the graceful and yet powerful sailing vessels that tied up at "Pinet's Wharf," with their towering masts and nests of dories on deck, the reflections from the water dancing on their shining hulls, the last of which was the last all-sail fishing schooner built, the black and powerful Gertrude L. Thebaud.
From the year of her launch in Essex in 1930, the Thebaud was the game but smaller challenger in the series of races with Canada that began in 1920 with Gloucester's only capture of the International Fishermen's Cup by Esperanto. That rivalry culminated in the final match in 1938 between the Thebaud and her arch-rival, Lunenberg's overpowering Bluenose, holder of the trophy since 1921.
Now Adventure represents and symbolizes them all, and the revived races off Eastern Point bring the great schooners of today together each Labor Day for the most exciting taal ship sailing match of the year in Massachusetts Bay.
Long before Ben Pine had this wharf it was Boynton's, before that Central Wharf, before that the wharf of William Pearce and Sons a hundred and seventy years ago, when that firm and Winthrop Sargent's led Gloucester's brisk trade with Surinam on the north coast of South America. Pearce's barks and brigs docked here with sugar and molasses for his rum distillery up on Porter Street. Fishing was in a periodic slump, and the wharves were less redolent of salt codfish than of peppercorns and cocoa beans, grapes, figs, raisins and olives, lemons, wines, cotton bales and spices, coconuts, tamarinds, and plaintain. Pearce even sent from this wharf in 1833 the tall ship Lewis on a whaling voyage to keep his spermaceti works supplied. It was no great success; Gloucester had smaller fish to fry.
A century and a half passed, and Fishtown again went whaling-taking passengers this time to watch the humpbacks, finbacks, and minkes that congregate to feed on the Stellwagen, or Middle, Bank, an hour's run in one of the large whalewatch boats operated by four fleets out of Gloucester between spring and fall. What an experience, observing and sometimes even petting these friendly, endangered, greatest animals in existence!
Most of the fish firms in Harbor Cove seventy-five-odd years ago had glassed-in lookouts on their roofs. It was the job of the fastest rowers to watch for the fleet coming in around Eastern Point; then there'd be a dory race out the harbor to buy the first trip of fish. These emissaries were followed by the "streamers" who rowed around to returning schooners as they anchored in the stream, the channel, to buy up the spent rope, cook's grease, and such odds and ends of the trip. Others bought cod livers for Dodd's and Norwood's and the rest of the oil works. The "gaffers" hung around the schooners as they were being unloaded, gaffing into their dories the fish that were dropped overboard, for these strays were theirs by long custom.
Out of the traffic tangle at the west end of Rogers, Washington Street-the original way from Meetinghouse Green-leads straight through St. Peter's Park to the colonial public landing at the head of Harbor Cove. This spacious new plaza is the scene of Gloucester's renowned Fiesta. In 1926 some Sicilian fishermen enshrined a statue of their patron St. Peter. It was the beginning of the Fiesta the community has celebrated every year since, with Latin joyousness and religious devotion, on the weekend closest to June 29, the Feast Day of St. Peter. Fiesta is preceded appropriately by the New Fish Festival, promoting dishes featuring underutilized species in local restaurants, and culminates in the colorful blessing of the fleet off Pavilion Beach by a prelate of the Roman Catholic Church.
Here at St. Peter's Park is a good place for contemplating the changes three-hundred and sixty-five years have wrought on the old port.
The southerly portion of the brick parking lot here was George Thurston's spar yard seventy-five years ago, always a logjam of tall timber floating in the dock, waiting to be shaped into masts, booms, gaffs, and bowsprits for newly launched schooners hauled around by one of the towboats from the Essex shipyards for fitting out-or to replace a "stick" twelve or sixteen inches thick that snapped to splinters in a gale of wind on Georges Bank.
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