In Focus: Yankee Fleet
Specialties: deep-sea fishing and whale watching trips
Fleet: includes the 50’ Wojack and the 100’ Yankee Freedom
Trip lengths: half-day, full-day, or overnight; occasional specialty trips and charters available
Years in operation: more than 70; it has been family-owned since its 1944 founding
Chief captain: Thomas Orrell, who has worked for Yankee Fleet since 1979 and bought the company in 2008
Fishing reports: The fleet updates a blog with the latest information on the catches of the day.
When the Ice Age ended more than 15,000 years ago, melting glaciers created the saltwater estuary that today sustains the Essex River’s myriad boaters, clammers, and fisherman. Amid this naturally beautiful backdrop, Essex River Cruises and Charters floats its two handsome spectator vessels, the Essex River Queen I and the Essex River Queen II. Guides lead daily, narrated cruises through the estuary, navigating the protected waters and pointing out the various local flora and fauna of the salt marsh.
Cruises embark daily from May to October and also include weekend cruises accompanied by coffee and muffins, during which passengers are serenaded by the plaintive cries of pelicans begging for the love of a good man. The fleet is also available for group tours and charters for up to 100 passengers at a time, and the staff caters signature clambakes and other events along the tidal beach. The cruise-curators even make big days memorable, transporting wedding parties to any of the many secluded tidal beaches in Essex Bay for ceremonies or receptions.
Capt. Bill and Sons Whale Watch started more than 50 years ago, but the late Captain Bill Cunningham can't take full credit for his business' creation. In many ways, the whales themselves founded the company, though they still made Bill do all of the paperwork. Capt. Bill and Sons originally chartered deep sea fishing trips, but the anglers would often get distracted when a humpback or minke whale breached the surface. Seeing how the majestic mammals awed his passengers, the company decided to stow its fishing rods and set out on whale-watching tours instead.
Today, the Capt. Bill and Sons team—which includes son Marc—welcome whale-watchers aboard their two-tiered ship, the Miss Cape Ann. Once they head out into the water, the experts share tips on
spotting whales and insights into the animals' behavior, biology, and social structure. Passengers should look sharp for other species as well, as
the waters around Stellwagen Bank and Jeffreys Ledge are also home to Atlantic white-sided dolphins and harbor seals.
By the Numbers: 7 Seas Whale Watch
15 species of whales have been spotted off the coast of Gloucester
30 feet—the minimum length of the seven “great whale” species you might see, including the humpback whale, the minke whale, the North Atlantic right whale, and the blue whale (the world’s largest animal!)
99% success rate for whale sightings since 1983; if the trip doesn’t spot one, you’ll be issued a voucher for another cruise
12 miles from Gloucester Harbor to Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, so there’s less time spent traveling and more time spent whale watching
149— the maximum number of passengers permitted on The Privateer IV, which accommodates 300, to ensure safer, better views
1 onboard naturalist or marine biologist helps passengers spot whales and other marine animals (such as dolphins, sharks, and seals), then describes the species and the behaviors being observed
Since 1979, the whale-watching pioneers of Cape Ann Whale Watch have escorted more than half a million spectators fascinated by the sea's magnificent leviathans on three- to four-hour treks 15 miles off the Gloucester coast, earning it a spot on the Top 5 American Whale-Watching Tours by Joshua Horwitz, author of War of the Whales. Aboard the lightning-fast 115-foot
Hurricane II, passengers can witness the natural grace of humpback whales, finback whales, dolphins, and pirates disguised as mermaids feeding and frolicking just feet from the boat. In the course of the approximately 30-mile circuit, a naturalist from Whale Cetacean Alliance narrates excursions, illumining the sight of each water dweller by discussing why whales breach, how to recognize individual humpbacks, and various feeding styles.
In Focus: Defiance Sail Charters
Sailing season: February through May in the Bahamas; June through October in Gloucester
Ship: Windfall, a well-equipped 49’ center cockpit ketch
Captains: Raffi Kassabian and Lisa Kennedy, who have both been sailing for more than three decades
Trips last: as short as three hours or as long as multiple overnight voyages
Who’s coming with you: up to 12 passengers for day trips and up to four for overnight trips
What you’ll get up to: When you aren’t admiring the views of water and coastline, tune in to an HDTV or XM satellite radio, nap in a hammock, play a board game, or use some of the ship’s complimentary fishing gear.