GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

April 22, 2013

Fishtown Local: A sure harbor sign of Spring

Fishtown Local
Gordon Baird

---- — The weather is turning gorgeous, warm and blue skies overhead. And that can only mean that it’s pile driving season in Gloucester Harbor.

Every year about this time, the barges’ arrival mark the real beginning of Spring. Mammoth flat barges carry tall cranes around the harbor, making the rounds pier by pier for those that need to drive pilings to replace the old ones. Gloucester has literally thousands of pilings of all ages and conditions.

Every property has different needs and a rotating schedule of wood decomposition in its pilings. So some years are worse than others for each site.

If it’s a simple shot on a free-standing piling, it’s a snap: pull it out like an old tooth and start to whack in the new one.

But if it’s “encumbered,” then it’s a whole different story.

The first solution in those cases is to pull up the boards on the docks above and simply drive it through the dock.

The second more complicated variation comes when a building is involved. In that case, they cut a hole through the roof, then lower and drive the piling right down through the top. It’s an incredible sight while they’re doing it. Then they seal it right up.

Last is the “shake it” method. If the footing is in mud, not gravel, they can drive the piling in at an angle under the dock and then use a float and a Come-Along and pull the piling into place, upright.

Pilings are around 40 feet tall, and they run around $400 apiece — plus the barge and labor is around $3,000-$4,000 a day. They can drive 5 or 6 piles in that day, if not too complicated.

Great Eastern and Boston Tug and Tow were always the most recognizable barges out there, but Rhinauer and Flynn are out there this year after an industry retrenchment. Tiger Marston’s distinctive smaller orange craft is also out there pounding away.

To celebrate and enjoy the pile driving season, there are some primo harbor watching locations that can provide a marvelous window on the water. All are free to the intrepid viewer.

Reed’s Wharf — You drive right down to the end of Pirates Lane, and you are practically sticking out in the middle of the harbor action. Great perch.

Right behind the dentist’s office on the “S” turn just before you get to Duckworth’s on the right, going east.

Here you’re lower, but it’s an incredible perspective right on the water, looking straight out to the outer harbor too.

While we’re in East Gloucester, enjoy the view from the parking lot on the Rocky Neck causeway. One side looks to the Cove, the other out past the breakwater.

Continue down that street and you’ll find the public landing at Wonson Street, a fabulous little alley that becomes the beach.

Moving out of East Gloucester, be sure to stop and visit the Ben Smith playground, another superb view all the way out the harbor — and with easy parking, too.

Don’t forget the wonderful harbor view from Solomon Jacobs Park as you’re driving past the entrance to the Jodrey Fish Pier — which, if you drive out to the end, has one of the best, if not the best, views of the entire city and harbor.

Finally, don’t forget the little park by the Coast Guard station downtown, as well as the parking lot adjacent to the old Birdseye plant that will soon become the hotel on the Fort. Quick, enjoy it while you can.

Enjoy the season, the views and the solitude before the crowds get here.

Our inner and outer harbors are our greatest city assets and are always fun and educational by the time Pile Driving Season arrives.

It’s spring!

Gordon Baird is a local actor and musician, co-founder of Musician magazine, and producer of the community access TV show “Gloucester Chicken Shack.”