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Which Bay?

Part 2 - Exploring the Islands off the Coast of Hull, Massachusetts

By Pippin Ross | July 17, 2012

Previous Article in this Series

To my nautical husband’s glee, I was staring out at the Boston Light and said, “Wish we had a boat…”

Boston Light
BY & COPYRIGHT: Daniel P. B. Smith

The Boston Light sits out in the water at a spot that looks like the end of the Massachusetts Bay because it appears all that lies ahead is Europe. Aside from looking like Edward Hopper painted it, it’s a stellar piece of history. In 1716 there was a court order to erect it. The proper explanation is that it was to guide the increasing ship traffic into Boston. The truth is that my fine town of Hull was born on the piracy that sustained Hullites, when many, many boats crashed and sunk at Massachusetts Bay’s most gnarly curve. It would be the oldest lighthouse in the United States if the bad loser Brits hadn’t pummeled it with cannonballs fleeing the Revolutionary War in 1776.

To honor my wishes, and satisfy his urges, like every good husband should, Craigslist provided us with an inexpensive, but functional motorboat. (One cautionary note: BOAT is an acronym for: Break Out Another Thousand.)

What ensued was several weeks of exploration, until Craig’s Listless (as we named the boat) had a coronary. Because Peddocks is the closest, and I had just seen it in the film Shutter Island, we first pulled up to its docks. My first impression was how incredibly talented Hollywood is at creating realities that don’t exist. Past the dock, most of Peddocks is the crumbling remains of Fort Andrews, an encampment erected in the beginning of the 20th century to protect Boston Harbor. Give yourself about 5 minutes on one of the 188 acre island’s endless trails and the pull of the past is so potent, like the film, it’s creepy in a compelling way. Next door is Georges Island.

Passing Peddocks Island
BY & COPYRIGHT: Philip Austin

A far more restored piece of history, and active tourist destination, the 30 acre home of Fort Warren, George’s Island, is a structure of mind (and body) boggling granite blocks built during the Civil War to train, and imprison, soldiers. Although it was originally a British outpost in the 1600’s, its name is after a Colonialist businessman, John George.

It’s known best for its ghost: The Lady in Black, the wife of an imprisoned Confederate soldier who was ultimately hung for assisting in her husband’s failed escape.   I have no idea why I didn’t bump into her; the past is thick inside the fort’s endless rooms and dark hallways.

Our next island mission was to Bumpkin Island, a silly name for what was once the site of a children’s hospital. It’s a sweet, scruffy spot where people can camp. Our visit landed on the final day of what’s called an ‘Artists’ Encampment’. Each year, about a dozen artists spend 3 days creating art out of whatever they can find. The two artists dressed in ‘Concealment Cloaks’ made from exotic pieces of the island’s natural debris lent new meaning to ‘native species’. The ‘family portraits’ crafted from island objects weren’t really the stuff to wrap for Christmas.

A Fawn

Another day we went to Grape Island where we encountered the greatest show of all: a doe and two fawns nibbling at a hefty stash of blackberries.   A stag stood by sniffing in our direction with the ease that comes from a creature who lives in a place that hasn’t gone beyond being a source of Native and Colonialist food and shelter. A broad stretch of sparkling bay waters with a silhouette of the distant Boston skyline loomed like a backdrop to nature’s drama.

Four Boston Islands down, 30 to go. Well, only 14 - if I stay among those that qualify as official National Park terrain. It’s a mission that I suspect will easily take decades. I’ve already been distracted by World’s End and Wompatuck State Parks.

World’s End was once an island until Colonialists decided to dam its salt marshes to grow hay, or stop using boats, or something. The name was given to the 250 acres that slide into the ocean by John Brewer, a wealthy Boston Businessman who, in the 1890’s hired Alfred Olmstead to turn the land into a subdivision. Never happened. All that remains of the plan are ancient carriage trails.

Nantasket Beach Postcard

Wompatuck State Park is 4,000 acres that was deeded to settlers in 1665 by Wompatuck, leader of the Mattakeesett tribe and known as Josiah Sagamore to Colonialists.   The two reserves make the Hinghammers feel better over the fact that my town has the regions’ Hull of a beach. There are 15 other state parks in Massachusetts’ southern Plymouth County, totaling a whopping 30,171 acres!

Just as an advisory: Don’t confuse Massachusetts Bay with Massachusetts Bay Colony. That’s a whole different story that involves Puritans and King James vs. Pilgrims and extends farther north than my view goes. The common confusion that is allowed is that Massachusetts Bay is known mostly as the South Shore, or to ensure your acceptance, refer to it as: Sowt Sho-UH.

When I tell a guy on the beach that the reason the water off Nantasket Beach is extra cold is because Massachusetts Bay is fed by Canadian water he looks at me like I’m a relentless smart-ass. ‘Oh really?’ he says. “You know what us true Hull locals say? If ya don’t like it, go to Hull in a Nantasket!” No wonder my secret spot hasn’t been discovered.

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