Biding the Tides in Gloucester

September 29, 2022 / Outdoor Adventures, Things to Do & See

Biding the Tides in Gloucester | by Bob Goodman

An often-overlooked Gloucester and Cape Ann treasure are its dramatic tides. On average, the tidal range is anywhere between eight and eleven feet spanning low and high tides. (In contrast, the tidal range in Sag Harbor, Long Island is just two-to-three feet, on some beaches barely noticeable.) To track the tide’s timing and find other useful information, I recommend the free app “Tides Near Me,” which works easily here in Gloucester. 


I live on the Annisquam River, which is actually a salt-water tidal estuary. At two points on the Annisquam, water comes in and flows out into the ocean—at Gloucester Harbor and Ipswich Bay. The landscape looks remarkably different at low or high tide. At high tide, the water is expansive, uninterrupted. At low tide, much is revealed: tidal pools, majestic sandbars that become beaches, massive boulders to climb or simply marvel at. With low tide, it’s possible to wade in low water for long distances. To witness this daily transformation is truly remarkable.


As a daily swimmer, I experience the tides on the Annisquam from late April to mid-October. The water is warmest at low tide, shallow along the shoreline. In the early and late season, I am a low-tide swimmer, the water temperature usually in the high fifties. A 2mm wet suit top is all that I need, as I feel too confined by the full suit. As the water warms, I swim at high tide and every tide in between. 


Directly across from my home is the picturesque Pierce Island, held in an estate for the family of the same name. There are eleven rustic summer cottages; none have electricity. Kerosene lamps dot the night, taking me back to the late 19th century. At low tide I paddle out to the exposed sandbar directly in front of the island and swim on its shore, “my swim lane.” And while I’m there I sometimes fill my mesh bag with mussels I dislodge from the crevices between the rocks and bring them home for a white wine and garlic sauté!


In my neighborhood is Corliss Landing, a boat ramp open to the public free of charge where neighborhood locals and visitors launch their boats, kayaks, paddle boards and canoes. Or you can plant your beach chair on a grassy area to the right of the ramp, relax and watch the low tide reveal multiple pristine sandbars accessible at low tide to be enjoyed for several hours. Just check out your tide app and come down a couple of hours before low tide and experience this transformation. I am lucky to witness this every day; I never tire of it. 


Where else can I see this phenomenon?

Wingaersheak Beach, one of Gloucesters 9 public beaches is a top spot. Here, low tide reveals intricate hieroglyphic like sand patterns, numerous tidal pools where children and adults alike can see small sea creatures up close: snails, barnacles, mussels, urchins, crustaceans, sea stars, and small fish. Its a great opportunity to learn about ocean ecology that can lead to important conversations in this time of rising water levels and climate change.


What is real

Bob Goodman


The tide app says low tide, 10:56 am

yet I notice this Wingaersheek water is in constant motion


sand folds become rills, now rivulets


is there no such thing as still?

a single moment of lowness?


water moves out until 11:30, more or less,

before overtaken by the incoming tide,

an intermingling,

a dance of push and pull


the world resists this reality

pressing us to a simpler, binary calculus: 

stop/start, good/bad, right/wrong


in truth, we swirl

like dancing dervishes

emotions ricocheting

our lives painted on a canvas of ambiguity and doubt     


Bob Goodman is a poet and writer who lives in Gloucester, on the Annisquam River, where he swims and experiences its tides regularly. 

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