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  • Writer's pictureStephanie Birchenough

The Breakwater

Many harbors have one but why are they there and do they really serve a purpose? As you enter Gloucester Harbor from the Bay you will notice a very long "rock wall" sticking out from the Eastern Point Lighthouse, that is what we call the the Breakwater or as the locals call it "the dog bar."

A View of the Breakwater from just outside the Harbor

The Dog Bar is approximately one-half-mile-long and as you enter the harbor enters, the fury of the Atlantic subsides and the wind is cut by half. It is almost was if there is an imaginary line from the end of the Dog Bar to the left side of the harbor, not only does the wind subside the water also changes. The keeps the inner harbor, “safe from all winds that blow” according to an old almanac, was not always protected by the breakwater and Dog Bar Breakwater Light, and, ironically, the breakwater designed to protect mariners would itself endanger a few of them. The Army Corps of Engineers built the 2,250-foot breakwater stretching out from Eastern Point Light between 1894 and 1905, as Congress doled out the requisite funds.

Even after Eastern Point Lighthouse was lit in 1832, ships continued to run aground on dangerous Dog Bar Reef, which extends shoreward from the point. Thus, the decision was made to build a breakwater over the ledge, which in addition to covering the reef provided sheltered waters in the harbor.

The substructure of the breakwater is a rubble mound covered with 231,756 tons of Cape Ann granite blocks, each one weighing 12-13 tons. The breakwater was constructed for $300,000 and is 7½ feet above mean high water and ten feet wide. There have been many storms over the past few years that we have lived in Gloucester where the seas were so right you could watch the waves breaking over the bar.

The most amazing thing about the Dog Bar is how much calmer is in the harbor and how this one structure that was constructed so long ago still protects not only the harbor, but the shoreline and all the boats that moor.

The next time you visit Gloucester whether it be by land or by sea make sure you take a trip to the dog bar to see what a feat of engineering it is. Not only can you take a walk on the Dog Bar, but if you come in the harbor by sea you will how the wind and the water change.

It is one of my favorite places to go in the off season to watch the sea and the birds.

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