Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Boston Harbor Islands: First Explore the Schedule



            Why is it so much fun to look at the water? The great pleasure in taking a Boston Harbor Islands ferry from island to island is watching the world you're ordinarily part of it (and think you "know") go by from the point of view of the water. It looks different from out here.
            Then there's the lure of just watching the water. Does some part of us still long for those long-ago millennia of fins and gills and trying not to end up as Gollum's dinner?
            Departing from the Hingham Shipyard, the ferry sticks to the channel while we scan the horizon from a narrow bench on the sunny side of the deck. Checking out the shiny new commercial buildings on the redeveloped shipyard, the in and out rhythm of the shoreline as a headland retreats and reveals a few sunbathers on a driveway-sized beach; then a vertical extrusion of graying cement towers looking dated and tired. And then we started running into the shoreline profiles of lesser known lands that were islands or peninsulas and trying to figure which was which. 
           The high point came when I recognized that the long, skinny peninsula finger-pointing into the harbor while it snuck up on us from the other side of the ferry was Hull. This extremity is called Pemberton Point, where a wind turbine rises beside the high school. I've been there! And when you look across the water from there -- a historically important shipping channel, the 'south' route into Boston harbor, called the "Hull Gut" -- what you see is the landing pier at Peddock's Island. And that's where we are now! looking back at Hull. As I said, things look different from water.  
            Peddocks Island, however, is better in theory than in fact. None of the buildings surviving from its World War II military base are open. The so-called "fort" is missing some of the basic attributes of a fort, such as walls. And whoever is running the harbor islands these days (the National Park Service, actually) doesn't have a decent map of the place to offer visitors. What the Park Service insists on calling "Fort" Andrews was in fact a military base at the start of World War II. The military built what appear to be very decent quarters for NCOs, and there are signs pointing out where a few guns (mortars) intended to protect the harbor used to be, but aren't there any more.
            The base became a prison camp for Italian soldiers captured in North Africa, and everybody posted there ended up having a good time sharing spaghetti and tomato sauce dinners because the Italians knew how to grow a garden.
            Since there wasn't that much to explore on Peddocks, we started to look at the ferry schedule to figure out our options. We had already passed on the Quincy ferry service since the the departure/arrival times weren't convenient for our Sunday afternoon start schedule. That decision brought us to the Hingham Shipyard "blue" line.
            We had left Hingham a few minutes after 1 p.m. Now as hard as we studied the "multi-island adventure summer ferry schedule" presented us, we could find only two possible return times, 3:55 p.m.or 6:15 p.m. No middle way between these poles. To get back to Hingham at 3:55 p.m. we would have to board a 3 p.m. ferry at the Peddocks dock. That boat would then turn a two-stop "adventure" voyage that took 20 minutes on the way out into a 55-minute return trip. It's funny how time seems to disappear over water. Maybe it's because the weather was perfect for a boat ride -- sunny, dry, low 80s -- but disappear it did.
            Our other choice was to leave Peddocks at 4:35 and spend almost twice as much time, an hour and forty minutes, while touching the landing dock of every harbor island on the way back.
            I forced my sun-struck, spaced-out brain to try to make sense of this magical disappearing act of time. If you get on the 4:35 ferry -- omitting the question of how to spend another hour and a half on already-explored Peddocks -- the ferry would take you to Georges Island at 4:55 (where visitors can explore an actual Civil War era fort, but now there was no time), then to Lovells Island at 5:05; then -- looping back -- back to Georges Island again (so actually you could have a jolly 10 minutes there) at 5:15.Then onto Hull at 5:35 -- Hull? Hull's not even an island! -- then back again to Peddocks at 5:45 p.m. (rescuing the last few adventurers tearing their hair in tedium); then back at last to Hingham at 6:15 p.m., somehow having stretched that 20-minute direct cruise into a 1 hour and 40-minute circumnavigation of the wonders of a modest slice of Boston Harbor.
            But the thing is, just watching the water and the retreating landscape -- there goes Worlds End! Again! -- really was, well, the high point of the day. Or have I said that already?