Anyone spending time in the Cape Ann area and seeing signs for the Essex River Cruises & Charters might think that the cruises being advertised were for large vessels under sail. Considering the fact that the locale has a long and storied history of building ships such as schooners, that’s an easy conclusion to reach. However, that supposition is dispelled quickly when one sees the flat bottomed, canopy-covered, pontoon-type boat which provides the public cruises. The Essex River Queen (not a close cousin to Bogie’s “African Queen”) is a sturdy, craft capable of seating perhaps 20-30 passengers comfortably.
What makes this cruise so enjoyable is the ease of the trip: boarding, getting seated, exiting (and later returning to) the marina, good visibility from all seats, no high seas to contend with (save for some frothy chop stirred up by twin Mercury fuel efficient outboard motors), and a remarkable display of scenery, wildlife, beach dunes, and island dwellings. The general direction of the cruise is through the greenbelt and the marshlands and then out towards (but not actually to) the sea. The beach and dunes provide a natural barrier for this fresh water river.
On my cruise, I and fellow passengers were treated to a very enjoyable and informative commentary by young captain Dylan who handled the controls of the boat most competently while juggling a microphone for his narrative of local history and natural wildlife. His remarks were occasionally interspersed with some great PG rated humor which kept those on board chuckling or guffawing. Everyone seemed to appreciate his explanation of the restroom (the “head”), its small size and location below deck. A round of laughter ensued when he cautioned everyone that because of these factors, ladies could only use the head one at a time and not in a group. Later his shaggy dog tale of how he ended up as a clam digger and taster for a film crew doing a documentary on the area was worthy of any comedy club routine.
There were sightings of egrets, great blue herons, and other shore birds. Many of the islands in the Essex River area had visible dwellings dating back to some of the early settlers. The presence of such dwellings – and in some cases remnants of foundations – on the islands and peninsulas added to the allure of the river and its history.
There are generally three 90 minutes cruises a day from May through October. Special charter cruises can be arranged to suit almost any type of function within reason. The Essex River Cruises are really worth the time and effort to distance oneself from the “mainland” if just for an hour and a half. Getting away from the “madding crowd” and meandering the winding course of the river is highly recommended.
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