By Selene Muldowney and John Tapley
Hugging northern Massachusetts Bay in New England, Cape Ann, Massachusetts is a premiere scuba attraction for divers who don’t mind a little cold water in their itinerary. Diving in Cape Ann is categorized by shallow sites closer to shore, and deeper adventures better suited for seasoned scuba explorers. This variety adds a lot of life to the local dive community and dive shops, which are able to cater to clientele of all skills levels. Perhaps best of all, Cape Ann enjoys a vibrant nightlife and plenty of tourism opportunities for dive buddies to kick back and relax after a successful mission. Like the dives, attractions here range from shallow to deep, depending on an individuals’ preference.
After all the sights above the waterline, the eager scuba diver will want to dive in – but beware as the water will send a mind numbingly cold chill up your spine! Summer temperatures rarely rise above the ‘60s; however, once the initial shock has worn off, the options for divers to view incredible underwater topography and wrecks to explore. The irregular shoreline offers plenty of protected harbors and coves. The 25-mile Cape Ann coastline is one of the Northeast’s finest dive spots, and features rocks, ledges, reefs and inshore islands that appeal to photographers, wreck junkies and divers just looking for an exciting yet spine chilling good time!
Divers often visit Massachusetts for its plentiful lobster and crab, and Back Beach is an ideal spot for aqua explorers eager to take home fresh catch; flounder and skate are bountiful as well. Back Beach is a fairly popular area for divers, mostly for its lush greenery beneath the waves and strong visibility hinging around 25 feet. While its humble depths of 10 to 35 feet might not excite seasoned scuba explorers, it’s a great place for training, certification, or just plain fun. Divers generally enter the waters from the sandy middle areas as other sections are rocky and difficult to traverse during low tide. After the sun sets, divers can stick around to see nocturnal critters such as squid meander about – other animals are bioluminescent and give off a spectacular show.
Back Beach’s bounty of critters gives it a massive appeal, especially to local instructor Steve Carlan:
“It’s where I take my students for training. It’s a nice, easy site with good rock formations to the left and right: there’s some good lobsters there. It’s fairly consistent with conditions since the bay is shelter; when other places aren’t good, you can usually get into Back Beach. There’s a lot of vegetation along the rocks, and bull kelp, lobsters, and skate. The only thing guaranteed about New England diving is that you’ll see some sort of crab.”
Cathedral Rocks stands proud as one of Cape Ann’s most recognized dive spots, especially for lobster hunters and divers with advanced training: depths range from 15 to about 80 feet, which makes the site one of the best deep dives in the state. Entering the site is somewhat tricky as divers will need to navigate past large boulders on top the rocky shoreline, and launch from a giant stride, which is especially challenging during periods of low tide. After touching the water, divers can expect dramatic drop offs blanketed by vibrant anemones, sponges, mussels, and invertebrates; critters such as tutog, stripes bass, lobster, and pollock can be found within multitudes of boulder formations.
For Lissette Bayona, divemaster with United Divers Inc. (an SDI/TDI facility in Somersville), Cathedral Rocks stands out as a favorite dive site, though not without some complications.
“It’s a more challenging entry: not something I would recommend to people who just started diving, but definitely worth trying when you can manage more complicated entries and exits,” she explains. “You get deeper, but gradually; and there’s lots of rock formation and ledges. If you catch it at the right time, it’s easy to get, though it still offers challenges. Lately, the visibility has been great!”
Because of Cathedral Rocks’ popularity, parking can be challenging, especially since there are only a handful of spaces available on the nearby street. Divers are wise to arrive in the morning to avoid long walks to the shore.
One of the most popular dives in Cape Ann, Folly Cove is situated between Gloucester and Rockport. Divers will need to enter the shore from a rocky start, which can be especially tricky during low tide. A steep wall drop-off on the western shore leads from the sand down to 10 to 60 feet to a sandy bottom: from here, divers can witness invertebrates, anemones, moon snails, flounder, and an occasional torpedo ray. Because of the bottom composition, divers will need to prepare for limited visibility, especially during peak hours and seasons. At night, Folly Cove comes alive with bountiful lobster, squid, and skate covering the area: great natural photo ops for scuba shutterbugs.
Bayona describes this dive as “something completely different”:
“It’s like having two different dives in one: if you go to the left, it’s something completely different than the right. And the middle, even though it’s really sandy, it’s cool to find little creatures hanging out. It’s a site that can be for fairly new divers to advanced divers: if you go out a bit outside the cove you can get as deep as 55 to 60 feet, which makes a nice big dive without having to go on a boat. If you stay more in the inside of the cove, it [has] interesting topography – a really beautiful dive; I never get bored with it.”
Divers interested in this site will need to prepare for a quarter mile trek from a public parking area and distribute their gear accordingly.
Lanesville is a mile-long rocky shoreline found between Folly Point and Lanes Cove in Gloucester. The rocky ledge slowly descends to a flat sandy shore, down to 30 feet and beyond, and past 250 yards. Overall, Lanesville has easy access and plenty of space to explore. The southern section of the shoreline is largely granite and reaches to Plum Point. Here divers can explore a large reef structure, which is marked by a green U.S. Coast Guard buoy. The reef can be enjoyed from 12 to 18 feet before a steep drop off at 30 feet.
“It’s a nice dive, but you definitely want to do it at high tide because it’s a very rocky shore, which is slippery during low tide,” Carlan says. “At high tide, you can go to the left or right and get two dives in. It drops off fairly quickly to about 60 feet, but you can pick any range you want because of the slope of the terrain. And it’s one of the few places where I’ve seen torpedo rays on day dives.”
Located off a small, residential area in Rockport, Old Garden Beach features depths from 15 to about 40 feet, which is great for beginner and intermediate divers, and those who want to refresh their skills. The shoreline is bordered by a rocky entrance with a sandy entry point in the center, which makes the site even more appealing. On the bottom, divers can see lobster, flounders, crabs, and many other usual New England critters hiding between prolific large boulders and strands of kelp. Divers who visit this site should pay close attention to the northeastern section, which is exposed.
“It’s another one of those sandy beaches with easy entry. There’s really awesome diving: if you stick to the right, you see the rocks and wall; if you venture to the left, it’s more open. It’s a place where I always see sea ravens: when they open their fins it’s so beautiful. The schools of fish make you feel like [you’re in] the Discovery Channel.”
Pebble Beach is a popular dive site for scuba explorers of all skill levels as its depths gradually drop to 25 feet for several hundred yards, which ends at a rocky reef structure sitting on top of a bed of aquatic flora. Like many New England sites, Pebble Beach is plentiful with lobster and crab; divers will not want to forget their bug catching bags. Conditions here are fairly mild, though scuba explorers will want to stay alert for potential surges.
“Pebble’s a nice site. If you stay to the right there’s a good rock reef formation out aways,” says Carlan. “It has mostly the same type of New England life like lobsters and flounder, and more skates because it is sandy. In the spring you might see some nudibranchs.”
Plum Cove entry is recognized for its shallowness and easiness: the sandy shoreline, festooned with tide pools, is a comfortable experienced compared to rockier shores in the state. The cove also provides ample protection from turbulent conditions. Divers can launch right off the shore down to 10 to 35 feet and enjoy a plethora of sea life sights (especially moon snails) living within grass beddings on the gravel bottom. Divers often stick to the right side of the cove because it provides a nice wall dive and a nearby reef about 100 yards away; however, scuba explorers should always be mindful of currents when swimming out too far.
“The bottom is really interesting, and is beautiful and well-protected,” Bayona explains. “At the beginning it’s a sandy entry, which makes for an easy in and out even in low tide. Once you are in the topography of the bottom floor, it’s really beautiful: lots of rocks and ledges, and structures to see life.”
Shallow to deep signifies the sheer variety of diving locales found along Cape Ann’s 25-mile stretch. It is a place that provides thrilling adventures for daredevil divers, and enough shallow areas to keep more casual divers fulfilled.