An original founder of the Hull Lifesaving Museum, McCabe remains at the helm, actively involved in advancing the area’s rich lifesaving history he embraced 40 years ago.
By Patricia Abbate
Hull – A fixture on the South Shore for the past 40 years, the Hull Lifesaving Museum (HLM) sits on the northern end of the narrow Hull peninsula. Jutting out into Boston Harbor, its shores have been witness to scores of fantastic, well-documented efforts of men risking their lives to rescue crews from foundering ships assailed by stormy seas.
As a living museum, the organization offers many unique programs, exhibits, and events throughout the year, showcasing and celebrating the lifesaving spirit of skills, courage, and caring. But perhaps the program that best allows individuals to experience the unique maritime spirit exemplified by those early lifesavers and surfmen is the Open Water Rowing Program.
Every Saturday morning, at 7:30 am, rowers from across the area convene at the Windmill Point Boathouse to enjoy a morning of “pulling together.” I met up with a group as they gathered for an early row the weekend before their signature race, the Snow Row. Ed McCabe, first to arrive, is one of the visionaries who created the Lifesaving Museum in 1978. As he says, “I’m the last founder left standing-one of seven.”
With his full white beard and understated yet palpable take-charge/can-do attitude, it’s easy to imagine that the celebrated sea captain, Joshua James, is still at his post.
A lifesaving legend, James is credited with saving well over 100 lives during his lifetime, with his first rescue realized at age 15, right up until his last rescue attempt in 1902, at age 75, in which he perished.
Although modern lifesaving has been taken over by the US Coast Guard (created when the Mass. Humane Society, the US Lifesaving Service, and the Revenue Cutter Service merged in 1915), I fully expect McCabe would be first to come to the aid of a crewmate’s rescue if needed.
McCabe “washed ashore” in Hull 40 years ago while in graduate school, and explains, “A friend called me up, we drove here, and I fell in love with the place.” Growing up in the Bay State’s Merrimack Valley, McCabe spent plenty of time at nearby Rye Beach, NH. “It was normal for me to be on the ocean,” he says.
McCabe greets rowers as they arrive and chores are cheerfully divided up to ready the boats not only for today’s row but to prep and secure the vessels in advance of yet another winter storm, to protect them for the Snow Row in seven days.
As Director of Maritime and New Program Development for the HLM, McCabe’s work frequently has him out in the field. Today he hauled boats to safety, flipped and hand-scraped the bottoms of several Pilot Gigs, prepped the Boathouse for the pending storm and next week’s race, and conducted an informal pre-race meeting with rowers. All this by 9:30 am. Yes, it’s normal for McCabe to be on the ocean. And it’s becoming normal for Rowing Program members, too.
Three years ago Ann Berman, of Hull, joined the group and regrets not starting sooner. “It’s an eclectic group of interesting, dynamic, loving, and nurturing people. When you’re over 50, it may be difficult to make new friends, but here I’ve always felt like I am home. I fit here, it was easy and comfortable,” she enthuses. Rowers also have the opportunity to participate in races, regattas, and road trips to places like Lake Champlain.
Pete McIntyre, of Hingham, finds a welcoming community here. “We have a really tight bond with each other, and the camaraderie is great,” he says.
Despite the freezing wind and water, Cohasset’s Lily Emanuello notes the special opportunity to commune with nature’s wild spirit. “If we just stop talking, there’s nothing…it’s just us…and look at that!” she emphasizes, while gesturing to the glimmering sea lapping at her well-booted feet.
How do you become a rower? It’s easy, according to Berman, “you just show up and try it out a time or two. If it’s right for you, just become a member and that’s it.”
Denise Messina, a regular who travels from Connecticut to row each weekend, advises, “Come as you are! Wear waterproof boots, dress in layers, and don’t forget your sense of humor. Give it a try, and you’ll be surprised how quickly you’ll learn the ropes.” After the row, the group meets locally for breakfast.
According to museum Executive Director, Victoria Stevens, “our rowers are very diverse, and range in age from 10 to 80. It’s a great way to build skills and community at any age.” She notes how rowing is a great activity that can be learned at any stage of life, and wryly warns that open-water rowing can become habit forming.
On this particular day, two boats are selected for the row. As with all of their water programs, Whitehall Fours, Pilot Gigs, barges, and Captain’s gigs are used for rowing. Boats are chosen to match the crew that shows up on the beach the morning of the row.
Today’s weather is not conducive for rowing to a Harbor Island so the crews travel to a protected cove, rest from the arduous row out against the wind, then enjoy a faster, easier row back to shore with the steady gusts moving them homeward. Invigorated, the crews pull their boats back to shore, secure them soundly, then head off to breakfast.
The morning of the organization’s 39th Annual Snow Row, a week later, dawned bright and cold. The beach was teeming with bright, colorful rowing vessels from end to end. Crews from up and down the East Coast traveled here to participate in the race. HLM Rowing members set out in the Windrose, while other boats, including Autumn Glory, Crouching Lion, and Fire Fly, carried visiting crews.
Another challenging race was underway.
For much more information about the HLM rowing programs, museum exhibits, free lecture series, special events, and the rich maritime history of Hull and the South Shore, please visit hulllifesavingmuseum.org.
Reprinted from the April 2018 edition of the South Shore Senior News