Anchors Away! Boston Harbor Islands Series: Great Brewster Island

Great Brewster 2Nowhere in the whole of the Boston Harbor is nature’s wrath more apparent—or more palpable—than on Great Brewster Island. This member of the Brewster island chain, a family of four located in the harbor’s outer stretches, has long suffered abusive weather conditions and unrelenting ocean waves. Although it visibly bears the effects of such manhandling, Great Brewster Island hasn’t been whittled away entirely by the elements: it remains the largest of the Brewster landmasses, accessible only by kayak or flat-bottomed boat following its dock’s collapse. Adventures of various kinds—including hiking, climbing, and picnicking—await you on Great Brewster, provided that you’re willing to make the trip (and that you check the weather advisory in advance!).

By acting as a buffer between the sea’s churning and the city’s docks, the four Brewsters collectively protect Boston’s inner harbor from obliteration. Together, the isles act as natural wave breakers based on their location and composition. While the other members of the Brewster family are made of pure bedrock, Great Brewster is mainly composed of clay and gravel, which is much softer in comparison. (The greatest Brewster isle is the handiwork of a glacier, no less.) In light of this, the island has experienced extreme erosion at the whims of Mother Nature over the years, but the harsh conditions have resulted in beautiful features. The brave navigator who arrives at the northern shores of Great Brewster will be met with a view of the island’s massive bluff, a 100-foot behemoth that looks as though some unknown deep-sea creature has been gnawing on it.

Great Brewster 1Although these blustering winds and thrashing waves have bestowed more than a few wrinkles and scars upon Great Brewster, we’d like to think that the erosion lends the island a certain kind of character. Nature has kindly furnished the island with a few not-to-be-missed features: the bluff, for one, simply cannot be overlooked for its sheer size; in addition, the island boasts numerous tidal pools in the holes of its seawall, which was constructed in 1848 to protect the landmass but predictably fell apart in the face of raging waters. Mussels, snails, starfish, crabs, lichens, and barnacles, among other critters, have the privilege of calling these tidal pools “home, sweet home”; while they’re an excellent sight to soak in, take care while trying to find these creatures and their homes, as these granite blocks of the seawall are unstable from absorbing the brunt of the sea’s force. Heed the “No Trespassing” signs, and get in the mood for a big seafood dinner.

Boston Harbor Islands_thumbFor more on the stories behind the city’s sanctuaries, pick up a copy of Discovering the Boston Harbor Islands by Christopher Klein, or check out last week’s blog. To help you explore the islands on the go, download our free smartphone app. Anchors away!

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