PLAYING THE GAME: The discovery of ‘Marblehead Ocean’

Bob Baker
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Bob Baker is a creative resource in Marblehead whose memoir-in-progress is “Outlucking Gatsby: From Greenwich to The Green Light.”

As an idea guy who’s lived in Marblehead for over 50 years and whose main gig is branding, it’s amazing I didn’t set about getting “Marblehead Ocean” on the map — literally — years ago.

The lightning struck as I was rambling thoughts on Marblehead Light and trying to find an image that embodied the proud heritage of that iconic iron tower.
The image-defining question I’d been asking myself was, “What bespeaks Marblehead in a big-picture symbolic sense?”

Subtly implicit “Marblehead Ocean” answers came back in volleys.
For openers, a tiny cove in Marblehead was a veritable spawning ground for the fishing industry in this country. You get a hold of Hugh Bishop and Brenda Bishop Booma’s book “Marblehead’s First Harbor” and get ready for a jaw-dropping ride.

Back then in the 1600s, Marblehead boasted more fishermen than Gloucester, for Linc Hawkes’ sake!

By 1809, as many as 116 fishing schooners from Marblehead were braving hundreds and hundreds of round-trip miles of storm-crazed ocean to work the North Atlantic’s murderous Grand Banks … on a twice-yearly basis!

That’s a bunch of Marblehead Ocean we’re talking right there.
Crippling injuries and loss of life to the crews on those schooners away for long stretches of time were forever taking their toll on the homefront extension of Marblehead Ocean. But the women of Marblehead were as ingeniously adaptable and self-sufficient a breed as the men.

What’s more, in 1816, they created a marvelous institution of outreach and charitable assistance, the Marblehead Female Humane Society, to assist the sisterhood of the oceangoing then and Marblehead families to this day — a story well told in Robert Booth’s “Women of Marblehead,” yet another glorious rendition of Marblehead Ocean.

If it weren’t for Marblehead’s John Glover and his regiment of steel-nerved sea warriors, we’d all be speaking British today. During the Revolutionary War, time after time, in battle after battle and rescue after rescue, Glover and crew extended Marblehead Ocean to the banks of the Delaware and back.

As Patrick K. O’Donnell says in his page-racing paean to Marblehead, “The Indispensables,” “The Marblehead men bested the greatest naval power on earth … creating the first American navy, which would serve as the origins of the U.S. Navy.”

Thus, by way of the U.S. Navy, Marblehead Ocean spans the world.
And another kind of world: “World Capital of Yacht Racing” is a large claim for a small town. But to set the stage, this town of 20,000 brine-speckled citizens has a postcard view of 2,000 or so stiletto-hulled boats, a forest of masts spearing the horizon of a harbor rimmed with yacht clubs and confident homes.

Sailors from Marblehead Ocean have won enough silverware in regattas around the world to overflow Fort Knox — including the granddaddy of them all, the America’s Cup. Marblehead sailors are vying for more silver in the elite Resolute Cup sponsored by the New York Yacht Club in Newport this summer. 

Maddie’s Sail Loft is an aspect of Marblehead Ocean known as “the most popular sailors’ bar in the world.” And maybe beyond.

Years ago in the National Enquirer, in the course of a supposed “Interview With an Alien” whose spaceship landed outside Alamogordo, New Mexico, Joe Alien (or whatever his name was), asked, “Is the Assassin still pouring in Maddie’s there in Marvelhead?” (For all their technical acumen, aliens are notoriously bad spellers.)


I got Marblehead Ocean notarized right away (May 6) as a form of registration. Getting it certified by the WCO (World Confederation of Oceans), included on world maps and in international media along with the Atlantic, Pacific, Indian, Arctic and Southern oceans might not happen overnight, I can only assume. At least a couple of months, I’d assume (heh, heh).

But as discovered here, Marblehead is understood as synonymous with, one-to-one with, inherently native to, historically, physically and culturally true to the “ocean.” The symbolic identity, the iconic image, our Marblehead light tower should proudly embody is ocean.

The color for ocean is blue — Navy blue for Marblehead, birthplace of the American Navy, would be appropriate.
The tower is currently brown, drab institutional brown. Has been that color for the most part since the tower was built in 1896.

That is supposedly its “traditional” color, but it honors no other “tradition” than that was the color (Prince’s Metallic Brown) specified by the Coast Guard in 1896. Appropriate for the birthplace of the American Army — not Marblehead.Marblehead’s true color: Navy blue.

Bob Baker is a fan of Mark Twain, Sara Murphy, Patrick Mahomes and peanut butter.

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