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Published: September 01, 2008 12:12 am ShareThisPrintThis
Salem Harbor bustling on Labor Day weekend
By Bruno Matarazzo Jr.
Staff Writer

SALEM - It's a hot spot off the beach of Misery Island in Salem Harbor called Cocktail Cove, and when Harbormaster Peter Gifford steers the patrol boat into the crowded stretch, he's immediately the center of attention.
All hands on deck have all eyes on the harbormaster as he guides the Police Department's patrol boat around the power boats and sailboats moored for a day of fun and relaxation.
Families, friends and couples, many with beers and, yes, cocktails, in hand, are in boats dotted across the cove on a sunny, windy Sunday.
There are no problems, so Gifford turns the boat around and putters away at 5 miles per hour as he and assistant harbormaster Steve Levesque wave to the recreational boaters.
It's the mid-point of the Labor Day weekend and it's been relatively quiet in Salem Harbor, a bustling area filled with boats that range from the multimillion-dollar yachts to the inexpensive kayaks.
Yesterday, strong winds pushed sailboats as far as the horizon while power boat owners lounged in their anchored vessels, trying not to burn too much fuel.
"After everybody goes back to school and work, it's like someone waves a magic wand and there's nobody out here," Gifford said.
From Memorial Day until this weekend is the peak time for Salem Harbor. Days of persistent rains hampered the chances to get out on the water, but clear weather this weekend brought the harbor back to life.
Record-high gas prices and a slow economy also cut down on boat traffic this summer.
"There's no question there's been a drop off," Gifford said. "The percentage of drop off I don't know - 10 percent, maybe higher."
Regardless, there was plenty of traffic in the harbor yesterday including some visitors: a large sailboat from Germany and another one from San Francisco, and a yacht from Bermuda.
Salem has the only harbormaster department on the North Shore that is operated 24 hours, seven days a week with one or two men on duty. But Salem relies heavily on the harbormasters from Beverly and Marblehead, as well as the Coast Guard, which is stationed in Gloucester.
Levesque, who has been working as an assistant harbormaster for 11 years, enjoys the job because of the chance to help people.
"It's a friendly environment," Levesque said of the area's recreational boaters. "It's a happy environment. People most of the time are on vacation or in vacation mode, but at times it can get very dangerous."
One of the most common rescues each year is pulling boats and their passengers from the Coney Island Ledges, a rock formation between Salem and Marblehead harbors that is hidden at high tide.
On Tuesday, a 34-foot sailboat named Misconduct became the latest victim when the boat got stuck on the rocks.
"Like any other police job, we're here to protect lives and property," Gifford said.

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