Norman’s Woe at Rafes Chasm

Skill Level:
Advanced
Max-Depth:
50 FSW
Best Time:
Around high tide when the wind is light and out of the North
Notable Features:
Dramatic ledges and lots of fish life
Address:
138 Hesperus Ave
Gloucester, MA 01930

Description

The rocky shore of Gloucester’s Magnolia neighborhood is accessible at two sites, Magnolia Rocks and Rafes Chasm Park. This area offers some of the most dramatic diving in New England as well as some of the most challenging. As with Magnolia, swells can build up quickly and without warning so the exit can be from advanced to extremely challenging. The added remoteness due to the quarter-mile walk through the woods increases the hazard. Despite these challenges, Norman’s Woe can offer the experienced New England shore diver a highly rewarding experience. This is a great place to hang out and spend the day with your mom diver friends. The extensive tidepool system to the right (West) of the elevated rocks offers a window into the underwater world for non-divers.

 

The Dive:

A giant-stride entry will put you into a protected pool with steep walls and a channel opening to the South. The topography mirrors the surface with steep ledges and massive boulders that are interrupted by sandy areas. Due South, you’ll find a sandy bottom dominates and levels off around 50 FSW.  The shallow rocks are encrusted with muscles and attract numerous invertebrates below the low-tide line. This site is home to schools of Pollack and frequented by Striped Bass.

Once you've parked you will need to trek down the 1/4 mile marked path to the granite ledges on the waterfront. The path splits as you reach the rocks, bear left (East) to reach the top of the chasm. It's worthwhile to scope out the site in advance so you can bail if conditions are not ideal. Stage your gear on the rocks at the top of the ledge and make sure to leave some water here to hydrate after your exit!

The easiest entry is a giant stride off of the rock to the West of the chasm (head to the right when you reach the top of the chasm). Work your way to the prominent rock at the mouth of the chasm where you can safely perform a giant stride entry in deep water.

 

The safest, though still challenging exit is to work your way up a series of ledges along the East side of the chasm. This exit requires significant skill and experience to perform, even during days with flat seas. The ledges are covered in black Calothrix bacteria which is extremely slippery when wet. Stick to the barnacles and cracks to improve your traction.

 

 

The site is exposed to the open seas to the South.

Hazards at this site revolve around the challenging exit and remote nature of the site which is why it should only be attempted by experienced shore divers under optimal conditions.

In addition, this site is frequented by anglers so make sure to communicate with anyone casting in the vicinity of your planned dive before entry, carry a line cutter, and stick close to your flag.

The exit requires a few special considerations:

  1. The site is exposed to open ocean, therefore, the surge can pick up here even when there is no wind, you must be prepared to exit after conditions have shifted unfavorably. Be ready to surface away from the rocks and then time your exit approach for the period between swells.
  2. When attempting the exit, recognize that the black rocks are extremely slippery. You will want to keep your fins on until you have secured yourself on an upper ledge that's out of the surge zone or you risk being pulled back off the rocks without your fins.
  3. As soon as you've secured your footing out of the surge, removed your fins and secure them on your wrists. Ideally, your hands will fit through the straps with the bottom of the fin facing down. This will provide some protection for your hands and wrists and it will also prevent you from losing your fins in the event of a fall.
  4. Carefully work your way back up to the top of the chasm where you have stowed your gear and drink some hydrating fluids!

Parking is limited to the small dirt lot for Rafes Chasm Park located at 136 138 Hesperus Ave, if the lot is full you'll want to move to another site in the area such as Magnolia Rocks.

Disclaimer:

Jerry Shine provided much of the written dive site content on the shore diving sites around New England from his 2005 publication: A Shore Diving Guide to New England which is currently out-of-print. His 2017 publication A Year Underwater: Twelve Months of Diving, Fraternizing with Marine Life, and Just Having a Great Time, from the St. Lawrence River to West Palm Beach is available for purchase on Amazon.

If lobstering be sure that you are licensed, have a gauge for the area you are lobstering in, have your numbers on your cylinder and flag, and don’t land any shorts, longs, notches, or eggers. For more information please reference the mass.gov regulations site here.