Grateful for the beauty, the silence and the bells.

Grateful for the beauty, the silence and the bells.

It's two days after Christmas and as I sit in the back room at the gallery looking out at the creek, I feel a sense of solitude and beauty. I have lived in Wellfleet since my family moved here in 1953.  Sometimes we take the beauty around us for granted along with the sounds we hear. It is just past 2:00 in the afternoon and the Ships Bell Clock in the Congregational Church have just wrung. So the thought came to me, how many people that hear the bells actually know the history behind them and what the sequence of strikes on the bell actually mean. This is the Wellfleet “Town Clock” and is reportedly the only town clock in the country that sounds “ship’s time”.


Ship's Bell Strike on a Ships Clock Ship's bell (ships bell) strike is based on "watches" onboard ship of 4 hours each. A new watch starts at noon, 4 p.m., 8 p.m., midnight, 4 a.m. and 8 a.m. The end of a "watch" and start of a new watch is marked by the bell being struck 8 times. A half hour later, the bell is struck once, with an additional strike each half hour until the end of the watch. Then the cycle starts again. The bells are struck in pairs, that is, the first two bells are struck close together followed by a delay, then the next two, etc.

Ships Bell Sequence and Timing:

The Ships Clock sequence counts the four-hour watches that is still common today where one on duty for the watch would expect a duration of four hours.  Each watch would begin at 12:00, 4:00 or 8 day and night. For example a watch may start at 12:00 noon, The clock will strike 4 pairs of strikes at 12:00 indicating the start of the ships watch. At 12:30 one chime plays. The bell strikes are in pairs, the clock would strike twice - pause - then add another strike. The chart below indicates each strike at every half hour.



Ship's Watch Begins
  12:30    1    X            
    1:00    2    XX            
    1:30    3    XX    X        
    2:00    4    XX    XX        
    2:30    5    XX    XX    X    
    3:00    6    XX    XX    XX    
    3:30    7    XX    XX    XX    X
    4:00    8    XX    XX    XX    XX
Ship's Watch Begins  
    4:30    1    X            
    5:00    2    XX            
    5:30    3    XX    X        
    6:00    4    XX    XX        
    6:30    5    XX    XX    X    
    7:00    6    XX    XX    XX    
    9:30    7    XX    XX    XX    X
    8:00    8    XX    XX    XX    XX
Ship's Watch Begins  
      8:30    1    X            
      9:00    2    XX            
      9:30    3    XX    X        
    10:00    4    XX    XX        
    10:30    5    XX    XX    X    
    11:00    6    XX    XX    XX    
    11:30    7    XX    XX    XX    X
    12:00    8    XX    XX    XX    XX

Audrey Parent