Beantown to P’town

Saturday morning July 21 2012

Because Cape Cod is shaped like an arm curled up and making a fist, (Provincetown being the fist and Boston being the shoulder) the distance from Boston to Provincetown is considerably less by boat than by car, roughly 28 miles from the outer harbor. At 7 MPH it should take us 4 hours to cover that distance. Once again I thank the weather gods for light winds and calm seas. On this beautiful sunny day we are cutting straight through Cape Cod Bay on a direct line course to a way-point just outside of P’town. But with no land in sight and not much to look at, except for the occasional sail in the far distance, we are bored out of our gourd. Even after doing a slew of chores and putting up a new shelf, the time seems to be dragging. The Pilgrim Monument Tower, a Provincetown landmark that can be seen from 22 miles away, has been hovering in our windshield all morning. Growing from a small black dot on the hazy horizon to an impressive dark spire. At least we have something to point our bow towards.

Wood End Light and Pilgrim monument

Saturday about noon

Finally the GPS beeps, announcing that we have arrived at our way-point. My chart tells me that the water is plenty deep enough to cut way inside the marked channel, saving time as we curl northward around Long Point and into Provincetown Harbor proper. It’s my first time seeing it from the water and let me tell ya, it is beautiful. Larger than expected, at least from my land based observations a few years ago, and filled with hundreds of moorings, most of them occupied. Many white hulls reflect off pale blue mirrored waters, tall oaks and maple trees occasionally allow white steeples and cedar shingled peaks to escape their cover, a dike of quarried stone hosts several walkers on its back as it does its job protecting the harbor and keeping the awesome beaches and dunes of Wood End attached to mainland Massachusetts. There is a large rock breakwater, two city blocks long with day markers on each end, protecting two massive and very old looking wooden wharfs. Two Coast Guard vessels with the familiar orange stripes, are docked at Station Provincetown at the end of a long pier. Setting the VHS to channel 9, I contact the Provincetown Mooring Service and they direct me to go around the West end of the breakwater and wait. After doing so and waiting 15 minutes, and not seeing anything but hundreds of moored boats, I was beginning to wonder if I was in the right place. I call again: “P’town Mooring…this is motor vessel Ginger Lee inside the breakwater…It’s my first time here…am I waiting in the correct spot? over.” Yes Cap…I see you…white Trojan…black canvas…over” “Copy that…standing by channel zero nine…Ginger Lee out

Long Point Light

Walkers on the dike

Coast Guard Pier

“Well I guess we wait.” I say. Apparently they see me, but I have no idea from where. Fifteen minutes later, a launch with a ridiculous amount of fenders hanging off it, makes it way towards us and the VHS crackles to life. “Ginger Lee…follow me…over. “Are you the launch with all the fenders?…over” I ask. “Ya Cap, that’s me…I’m a terrible driver!”  The little launch with too many fenders neatly pivots in front of us and we follow. Its’ name, PATIENCE, is boldly written across its rounded stern

The Breakwater

Our rented mooring is well away from the town wharf and adjacent to a waterfront hotel with an immense deck. The water is so transparent, we can clearly see the sandy bottom 7 feet below. Cracking open a cold Budweiser and surveying our new back yard, I proclaim this place “Wicked Nice.” It’s sunny and warm, the wind and water is calm, and the neighboring boats aren’t blasting crappy music. It’s all good!  We decide to barbecue some lunch before exploring the town. Susan whips up her famous pork chops with french cut green beans and mushrooms. I truly am blessed!

Saturday afternoon

“Ready for a walk,” I ask. “Sure, and a shower,” Susan answers and we hop into our dinghy “Salty II.” I like this part, getting off the boat for while, stretching your legs, doing something different. When we arrive at the dinghy dock the first thing I notice is that it’s way too small. More than half of it is reserved for the two launches, which are busily ferrying people to and from their moored vessels. The second thing I notice is there aren’t enough cleats, only three small ones and there are at least twenty dinghys tied to them. “I guess I’ll have to get creative.” I mutter to myself.  Using her extra long painter, I tie Salty to the gangway rail and float her neatly past the crowd of inflatables.

Ginger Lee moored

Fisherman’s Wharf, one of the two public wharfs in the harbor, is about a quarter-mile long and as wide as a New York boulevard, complete with potholes and probably rats. The end nearest the land is a parking lot that holds maybe two hundred cars. They are charging twenty bucks whether you stay ten minutes or all day. It seems exorbitant, but as they say; “it’s the only game in town,” and there is certainly no shortage of cars waiting to park there. The far end has a fuel dock, some kind of warehouse type structure that caters to the working boats, and all kinds of barnacle encrusted nautical gear like pilings, ropes, chains, mushroom anchors and slime covered floats and buoys. The entire place smells like low tide! I think it’s great but the normal tourist would most likely be repulsed. The marina office is essentially a run down shack with bathrooms. The tokens for the showers cost one dollar for three minutes, we each buy two from a gruff, bearded individual with a shaved head and gold loop earrings. He seems distracted and curt, like he doesn’t want to be there. But in his defense, he does allow us to pay him later when we can’t come up with anything smaller than a fifty dollar bill.

Stepping into the grungy shower stall I immediately regret not bringing flip-flops. Jeez! There is no way to control the water! No spigots or mixing valves. Once inserting the token, cold water mists weakly out of a rusty shower head and takes a whole minute to warm up to tepid. I wonder if I can pay extra for a HOT shower! I barely have the shampoo rinsed from my hair when it abruptly shuts off. I dunno, I just thought it would be a bit fancier, considering the magnificent location. They charge $55 a night for a mooring including launch service, the most I have ever paid.

Macmillan Wharf is much nicer. All the ferries stop here as well as the sightseeing, whale watching, and fishing party boats. The place is bustling with tourists and travellers. We duck into a gift shop in search of a Provincetown refrigerator magnet to add to our collection, and not finding one, settle for a little yellow rubber ducky wearing a pirate hat. I figure it’ll look good on the shelf above the sink in the head.

Rick on MacMillan Wharf, Breakwater in background

Walking through town, or more specifically, Commercial street, is incredible. It’s a constant parade of bicycles, rickshaws, joggers, walkers, street performers, and all kinds of unusual and interesting people. The small sidewalks simply cannot hold all the pedestrian traffic and it spills out into the street. Cars must proceed very slowly, fording their way though the throngs. We consider stopping for a bite to eat but every bar, cafe, and restaurant is way too crowded to even consider going into. Tomorrow we will attempt to climb the Pilgrim Monument, but right now I am anxious to get back to Ginger Lee, away from the madness to our quiet aft-deck and cold adult beverages.

inside town hall

We are definitely living in the moment, attending to the things that matter in our own little world on the island of Ginger Lee. Right now, the things that matter are 4 bags of ice, a 5/8 stainless steel thimble for our dinghys painter, a pump-out, and of course, a refrigerator magnet. It’s so nice to be on vacation on our boat, where for the next few days, these few simple things are all we have to worry about.

Provincetown has a great marine supply/hardware store where we find a dandy stainless steel 5/8 thimble for only nine bucks. At the Harbormaster’s office, a friendly man wearing the familiar tan uniform appears at the counter and in a heavy Portuguese accent asks if he can be of assistance.  ” I need a pump-out. How do I handle that? Do I bring my boat here to the wharf? I ask. “No no my friend. We will come to you. Where are you?” He flipped through a well-worn appointment book and entered the boat name and mooring number. “Should be in about an hour, “he said and closed the book. “Perfect!” I say and thank him.

Pilgrim Monument

Pump-out arranged, thimble in hand, and four bags of ice secured from the marina office, we cross three items off the list and dinghy back to Ginger Lee for the aforementioned cold adult beverages. We have two more days to find the refrigerator magnet. I think I’m up for the challenge.

View of Ginger Lee from the top of Pilgrim Monument

Late afternoon

“What’s that thumping noise?” I ask. On the hotel deck near us, there is conservatively 800 people gathered. Disco music is playing but we are far enough away so that we can barely hear words or music, mostly the rhythmic thumping of the bass reaches our ears. “Must be some kind of function, like a wedding or something,” I offer. It was wishful thinking. This idyllic setting could be compromised very quickly if it was anything else, like some kind of all night disco. I was really hoping that this didn’t turn out to be another Oak Bluffs, the quaint Martha’s Vineyard Harbor known for its loud parties that last until the wee hours. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Heck, I like a good party as much as the next guy. I just don’t want ’em keeping me awake! Susan and I both agree, the quieter the better. Two years ago on my birthday we spent a night in Waquoit bay. It was so quiet and serene that it still remains the benchmark for the perfect mooring. Just before sunset the thumping abruptly stops and the deck clears out. “Thank you!” I say aloud to nobody, raising my hands to the sky. Hallelujah! Our sanity is saved. It really is a big deal. Susan refuses to visit Oak Bluffs, like, ever again, and I can’t blame her.

Tall ship Kalmar Nyckel

The magnificent tall ship named “Kalmar Nyckel” enters the harbor under full sail. It’s really quite moving, seeing this huge wooden vessel slowly approaching the breakwater, its impressive form silhouetted against the sky over Pilgrim Beach. Suddenly, it fires off several cannon rounds shattering the calm and I feel the percussion in my chest. The echo rumbles thunderously off High Pole Hill. WICKED PISSA!

It is a warm summer night on Cape Cod. The Sun itself is not visible, having recently plunged below the horizon, only its following light, slower and less luminous, lingers behind and colors the clouds with pinks, off whites, and pale yellows, as if to say; “See, I am beautiful too!”  The two marina launches, “Patience” and “Deliverance” are busy collecting boaters for an exciting Saturday evening in P-town. Twenty years ago, I might have been a passenger on one of those launches, willingly thrusting myself into the madhouse. Tonight, I am content to stay right here, relaxing on the aft deck of ol’ Ginger Lee. Who can blame me? The beer is ice-cold, the Red Sox are on the radio, and my lovely wife just told me that this is the best summer vacation she has ever had.

Mooring rental 3 nights @ $55/night=$165.
refrigerator magnet $3.50

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