Photos by Dori Arrington
For boaters, beach bums and anyone looking for summer fun in New England, Cape Cod has an irresistible call. Its graceful arc extending out to sea is the perfect place to fish, swim, hike, paint, write or just be.
Human settlements have a habit of supplanting nature. The villages that line Cape Cod realized early on that the natural world would not bend so easily to their will. If they wanted to call this narrow strip of land home, they would have to learn to coexist with the extremes of this environment. This détente has preserved the Cape and sustained the people in a symbiotic bliss.
Situated on the outer tip of the Cape is Provincetown, Massachusetts, or P-town as it is more lovingly referred. As the second-smallest town on the Cape, with a population of just about 3,000 year-round residents, Provincetown makes up for its small size with an oversized zest for life. As one of the Cape’s most popular destinations, it’s not unusual for the population to swell to over 60,000 on busy summer weekends.
In between the summer influx, Provincetown is populated by a small but hardy group. Many residents were drawn here to the country’s oldest continuous artist colony. Cape Cod’s isolated setting draws artists of every discipline. This collection of creative souls is one of the reasons Provincetown has an unusually high concentration of award-winning art galleries, boutiques, inns and restaurants.
Just in case you think Provincetown is like any other coastal boating town, a visit to the local library will convince you otherwise. In no other library will you find a complete sailing schooner built in and amongst the books, but in Provincetown, this crazy idea seems normal. As a tribute to the fishermen in Provincetown and to the local ship-building industry, area craftsmen built a half-scale model of the Rose Dorothea schooner, measuring 66 feet long. The boat was delivered in sections and reassembled inside. The original Rose Dorothea was a sleek racing schooner that won the prestigious Lipton Cup, which is also on display.
The community has a strong preference for locally owned businesses with very few national chain stores of any type. Most of Provincetown’s businesses are concentrated along an easily walkable 3.5-mile stretch of Commercial Street, from Pilgrims First Landing Park (that’s right, Plymouth, the pilgrims landed here first) to its terminus at East Harbor beach. One of the best ways to take in a panoramic view of Provincetown is to climb to the top of the 252-foot-tall granite memorial monument dedicated to the pilgrims’ first landing.
Provincetown is the bait on Cape Cod’s hook that catches most boaters, with a large protected anchorage, a well-maintained mooring field and easy-to-access marinas. Most boats can reach Provincetown in considerably less time than the 67 days it took the pilgrims to get there. Aboard a medium-sized motoryacht, it’s a few hours from Boston or the northern end of the Cape Cod Canal.
Given the choice of driving to Provincetown or arriving by boat, there is no contest: Take the water. Second best to taking your own boat to Provincetown is to catch one of the high-speed ferries from Boston. Running from May to October, the Provincetown Fast Ferries Salacia and Provincetown IV, make the 90-minute ride daily.
Another popular boat trip in Provincetown is aboard one of the most professionally operated whale watching tours anywhere. Whale Watch Dolphin Fleet operates several large, comfortably equipped boats on multiple daily excursions to the nearby Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary. Stellwagen Bank is an 842-square-mile, federally protected marine sanctuary located in between Cape Cod and Cape Ann. June through September is peak migration period with significant humpback whale activity on the bank.
Once ashore, you won’t be in a hurry to leave, especially if you time your visit to coincide with one of the many festivals throughout the year. A few of the most popular during the summer are the Provincetown Film Festival, Portuguese Festival, Jazz Festival and the Tennessee William’s Theater Festival, culminating with the Provincetown Art Festival in October.
Beginning at Long Point Lighthouse on the inside of the hook and running clockwise around the Cape to Race Point Lighthouse, the wide, pristine beaches surrounding the Outer Cape are one of the Cape’s greatest treasures. They are easily accessible by foot, bike or vehicle. Even on busy summer weekends, beach-goers frequently have large areas all to themselves.
The ocean water is clean and clear, if not a little cool much of the year for comfortable swimming. The seals frolicking in the surf don’t seem to mind the water temperature, and the surf-cast fishing is world class. The Cape Cod National Seashore protects more than 40 miles and 40,000 acres of dune-backed beaches.
Water and light, sand and sky, these are Provincetown’s currency, which it generously pays to all who visit, never depleting its coffers.