Another Covid-19 Cruise – 4th of July in Provincetown

We spent weeks trying to decide how we would spend the 4th of July holiday. Every option we contemplated was shaken up by Covid-19. Ultimately we ended up heading to Provincetown, a stop we always enjoy.

June 30 – July 6, 2020
Portsmouth, RI – Padanaram, MA – Provincetown, MA – Cuttyhunk, MA
Days 15 – 21 aboard this summer season

We definitely wanted to be off on the boat for 4th of July. Our little home town is delightful, but on the 4th it gets much too crowded for our tastes. COVID-19 made planning difficult. Some facilities still were not open, some towns were very restrictive, dining out was complicated almost everywhere. Our choices were some combination of Block Island, Mystic, Stonington, Montauk, or east to Buzzards Bay and Provincetown. Ultimately, for a variety of reasons, we chose Provincetown, which we always enjoy.

I arrived at the boat yard late in the afternoon on Tuesday June 30 with a car full of food, beverages, clothing, and two dogs. It started to rain as I checked in at the marina gate and told them I did not have COVID symptoms. By the time I parked the car, I was in a torrential tropical downpour. It rained. And it rained. And it rained. The dogs and I sat in the car for almost half an hour until it rained itself out.

I opened my door and my shoes were immediately soaked by the rushing water. The dogs were NOT.IMPRESSED. They don’t like getting wet in the first place, let alone being up to their knees (that would be about three inches) in rushing water. I managed to convince them that it would be better to move quickly rather than stall out in the flood. I semi-dragged them to some soggy grass, then coaxed them to the top of the ramp, where the rushing water was deepest and fastest, and finally onto the dock and aboard their dry boat. They just looked at me with their ears flattened on their heads.

I unloaded our supplies for the trip. Bruce had ordered in an impressive array of red meat from Snake River Farms, and I had a big box of really lovely fresh veggies from our local Little River Farm, which is doing home deliveries during COVID-19. We would not starve.

We enjoyed a pre-cruise cocktail in the pilot house, then decided we would grab a bite to eat at our on-site restaurant, The Gulf Stream Bar and Grill. To our surprise they were closed. We retreated to the boat and had a simple comfort-food supper of hot dogs, beans and salad. We probably ate better there than at the restaurant. I hate to say that, but the GSB&G really isn’t our thing.

Wednesday, July 1 – Portsmouth to Padanaram, MA

Our first planned stop was Padanaram, about 40 miles away on the west shore of Buzzards Bay. This historic coastal town is a busy yachting hub, but the town itself is small and simple – and delightful. It is best known as the home of the Concordia Company, Waldo Howland, and the famous Concordia Yawl.

When we woke up, the morning was beautiful. We had a nice walk with the dogs and ran a few errands, fueled up, then got underway. It was a beautiful day to be on the water — at least where we were. The forecast was full of warnings for thunderstorms, high winds and downpours. We kept our eyes on the weather radar and watched cells pop up around us, but none came near. We were treated to a day-long show of dramatic storm clouds all around, as we enjoyed bright sunshine and moderate breeze.

Impressive storm clouds surround us as we head down the Sakonnet River.

It was a lovely, relaxing run down the Sakonnet river and up into Buzzards Bay. We called the New Bedford Yacht Club as we entered Padanaram Harbor, and their launch came out to show us to our mooring. The Club is very hospitable. It has a beautiful facility, an active racing program, and normally offers a full suite of services to the cruising visitor. Because of COVID, the shoreside facilities were all but shut down, but that was OK with us. We like to be self sufficient.

We launched our dinghy and ran the dogs ashore, moving quickly to try to avoid a large wall of thunderstorms headed our way. We got back to the boat just as a few spits of rain hit us. And then it all went away. No rain. No thunder. No lightning. We needn’t have raced back at all. Sometimes you just get lucky.

Our primary reason for being in Padanaram was to catch up with Dennis and Lily, old friends of Bruce’s who had moved to town a couple of years earlier. They came out in one of the Club launches bearing a nice bottle of wine. We talked and talked and talked until after dark. I don’t think we solved any of the world’s pressing problems — we are all overwhelmed by the divisive politics of social justice, Black Lives Matter, statues being torn down and police being defunded. And COVID-19. The world is a confused and tormented place right now. We didn’t solve any of it during the evening, but we enjoyed our visit with Dennis and Lily.

A spectacular evening developed while they were on board. The night became clear, glassy calm and starlit, with a near-full moon just rising in the dark. The dinghy ride to shore was beautiful. One of those special nights you like to savor and remember.

Thursday, July 2 – Padanaram – Marion – Cape Cod Canal – Provincetown

The morning was sparkly and still. We had time to kill, since we didn’t want to be at the Cape Cod Canal until the current began to run fair around 2:00 pm. This gave us oodles of time for a leisurely walk with the dogs around town, which we haven’t done in quite a few years. It was lovely, and there were a number of new resources since our last visit. Most significantly, Farm and Coast Market, a gourmet market on the main street with an on-site butcher, baked goods, and a broad array of specialty foods. What a treat!

A sparkling summer morning on Buzzards Bay.

Bruce went in while I waited outside with the dogs. He returned some time later with a Brown Bag. And a Big Smile. I knew what that meant. House cured bacon, a grass-fed “Bavette” steak, two whoopi pies (the absolute BEST I have ever eaten), a small blueberry pie, a package of biscotti and some house made breakfast sausage. I think I said something earlier about not starving?

On our way back to the dinghy the dogs got treats from the stone dog sculpture in front of a real estate office. Although they were anticipating grass-fed steak or house made bacon, they were quite happy with Milk Bones.

We piled back into the dinghy and headed off to explore the shallows under the bridges. Dennis and Lily live on the little creek on the backside of the harbor. We thought we would check it out. We had a lovely dinghy ride, digging into the mud bottom a couple of times. The creek is beautiful. Dennis and Lily picked a lovely spot.

Once back at the boat, I stowed our new stash and Bruce scrubbed the waterline. Then we got under way. We were still early for the fair current at the canal, so we meandered along and tucked in to Marion to check out the harbor scene.

Marion is very special to my family. My Dad was a summer camp instructor at Tabor Academy when he was young, and took my Mom sailing out of Marion on his Herreshoff E-Boat shortly after they met. My brother sailed on the Tabor Boy. Like Padanaram it is a small town but has a vibrant sailing community, anchored by the Beverly Yacht Club, Barden’s Boat Yard and Burr Brothers Boat Yard. All are welcoming resources to visiting yachties.

Rody enjoyes the scenery as we make our way into Marion Harbor. He is ready for the 4th of July.

We had a lovely putt-putt through the sleepy harbor, which is officially known as Sippican Harbor. Like Padanaram, is full of lovely yachts and surrounded by equally lovely real estate. It’s a great, relaxing place to overnight, but we were just passing through. It was time to head for the Cape Cod Canal, just a few miles to the northeast.

As we left Marion and pulled out into Buzzards Bay, the afternoon southerly sea breeze was cranking into gear and the chop was up. We approached the entrance to the canal about 10 minutes before the current turned, so we had a bit of a ride on the standing waves, kicked up by the brisk sea breeze against the ebb current. We were surfing along at the entrance, but soon everything flattened out, the current changed (this happens fast), and we were scooting along at 10 knots over the bottom.

The trip through the canal was lovely. It is definitely a New England bucket list thing to do. Just pick a fine summer day and enjoy. The only real problem issue is southbound into Buzzards Bay when the current is ebbing south and the afternoon southerly is honking. You don’t want do that that. Trust me.

Here is a happy little time-lapse clip of our flybridge ride through the canal.

Classic Cape Cod Canal passage.

The canal current spit us out into a glassy calm Cape Cod Bay. We had a straight shot to the entrance to Provincetown Harbor. We took it easy, enjoyed a flybridge ride the entire way, and arrived at around 5:30 when the evening light was just taking on a warm end-of-day glow.

July 2 – 5 – Provincetown

We had reserved a slip at Provincetown Marina. This was a pricey splurge, but we have found the moorings in Provincetown to be rolly and not very pleasant. When you have to get the dogs ashore several times a day, including in the evening, it’s a bit messy. So we sprung for it and stayed at the marina.

Our slip was directly in front of a photo display on the side of the building at the end of the wharf celebrating the Portuguese women of Provincetown. Titled “They Also Faced the Sea”, the installation “was designed to keep the spirit and the presence of Portuguese culture alive.”

The images “are meant to represent all of the women of Provincetown who over the years have been the backbone of this vital fishing village. They came from a long line of hard-working people, immigrating mostly from the Azores and mainland Portugal. Their families fished the waters off Cape Cod for over 200 years, built a major fish packing and distribution industry and made an important contribution to the history and culture of Provincetown.” Thus: the large and sturdy wharf we were alongside.

They are powerful photographs, and kept us company throughout our stay.

“They also faced the sea,” an art installation celebrating the Portuguese contributions to the culture and history of Provincetown.

Bruce set about scrubbing all the salt off the boat, and I grabbed the dogs to go have a look around. Would there be masks? Would there be tourists? Who knew?

There were lots of tourists and lots of masks. Not as many tourists, mind you, as a regular 4th of July holiday, but Commercial Street was buzzy. Almost everyone had a mask on. We heard that the local officials are very worried about summer crowds and controlling the spread of the virus. I believe they have good reason to be concerned. There were places that were crowded, but we found it easy to pick and choose where we wanted to be, and we could stay distanced as much as we wished.

Back at the boat, Bruce was making friends with our new neighbors, a nice group from the Quincy Marina outside of Boston. There were a lot of vacant slips: clearly, it was not going to be a capacity crowd for the weekend.

From our slip we were able to watch the Boston Fast Ferry come and go. The Dolphin Whale Watch fleet was not running at all.

We had a quiet evening on board: a lovely flybridge cocktail, then Bruce grilled his “Bavette” steak from Farm and Coast in Padanaram and I made a salad. Oh, and we had a whoopi pie. Like I said before: Best Ever.

So. Provincetown Marina. The marina itself is not anything too exciting. It sits around an historic fishing pier that now also serves as a parking lot. Your view from your boat is often looking beneath the pier at old pilings. We were lucky with our slip, which was out of the wind and wake wash, and had an unobstructed view across the breakwater over which we got to watch the full moon rise.

The docks are new, substantial, and very nice. The staff was good. Facilities are limited. We didn’t use the heads or laundry so I can’t comment on them. There is a small fenced seating area on the concrete pier with gas fire pits and TVs where folks congregate. They do allow you to use your BBQ on board, which is great. The location is excellent, as the base of the pier is right in the main downtown area of Commercial Street. Everything at your doorstep.

Our visit was very low-key. The weather was warm and COVID caused us to more or less keep to ourselves and avoid congestion. The boat was our refuge.

We indulged in all-American breakfasts onboard, enjoying the house cured bacon and house made sausage from Farm and Coast Market, along with Little River Farm free range eggs and some sourdough we had saved in the freezer from Born and Bread Mercantile and Bakery in Nantucket. We ate out twice, but otherwise we grilled on board for dinner. Lunch we generally avoid, so that we can indulge at other times.

“Please, Dad, can I have some bacon?” Mattie is anxious to share Bruce’s 4th of July All-American Breakfast.

We walked all over Provincetown. Commercial Street is the heart and hub of it all. People watching is a never-ending theater. The shops are everything you could possibly imagine, and eateries are crammed into every block, alley and and crevice. The options are endless.

All this is problematic in the current world of COVID-19. There were not as many people on the street as normal summer weekends would have, but it was still, at times, congested. Mornings were good until around 10:00. Everything seemed to shut down after 8:00 or 9:00 pm. Can you imagine that? What a change! While most businesses were open, some had signs saying “Stay safe. See you in 2021.”

Commercial Street was a little bit more subdued than usual. Most folks adhered to the mask policy.

The area at the west end tends to be our favorite for walking around. It is less commercial than other parts of town. The cottages crammed side-by-side are charming, and the constant come-and-go of walkers, cyclists, unicyclists, skate boarders, dog-walkers and the occasional car make for fun exploring.

The east end of Commercial Street is a little more artsy and gallery-focused, with more restaurants. Although we weren’t really planning on eating out because of COVID issues, we wandered by The Mews, where we enjoyed a meal years ago, and checked the possibility of a reservation. Yes, 5:15 was available, we grabbed it. We ended up having a lovely meal there (well, two lovely meals, to be honest about it).

The Mews staff was very COVID-attentive. Guests were kept well separated. There were never very many people in the room. Service was excellent. The view was nice. Drinks and food were quite good — not perfect, but quite good. We enjoyed our two evenings there, and we felt very safe and well cared for in the context of COVID threats.

Most dining establishments in Provincetown were trying to do business on whatever level they could manage. Many were simply too congested for us. Even those that only offered online ordering and curbside pickup had lines of people waiting outside, often clustered. I don’t think they were doing anything wrong relative to social distancing, but enforcing distancing in some of the busier parts of town was just impossible. We will simply save those spots (lining up for ice cream or pizza, or going to The Squealing Pig, for instance) for another time.

There were no fireworks or celebrations on July 4th, which is normally a big deal in Provincetown. Because our dogs are not enthusiastic about fireworks we weren’t sad about this, but a lot of visitors were disappointed. We would have had a perfect view from our flybridge, looking directly out over the breakwater at the launch barge.

It was all a bit bittersweet. So many people are struggling. Everyone is trying to get through it all in their own way.

We enjoyed our visit, but after three nights, as planned, we were ready to move on. As usual, we had no firm plans. The morning we were scheduled to leave, Sunday the 5th, we sat with our coffee trying to decide if we should stay or go, and if go, where to? We contemplated running through to Block Island to visit with friends there, but in the end, nudged by an imperfect weather forecast, we elected to make a hop through the Canal to Cuttyhunk, then home the next day.

The weathers we passed Long Point Lighthouse was gray and chilly, but it wasn’t stopping holiday visitors from enjoying time at the beach.

We had an easy ride across Cape Cod Bay and entered the Canal at max fair current, which is always a joy. It gave us between three and four knots of extra speed. The only problem with this scenario is arriving at the exit into Buzzards Bay with a southerly blowing. The current-against-wind routinely kicks up a steep, square wave pattern that can be brain-numbing at best, and hazardously rough at worst. For us aboard Esmeralde it turned out to be wet and bumpy for a couple of miles, but nothing dramatic. Try it in a small sailboat, as we have numerous times, and it is a much different adventure.

As we scooted off to the west into flat water, Bruce got a text from a fellow American Tug 395 owner. He had spotted us on AIS, and we were on converging courses. We altered our course to rendezvous just off the entrance to Marion Harbor, and had a nice little “gam” for a few minutes. It’s always fun to see a sister ship under way.

The American Tug 395 Awakening pulls alongside for a Gam on Buzzards Bay.
Sunday, July 5 – Cuttyhunk

We pushed down the throttle and headed for Cuttyhunk to spend yet another night – this would be the fourth time this year. The harbor was about half full — a lot less crowded than a normal July holiday weekend. Things are generally quiet these days on southern New England cruising grounds, which is actually quite nice for cruising. Finding slips, moorings and anchorage space is much easier with fewer boats out and about.

We had a quiet dinner on board and the normal walk-about the island with the pups. No trip up the hill this time. Too lazy!

Monday, July 6 – Home to New England Boatworks

Before leaving in the morning we had a quick hello with two members of our Facebook group “Trawler Life”. Roland and Nancy aboard the Krogen Manatee Slow Dance and Tom and Liela aboard Cree.

Cree and Slow Dance hanging on moorings in Cuttyhunk Pond.
Roland took this picture of Esmeralde and Cree as we did a fly-by before we left for home. Almost identical hull color!

We had an uneventful trip home to New England Boatworks. It was a nice little 4th of July cruise. We hope to have plenty more as the summer of COVID 2020 rolls on.

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