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Background photo by Greg Hinson

Kathy Zagzebski

National Marine Life Center, a good neighbor

Dan Cutrona Read more…

Let There Be Light

Let there be Light For Provincetown and even beyond, it’s definitely a symbol that Thanksgiving is here. It’s always the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. The lights always go on at 6 p.m., and it’s always kind of a surprise to see who’s going to light the monument.

It’s definitely a time when the town is hopping. We probably had over 1,200 people at last year’s lighting event. Little by little, it becomes big—the museum fills and the crowd swells outdoors. Unfortunately, the weather’s always a little unpredictable. Sometimes it’s a little cold.

We’ve had rain and we’ve had snow. Last year was pretty good—it was blustery, but people enjoyed it. It’s a very brief ceremony. We don’t hold them out for long speeches. And as we say, there’s plenty of room in our 10,000-square-foot museum for people to warm up.

There are 19 strands of light and they each have 166 lights on them. The trivia is that it totals 3,154 lights. They’re all hand-put-in and hand-taken-out every year—Carlos Silva has done it for many, many years now. And they take a fair amount of abuse up here in the winds.

Clearly, the best seat is right up here [on High Pole Hill]. It’s kind of an unprecedented view, and you’re up here with a thousand of your closest friends. It can be seen from afar—people can watch from downtown—but the real treat, I think, is up here on the grounds of the monument.

People sometimes come dressed up as pilgrims—the whole garb. One time we actually had two people that had gotten married here talk all of their family into coming as pilgrims.

I think it symbolizes the beginning of winter. It marks that change of the seasons, when those of us that live on the Cape kind of reclaim the Cape. The lighting certainly brings tourism in, but it’s a chance for residents of Cape Cod to assemble and have a moment of cheer before the Thanksgiving holidays. It’s preparation for everyone, to know that winter’s coming. It’s a bright moment.

Visit www.pilgrim-monument.org for more information about Share the Light 2011.

Standing Room Only: Cape Cod’s stand-up paddleboard phenomenon

Even if you didn’t you know them by name, you’ve seen a stand-up paddleboard (SUP) somewhere. Maybe stapped to the roof of an SUV, on a ripple-free cove, or on waves off of the Cape Cod National Seashore. By now, there’s probably a good chance you’ve even tried it yourself.

Simply put, stand-up paddleboarding is a water sport in which the rider stands atop what looks like a double-wide surfboard and shovels a single-blade paddle through the water to propel and turn the board. It’s the middle ground between surfing and kayaking.

This Saturday, August 20, marks the 2011 Cape Cod Bay Challenge, a test of endurance in which a field of experienced SUPers traverse the 34 miles across the bay between Plymouth and Wellfleet. The challenge raises money for Christopher’s Haven at Massachusetts General Hospital. To mark the occasion, Shawn Vecchione, a Cape Cod surfboard shaper and Hawaii transplant who we profiled in our July 2011 issue, shares his thoughts on the SUP phenomenon.

Shawn Vecchione and his daughter, paddling across Salt Pond in Eastham

Stand-up paddleboarding is a pretty funny thing to talk about—I have love and hate for it. Stand-up in Kauai pretty much first started taking off when I was there. I was one of the first guys to make one out there. All of the top shapers there, we all helped each other. Laird Hamilton was the pioneer of it, the one really pursuing it and moving it to a new level. I worked alongside his father Billy, Dick Brewer, and Terry Chung, who were all working on Laird’s boards. And we were all working together with different board designs and dimensions. Read more…

Shark Week Comes to Cape Cod

Last Sunday, the Discovery Channel kicked off its annual Shark Week programming with Jaws Comes Home, an hour-long documentary about the recent shark phenomenon off of Chatham. Filmed in summer 2010, the documentary follows Greg Skomal, shark expert with the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries, and crew as they patrol the waters off of Chatham and Monomoy Island to tag white sharks and to gain an understanding of why they come here.

Cape Cod Life readers may remember Skomal from “Great White? Nope,” a feature story we ran in the early months of 2009 about the region’s fixation on great white shark sightings. With the surfeit of shark sightings that arrived off of Chatham later that year—likely a result of the boom in the grey seal population, the experts say—what was once a set of I-swear-I-saw-it anomalies is nowa bona fide phenomenon.

Skomal at Naushon Island in 2004. Image courtesy of the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries.

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As Old as the Hills

There’s a quiet place on Martha’s Vineyard. Away from the crowded beaches, away from day-trippers clutching guidebooks on Circuit Avenue. It’s a place to find the peace and quiet that everyone who comes to visit and live on an island seeks. Thousands come to this place each year, yet it remains a secret.

On the northwestern side of the island in the town of Chilmark, the secrecy of Menemsha Hills Reservation is only matched by its serenity. Through 211 acres, the topography of the reservation traces through one of the most varied habitats on the island, an environment comprised of wetlands, heathlands, and a beach that remains all but empty even at the height of summer. The Trustees of Reservations, the New England conservation organization that oversees Menemsha Hills as well as six other properties on the island, estimates up to 25,000 visitors come here each year. But ask any one of these travelers to recall the last time they saw more than a handful of passersby on the trails, and you might not get an answer. Alison Shaw Read more…

The Shape of Things to Come

Luke Simpson Shaping a surfboard is a filthy, nocturnal, meditative undertaking. And it’s one that Shawn Vecchione has repeated more than 6,000 times.

Inside a 14-by-eight-foot room that’s part wood shop, part garage, Vecchione—clad in a T-shirt and board shorts, with bronze skin and a few grey hairs—hovers over a faceless board and flares a sand screen across its face. There’s nothing gentle about the movement—a grating whiisshhh fills the eardrums, and dust kicks up and collects in anthill-sized piles on the floor. He turns the board on its side and sculpts its rails, tapering hard edges into smooth curves. A pair of fluorescent light bulbs mounted at waist height amplifies the shadows cast by nicks and bumps, imperfections that Vecchione buffs from existence. Read more…

The Right Idea

The Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies

The hours pass, the sky slides from sunny to grey, and the boat rocks as southwest winds whip across Cape Cod Bay. It’s late February, and Dr. Charles “Stormy” Mayo and his six-person crew from the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies are on their fourth right whale research cruise of the season aboard a 42-foot Jarvis Newman lobster boat. It’s been hours since they’ve seen their last split-second glimpse of a whale—a massive Y-shaped tail curling as the behemoth dives beneath the surface.

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Take Two

Mark Chester

It’s rare to catch Woods Hole’s Mark Chester without a camera. Over the span of almost 40 years, Chester has learned that it’s often best to shoot first and ask questions later, and that the best photos often come when they’re least expected. Every once in a while, they come in pairs. Read more…

Vernon Laux

Naturalist

Cape Cod Life I was a big jock when I was in school in Wellesley. In eighth grade, right after Thanksgiving and right after football season ended, I had a great science teacher, and he put up a chart titled “The Common Winter Birds of New England.” And I didn’t look at the chart. He gave us a quiz, I called every bird a chickadee, and I flunked. Read more…