Gunkholing: From “The Foot of Buzzards Bay” To “The Head of The Bay”

Cape Cod Life  /  September/October 2021 /

Writer: Brian Shortsleeve

About 40 years ago I first sailed into Buzzards Bay. I had gone to Roanoke, Virginia to buy a center-cockpit, motor sailor, which I named after my grandmother, “The Lady Carline.”  I spent 28 days coming up the coast on my way to Cape Cod. 21 of the 28 days included foul weather until finally I reached Buzzards Bay. I am pretty sure the marine weather forecaster referred to the Buzzards Bay Entrance Light (Buzzards Bay Tower) as being “at the foot of Buzzards Bay.” My first stop was at the island of Cuttyhunk. Over the years being aboard “The Lady Carline” at Cuttyhunk became my summer home away from home. In time, Judy and I were married at Cuttyhunk.

Having breakfast on the porch of the Cuttyhunk Bass Fishing Club, we could see east to the Vineyard, the cliffs of Gay Head, the Gay Head lighthouse and the harbor entrance for the village of Menemsha. We made more than a few trips to Menemsha and the Home Port Restaurant there. From the top of the hill on Cuttyhunk, looking west, still at the foot of the bay, we could see to South Dartmouth and Padanaram, the departure port for many visitors to Cuttyhunk.

Cuttyhunk harbor, looking toward Martha’s Vineyard
Cuttyhunk Island, Gosnold, MA, USA (Shutterstock)

A little farther up the bay, on the eastside, we enjoyed seeing and visiting the beautiful Elizabeth Islands. Across the bay to the west, we saw New Bedford and the impressive hurricane barrier, the longest one on the East Coast, as it surrounds and protects the harbor from Fairhaven to New Bedford. We often made use of the seaplane service bringing friends and family to Cuttyhunk from New Bedford Harbor.

As the years went by, the middle of Buzzards Bay beckoned us to Woods Hole and provided access to the fascinating shores of Vineyard Sound and Nantucket Sound. In Woods Hole, the Landfall Restaurant was always a great stop. And, just beyond Woods  Hole, we frequented Falmouth Harbor and The Flying Bridge Restaurant.

When I first bought a home where I could see Buzzards Bay, it was on the Cataumet–North Falmouth line. When I looked west across the bay, I saw the Cleveland Ledge Lighthouse and on the far shoreline, the harbors of Mattapoisett and Marion. If I started at the foot of Buzzards Bay, I would say now I was about at chest-level of the bay. And the Chart Room Restaurant in Cataumet is a great find at this level of the bay. 

Up a little closer to the canal, the bay begins to narrow; let’s call it the neck of the bay. On the eastside near Monument Beach, from the Lobster Trap Restaurant, one looks to the west, beyond the colorful railroad bridge over a tidal inlet toward the East Wareham shoreline. 

Now, Judy, the boys, and I are in the process of moving to “The Head of the Bay.” Seriously, we have bought a home on Little Buttermilk Bay adjacent to Buttermilk Bay with boating access to Buzzards Bay and the Cape Cod Canal, reachable by car from the Buzzards Bay Rotary, on Head of the Bay Road. I am hoping to shift my photography focus from Sunsets on Buzzards Bay to the Cape Cod Canal and surroundings; from the village of Buzzards Bay to Onset Harbor in East Wareham. It is a great time to be moving there, with the Cape Cod Canal as the backdrop for the currently very active revitalization of the village of Buzzards Bay.

Brian Shortsleeve

Publisher, Cape Cod Life Publications

Brian Shortsleeve

Brian Shortsleeve is the owner, publisher, and founder of Cape Cod Life Publications. His personal column, “Gunkholing,” has appeared in all issues of Cape Cod LIFE since the very first issue in 1979.