Gunk’holing: The Changing Coast Line 

Cape Cod Life  /  November/December 2023 /

Writer: Brian Shortsleeve / Photographer: Josh Shortsleeve 

gunk’holing is the art of getting a boat into any small shallow cove, forbidden to boats of deeper draft and out again, without running aground much over a dozen times. — J. Benjamin According to the 2015 “Guide to Coastal Landforms and Processes at the Cape Cod National Seashore, Massachusetts-A Primer” by the United States Geological Survey, Cape Cod’s history goes back about 15,000 years when the continental ice sheet originating in Eastern Canada retreated and left behind deposits of sand, granite, gravel and silt. In the years following that retreat the sea level rose by about 400 feet, which submerged much of what the ice had left behind. By 10,000 years ago the sea level had risen to such a point that it was beginning to submerge previous land masses. This included Stellwagen Bank, an area stretching 19 miles north-northeast off the coast of Provincetown, the Georges Bank, an area 62 miles off the east coast of Cape Cod that is larger in area than the entire state of Massachusetts.  “Eleven thousand years ago Georges Bank was above water,” says Greg Berman, coastal processes specialist for Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. “Back then it would have been possible to walk from the Cape to Georges Bank. With much more land visible, the Outer Cape was not getting hit with the large storms of today which come across the Atlantic, so erosion was much less.” According to Berman, it was 6,000 years ago when the coastal erosion of Cape Cod began accelerating. The bluffs, which are retreating to this day, once extended as much as four miles farther east than they currently stand. Interestingly, although much of the eastern-facing coastline is retreating, there is an area which is actually growing. Due to wave conditions and sediment migration, much of what was…

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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.