Harbor LIFE: Red Brook Harbor
Serene views, cherished traditions
This is the third installment of a new series exploring the vibrant harbors across Cape Cod and the Islands
On the southwestern coast of Bourne, Red Brook Harbor is tucked between two peninsulas. Stretched-out Wings Neck is to the north, and bulbous Scraggy Neck is to the south. The harbor is further protected by Bassetts Island, a barrier beach shaped like a capital letter T tipped over 90 degrees to the right.
“This is a nice stopover,” says Bruce Parker, owner of Parker’s Boat Yard, a family-run, full-service yacht yard located on Red Brook Harbor Road in Cataumet. “It’s easy to get into and it’s well protected. The harbor is large and deep, and we have the barrier island—not a lot of harbors have that—so you don’t get a lot of wave action.” But don’t let the calm waters and the slow pace of life in the village of Cataumet trick you into thinking that Red Brook Harbor is a sleepy place.
“There are 700 boats in the water within a mile of here in the summer,” says Scott Zeien, owner of Kingman Yacht Center, a full-service marina, as he looks out on the harbor from his second-floor desk and enjoys what might be the best view from any office on the Cape.
“By car, it’s not on the way to any place, but it’s centrally located if you’re coming by boat. You can leave the harbor and go left and be in Woods Hole or Martha’s Vineyard within an hour. If you go right, you can be in Cape Cod Bay in 75 minutes. And Cuttyhunk and Newport are also within easy range,” Zeien says.
More than a safe port for boaters going up and down the coast, the harbor attracts lots of day trippers from the south coast who anchor off Bassetts Island for picnics and swimming. “It’s open to anyone who can get here,” says Zeien.
Another big draw, no matter how you get to the harbor, is the Chart Room on Shipyard Lane, a restaurant and piano bar located within Kingman Yacht Center’s finger piers. The Chart Room is housed in a former barge that was used as a machine shop for Army and Navy vessels during the Korean War. It was converted into a restaurant by the Kingman family in 1966, and current owner David Jarvis Jr.’s late father, David “Jasper” Jarvis, took over the business in 1972.
Not surprisingly, the décor is nautical—paintings and photos, life rings and old signs, lobster traps and framed maps. A strip of wood waist high marks the waterline from Hurricane Bob in August 1991.
“We’ve maintained the recipes and menus from when it originated,” says Jarvis. “The cooks make the same sauces and use the same presentation. We let the food speak for itself.” Over the sound of a blender, he says, “That’s a mudslide being made. You have your staples of the strawberry daiquiri and the piña colada, but for some reason, it caught on that this is the place to go for mudslides. We stick to the basic recipe—Bailey’s Irish Cream, Kahlua and vodka—and people swear they can taste the difference.”
You can order a mudslide through “Jasper’s takeout window” and enjoy it while sitting in an Adirondack chair overlooking the boat slips. After dark, inside is the place to be, with a pianist performing 7-11 p.m. seven nights a week. One of those pianists, Eddie Scheer, has been playing a repertoire of King Crimson to Frank Sinatra to “Oklahoma” for over 30 years. One of the lures of the Chart Room, according to Jarvis, are the popular “burning sunsets.” Taking advantage of those sunsets is the Red Brook Harbor Club, a new condominium offering perched above the harbor.
Jarvis says there’s a special connection between employees and customers at the Chart Room. He knows of 13 marriages between employees or an employee and a customer. Hostess Chris Wilson has worked there for 27 years. Her daughter met her husband working at the Chart Room, and her three grandkids are working there this summer, waiting and busing tables and assisting in the kitchen. “Employees meet their friends for life here,” she says. “They get apartments together and they travel together.”
Next to the Chart Room is Periwinkles Gifts, owned and operated by husband-and-wife team Karen and Tom Wood for the last 34 years. The shop specializes in locally made jewelry and novelty items—including handmade wood signs by Bourne-based company On Cape Time with messages like “Sandy feet welcome” and “Summer’s only an attitude.” Periwinkles also has a selection of silk-screened sweatshirts, T-shirts and hats to boast about your favorite nearby hangout, whether it’s Scraggy, Mashnee Island or Gray Gables.
Longtime employee Donna White was working the register on a recent day. “It’s a tradition, just as much as the Chart Room,” she says of Periwinkles. “Parents send their kids over from the restaurant. People in their 20s and 30s walk in with their children and say, ‘It still looks the same and smells the same.’ It brings back memories.”
Another building houses Watershed Gallery, which sells Nantucket baskets, decorative glass and fine art. The gallery represents more than 20 local artists, including Cynthia Ahern, Julie DeMello, Hollis Engley and Simona Tarakeviciute, along with Watershed owner Joyce Edwards. During the summer, Bonnie Taymore Sigel teaches classes at the gallery for people who want to make their own Nantucket baskets and bracelets.
The pace of change at Red Brook Harbor is slow, but it happens. Zeien, who learned to swim and sail in the harbor, bought Kingman Yacht Center after a career in radio in Boston. “I wanted to get in the business of other people’s pleasure,” he says. “When I got here in 2000, we were probably 40 percent sailboats. Today, I doubt we’re 20 percent sailboats. I grew up a sailor, but there’s not enough time. In a power boat, I can turn the key and be back in an hour. You can’t do that in a sailboat.”
To the south, Parker’s Boat Yard hosts the Red Brook Harbor Yacht Club, which has cookouts and fleet trips to Maine for its 100 members. Parker’s stores about 100 boats in the off-season and has 130 moorings and nine slips. The staff, some of whom have worked at the yard for 30-plus years, does everything from mechanical work, painting and carpentry, to fiberglass repairs and the installation of navigation equipment. Their year-round rigging department makes them the ideal spot for sailors of all types. Bruce’s father established the boatyard in 1960, and now his wife and three daughters work in the business. Work keeps them busy, but they carve out a little time for lunch trips to Bassetts Island or the Old Sigh Race Series’ Wednesday evening races. Bruce’s wife Patti says some people only sail on weekends, “but if you know there’s a race Wednesday night, you find a way to get out of work a little early.”
If you want to explore on land, the Bourne Conservation Trust has several properties in Cataumet, including the Dimmick Waterfront Scenic Vista, about a quarter mile south of Parker’s. It provides a view of a quiet section of the harbor. Across the street is a trail head for the Cataumet Greenway, a network of walking trails, several of which are longer than a half mile.
“Red Brook Harbor is a beautiful natural harbor,” says Zeien. “There aren’t that many of them left. Some people prefer to be in the hustle and bustle of Hyannis or Falmouth. This is more rural. The people who keep their boats here are looking for this kind of atmosphere.”
Freelance writer Bill O’Neill is a Cape Cod native who lives in Yarmouth Port.
Around Red Brook Harbor
1 Shipyard Lane, 508-563-5350. The Chart Room is a seasonal restaurant, open full time beginning in mid-June through Labor Day. A summertime tradition for many… casual atmosphere, freshly prepared entrees, piano bar entertainment and spectacular water views and sunsets. Reservations are not accepted at lunchtime, but are recommended for dinner.
68 Red Brook Harbor Road, 508-563-9366. Full-service boatyard for maintenance, repairs and yacht brokerage. Located in picturesque Red Brook Harbor at the west end of the Cape Cod Canal, Parker’s has provided top-quality workmanship in the comforts of a family business for over 50 years. See where yachtsmen return for superior service and a friendly environment.
1 Shipyard Lane, 508-563-3077. At Periwinkles Gifts, next to the Chart Room, you’ll find so much more than just Cape Cod themed gifts. Karen and Tom Wood have spent 34 years delighting visitors with their fabulous finds. This shop is filled to the brim with clever, inspirational and practical items for every budget. Yes, you can get candy and treats (for the kids). Summer hours: 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., seven days a week.
1 Shipyard Lane, 508-563-9395. This quintessential gallery will captivate you and lure you in to view beautiful and original artwork by several award-winning artists. The mixed media of fine art available includes paintings of places near and far, glassworks, handcrafted jewelry and Nantucket baskets. Open every day in the summer through Labor Day.