Cape Cod Canal

Aerial view of the east end of the Cape Cod Canal, home to the Sandwich Marina. Photo by Paul Rifkin

Steeped in history and moving full steam ahead

This is the first installment of a new series exploring the vibrant harbors across Cape Cod and the Islands.

You’d have a tough time finding a playground with a better view than the one adjacent to the Sandwich Marina.

On a recent sunny day, a 5-year-old boy jumped off the central platform while shouting, “Abandon ship! Abandon ship!” He climbed on one of the swings and waited for the next boat to pass through the Cape Cod Canal. He didn’t have to wait long, and on the high end of his swings he got an excellent view of a cargo ship.

The harbors and marinas of the Cape and Islands provide a variety of views and amenities, but only one sits adjacent to the canal.

Deputy Harbormaster Mick Dunning says that location creates a lot of traffic in the marina’s fueling area on a summer’s day. He compared it to being on a turnpike rest area, while other harbors are on the equivalent of a side road off a highway exit, creating a 30-minute detour.

“It’s a great harbor,” he says. “We have a deep draft, so we can accommodate boats up to 100 feet. We have a couple of 80 to 100 footers that come early in the spring as they’re headed north to Boston or Maine, and they stop back in the late summer as they’re headed back down south.”

The marina welcomes such transients with bathrooms that include showers and a seasonal laundry room. “People come in and spend a night or a couple of nights,” says Dunning. “It’s an ideal location to stop and get a night’s rest.”

George Washington is known as the father of our country, but in these parts he could have been remembered as the father of our canal. In 1776, an engineer in General Washington’s Continental Army did a feasibility study and recommended the construction of a canal, but it took nearly a century and a half before the canal became a reality. Construction began in 1909, and the canal was opened in 1914.

The Sandwich Marina is steeped in history, but it’s not stuck in the past. The last few years have seen a transformation around the marina, including a new restaurant and a new harbormaster’s building.

The new harbormaster’s building opened in November of 2016. It sits on a bluff at the marina’s edge, giving the staff a commanding view. The location also allows the building to serve as an informal visitor’s center, when the official Cape Cod Canal Visitor Center is closed.

On display in the lobby of the new harbormaster’s headquarters is a 65-inch model of the Rose Standish, the first ship to travel through the canal. Among the 14,000 commercial and recreational vessels that go through the canal—and past the Sandwich Marina—each year are oil tankers and cargo barges, tuna boats and quahog skiffs, and recreational sloops and fishing boats.

All of that traffic on the waterway attracts visitors by land, who come to the marina area to check out the views while dining, hiking or biking. A bike path that stretches 6.5 miles on the south side of the canal extends from historic Bourne Village to the Sandwich Marina. If you time it right, you can bike from the marina to the trail’s western end and watch the sun sink behind the campus of the Massachusetts Maritime Academy, across the canal in the village of Buzzards Bay.

If you’re biking on either side of the canal on a summer morning or evening, you’re likely to see fishermen casting lines, trying to catch the striped bass that chase baitfish through the canal.