Harbor LIFE: Sandwich Marina
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.
If you’re on foot, walk east from the parking area near the harbormaster’s headquarters. As you stroll along the marina’s edge, you’ll see the mix of fishing boats, charter boats and recreational boats in the slips. (There are 140 seasonal slip holders, 42 commercial slips and 24 transient slips.) A small Coast Guard patrol boat and the Sandwich Fire Rescue boat also are docked there. A metal chain provides a barrier between the sidewalk and the grass and rocks that slope to the water’s edge. The links are made of metal rings that are about twice as thick as your thumb.
A small memorial paying tribute to the Sandwich fishermen who’ve been lost at sea overlooks the marina. You get a better sense of the history of the area from a rusty anchor and a ship’s bell on display on the grass by the roadside.
Just east of the marina is the Sandcatcher Recreation Area. A dirt path leads to the jetty that marks the canal’s eastern entrance, about a five-minute walk. Look to your right and you can see Horizons on the Bay, a restaurant on Town Neck Road, and a string of beachside houses, some of which were damaged by a round of winter storms.
Your eyes can follow the curve of the Cape, including the shoreline cliffs in Dennis and beyond. On a clear day, perhaps with the help of some binoculars, you might even make out the Pilgrim Monument in Provincetown. On this day, there was evidence of a recent storm, which had pushed the wrack line well up the beach, almost to the base of the jetty, leaving behind crab claws, a hand-size bit of yellow fish net and cluster after cluster of blue mussel shells.
On your way back, stop in at the Cape Cod Canal Visitor Center (60 Ed Moffitt Drive; open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. from early May through late October) for historic films, interactive exhibits and interpretive programs.
If the walking and fresh air have triggered your appetite, you have a few options, especially if you like seafood. Ringing the marina are several good choices. Fishermen’s View at 20 Freezer Road is the new restaurant at the marina, and has an attached fish market. The building has white sides and a red roof, mimicking the look of the nearby Coast Guard Station and Cape Cod Canal Visitor Center. Launched by fishermen Bob and Denny Colbert in the summer of 2016, it’s open year-round and offers sushi in addition to seafood and other lunch and dinner items—and also has a great cocktail menu. With a lovely outdoor seating area, the restaurant also offers live music. The Pilot House Restaurant at 14 Gallo Road is open from March through December for lunch and dinner, with outdoor dining in season and a calendar of live music. Seafood Sam’s, also seasonal, at 6 Coast Guard Road, is perfect for a quick, casual meal.
There is a lot to see and do in the village of Sandwich—it is, after all, Cape Cod’s oldest town—but the harbor area is not to be missed.
Freelance writer Bill O’Neill is a Cape Cod native who lives in Yarmouth Port.