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Cape Cod Canal celebrates a marvelous anniversary

The ceremony will also include the unveiling of a 10-foot bronze statue of a fisherman intended to honor the importance that fishing—in particular striped bass fishing—has had on the Cape Cod community as well as those who have dedicated their lives to the profession.

Following the ceremony, a parade of tugboats will float along the canal from 4 to 6 p.m., before giving way to a Buzzards Bay fireworks display, which starts at 9 p.m. “It’s going to be big,” Wentworth says of the extravaganza, funds for which were donated by local philanthropist David Mugar. “You will be able to see them from far and wide. There will be dogs howling everywhere.”

Written into his contract for the construction of the Cape Cod Canal, August Belmont was also tasked with building two passenger bridges

One of those taking part in the festivities will be Admiral Rick Gurnon, president of Massachusetts Maritime Academy. A resident of Buzzards Bay, Gurnon has worked at the academy for 35 years, he’s a co-chair of the centennial committee, and he loves the canal. “I walk the canal at least twice a day,” Gurnon says. “I have seen Russian submarines going through, Canadian submarines, giant car carriers.” Anything else? “I saw the H.M.S. Bounty go through on its last voyage,” he adds. “I’ve seen the Mayflower 2 coming and going from shipyard. And of course I’ve seen some unbelievably luxurious yachts, down to a kayak.”

In his walks, Gurnon has also spotted seals and porpoises in the canal and foxes and deer along its banks. “Some amazing stripers,” he adds, “get yanked out of that canal.” During one walk with his dog, Merlin, Gurnon took in yet another impressive sight: a finback whale, which he estimated to be 35-40 feet. “I heard,” he says, “the very distinctive sound of a blowhole.”

Gurnon says he views the canal as a success story—and one that has saved companies and by extension consumers, lots of money over the years. “The gasoline you put in your car,” he says, “the home heating oil that heats your home, the shoes that you put on your feet, they all came through the Cape Cod Canal.”

Traveling through the canal, he adds, is also safer for ships than going around it. Years ago, Gurnon says the major issue ships faced in sailing up or down the backside of the Cape, was if a big storm came along, they could literally be blown onto the beach—or destroyed in the process. “You couldn’t escape [the wind],” he says. “You had to get past Provincetown or Chatham.”

“It was dangerous,” he added. “You had to pay the equivalent of $1,000 in today’s money—the toll fee an average-sized vessel was charged to sail through the canal during its first two decades, adjusted for inflation—or risk losing your cargo, and your ship, and your ability to make more money.” With GPS and today’s forecasting capabilities, however, Gurnon says the round-the-Cape journey is no longer as treacherous.

In the first few years following the canal’s completion, Gurnon says the waterway was heavily used, but different problems—one-way traffic, too many turns, three lift bridges that would not always go up!—caused many ships to return to their longer, round-the-Cape route.

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