The Changing Shape of the Cape & Islands: Edgartown, Chappaquiddick and the breach—and restoration—of Norton Point Beach
Editor’s note: this is the 4th in a series of articles covering the region’s dramatically changing coastline. Click here to see all of the articles.
In April of 2007, a powerful storm on Patriots’ Day caused a break near the center of Norton Point Beach, a barrier beach that runs along the southeastern tip of Martha’s Vineyard dividing Katama Bay from the Atlantic. With this breach in the two-and-one-half mile beach, Chappaquiddick became entirely severed from the Vineyard.
Since that 2007 storm, the break—which at its widest measured nearly a quarter-mile across—continually migrated to the east, and caused a variety of problems in Vineyard waterways. “The break at Norton Beach affected the whole of Katama Bay and the inner harbor,” says Charlie Blair, Edgartown’s harbormaster. “The current ran up to three knots.” Blair likened the inner harbor at the time to Woods Hole Passage, a fast-moving and potentially treacherous waterway off Falmouth that most ships avoid.
In the storm’s immediate aftermath, the On Time ferry, which regularly transports passengers the 527 feet between Chappy and Edgartown, found itself being continually swept southward to the Edgartown Yacht Club—some 500 feet—as it attempted to make its way across the channel. To remedy this, the ferry owner had to install a stronger engine to withstand the new, stronger current.
Over the years, the effects levied on the coastline were even more dramatic. The beach at Wasque Point—Chappaquiddick’s south-easternmost tip—and the nearby swan pond were washed away, and stairs and boardwalks leading to the beach were destroyed or swept into the ocean. The powerful currents from the breach also unearthed a few things that had long been hidden or buried. “Divers were finding 150-year-old bottles lying on the bottom in plain sight,” Blair recalls.
After nearly eight years, however, the breach is no more! On April 2, 2015, the breach, which had migrated all the way to Wasque, became completely closed as the Norton Point Beach reattached to Chappaquiddick. By the end of the month, vehicles were once again allowed to travel over the beach from Chappy to Edgartown—with a required permit.
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