PROVINCETOWN — Spudded just east of MacMillan Wharf, the Codfish II is crabbing. Behind her, her pipe threads beneath two piers and floats. Ahead, her cutterhead sinks, spins. Her depth gauge bobs and Caterpillar engine hums, and on her deck stands Jason Bevis — Barnstable County’s brusque, bearded dredge superintendent — explaining what every word of that means.
The Codfish II has dredged for Barnstable County for 18 months. Bevis has dredged for Barnstable County for a decade. He has dredged channels and harbors and riverways up, down, and around Cape Cod. He spent three weeks stuck in Sesuit, waiting for the winds to die. In Cotuit, he sent muck into a pit at 22 feet per second. Muck flying at 22 feet per second, he says, could make a stone wall crumble. Here, in Provincetown, things move more slowly, and sand flows onto Court Street Landing at eight feet per second. It leaves the landing’s wall intact.
Each year, the Barnstable County dredge team asks its towns what they need. The towns lucky enough to receive their services pay roughly 70 percent below the market rate. The county has at its disposal two dredges — the Codfish II and Sandshifter — eight men, and an operating budget of $940,823. In their 24 years, county dredges have removed 2,188,676 cubic yards of sand, silt, gunk, and stuff from the floors of Cape Cod’s waterways.
And this year, the program’s 25th, two Outer Cape communities — Truro and Provincetown — contributed their muck to the running county tally. The Codfish II spent three weeks in Truro’s Pamet Harbor, moving 3,120 cubic yards of sand from its approach and inner channel to Corn Hill Beach for nourishment. Then, the Codfish II moved to Provincetown, for a project that was dinky by comparison: sucking 700-odd cubic yards of sand from the harbor breakwater’s northeast edge and depositing it at Court Street Landing.
The Codfish II’s Provincetown work should have taken a day. (In the same hypothetical vein, Provincetown Pier Manager Doug Boulanger would like to stress that “it should have been done last year — but we’re grateful that they came.”) Because of winds and tides, the parcel took two days — Dec. 21 and 22 — and this reporter spent that first day on the water.
In her three months on Cape, the Wellfleet Harbor dredge, Woods I — operated by Cashman Dredging, contracted first to the Army Corps of Engineers, then the town — became a local celebrity. The Codfish II has had no such luck. Woods I filled Wellfleet Harbor with clangs and groans each time her clamshell bucket swung, splashed, or opened. The Codfish II puts on less of a show.
She is an unassuming vessel, an Ellicott series 670 Dragon Dredge. Her hull measures 50 feet to Woods I’s 200-something. She has no crane, no bucket, no creaking cables. She is a hydraulic dredge, not a mechanical one. The drama happens below the water’s surface, where her six-blade cutterhead — 43 inches across — spins, agitating sand on the harbor floor. The cutterhead sits at the tip of a ladder (which looks precisely like a tube and nothing like a ladder, but no matter). It sucks the sand, airborne and swirling, through the ladder, aboard. The dredge’s engine room, humming, shoots it through that length of trailing pipe, onto whatever beach needs nourishment.
Anchored by a three-point system (one 43-foot spud, or pile, in the rear; two 500-pound weights on each side), the dredge crabs side to side, side to side, each time moving forward a few inches. A leverman — Cory Fleming in this case, whom Bevis called “the nicest guy you’ll ever meet; not a people person, but the nicest guy you’ll ever meet” — controls the cutterhead, spud position, winches, digging depth, engine horsepower. To him, progress is obvious. To the rest of the world, it is nearly imperceptible. The Codfish II crabs on, whirring all the while.
The dredge crew works 10 hours a day, six days a week, or seven, or zero, depending on the wind. Cold doesn’t matter — they bundle up. Bevis splits his time between the Codfish II and the Sandshifter. So does Ken Cirillo, county dredge administrator. They are always moving. Today, Bevis is dredging Provincetown. Tomorrow, he’s buying 4,600 gallons of fuel. Then he’s going south — with Cirillo, Fleming, and the rest of the crew — to crab, unassumingly, somewhere else.
Editor’s note: Due to a reporting error, an earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the number of gallons of fuel being bought by Ken Cirillo, the county dredge administrator. It was 4,600, not 46,000.