PROVINCETOWN — An evening aboard the schooner Hindu, watching the sun slip behind the monument and clouds light up like giant hydrangeas, has been a Provincetown tradition since 1946. Generations of tourists and locals have memories of their time aboard and many residents, including this reporter, have served as crew. If events had gone just slightly differently a couple of Fridays ago, memories are all that would be left of her.
PROVINCETOWN — The Commonwealth of Massachusetts is no closer to opening up nonessential businesses and relaxing social distancing rules than it was a week ago.
Last week, I wrote about how the bigger party fishing boats and whale watch boats would have to reduce their capacity if social distancing guidelines are still in place when boats for hire are allowed to do business again. For us on the Cee Jay, it would bring us down to 15 passengers per trip. We are certified for 40 passengers.
The six-passenger charter boat captains have an even bigger problem. With their smaller vessels, the six-foot separation parameter could be a deal breaker.
I asked a few Provincetown and Truro six-passenger charter boat captains about this and their answers were consistent: it would be nearly impossible to comply with such a restriction.
Capt. Russ Zawaduk of the Lisa Z said he was ready to roll with disinfectants and masks, but there was “no way” he could be compliant with the six-foot social distancing rule on his boat if reopening came with that requirement.
Capt. Rich Wood of Provincetown’s Beth Ann went further. “I’m OK with setting proper requirements in place,” he said, “but enforcement of that is nonexistent — just like regular enforcement of size limits. So why make a requirement when you can’t enforce it?”
That is an excellent point. Who exactly is going to be in charge of patrolling the waters to make sure all passengers are maintaining a six-foot distance from one another while fishing?
Capt. Elena Rice of Reel Deal Fishing Charters, which operates several boats out of Truro, echoed the general sentiment. “Keeping passengers consistently six feet apart, even on our largest boat [the 33-foot Invincible], is going to be challenging,” she said. “Depending on the sea conditions, sometimes passengers are safest and most protected all together on one side of the boat.”
Rice argued that fishing charter customers often arrive at the pier all in the same vehicle. “Therefore, this group has been within less than six feet in an enclosed vehicle and has made the decision that it is the same on the boat,” she said. “While our captains will do their best to keep anglers separate, they will not be six feet apart the whole time. Keeping the captain distanced from the customers is also a protocol we are implementing. The captain will need to distance him or herself as much as reasonably possible during the trip. In an emergency, the captain will decrease this distance as necessary.”
For those operating boats for hire, just being able to reopen is not the solution. They say they need to reopen without restrictions. Meanwhile, larger boats such as ferries, whale watching boats, and party fishing boats being forced to operate at one-third capacity may be similarly unsustainable. For the six-passenger charters, the only solution would be to take one or two people out at a time, at the six-passenger rate. That is going to be a tough sell for the average customer.
There have been protests at the State House this past week by boat owners and captains, and a few petitions are circulating on social media. But at the end of the day Gov. Charlie Baker is going to lean on the data in front of him, along with the input of medical and health professionals in deciding when we can operate and under what guidelines.
All we can do is hope for a timely, practical, and, most important, safe solution for us all, so we can get back to taking our customers out in a short season that is getting shorter by the day.
WELLFLEET — We built her in a garage in Syracuse, N.Y., a 23-foot cat ketch dory, small for a cruising boat. Ignoring Capt. Nat Herreshoff’s dictum that the only suitable color for a boat was white or black (and that only a fool would paint a boat black), we proceeded to paint the hull royal blue and, in a further affront to the good captain, outfitted her with red mainsail and yellow mizzen. We launched at Alexandria Bay, hoisted sail, and set off eastward down the St. Lawrence.
A few months later, we fetched up in Provincetown Harbor. Easy to find on a mild September night. We simply pointed the bow toward the monument, which was well lit in 1974.
We decided to winter over and continue south in the spring, but Provincetown worked its magic on us and for 22 years we lived in a small apartment in the far West End, just down the street from Manuel Furtado’s boatyard, now long gone. Instead of continuing south, we sold the dory and acquired a Beetle Cat, a fine, seaworthy little craft at 12 feet, 4 inches, and, at the time, the only one in town.
Launch day was not a fixed date. It coincided with what Henry Beston termed “the great rhythms of nature,” in our case, the flowering of the crab apple in our front yard. The mild weather would revive the tree and mark the uncovering of the Beetle, itself a transfigured cedar tree. As the blossoms unfolded and prepared to greet the spring, so did the boat until, on a particular day in mid-May, the tree stood forth in brilliant array and the boat returned to its mooring.
William Buckley once described big-boat ownership as akin to standing in a cold shower while tearing up $1,000 bills. Not so with the Beetle. Materials were few. The time-honored tasks of sanding, caulking, painting, varnishing, and checking the lines, sail, and standing rigging were satisfying. In fact, everything about sailing lends itself to learning new skills, from marlinspike work to weather awareness and a growing sense of self-reliance, which makes the Beetle an ideal boat for young sailors.
If help was needed, as when I was faced with replacing the deck canvas, advice was close at hand, freely and generously offered by Joe Andrews, Ray Merrill, and “Flyer” Santos, men whose knowledge of boats was encyclopedic.
For the sailor, Provincetown Harbor has hosted many interesting boats: Joe Andrews’s beautifully restored Ranger; Flyer Santos’s equally graceful Columbia; the leeboard Herreshoff Meadowlark; Ted Barker’s Tamerlane; schooners Hindu, Olad, and Bay Lady II; and Eskimos, Peapods, Dories, a Thistle, a Snipe, Lightnings, multihulls, twin keel boats, and a variety of larger cruising boats and visiting historical craft. Our modest little Beetle Cat was in good company.
I clearly remember the last time we launched the Beetle. It was a peaceful afternoon. The sky was full of portents. A half moon floated high in the east. Laughing gulls cruised over the beach, chortling. A kingfisher balanced patiently on a flagpole, scanning for shiners. A pair of orioles pillaged the cherry blossoms that drifted to the ground like early snow. The sky was cloudless, unwinking. We chose to interpret these as favorable signs. It would be a smooth launch.
Meanwhile, the crab apple blossoms were fully open, their color a deep rose. A robin patrolled the lawn and a house finch alighted in the tree near a cardinal. A breeze shuffled branches and birds as I brushed copper red bottom paint onto the hull, the last job before launching and my contribution to the yard’s burgeoning rubescence. All that remained was to send the Beetle down the ramp and walk her to the mooring.
A few days after launching the Beetle a stiff wind scattered the crab apple blossoms and heralded the start of a new sailing season and the unbounded sense of freedom that is the boat’s gift to those that sail them. As Joe Andrews put it, “Next to sailing is God.”