WELLFLEET — “Look,” said Carin Pierce, standing on the marina in Wellfleet, one hand on her poodle and the other pointing waterward. “It’s scooping!”
Since the long-awaited Wellfleet Harbor dredging project, a federal initiative run by the Army Corps of Engineers and contracted to Quincy-based Cashman Dredging, began on Oct. 1, it’s brought several thousand cubic yards of mud, silt, and other gunk out of the harbor — and brought several dozen enthusiastic dredge-watchers to the pier.
Take Wellfleet resident Pierce, who visits the dredge daily with poodles (and sometimes friends) in tow. Or Ginie Page: not an every-day fanatic, but still a connoisseur, who said every time she comes to watch, she runs into someone she knows. Or Eastham’s Steve and Judy Mansur, both retired “and just looking, well, for things to do.”
Sunny afternoons see Tupperware and takeout lunches dotting nearly every marina bench. At night, four beacons light the dredge, and cars idle in the parking lot — heaters on, headlights beaming out.
“I can’t say I’ve seen a place so excited about dredging before,” said one Cashman employee. “But people here just seem to really like it.”
The dredging operation shudders along, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, through what appears to be about a 41-second cycle. Our world may seem unpredictable; the Wellfleet dredge does not.
Here is a glossary of relevant terms: barge, crane, dredge, scow, spud. A spud is a pile, an anchor, a noun, a verb. To set up, one spuds the dredge — which, so spudded, begins to turn. It spins first away from its neighboring machinery: the barge, 255 feet of welded steel. On the barge sits the scow; in the scow goes the mud. Which arrives there thanks to the dredge’s crane, from which dangles the Army Corps of Engineers’ environmental clamshell bucket — russet, and the operation’s star.
The dredge turns toward open water. Cables whine; the crane sags. The bucket descends, splashes, sinks. For an instant, movement stops. Then cables winch, bucket surfaces, dredge swings. With a creak, a groan, even a boom, on occasion, the clamshell opens, and 15 cubic yards of muck pour scow-ward. Forty-one seconds, give or take. Repeat.
The dredging operation does not thrill. Even its admirers recognize this.
“There’s not a whole lot to say about it,” said Pierce. From Steve Mansur, grading his retirement hobbies: “I wouldn’t say watching the dredge ranks real high.”
But thrills are not the point. From Judy to Steve: “It does rank high!”
Gary Gula, a New London, Conn., resident who heard about the spectacle from a friend at Massasoit Hills Trailer Park, called the operation “amazing.”
“It’s just fascinating,” said Pat Behan, of Yarmouth, a first-time dredge-watcher. “Such an enormous piece of equipment. And to know what a difference it’ll make.”
“It’s entertainment,” said Ginie Page. “I watch it and I wonder how many quahogs are in there, how many little shellfish are in there. I wonder about how much muck is down there, about how many pounds they’re pulling up — I just sit here, and I wonder.”
And besides, said Page, it’s Wellfleet.
“We all come down and watch the osprey when they first come back,” she said. “We all come down and watch people pull their boats out. We all come down and take a stroll around the pier every so often. Of course we’re watching this.”