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USA: The Gulls of Monomoy Point, Cape Cod

October 27, 2010

I used to go to Monomoy Point when I was younger, with my brother in a 30′ Lyman that he owned.  It was a wild place, barely 6 miles from Harwich and yet a world apart.  The long spit of land that stuck into the ocean like a middle finger from Chatham had been uninhabited for many years and then turned into a wildlife refuge.  The interior was one big thicket of poison ivy without shade from the mid-day sun and of course there was no water if you didn’t bring your own.

1) The abandoned Monomoy Lighthouse, picked clean long before we explored it: video capture by Bruce Herring

There used to be a 1950s vintage wreck on the outside of Monomoy, the freighter Pendleton. The story of its crew’s rescue from fifty-foot breaking seas ranks as one of Cape Cod’s all-time feats of heroism, thanks to the Coast Guard men who braved those mind-boggling waves in small lifeboats to save the ship’s souls.

Kids in my day would brave its dangers and scramble aboard to explore the rusty hulk, which was removed completely some years ago.

2) Bruce working on his boat at the Harwich Port Boat Works: photo by Ken and Peg Herring

The old-timers used to tell of a man who lived on Monomoy and rowed a dory to work every day in Harwich Port.  A round trip commute of 10 miles – quite the feat, all things being equal.

Bruce eventually sold his boat – its twin V-8 propulsion system seemed to be based on the concept of compressing gasoline and shooting it from the exhaust valves on the transom – and afterward I didn’t venture often to Monomoy, having no convenient way to get there.  Once I approached it while sailing my parents’ Bullseye but the little sloop was slow and I only anchored and waded ashore briefly.

3) Wychmere Harbor, home to the Boat Works. If you’re good you can spot the schooner-rigged blue Tancook Whaler, built by my grandfather and his partner at the Boat Works; if you’re really good you’ll identify the two Bullseyes, lower center-left in the photo.  The Bullseye was one of the first fiberglass production boats and a longer version of the famous Herreshoff 12 1/12: photo by Ken and Peg Herring

But tourism never sleeps, to borrow a phrase, and at some point charter boats began to take tourists to Monomoy, chiefly to see the colonies of Harbor seals that had regained a foothold around Cape Cod and on the peninsula in particular.  Nowadays they are everywhere but in the early 1990s they were a novelty.

One fine summer day my parents hired a skippered runabout and we headed to Monomoy.  The captain beached the motorboat and we went ashore.

4) Ashore on Monomoy Point

What impressed me were not the seals – I mean you see one and the thrill is gone – but the incredible numbers of nesting gulls, Black-tipped and Herring, I believe.  They acted very social but also extremely protective of their ground nests, dive-bombing us if we got too close.  Not that we wished to disturb them.

5) Gulls nesting on a high bit of land

I was fascinated.  One usually thinks of seagulls as flying rodents, scavenging and looting their way through the human realm.  But here they were in the wild, acting like real birds!

6) Dangling his feet in the water, a gull gazes indifferently at something, but not me; Chatham is visible in the background

7) Doing their thing, maybe soaking up some sun on a break from fishing

I now have a greater appreciation for the lowly seagull but I’m not sure if the bias is a good one.

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