Is This Marina The Nicest on Cape Cod?

Paul Butler and his family are in Harwich for the second time in as many weeks. Unlike most, they’ve dodged the traffic, opting instead to make the short trek from Bass River on their 25-foot Sea Breeze and Paul says it all has to do with Harwich’s new marina.

“It’s the nicest marina on Cape Cod right now, it’s absolutely beautiful,” he said gesturing out to the packed harbor on a bright sunny day. “There’s beautiful teak and mahogany. This is why we’re here for the second time. It’s wonderful.”

Saquatucket Harbor is in the late stages of a multi-million dollar renovation and even though temporary fencing and construction obstacles remain, reviews are pouring in and they’re glowing.

“People love it.” said Harwich’s Director of Natural Resources Heinz Proft. “To truly enjoy it you almost have to have seen the other harbor first. But even those first timers say ‘What a beautiful view,’ ‘What a beautiful harbor,’ ‘What a wonderful dock system.’ So we get those kind of pats on the back, but the boaters who were here in the past say ‘what an upgrade,’ ‘What a wonderful job,’ Oh I love this slip,’ ‘I love the docks.’ So just walking up and down doing our job we’re getting kudos.”

The project has been in the works for years, evolving through different concepts and designs, facing scrutiny on both budget and scope, critiqued and modified by town leadership and taxpayers.

Following the initial bidding process it became clear that the town would not be able to get everything they wanted for the price that they were willing to spend.

Original design plans came in with cost estimates over $5 million – $2 million more than had been allocated for the land work at town meeting. Cost resulted in a proposed dockside restaurant being scaled back to a smaller snack shack and a ticket office being downsized to a shed.

“I think the problem is that, you know, we were hoping that we could do everything for $3 million and the bids didn’t come in that way so we had to make some decisions,” said Town Administrator Cristopher Clark.

Proft said that while it took a lot of time and tough choices to get to the construction stage, in the end the back-and-forth with the community has made for a better project.

“Well to start, you had to get town support, you had to get input from boaters, and you had to get funding from other sources.” he explained. “It took time, but through that vetting process it went through some iterations and changes and eventually the project became a little bit more streamlined and with more input it just became a better, more solid project to complete.”

Even a non-boater can plainly see that what remains following the extensive approval process is impressive. It looks bigger. The new docking and slips are beautiful, the new buildings are well designed and suit the area without overpowering it. There is extensive decking, and walkways, and built-in benches which take advantage of the stunning view.

An actual boater has even more to appreciate. An extensive dredging project has made the area easier to navigate by removing about 17,000 cubic yards of sediment from the harbor. There are more slips for mooring your craft, and once you step off of the boat, the docks are wider, extend farther, and are more stable thanks to new pilings. The water and electrical systems have seen an upgrade as well.

Sitting in a small trailer which has served as his make-shift office throughout this busy summer season, Proft says that there are a number of things to consider when taking on a project like the one at Saquatucket Harbor.

“How do we arrange the boats? How do you arrange 20-foot, 30-foot, 40-foot, 50-foot spots?” he said, “We’re mixing commercial traffic with recreational boaters, we have a ferry that goes to Nantucket, we have seal watching, kids fishing, and sailboat charters. And a new marina brings new traffic to the boat ramp as well. So it was just balancing all that and I think we got what we wanted, it’s just how we did it, how we finalized those decisions.”

By September, harbor staff hope to ditch their temporary trailers for good and move into their new digs, just in time for business to cut down dramatically. That will give them time to get situated and make the facility operational.

Come next season it will all be done. Boaters returning to the harbor will find to caution tape, no cones, no construction material, no portable restrooms, no painters or builders. Instead they’ll see the culmination of years of planning, years of negotiation, and more than a year of actually honest-to-goodness demolition and rebuilding.

They’ll be offices for slip rental, or shellfish permits, there will be decks to enjoy the views, docks, and gangways, and slips, and a new snack shack to score a quick bite before or after a day on the water.

Even now though, even with the lingering inconveniences, even though it cost more than it was supposed to, even though things had to be changed and eliminated, the people out on the marina don’t seem aggrieved in the slightest – quite the opposite actually.

“I think it’s awesome.” said Len Griner, a charter boat captain who has been fishing out of Saquatucket for almost three decades.

“When you walk down the dock you don’t have to be an athlete anymore, the planks aren’t coming un-nailed. It was in definite need of renovation for sure,” he continued, “I think it is fantastic, I think it needed to be done, I think that the people that did it have done a great job so far, and I think the harbor master’s a rock star for putting it all together.”

By David Beatty
737 West Main Street
Hyannis, MA 02601
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