Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Another Provincetown Story - The Three Hour Tour

Ptown Harbor And Cape Cod Bay
Viewed From The Boat Slip in Ptown
(c) Frank DeFrancesco 2012

(A fictionalized account based on actual events.  The names have been changed, or have they? etc….)

            We had arrived at Coastal Acres, the only campground within walking distance of Provincetown around mid-morning on the day after Labor Day.  We spent an hour or more setting up camp and making it homey and comfortable for the two weeks we’d be there. My partner, Leon and I always vacationed in September because, as we told our friends, September at the Cape was the best time of the summer.  Not only were there fewer tourists, but children were back at school and the weather, barring a hurricane, was usually spectacular.

            We had met many nice people at the campground over the years; many were seasonals or September regulars, and a few were friends we got together with off-season as well.  Sebby DeVito was one of the seasonals who had a large RV, a truck, a boat, a motorcycle and other toys he could not afford.  Sebby would never admit it, but his boyfriend Kyle contributed more than his share of the expenses, even though he did not always share in the fun.

            Whenever we were in Ptown, Sebby would get Leon to help him with some maintenance chore or other, like getting his boat out of the bay when a storm was approaching; or helping dump his holding tank; or cleaning the carpet in his camper; or driving his drag personna through town in a convertible to the tune of Where The Boys Are.

            During this particular September, the long-term weather report looked good and Sebby’s boat was still in the water.  Now you must know that in all the years we knew Sebby, we had been invited to go boating with him three times at most.  So when he came over to ask if we wanted to go for ride, we jumped at the chance.  It’s not often we get out on a boat of any kind and even though Sebby’s was a fishing boat and didn’t have very comfortable seating – well, a boat ride, is a boat ride.  So we said, “Sure.”

            We walked and fed the dog and left him in the camper with instructions to the neighbor to tie him out for a while if he got to squealing and whining.  “We should be back in a few hours, so he shouldn’t be a problem,” we assured them.  It was just after two o’clock when Sebby, Kyle, Lee and I headed out to the marina.  It was an absolutely gorgeous day as September days often are on the Cape.

            “I was thinking of going down to Wellfleet harbor to check out some of the other guys’ boats.  It’s about an hour from here.” Sebby said.  We all got into Sebby’s dinghy and rowed out to the “Darling B.” which was moored well beyond the low tide water.  After tying off the dinghy and getting our gear aboard, we finally got underway around three in the afternoon. 

            Kyle and Lee discussed the latest episodes of Doctor Who, I enjoyed the sun, the ocean view and the motion of the boat while Sebby navigated the waters. Someone chimed in with a rendition of the theme song from Gilligan’s Island and all but Sebby joined in.  Sebby was not amused.

            We took a leisurely cruise past Wellfleet then circled back toward the harbor. We arrived at Wellfleet Harbor in a little over an hour and a half.  After tying up the boat, we disembarked and walked around the harbor for a while.  Sebby pointed out all the most luxurious yachts in the marina and made it sound like any one of them would be his when he decided it was time to trade up. 

            I haven’t mentioned that Sebby was a charmer.  He could charm the skin off a snake and then sell it back at profit.  He had gotten more than one entire summer off from work after an injury by consulting with his personal physician who he affectionately referred to as “Doctor Summeroff”. Somehow the broken toe or the back injury didn’t stop him from enjoying the boat or cruising for tricks.

            Sebby would brag about pretending to be an RV repair business and get special deals on camper parts or warrantees.  He had Kyle convinced that he needed this or that, and would get Kyle to put it on his charge card with an empty promise to make the payments.  He always fell back on the concept that partners shared everything, but not necessarily equally.  More like, ‘what’s yours is mine and what’s mine is mine, and what’s ours is mine too.”  So trading up might not be entirely out of the question if he could get Kyle charmed up to it.  Kyle was in debt up to his ears.

            We were all getting a bit hungry so we decided to stop for some fish and chips at the eatery on the dock.  We enjoyed our meal on the dock while we watched the sun over the water turn the sky crimson and gold.  “Red sky at night, sailors’ delight,” said Sebby.  He had a way with words.  Kyle mumbled something like “We need to get going before the tide goes out any further.  This is Wellfleet, you know.”

            Sebby shushed him off with, “Yeah, yeah, we got plenty of time.  I just want to take a look at that forty-footer at the end of the dock.”  We strolled down the dock.  Kyle was getting more upset and gave Sebby another warning.  “Yeah,” Sebby said, making it look like his idea, “I guess we should be going.”

            We boarded Sebby’s fishing boat, he started up the engine and we headed out of the harbor.  Sebby, in all his swagger and charm played the captain well. It was twilight and I had difficulty finding the channel buoys bobbing in the bay.  They were way out there, but I have a little night-blindness and don’t see well in twilight or in the dark, so I trusted in the sharper eyesight of others.

            Kyle reminded Sebby that Wellfleet Harbor and the bay was a virtual maze of shoals and sandbars and other obstructions, “Sebby, make sure we are in the channel. You know that the bottom can change from year to year and there are rocks and there’s even a sunken ship hull out here.”

            “You think I’m stupid?  I’ve been boating out here for years before I met you.  I know what I’m doing.”  Sebby tried to make it a point that HE was the captain of his ship.  We were heading out toward the sunset at a pretty good clip while Lee, Kyle and Sebby were straining their eyes to spot the next marker buoy for the channel.  They all agreed that the channel buoys seemed awfully far apart.

            We spotted a little skiff coming in and Sebby and Kyle flagged him down so he approached us about thirty feet off of our port side.  “Are we on course for the channel?”  Sebby shouted out. 

            “No. You need to head out about forty degrees to port and go until you see the marker number three.  Then you can turn back to your right and out into the bay.”

            “Thanks,” we all shouted back in unison.  Sebby veered off to the left in the direction the guy on the skiff pointed. But before anyone had even spotted the number three marker, Sebby turned the boat sharply toward the right in the direction of Provincetown harbor and gunned the engine.  Lee said, “Sebby, I think you turned too soon.  We should be going that way.”  Lee pointed off to the left.

            “I know what I’m doing.  I’m following the channel,” Sebby replied in a tone that meant he was not about to discuss his decision to turn off the original course.  Lee and I knew from previous experience not to argue the point.  We sat back and tried to enjoy the ride.  We were moving quickly and the boat was thumping against the waves.  There were wisps of clouds on the horizon reflecting the last purple and rose light of evening but the rest of the sky was dark.  A few stars were already visible.

            Like most fishing boats, the Darling B. was equipped with a depth finder which was busily reporting the distance to the bottom of the bay.  “12.5”, “13.0”, “11.5”, “8.5”, “9.0”, “6.5”. We were about three miles out of the marina.  Lee was studying the changing numbers.  Finally he spoke up: “Sebby, the depth finder is saying “5.0” and “5.5” and “4.5” and “3.0” and what does “minus dot minus” mean?”

            “Holy shit!” Sebby exclaimed in his official Captain voice.  He cut the engine just as the boat abruptly halted as it burrowed itself into a sandbar, a section of the infamous Billingsgate Shoal more than three miles off shore.  The boat hesitated briefly then listed to the right.  Sebby looked defeated.
            Sebby and Kyle immediately went into George and Martha mode.  “Didn’t I say the tide was going out?  And you should know that’s a big deal at Wellfleet, especially at sundown.  But you’re the big know-it-all Captain who doesn’t know shit.  You turned way too soon. Now you’ve got us all stuck out here in the friggin’ dark”, Kyle attacked Sebby with every accusation he could think of.

            “I went the way that guy said.  He was the one who was wrong.  I shouldn’t have listened to him.  I was on the right course to begin with,” Sebby tried lamely to defend his position.  “So now it’s my fault.  You think you know how to navigate?  You don’t know anything about navigation.  I’ve taken the course.  I’m certified.”

            “A whole lot of good that does us.  I’ve been sailing boats since I was eight and I know this harbor.  You’ve got to follow the channel way out beyond the shoal, Kyle retorted.  “You do this all the time, Sebastian.  You are so fucking stubborn and won’t listen to anyone.  That’s why I didn’t say anything – I wanted the responsibility for this to be all yours.  Maybe you’ll learn that you don’t know it all.” 

            Kyle was livid.   Sebby was obstinate.  Lee and I were quiet.  We decided that getting into the middle of this would get us nowhere.  I noticed that there were iridescent sea creatures that glowed eerily in the shallow waters off of Cape Cod.  Something I never knew.  The knowledge of these creatures would make this whole fiasco worth living through, I was certain.

            We were in shorts and t-shirts.  There was a breeze and the day’s heat was quickly dissipating as it usually does on September nights.  Sebby attached the removable plastic windshield around the cabin to keep us from shivering.  We had cell phones and someone suggested calling the Coast Guard.

            “Like that’ll do us any good.” I said.  “How would they get to us and even if they could, they wouldn’t be able to get us out of here until the tide comes in anyhow.”

            “You’re right,” Kyle said.  “We’ll just have to wait it out.”

            “Our dog is in the camper.  We’ve never left him for this long.  Can we call someone at the campground to take him out to pee?” Lee asked.

            “I’ll give Dave a call. I’m sure he won’t mind,” Kyle said.

            Sebby just sulked and tried to look captain-like. The tide sloshed against the sides of the boat and slowly lifted the Darling B.  It must have been three or four hours until the tide was high enough and the keel was free of the of the sandbar.  Sebby started the engine and put the boat in motion.  He slowly eased us into deeper waters and finally listened to some advice from Kyle and Lee about the best course to get back into the channel.  He did this to avoid a mutiny.

            We got into the open waters of the bay and headed toward Provincetown.  Pilgrim Monument, the tallest structure in Ptown was lit and visible.  Sebby headed toward it.  But Kyle reminded our illustrious “certified” Captain that Long Point, the narrow stretch of the peninsula that juts out into the bay and was between us and the harbor. “Sebby, if we head straight toward the Monument we’ll be beached on Long Point before we see the harbor.”

            Sebby, heeding Kyle's warning, successfully navigated around the point and into Provincetown harbor.  We moored the boat, took the dinghy back to the shore in front of the Boat Slip - the hotel and club noted for its daily T-Dance.  The place was quiet at twelve-thirty AM as we made our way back to camp.

            The next morning I went into town and found a place mat at one of the souvenir shops.  It depicted a navigation and ocean depth chart of Cape Cod Bay and Wellfleet Harbor.  I couldn’t resist.

            I presented the gift to Sebby and suggested that he put it on the dining table and study it each morning while sipping his coffee, so the his next “three hour tour” doesn’t get stranded for twelve.  Sebby was not amused.
Walkway To The Moorings Near The Boat Slip Hotel






  1. One thing you never want to hear your captain say is "Holy Shit!".....

  2. Sounds like you guys had a really good time.

    If my real estate venture plays out the way I've forecast, It'll set me up with an annual income that will allow me to do all sorts of thing. Maybe buy a nice little villa in Southern Italy for a winter retreat, etc. But one of the things I want is the Volkswagen T5 California. I'll need a van and having one that doubles as a camper is great.

  3. "Sebby was not amused." I think you're lucky you didn't get a fork in your neck.

    I can relate to Sebby, for my life has been a series of one stupid act after another. This move is so me.

  4. The other phrase to watch for, in lots of circumstances is "trust me."
    Yes it was fun if you consider shivering with cold while stranded on a sandbar for four hours in the dark three miles offshore fun. The only entertainment was watching the friends argue like Richard Burton and Liz Taylor (George and Martha) in "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?"
    I think Sebby went a little beyond a "stupid act" on this occasion. We were lucky the boat floated when the tide came in.

  5. Experience is a great teacher, I hope Sebby learned his lesson.

    The gift of the navigation chart is priceless. I would have done the same thing, probably with some choice words too.



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