Andrew Buckley: Bowriders


The first time we took Tilikum down there, testing out the Mako’s range and speed, we ended up just inside the lee of the island. The ocean was just around the corner. Open and wild and powerful and indifferent. A cool, salt breeze played at different angle, first our face, then our knees and jumping at times to the hair on our arms. It was there and gone again, at unpredictable intervals.

Standing at the rail, we looked down into the water below us. Dark, so dark and deep beneath the near-glasslike surface. In less than a hundred yards we could look off and see three or four different sea states. Nantucket Sound’s slight one to three feet of waves, the rippled calm of pale green shallows of the island, the oceanic swells, and the criss-cross corduroy where currents collide and whirlpools form.

Much could be learned of the varied underwater topography by watching the surface. Here deep, there shallow, all bent to the will of the fantastic tidal forces of the Atlantic attempting to get around this threadbare point of sand and cobbles.

Peering over the bow, we saw silvery shimmers in the still deep. Minnows appeared everywhere. “Oh, I want to jump in,” declared Sofie, then 9. But I made sure I had a good hold of her. “No, no. Not here,” told her. “Definitely not. Where these fish are, there are stripers. Where there are stripers, there are seals. And where there are seals, in this deep of water so close to the ocean especially, there are sharks.” Although, I admired her willingness to jump into the void of watery space.

Me, I was more drawn to the beach beyond. That’s why we had come down. To see how far we could creep down the end of Monomoy, to test the boat, to see how it might handle the rough seas here – the closest one could come (at the time) to the open ocean from the south side of town – and to find a regular safe place to pull in.

For the latter, that meant coming along to the mouth of the creek leading to Big Station Pond. There were at least a hundred seals in the surrounding waters, and we stayed well away and slow. The smell of livestock mixed with the salt water indicated where not to go.

Eight miles down this strand from the mainland, and there were still a few boats with beachgoers. A few but well spread-out. After we anchored, fore-and-aft on a dropping tide, and waded a short distance to shore, we explored the mouth of a creek as it snaked inland, and then the beach as it led to its southernmost terminus. Lines of well-worn rocks indicated successive waves of beach accretion.

When the ocean hits the spot on the Outer Cape between the forearm and the wrist, it takes part of that and drops it on the northern end of Provincetown. The rest comes south, to here. The Powder Hole, shown once on maps as a safe little cove, now is safely snuggled in the dunes to the north, behind the wall of reeds that obscured it from our view as we hugged the shoreline.

To stand at Monomoy Point looking south is to experience that feeling one only finds at end-of-the-road places. Quoddy Head in Maine. Cape Flattery in Washington. Fort Zachary Taylor in Key West, Fla. Or Race Point in Ptown. The very end of the end of the road, where you at best find a path, and surprisingly often find a person or couple. These are usually places that are earned, maybe like mileposts on the Appalachian Trail. I’ve felt compelled at times to come here, or go to similar spots on the globe when far from home because of the similarity of feeling they hold.

I’ve begun to wonder why more people don’t come here, and I don’t think it is just the distance. There’s always been weird, as shellfishermen have said, once you get past the 1978 break between North and South Monomoy Islands. The further you went down, the stranger the energy. Spooky, creepy, like you expect to see long-dead sailors emerge from the dunes that filled their watery graves. Odd sounds, odd light. To spend the night here would provide the fuel for many ghost stories.

There’s always something tangible to bring back from here. Our front step has a collection of mementos from Monomoy Point. Strange stones that probably were lopped of the top of a mountain in Maine by a glacier and run through the multiple-millennia rock tumbler of the shore. Shells from various crabs and mollusks. Plenty of fish bones. Sometimes a skull of some yet-to-be determined mammal. Maybe even a perfectly serviceable bucket blown off a cargo ship from the Philippines bound for Europe. It seems important to hang on to these, with such an auspicious, secret provenance.

Thus is how monkey-brained bipeds have tried to make sense of the overwhelming natural phenomena unleashed at a collision of such geologic, oceanic and atmospheric energy. I think I come here, especially on bright, clear, calm days, to reassure myself. Water on three sides – left, right and center – with the most absurdly-frail bulwark behind me, like on the end of a pier or a bow of a ship, brings a sense of the enormity of the world and so a perspective on one’s own role and concerns.

The attraction to jump in among the endless, deep glittering beauty is there, and powerful. All one can do in this space is witness.