Shoaling Leaves Chatham Marina Nearly Landlocked; Shuttle Will Take Boaters To Off-shore Moorings

By: Alan Pollock

Topics: Dredging

An aerial view of Outermost Harbor taken May 7 shows the narrow channel between the marina and open water. SPENCER KENNARD PHOTO

CHATHAM – Despite dredging this past winter, shoals have filled in the channel between Outermost Harbor and open water, making the marina inaccessible two hours either side of low tide.

The town has provided about 30 moorings in the open water off Morris Island where the marina will stage boats for its customers. During the times when the marina basin is inaccessible, customers will be shuttled to their vessels. At times boat owners will be shuttled from the marina basin to the clogged channel, where they will walk across the bar and hop on another shuttle to be taken to their moored vessel.

“It's obviously a challenging situation,” said marina owner Devin Kahn. The marina, located on Seagull Road in the Little Beach area south of Lighthouse Beach, has about 100 customers who are kept apprised of the times when the shuttle is necessary through a newsletter. The system is already in place, he said.

“It's actually worked out very well,” Kahn said Monday. “People are pretty understanding. They realize what we've done all winter.”

The marina owns a small dredge that worked this winter to clear a path through sand that is being swept south across the channel between the boat basin and open water. The marina also hired excavators, and with the permission of the town, dug out sand and deposited it on town property just north of the channel.

But the work had to stop because of state time of year limitations on dredging due to winter flounder and horseshoe crab spawning. The work can't resume now because there are piping plovers nesting on the sandy beaches created by the winter dredging.

Kahn said the marine is likely to face such challenges until North Beach extends south far enough to provide protection for the harbor, as it did in the past. How long that might be no one can say; since the April Fool's cut was created in 2017, the section of South Beach that previously sheltered Outermost has been frequently overwashed and is in the process of breaking apart, as predicted by scientists.

Harbormaster Stuart Smith agreed to provide the marina with moorings to the south, east of the Morris Island weather station, in an area designated as Chatham Harbor 5 on the town's mooring zone map. Unlike more desirable mooring fields, there is no waiting list for the area, which has “very, very limited public access,” Smith said.

“There's plenty of room because nobody can get there,” he said.

Because boat owners who keep their vessels at Outermost Marina have already paid a slip fee to the town, and the need for the moorings came up at the last minute, Smith said the marina won't be charged mooring fees this season. However, if the need for the moorings continues into next year, “we'll have to look at that,” he said.

There is some good news, Smith said. The Fool's Cut and the Morris Island channel haven't shoaled as much as expected and have improved over last year. So Outermost Marina customers, and indeed all mariners, will have more navigable waters than anticipated both to the north and south. That's not to say there isn't shoaling and tricky waters in either location; Smith said some parts of the Morris Island cut are barely passable at low tide. That area, as well as sections of the Stage Harbor entrance channel, was supposed to be dredged over the winter by Barnstable County, but the work was postponed due to mechanical problems with the dredge equipment.

Outermost's shuttle situation is temporary, Smith said, and many boaters can still access the marina around high tide, at least for now. Marina staff can take boats to and from the moorings as needed during high water. Further dredging may alleviate the problem, but because of the nesting piping plovers, that might not be possible until late July or even August, Smith said.

“It's so dynamic,” he said, noting that the waters east of the marina are basically now open ocean. “I don't know what the future will bring.” At a recent waterway advisory committee meeting, he said he's willing to work with the marina for now because “they have nowhere else to go.”

“I think it's important that we don't lose a marina,” Smith said. “We don't have many now.”