CHATHAM – Stage Harbor is usually a pretty quiet place during the winter. This winter, however, a major construction project has been underway that will change the appearance and functionality of a very busy corner of the harbor.
The replacement of the Stage Harbor Yacht Club's wharf will complete the remaking of a small but important section of the harbor. A few years back the town did extensive renovations to Old Mill Boatyard to the east, and last year completed the replacement of the former trap dock which was purchased from the Eldredge family. It is now a commercial offloading facility used by local fishermen.
The yacht club wharf is the third and western-most dock along the stretch of shoreline. Built in 1957 as a commercial pier and purchased by the club in 2005, its replacement was the result of necessity.
“It was in rough shape,” said Commodore Regina Shakin. “It was to the point where it was really not a safe structure.” For a number of years the wharf was used only for storage. “To be honest, we weren't using it to its fullest” because of its condition, she said.
A water waterfront project like this requires significant planning, and the club began several years ago. At one point there were talks with the town about doing the club and trap dock replacement together, but the town was further ahead in the planning stages and each project had its own needs, Shakin said. Club officials stay in close contact with the town, she added. The facilities along the shore form a tight waterfront community.
“The ability to cooperate and co-exist in a really positive way is there,” she said. Both make use of the “sick bay,” an area carved out between the two piers where boats can pull in for repairs or emergencies.
The wharf replacement couldn't start until the town shut down the shellfish upwelling system at Old Mill Boatyard, which wasn't until around the middle of November. The work was done by Robert B. Our Company of Harwich, which did a “fabulous job, and they were on time,” Shakin said. Cape Coastal Builders is currently about 30 to 40 percent along in constructing the boathouse on the wharf, she said.
“It looks nice,” Harbormaster Stuart Smith said of the new wharf. “They did a great job. That spot looks a lot better than it did. It was truthfully ready to fall down.”
The work is on schedule to be completed by June 1, just in time for the club's summer program to begin the third week of that month.
“We are going to try to have a sailing program this summer,” Shakin said. A somewhat scaled-back program included 75 students last summer, about half of the usual number. None of the usual social activities were held at the club last summer. As COVID-19 restrictions ease up, she said there's hope that some of that might return. There's already been a health response for summer sailing lessons as families seek ways to get kids outdoors and away from screens. Eighteen new families have joined the club, Shakin said.
“We are very excited for our families to come back for the summer,” she said. The eight-week sailing program is “really all encompassing; it's community, friendships, you learn a healthy respect for water and the ocean.” The program had a big impact on her own children, two of whom went to a high school specifically because it had a sailing program; one daughter continued to sail in college, and all of her children said their best friends were those they made in the summer program.
The Stage Harbor Yacht Club was founded in 1932 and has about 325 to 340 individual and family members. Along with the new wharf, the summer program uses a pier to the west as well as the clubhouse on Champlain Road and sailing center on the beach just below. The new boathouse will help as a shelter during inclement weather as well as a place for instructions and for staff to take breaks out of the hot summer sun.
The club's sailing lessons accommodate kids from 6 to 18; its fleet includes about a dozen Sprites, used for instruction, 24 single-person Optis, 14 larger 420s, six day sailers and several other vessels which members can use. Members don't need to own their own boats, and scholarships are available for local youths.
The new wharf, designed by Chatham architects SV Designs, continues the tradition of a timber pier at the site, Shakin noted.
“It's what we're used to and what it always was,” she said. “I do believe that everybody will be pleased with the outcome.”