Charles Petzold

Navigating the Provincetown Breakwater

August 16, 2007
Provincetown, MA

Provincetown isn't all fun and parties. On the first full day of a three-day mini-vacation in P-Town MA, Deirdre, Deirdre's sister Alison, and I took a strenuous hike across the Provincetown breakwater.

Provincetown is pretty close to the tip of Cape Cod, and the dunes in this area are susceptible to wind and water erosion. Partially to protect against the ravages of tides, the breakwater was built in 1911. It's basically a wall of large stones about 25 feet wide and 1.2 miles in length through the harbor. It doesn't stop the tide. It's not a dam or a levee. But it dampens the tide by partially obstructing it. The breakwater starts in the center of this Google map and goes south:

Provincetown Breakwater - Start

The rocks on top of the breakwater in the center are large and fairly flat, with approximately level surfaces, and if you're really careful you can actually walk the 1.2 miles from one end to the other without breaking your neck. Kids do it particularly well — sometimes bounding from rock to rock in a wild crazy run. Grownups are more likely to be a little more hesitant while considering the consequences of slipping through the crevices between the rocks and hearing one's leg snap like a twig.

Here's me on the breakwater this morning with some of Provincetown in the distance behind me:

It's mentally exhausting because you really have to pay attention to every step you make on the rocks, and some of them are particularly tricky. We made it to the end, and then walked over the dunes to the beach, as shown here in this more zoomed-out view:

Provincetown Breakwater - End

If you move along that map to the right and up, you'll reach the tip of Cape Cod.

Of course, once you make it to the end of the breakwater without only a few potentially fatal slips, you have to walk all the way back. We were pretty tired afterwards and had a late lunch at Bubala's, where you can get a particularly nice salmon burger.

This afternoon was the Provincetown Carnival, a festive parade that defied gender expectations and prevailing standards of somber business attire. One of the highlights was a 150-foot long rainbow flag in commemoration of Massachusetts being the only state in the U.S. with full marriage equality.