A Cape Cod Notebook 7/8/08

ListenOuter Beach Overnights

BY Robert Finch

Over the past winter I've been following the fate of the cottages on Chatham's North Beach. The new break in the barrier beach occurred during November of 2006 and has continued to widen. As it has it has claimed more of the dwindling numbers of cottages that remain. I found myself feeling genuine sympathy for the owners of these cottages, some of which have been in the same family for generations. But I've also admired the way that most owners seem to be accepting the inevitable loss of these structures with philosophical resignation. In a way, these beach cottages represent the last waterfront structures on Cape Cod whose owners can afford to let them go without significant financial loss.

Still, I see them go with regret. I know the freedom from civilized discontent that these cottages celebrate, for I have something of a personal history with one of them. So I'd like to use this occasion to pay homage to them and add a couple of small stories to their legacy.

During my first summer on Cape Cod, I worked as a counselor at Camp Viking in South Orleans, one of a dozen or so sailing camps that once dotted the shores of Pleasant Bay. The camp owned one of the cottages on North Beach, known as the "Outer Beach Cabin." On occasion a couple of counselors would take their cabin's campers in a whaleboat across the bay for one or two overnights in the Outer Beach Cabin. These trips were always sparked with a spirit of adventure and even mild lawlessness that would surely not be tolerated now. Distinctions between counselor and camper tended to break down out on the beach, and sometimes we aided the boys in the prohibited, but universally-indulged-in nighttime activity of digging "beach buggy traps." A beach buggy trap consisted of digging a deep hole on the beach in one of the existing beach vehicle tracks that fishermen followed when driving down the beach for nighttime fishing. At dusk we would dig the hole two or three feet deep, then hide behind a dune, waiting for the next pair of headlights to come bouncing down the beach from the north. We watched in anticipation until one of the headlights suddenly dropped at an angle, signifying that we had "caught" a beach buggy in our trap. Then we stifled our conspiratorial laughter as a stream of profanity issued from the invisible driver.

But the peak experience of my Outer Beach adventures, and one that secured me a small immortality in the legends of the Outer Beach Cabin, came during the summer of 1962. One day Pete Ferreira and I took our cabin of boys, aged eight and nine, to the Outer Beach for an overnight. That evening, totally against all camp rules, Pete and I rigged a makeshift sail on the whaleboat from bed sheets and sailed several miles across the bay into Chatham Village. There we took all of the boys to see Sean Connery and Ursula Andress in the first ever James Bond movie, Dr. No. After the movie we took them all for ice-cream cones and then sailed back to the Outer Beach Cabin. Of course I'm appalled now at what we did, but whatever risk we took seemed insignificant in the light of the wide-eyed and unbelieving faces of those young boys as we sailed back across the bay under starlight. And though we swore them to secrecy about our adventure, I know that that moment still shines bright in many of their memories across the decades.