William M. Dowd photos
PROVINCETOWN, MA -- The man in the bow held one oar out of the water, feathering the other to act as a rudder. His partner in the stern gamely kept pulling with both oars. Slowly, the chunky rowboat turned, its prow now aimed directly at the Provincetown II, the largest Cape Cod Bay scenic cruiser, which was moored to the foot of MacMillan Wharf.
With a little more maneuvering, its crew managed to bring it alongside the cruiser, but it was a precarious spot. The usually calm waters of Provincetown Harbor were churned up by a steady stream of boats making their way to the processional lineup at the other side of the wharf.
"Hey, Father!'' called a woman who had been hanging on the rail of the larger vessel, peering down at the rowboat bobbing 20 feet below. "Maybe you better bless 'em early. I don't think they can make it around again.''
The Rev. John Raposo of St. Peter's Church in Provincetown obligingly shook the aspergillum, and a spray of holy water droplets from the wand went over the side and onto the rowboat and its occupants.
The scene was five years ago at what then was the 53rd annual Blessing of the Fleet. It had begun 15 minutes early, with that small interloper jumping the line. But, hey, it was Father John's first crack at the job, and everyone likes to put his own stamp on an event.
This year, Blessing No. 58 took place as the culmination of a three-day festival each June that marries the pervasive Portuguese heritage with tourist kitsch, both endemic to this fishing port.
Parties, concerts, exhibits, fishing derbies for adults and kids, and the arrival of dozens upon dozens of boats of all sorts ushers in the high season for P-town.
On this sweltering Sunday, as the Cape Cod Fiddlers held forth on a makeshift stage down the wharf, and a procession carried a statue of St. Peter the apostle known as The Fisherman to the end of the wharf, the crowds gathered to walk the gangplank onto the Provincetown II to get the best view of the procession of boats.
The blessing originated as a special event for the fishing fleet, but it has grown in scope each year. This time it included speedboats, fishing boats, sightseeing boats, pontoon boats, the new Midnight Gambler that offers thrillseekers gaming tables offshore, even an inflatable one-man craft that made the rowboat look like a cabin cruiser.
Festooned with pennants and flags, crewed by girls in bikinis and shirtless, buff young men in cutoff jeans or by grease-stained working sailors, the boats passed in a seemingly endless parade.
The priest in charge of the blessing kept spritzing water, the boaters kept waving and whooping in return, and the crowd that had trooped onto the Provincetown II crowded the rail so energetically that the cruiser noticeably listed to port.
Summer in P-town, the pace at full bore and not slowing down until mid-September. At the northern tip of the Outer Cape, this town renowned for its art galleries, cafes, nightclubs, clever landscaped alleys, colorful cottages and guests houses and family-friendly/gay-friendly attitude will continue to be packed with strollers, shoppers, sightseers and assorted other folks.
The seasonal shops along narrow, bustling Commercial Street that runs the length of town are vying with the year-round businesses for tourist dollars. In a leisurely stroll, you come across everything from a Hallmark store to a drag nightclub, from fine dining to a saltwater taffy shop, from modern home decor offerings to antique finds.
A few of the major draws on the P-town schedule beyond the plethora of clubs, bistros, drag reviews, art exhibits, sunbathing, kite flying, bicycling, fishing, swimming, dune tours, sailing and dining:
Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum: The view of P-town from the monument tower (shown above) provides only one highlight of this institution which tells visitors a lot about Cape Cod history.
Theaters: C.A.P.E. Inc., Meetinghouse Theater, Provincetown Theater Company. Details for shows and tickets: (508) 487-2400.
Concerts: "Sundays at Five,'' a weekly program at the Universalist Meeting House, 236 Commercial St., of concerts featuring the music of Gershwin, Shostakovich, Mozart, Dvorak, Celtic and Irish traditional works and more at $10 a ticket. Reservations: (508) 487-2400.
Whale-watching: Cruises set out several times daily from a variety of competing slips on Macmillan Wharf. Stroll down and check out who is offering the best prices of the day. Cape Cod Bay is a fantastic place for seeing a variety of whales that come to the calm waters to feed, and some sightseeing boats offer free rainchecks if no behemoths are spotted.
ON THE WEB