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Pilgrim Monument, line drawing by Ewa Nogiec

Provincetown Harbor


Provincetown Harbor, Fishing Boats

In the past century the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built two granite structures in Provincetown that enhanced what was already one of New England's finest deep water ports.

The 'West End Breakwater,' as it is known in Provincetown, was completed in 1914.   While most visitors think it was built to provide a challenging walkway from the extreme West End of town to the splendid isolation of Long Point across the harbor, in fact, it was built to protect the Town from a potential break in the barrier beach known as Wood End. Such a break, which did occur in recent memory, would expose the Harbor to the vagaries of powerful southwest tides and winds of Cape Cod Bay which could inundate the Town's beachfront properties and piers in a 'perfect storm.'   The West End Breakwater is almost 1.5 miles long and remains exposed except for one small section during 'moon' high tides.  

The second project is a 'break wall' constructed in 1972 which protects the two remaining working piers in Provincetown, the municipally-owned MacMillan Pier and the privately-owned 'Cabral Pier,' also known locally as 'Fishermen's Wharf.' It is 2,500 feet in length and remains at least 15 feet above water except during southerly storm driven high tides. Normally Provincetown harbor experiences 12-foot tidal ranges.  

Besides protecting Provincetown's commercial fishing fleet and all the marine activity associated with the now dominant tourism industry, the granite structure also provides habitat for lobsters, mussels and cormorants, which nest and fish from it all year long.

In the 19 th century, at the zenith of Provincetown's commercial whaling and commercial fishing success, there were 52 wooden piers along the waterfront and oft times, literally, hundreds of offshore fishing vessels, such as Grand Banks fishing schooners, lying at anchor within Long Point's protective arm.   The piers and vessels were often damaged by powerful storms from southerly wind quadrants but in that era such destruction was considered just a cost of doing business, or at best, an act of God.  

In today's economies based on risk management and cost effectiveness, such exposure would prohibit the growth of new commercial and public enterprises on Provincetown's waterfront. Without the break wall protecting MacMillan Pier the $20 million which has been invested in it in the past 35 years by the local, state and federal government could not have been justified, no matter how beneficial it turned out to be.  

The negotiations between the Town of Provincetown and the U.S. Army Corps in 1970 to determine the 'cost-effectiveness' of building this break wall came to an impasse when it was determined that the length of the structure needed to protect the pier from prevailing southwest winds in the summer would exceed the Corp's cost-benefit ratios.

At that critical juncture it seemed that years of negotiations and applications would be for naught when Nick Wells, chairman of Town's volunteer negotiating committee, suggested to the engineers that they simply move the smaller structure nearer to shore in their plans.   With this change the numbers crunched favorably and Provincetown got its break wall from the federal government.   Along with the wall the Town also got Federal Harbor of Refuge status which establishes Provincetown Harbor as a good snug harbor for boats and ships of all sizes and drafts.

MacMillan Pier is named after Donald MacMillan, Provincetown hero and explorer, who in 1908 was on an expedition with Robert Peary hoping to reach the North Pole.

Provincetown Harbor, West End Breakwater

Provincetown Harbor, West End Breakwater with Wood End Lighthouse


Attention boat owners: check our Advice To Mariners page - click here...

Download Provincetown Harbor Guide (pdf file)


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Provincetown Fishing Boat Blue SkyClick here to see Provincetown Fishing Boats...


More photos of Provincetown Harbor, MacMillan Pier, Fisherman's Wharf and people of Provincetown:
4th of July
Swim for Life
Harbor Kids
Lobstering with Josh
Selina's Opening

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Provincetown Harbor, Breakwater Provincetown Harbor, Breakwater Provincetown Harbor, Ferry
Provincetown Harbor, Fishing Provincetown Harbor, Fishing Provincetown Harbormaster Office
Provincetown Harbor, Harbormaster Provincetown Harbor, Lobstering Provincetown Harbor, Morings
Provincetown Harbor, Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies Boat Provincetown Harbor, Public Access Provincetown Harbor, Provincetown Schooner Regatta Race
Provincetown Harbor, Swim for Life Provincetown Harbor, Town View Provincetown Harbor, Whale Watching Boats
Provincetown Portuguese Festival Provincetown Harbor, Fishermen's Wharf Provincetown Harbor, Tall Ship


Marine Supplies/Hardware Stores:
Lands End Marine Supply
337 Commercial Street
Conwell Lumber
21 Conwell Street





Photos © E. Nogiec


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Fishing Boat line drawing by Ewa Nogiec

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