MacMillan Wharf

Bishop George Coleman of Fall River blessing F/V Donna Marie from the deck of Provincetown II, by David W. Dunlap (2011).

Bishop George Coleman of Fall River blessing F/V Donna Marie from the deck of Provincetown II, by David W. Dunlap (2011).

Stretching 1,450 feet, longer than 1 World Trade Center is tall, MacMillan Wharf is in many ways the heart of town, and its chief gateway. It embraces many users. First are the commercial fishermen, whose draggers and scallopers hug the east side of the wharf. Closer to shore, floating docks accommodate smaller commercial vessels, including lobstermen. On the west side is the terminus for two ferry services to Boston, where passengers queue up or disembark. Other crowds are drawn to the dolphin-nosed whale-watching vessels. Sailboats and charter boats complete the lively mix. And every June, the wharf is the setting for the Blessing of the Fleet by the Roman Catholic bishop of Fall River (the Most Rev. George Coleman in the picture above).

Harbormaster Rex McKinsey, by David W. Dunlap (2010).

Harbormaster Rex McKinsey, by David W. Dunlap (2010).

The beautiful dedicatory plaque by William Boogar calls this “MacMillan Wharf,” in honor of Rear Adm. Donald Baxter MacMillan, and “wharf” does come closer to describing this structure than “pier.” It was built by the Westcott Construction Company from 1955 to 1957 on pilings paralleling the older Town Wharf. After years of neglect under direct municipal supervision, MacMillan was rebuilt in 2002-2003 and placed under the aegis of the Provincetown Public Pier Corporation. Rex McKinsey was named manager in 2003. Two years later, he also became harbormaster. In 2005, the corporation initiated several projects: an octagonal open-air shelter at the end of the wharf, canopied waiting shelters along the west side, new restrooms, and an incident command post atop the harbormaster’s office.

MacMillan Wharf, by David W. Dunlap (2010).

MacMillan Wharf, by David W. Dunlap (2010).

Those shacks along the causeway are ticket offices for charter and recreational boating businesses. Near the foot of the wharf are four 10-by-20-foot sheds (two more are planned), designed by John Dowd, that are used by emerging artists and artisans. Other features include the sculpture Homage to the Fishermen (1991), by Richard Pepitone, donated by Berta Walker; and Bubbles the Humpback, a concrete creature salvaged and restored in 2008 by Julian Popko and family. Monies are being raised to erect a 10-foot-high, 14-foot-long bronze Provincetown Fishermen’s Memorial, created by Romolo Del Deo, “so that all entering and leaving the pier will be able to reflect upon the fishermen,” in the words of the Fishermen’s Memorial Committee.

Romolo Del Deo’s “Provincetown Fishermen’s Memorial,” final model of 2013, courtesy of Berta Walker Gallery.

Alongside the wharf is the “Portygee railway,” a cradle against which fishing vessels are propped for inspection and repair — rather than being taken to a marine railway. A boat will be tied fast at high tide. At low tide, still held upright, its hull will be almost fully exposed.

These days, the fleet is trying to cope with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s sector management program. Permits are too measly to reward a single owner, the fishermen say, which encourages their sale to large combines. By this process, individual vessels are slowly stripped of economic utility. They may look picturesque bobbing at the wharf, but they should be out on the water working. Yet it always seems premature to declare the death of the fishing industry. One keen observer noted mournfully: “The sea’s bottom is being plowed up and the ocean’s fertility gutted.” It was Mary Heaton Vorse. She was writing in 1942.

MacMillan Wharf, by David W. Dunlap (2008).

MacMillan Wharf, by David W. Dunlap (2008).

A few of the vessels currently or formerly moored here have included:

F/V Alison Marie
F/V All In
F/V Ancora Praia
F/V Antonio Jorge
Bay Lady II
F/V Blue Ocean
F/V Blue Skies
Dolphin VII, VIII, IX, X
F/V Donna Marie
F/V Glutton
F/V Helltown
F/V Jersey Princess I
My Yot
F/V Odysea
F/V Pam & Todd
F/V Pamet
F/V Probable Cause
Provincetown I, II, III, IV
F/V Richard & Arnold
F/V Sea Hunter
F/V Sentinel
F/V Teri M.
F/V Terra Nova
F/V Torsk
F/V Twin Lights

More than 2,000 buildings and vessels are searchable on The Building Provincetown book is available for purchase ($20) at Town Hall, Office of the Town Clerk, 260 Commercial Street, Provincetown 02657.

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