To tourists and residents alike, Cape Cod’s defining feature is the ocean and its connection to maritime culture.
For those with an interest in the Cape’s maritime past and present, the Cape Cod Maritime Museum in Hyannis, naturally overlooking Hyannis Harbor, boasts a vast gallery of history on such a vibrant element of Cape Cod’s culture. As you tour the museum, you find yourself becoming absorbed in the mariner culture and what it was like to live tied to the sea.
Here are some highlights:
The Sarah Project
In 2004, boat builder Mark Wilkins began constructing a replica of the Sarah cat boat, which was used for fishing and leisure around 1886. It is one of the few remaining wooden catboats on Cape Cod, and the new model honors the original with its similar design.
This particular exhibition conveys what a working catboat looked like in the late 1800s and its particular function at the time. The Sarah isn’t just a pretty face – every summer she sets sail on the waters of Hyannis Harbor, seating up to six people.
For more information about the Sarah, including cruises, click here.
Cook’s Boat Shop and Catboats to Clipper Ships exhibit
When you take a peek inside Cook’s Boat Shop, it’s almost as if you’ve left the museum and entered a backyard shed of legendary boat builder Pete Culler – whose extraordinary work is illuminated by the museum’s current exhibition – Catboats to Clipper Ships: Boatbuilding on Cape Cod.
This exhibit highlights the impact of Cape Cod on boat building, with interactive displays on lofting, planking, spar making, hand finishes, and block and tackle systems, as well as Past and Present Boat Builders of Cape Cod. In addition there are brief videos of boat building projects across the Cape, from Clipper Ships to Catboats.
Culler was an active boat builder from the 1950s-70s, building his own boat shop in his backyard and creating about 50 boats over this time span. He harbored an entrepreneurial spirit. If he couldn’t find a particular tool, he’d create it.
To this day, people who knew Pete during his golden days come into the museum excited to see this particular exhibition, with some even donating items of his that they have.
The boat shop itself is a working exhibit space of traditional and contemporary boat building, and restoration projects of historic Cape Cod water craft. Boat building classes, half hull model making, knot tying demonstrations and much more for all ages and levels.
Today, we can enjoy whales on whale watches from Provincetown or Barnstable harbors. Back in the 1800s, whales were more than extraordinary sights. They were a critical economic resource and one of the Cape’s main industries.
Right across from Cook’s Boat Shop is a display of old whaling techniques – as well as stories about the adventures by Cape Cod whaling crews. A whale log details the weather, boat course and amount of whale oil gathered during a whaling expedition. A page in the journal features multiple whale stamps, which indicates how many whales were caught that day.
Though a dangerous venture, whaling trips often turned into a family affair. It was not uncommon for the wives and children of whalers to accompany them on their journeys, providing a sense of home during their travels. In addition to fulfilling their traditional roles at the time such as cooking and sewing, women proved to be a vital part of the maritime process, assisting in navigation and maintain ship logs.
A famous shipyard in Dennis, the Shiverick Shipyard, was a boat building site in the 1800s. There, huge clipper ships year were built. Here at the Maritime Museum, you can view paintings of the shipyards, as well as actual photographs of the multiple boat sheds owned by each of the brothers who also ran the shipyard.
In addition to Shiverick, you are introduced to another unique element of boatbuilding on the Cape – the actual trees used. You learn how builders found suitable wood, visualizing what parts of the boat would be made from specific particular trees.
After the trees were marked, others would chop them down, documenting each part to be used for particular segments of the boat.
The museum has the largest collection on the Cape, donated by Elizabeth H. and William Graham.
While it acts as a beacon of history for the maritime culture on Cape Cod, the Cape Cod Maritime Museum also offers very contemporary exhibits and activities.
Downstairs is a fully operating boat shop, allowing residents to come in and build a boat.
Every Friday, a group of students ranging in grades 6 to 8 arrive form the Lighthouse Charter School in Harwich for their Youth Boatbuilding Program.
The Maritime Museum also offers a wide variety of courses that include a hands-on classes that teach you how to build a Beetle Cat; Spar Making, and even one on Sailors’ Valentines,.
Visit the museum. Click here