125 Commercial Street.
Station Provincetown manages, to a remarkable extent, to harmonize with its residential context. The Coast Guard Pier, however, is an unmistakable projection of federal presence and sovereignty. A concrete deck on concrete pilings, it is implacable, inscrutable, off-limits, spartan and really, really big. Nominally 1,400 feet long, the pier is actually closer to 1,700 feet if you count the protective L-shaped crook at the end. That’s almost one-third of a mile, equal to 6.7 Pilgrim Monuments laid end-to-end (as if anyone had the time and energy to lay 6.7 Pilgrim Monuments end-to-end). The crook forms a protective arm around the floating dock at which the search and rescue boats are berthed. When Station Provincetown opened in 1979, the Coast Guardsmen were finally united with their vessels. Until that time, crews had to travel roughly three miles from the barracks at Race Point, which had no mooring facilities, to MacMillan Wharf, where the boats were. “Separation of the station and its boats increases search and rescue response time,” the 1975 draft environmental statement observed, and “does not allow proper and necessary boat maintenance.”¹
Two 41-foot utility boats (UTBs) were assigned to Station Provincetown in the 1980s. A 47-foot motor lifeboat (MLB 47209) arrived in 1997. This remarkable craft, manufactured by Textron Systems, is said by the Coast Guard to be capable of righting itself in less than a half minute if it is overturned. (All the same, I don’t think I’d care to be aboard.) “The 47-foot MLB is designed to weather hurricane force winds and heavy seas, capable of surviving winds up to 50 knots, breaking surf up to 20 feet, seas up to 30 feet, and impacts up to 3 Gs,” the Coast Guard said. “They are self-bailing, self-right, almost unsinkable, and have a long cruising radius for their size.”
A 25-foot Defender-class response boat-small (RB-S) has also been assigned to Station Provincetown. Built by SAFE Boats International, it is capable of traveling up to 46 knots an hour, equivalent to a ground speed of 53 miles an hour. Though it looks like an inflatable boat, that prominent orange collar actually made of rigid polyethelyne foam. The Defender was “developed in direct response to the need for additional Homeland Security assets in the wake of the September 11th terrorist attacks,” the Coast Guard said.
In 2013, Station Provincetown received a 29-foot response boat-small (RB-S II), made by Metal Shark Boats, which calls it the Defiant. This vessel is gradually replacing the Defenders. Among other qualities, it offers the crew greatly improved visibility, with a virtually pillarless pilothouse. It’s designed to operate closer to shore in search and rescue missions, law enforcement, coastal security enforcement, interdiction, and environmental protection and response.
At the end of the 1,400-foot pier, a 300-foot, L-shaped crook protects the vessels berthed at Station Provincetown. Aerial photo taken in 2010 by David W. Dunlap.
The pier can actually look romantic at night, like a string of jewels, though Chief Petty Officer Paul Wells — who assumed command in 2009, the year this picture was made — took steps to reduce the station’s energy consumption, including the pier lights. David W. Dunlap.
Unlike most of the town’s wharves and piers, the deck and pilings of the Coast Guard pier are made of concrete. David W. Dunlap (2008).
David W. Dunlap (2011 and 2010).
The view back toward the West End from about halfway out on the pier. David W. Dunlap (2010).
A closeup of the L-shaped arm at the end of the pier shows that it presents an almost solid face to the sea. David W. Dunlap (2010).
The very end of the Coast Guard Pier points back toward town. David W. Dunlap (2010).
Forty-one-foot utility boats (UTBs) were the first to be assigned to Station Provincetown. This undated postcard comes from the collection of Salvador R. Vasques II and can be seen in My Provincetown Memorabilia Collection on Facebook.
The 47-foot motor lifeboat (MLB) and 25-foot response boat-small (RB-S) at the floating dock within the protective arm of the pier. David W. Dunlap (2010).
Left: Detail of the livery on the 47-foot MLB. The Coast Guard’s distinctive racing stripe was designed in 1964-1965 by Raymond Loewy-William Snaith Inc. Right: The stern of the MLB. David W. Dunlap (2010).
The 25-foot RB-S and 47-foot MLB docked at the end of the pier. David W. Dunlap (2010).
A brochure prepared by Textron Systems, Motor Lifeboat (MLB), shows what happens when a 35-foot wave hits the MLB. The boat rights itself. Imagine how this would have helped the 19th-century surfmen. Copyright © 2016 by Textron Inc.
The 25-foot RB-S, known as the Defender, on what looked like a relatively minor mission in August 2008. David W. Dunlap.
Occasionally, much larger Coast Guard vessels visit town. This is the medium-endurance cutter Escanaba (WMEC-907), stationed in Boston, seen over the Harbor Breakwater in April 2014. She is 270 feet long. David W. Dunlap.
The newer 29-foot rescue boat-small (RB-S II) is seen at right. The photo makes clear how much better the visibility is from this pilothouse, compared to the 25-foot RB-S. The undated photo, from the collection of Salvador R. Vasques III, can be seen in My Provincetown Memorabilia Collection on Facebook.
Two 47-foot MLBs can be seen over the pier deck at twilight. David W. Dunlap (2014).
¶ Last updated on 17 December 2018.
125 Commercial Street on the Town Map.
Also at 125 Commercial Street:
Thumbnail image: Photo, 2010, by David W. Dunlap.
For further reading online
• 29-foot response boat-small
Coast Guard Acquisition Directorate fact sheet (PDF).
Metal Shark Boats specification page.
• 47-foot motor lifeboat
Textron Systems Marine & Land Systems brochure (PDF).
¹ Proposed Coast Guard Station, Provincetown, Massachusetts, Draft Environmental Impact Statement, by the Commander, First Coast Guard District and Jason M. Cortell & Associates Inc., May 1975, Page 45.