Sandwich is two distinct places: the Boat Basin at the east end of the Cape Cod Canal, and the town itself, a mile or so away along the coast towards Provincetown.
The Boat Basin is all business. There’s a Coast Guard Station, a commercial fishing fleet, and the power plant sitting a bit obtrusively in the background of everything. In the Basin, the town of Sandwich runs an efficient 24-hour-a-day marina where sailors enroute to someplace else wait for fair weather in Cape Cod Bay or a favorable current through the Canal.
Between the marina and a nearby mini-mall you’ll find a fuel dock, showers, grocery and liquor stores, a great chandlery, and a choice of good modest eateries — all with highway off-ramp convenience to major cruising routes.
But if your cruising schedule is unhurried, the old town of Sandwich is worth a visit on its merits. Walk that mile away from the Boat Basin to enjoy quiet streets with attractive houses, public gardens, unique local museums and a wider assortment of restaurants. Or walk a bit farther to the marshes and beaches facing Cape Cod Bay.
The slips just inside the Boat Basin on the right are used by the fishing fleet.
Anyone contemplating a visit to Sandwich should also read the Cape Cod Canal pages, and be familiar with the currents expected at the time of arrival and departure. It is possible to motor the short distance between the Sandwich Boat Basin and Cape Cod Bay against a foul current, but in the wrong circumstances it can be annoyingly slow or surprisingly bumpy.
The Boat Basin is about 3/4 of a mile into the Canal from the east end, and is labelled on the chart with its old designation ‘Harbor of Refuge’. A man-made harbor within the man-made Canal, there are few intuitive clues to its whereabouts, and the Basin entrance can be difficult to spot, especially at night. The small opening in the bulkhead is just east of the brightly lit power plant.
Once you’re abreast of the harbor, the way in is obvious, if a little narrow. Make plenty of allowance for the crosscurrent when you finally turn into the Basin — it runs hard right up to the edge of the Canal, then goes slack just inside the bulkhead.
Anchorages & Moorings
The old ‘Harbor of Refuge’ had room for maybe a dozen boats to anchor and a reputation for poor holding, dragging and bumping when the weather turned bad. So in the late 1980s the Army Corps of Engineers improved the Basin, and the Town established the marina, with the requirement from the Corps that 24 slips be set aside for transients.
Anchoring is no longer permitted in the Boat Basin, and there are no moorings.
The range lights next to the power plant are a nice reference for entering the Canal at night, but they’re not as prominent as they show on the chart.
Slips in the Boat Basin are managed by the town-owned Sandwich Marina. Tie-up is available for an hourly fee or an overnight rate.The marina is staffed 24 hours a day, and marina policy requires that you contact the office before tying up.
Reservations at the Sandwich Marina are strongly recommended. Busy weekends like 4th of July will book up before the season starts, while on most dates throughout the summer there will be space available. But it’s hard to predict when a 100 foot yacht will decide to occupy four cruising sailboat berths for the week. At the least, call the office in the morning of the day you plan to arrive to establish either a slip assignment or check-in procedure.
Remember that marina personnel are juggling transient boats of all sizes, headed in both directions, at all hours, based on the Canal currents. Calling the marina ahead of time by phone or on channel 9 will make docking go more smoothly.
Not for navigation. Charts are not up to date.
The area immediately around the Boat Basin has developed into a kind of destination in its own right. The paths along the Canal attract runners, bikers and ‘bladers. The marina and launch ramp draw boaters. And fishermen ply the banks of the Canal and the waters of Cape Cod Bay whenever the weather allows. So the foot traffic, boat traffic, and easy parking, along with the oddly compelling scenery of the Canal, have begotten among other things a little playground at the head of the Basin and the reliably good Aqua Grill — a sports bar-cum-seafood restaurant — next to the Marina.
Sandwich proper, however, grew up and prospered before the existence of the Canal, so the actual town is built around former stagecoach roads and rail lines, not the Boat Basin. It’s about a mile on foot from the marina to town, and the way isn’t obvious, neither from the ground nor the chart. Some directions and the local tourist map can prevent aimless wandering through the commercial zones outside of town.
Once in town, though, aimless wandering can be just the thing. Sandwich is compact, full of old houses, pretty streets and galleries, with the occasional pond or park.
East of town, a causeway and boardwalk cross Mill Creek to the beach on Town Neck. Acres of tidal creeks and salt marshes on either side are a nice complement to the industrial Canal and manicured village.
Thousands of residents and local businesses bought inscribed planks to help fund the reconstruction of the Sandwich Boardwalk following Hurricane Bob in 1991.
One Hour Ashore
The Boat Basin is pretty isolated; you’ll spend most of an hour crossing vast parking lots or walking busy roads to get inland. Instead, take a quick walk along the Canal to the entrance. It’s an effective way to check conditions outside. And watching a few boats go by will build appreciation for the current.
Off the Beaten Path
The boardwalk through the marshes east of town is popular with residents, but it’s a world away from the Canal.
The Cape Cod Canal Visitor Center, run by the Corps of Engineers, has nice exhibits on building the Canal a century ago and operating it today. The low, red-roofed building is just east of the marina. Free.
Take your pick of historic houses, the Sandwich Glass Museum, or the Thornton W. Burgess (“Peter Rabbit”) Museum.
Showers and restrooms are in a separate building, by the launch ramp at the head of the basin. Available 24 hours; get the combination from the dockmaster at check-in.
Dumpsters are across from the dock office, on the road to the showers.
The pamphlet “Walking Guide of Historic Sandwich Village”, available from the Marina Office, is helpful.
Diesel, water and ice are available at the Marina, along with pumpout facilities.
For groceries, a half mile outside of the Boat Basin, but before you get to town, is a mini-mall with a Stop & Shop.
Sandwich Ship Supply, a well-stocked marine store, is next to the mini-mall.