With the right timing, you’ll see commercial fishermen unloading giant bluefin tuna, maybe a 600-pounder. The fish will probably be rushed to Boston and airfreighted to Japan for sushi.
The harborside walk leads from BismorePark past sightseeing boat docks and Spanky’s Clam Shack to AseltonMemorial Park and the new Cape CodMaritimeMuseum. Inside, museum volunteers are building a replica of an 1866 catboat designed by Herbert F. Crosby of Osterville, Mass. “[This summer] we’ll open exhibits on the Lifesaving Service, lighthouses and shipwrecks,” says Robert Hassey, administrator. When the exhibits open, The Little Boat Shop will move its small- craft building and repair business to the lower level.
AseltonPark stands at the end of Hyannis’ “Walk to the Sea,” which connects the harbor with downtown Main Street. The one-block brick path curves through the Village Green, where a statue honors Iyanough, the Wampanoag chief who aided area settlers in the early 1600s, and the origin of the Hyannis name.
The four blocks of downtown Main Street feature friendly shopkeepers and unique shops. Many carry resort clothing, tony name-brand items, hand-made jewelry and crafts. Some offer inexpensive souvenirs. Also along Main Street are the library, JohnF.KennedyHyannisMuseum, post office, banks, liquor store, deli/markets, bus and train depot, and a bowling alley.
Snacking is an art, with several coffee houses, delis and ice cream shops offering a variety of treats, including fresh baked goods. You can watch fudge being made at Kandy Korner.
Among the dozen or so downtown restaurants, locals agree The Black Cat across from BismorePark is “a fun place with a nautical ambience and excellent food.” Others recommend Alberto’s (“excellent Northern Italian food”), The Roof Bar (trendy), The Eclectic Café (gourmet cuisine) and Persey’s (for breakfast any time of day). “Tugboats [at Hyannis Marina], has great food, great atmosphere and spectacular sunset views over the harbor,” say several locals. Boaters gather at the marina’s poolside bar, Trader Ed’s. The Dockside Inn’s restaurant has modest prices and arguably the best harbor view in town. Farther afield are the highly recommended Road House Café and The Paddock Restaurant.
Thursday evening Main Street Festivals, films at Shaughnessy Theatre and live performances at Melody Tent open the nightlife. At several restaurants and pubs you can listen or dance the night away to live music — piano, bands, blues, folk, rock and more.
Golf, tennis and Cape Cod Baseball League games are nearby, but beach-going is the primary activity. BayviewBeach at the inner harbor entrance is only two blocks from Hyannis Marina. The free beach fills up early.
The seasonal “Hyannis Beaches Breeze” trolleys run daily every half hour from the TransportationCenter downtown to the outer harbor beaches.
A popular trolley stop on Ocean Avenue is the JFK Memorial. The adjacent Veteran’s Park has a bronze sculpture honoring the Cape’s Korean War veterans, plus a playground, picnic area and lifeguarded beach. Veteran’s Beach is a good place to watch sailing activities at Hyannis Yacht Club next door. The club sponsors races from Memorial Weekend into the fall, and hosts major one-design competitions, including the 2004 Sunfish World Championships.
The next stop is KalmusBeach, a sweeping south-facing crescent favored by swimmers, sunbathers and sailboarders. There’s a snack bar, changing rooms and picnic areas. The trolley loops back to town after stopping at Sea Street Beach and KeyesMemorialBeach.
Worth a drive or bicycle ride is Toad Hall in HyannisPort, where Bill Putman displays 58 red foreign sportscars. Putman, who owns Simmons Homestead Inn, raced sailboats before he raced Datsuns in the 1970s. He opened his museum in 2003 when his collection (including 12 Lotuses from 1960 to 2000) and other automobile memorabilia “got out of control — like Toad in ‘The Wind in the Willows,’ ” he says. All of the vehicles run, and Putman may pick up inn guests at the marina docks in a Jaguar or Lotus.
Rather than worry about finding a berth in Nantucket, you can make the 90-minute cruise aboard Hy-Line Cruises’ high-speed catamaran. Or take Cape Cod Central Railroad’s two-hour excursion ride or day trip to Sandwich. The railroad also offers Family Supper, Luncheon and Elegant Dinner Train rides.
You needn’t stray far from this tiny village of silver-gray shingled houses and white-steepled churches. Just relax and enjoy. That’s what Hyannis is all about.
How to get there
Hyannis — a major pleasure, commercial and excursion boating center — is midway along Cape Cod’s south shore. At the head of LewisBay lies the well-protected inner harbor and surrounding downtown.
“The 13-foot-deep approach channel through LewisBay is well-marked,” says assistant harbormaster Frank McKenna. “Coming into the harbor you have to dog leg twice, [the final turn is around the scale replica of Brant Island Lighthouse]. If you don’t pay attention, you may find yourself hard aground on EggIsland.” The heavy boat traffic, including the many Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard ferries, make paying attention imperative.
Inside the Hyannis breakwater, you’ll pass Hyannis Yacht Club to port off Green Can No. 15. Hyannis Marina is at the entrance of the inner harbor, to starboard. Beyond the Steamship Authority and several private docks are the village-run Gateway Marina, then the municipal docks and harbormaster’s office at BismorePark. Both are on the inner harbor’s western shore downtown.
McKenna warns that Gateway Marina and BismorePark fill up in summer. The harbormaster takes no reservations. “It’s first come, first served,” he says. “However, you can anchor just outside the inner harbor, and there’s lots of anchorage space across from the yacht club toward GreatIsland in 5 to 9 feet of water.”
Only Hyannis Marina sells gas and diesel. Both the marina and BismorePark offer pumpout service. Public heads are beside the harbormaster’s office and behind the Village Office on South Street.
A multitude of motels offer downtown lodgings. Anchor In and Dockside Inn, both at the head of the harbor, are within two blocks of Hyannis Marina. Simmons Homestead Inn, in HyannisPort, will pick up and deliver their guests to the docks.
Hyannis is convenient for crew changes because of its nearby airport, transportation center (on Main Street), and proximity to the Mid-Cape Highway (Route 6). Taxis and rental cars are available. The bicycle-carrying Hyannis “Breeze” buses access the supermarket, downtown, beaches and outlying shopping malls daily in season. Year-round buses run west to Falmouth and east to Orleans.
NOAA Chart No. 13229, South Coast of Cape Cod and Buzzards Bay, includes an insert of HyannisHarbor. No. 13237, Nantucket Sound and Approaches, may also be helpful.
Where to stay
• Hyannis Marina, a full-service resort marina, (508) 790-4000. VHF 9/72, www.hyannismarina.com , accommodates yachts to 200 feet LOA at floating docks with 8-foot depths. Rates are $3.25 a foot per night for boats to 80 feet LOA ($4 per foot for larger boats) including telephone and cable TV. Electricity is extra. Full repairs, showers, laundry, swimming pool, cabana bar, Tugboats Restaurant, wi-fi access, ships store, courtesy and rental cars on site. Walking distance to downtown. Reservations required.
• BismorePark, (508) 790-6273, VHF 16/9, has dockage for pleasure boats to 68 feet LOA in 8-foot depths. Gateway Marina’s floating docks at the head of the inner harbor accommodate boats to 25 feet LOA in shallower water. Both are $2.50 a foot per night.
• Hyannis Yacht Club, (508) 778-6100, offers members of reciprocating yacht clubs slips or moorings with launch service for boats under 60 feet LOA in 8.5-foot depths on a space-available basis. Showers and an excellent full restaurant. On the Trolley and Breeze bus routes.
• Aug. 7 — Pops by the Sea. Annual Boston Pops concert on the Village Green, 5-7 p.m. Phone: (877) 492-6647.
• August Wednesdays — BarnstableTown Band Concert. Village Green. Phone: (877) 492-6647.
• Late Sept. to early Oct. — Annual Giant Bluefin Tuna Tournament and Second Annual Octunafest. Up to 50 boats compete for up to $150,000 in prizes. HyannisMarina. (508) 790-4000, www.hyannismarina.com
• Oct. 2 — Cape Cod Oyster Fest. Music, food and entertainment on Main Street, noon to 6 p.m. Phone: (877) 492-6647.
• Hyannis Area Chamber of Commerce and JFKHyannisMuseum, (877) 492-6647, www.hyannis.com
• Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce, www.capecodchamber.org
Inside Kennedy’s ‘Summer White House’
In Hyannis, “John F. Kennedy was just Jack or dad …, without pretension and at peace,” says Walter Cronkite in the John F. Kennedy Hyannis Museum‘s introductory video. In the downtown museum you’ll get an intimate glimpse into our 35th president’s summer Camelot at HyannisPort.
The video sets the stage, as Cronkite narrates a quick history of the Kennedys on Cape Cod and establishes that for generations HyannisPort was, and remains, a place for Kennedy family reaffirmation.
Most of the 80 photos taken between 1934 and 1963 on the family compound show a young John F. Kennedy with his eight brothers and sisters, a touch football game with the crew of PT 109, JFK and Jackie, JFK and Caroline, the First Family sailing, John-John on his pony, JFK tooling around the compound in a golf cart overflowing with youngsters, and similar scenes.
Those activities were more than just summer pleasures. JFK considered Cape Cod an oasis that refreshed and reinvigorated him during times of crisis in Washington. “I always come back to the Cape and walk on the beach when I have a tough decision to make,” he wrote. “The Cape is the one place I can think and be alone.”
The Kennedy compound is best viewed in the museum’s photos, for HyannisPort residents guard each other’s privacy. From the harbor (in your own boat or aboard a narrated Hy-Line cruise), you can see five Kennedy homes, though JFK’s Summer White House is almost totally obscured by trees. From the land, fences and dense shrubs hide the homes, and youngsters no longer sell “Kennedy information, 10 cents” as they did decades ago.
Though JFK was assassinated more than 40 years ago, his spirit and faith in America still imbue the museum and the Kennedy Memorial in VeteransPark. JFK’s words carved around the memorial’s reflecting pool — “I believe it is important that this country sail and not be still in the harbor” — express his vision for America and his deep ties to the ocean.
Donations benefit the JFK Memorial Scholarship fund and the town’s youth sailing program.
The museum and the memorial draw thousands each year — from 38 states and 14 countries during one two-week period last fall. Some remember the Camelot era, and others first learn of JFK’s vigor, vision and commitment to public service.
“He was our 35th president and our neighbor,” says a Chamber of Commerce spokesperson. “We all share his love of the environment — Cape Cod — our special place on earth.”
Hooking a giant
Imagine catching a 1,000-pound giant bluefin tuna on a hook and line. Anglers come to Hyannis each fall just for that experience of hooking “a runaway freight train.”
“We’re the global hub for giant bluefin tuna fishing,” says John Bearse, better known as “Beezer,” assistant director of the Hyannis Anglers Club’s fifth annual Giant Bluefin Tuna Tournament last September. “Bluefin usually migrate along the continental shelf past Hyannis around the end of September. We’re the closest port — only 50 or 60 miles — from the canyons and the BB buoy [both hot fishing spots].”
Up to 50 sportfishing boats will participate in this year’s early October contest. In 2004 a fleet of 24 boats competed for $138,000 in prizes. Anglers fished from sunrise to sunset Friday and Saturday, until early afternoon Sunday. Nine “giants of the ocean” were landed on hook and line. The winner topped 700 pounds.
All fishing for giant bluefin is government-regulated, and anglers must have federal and state commercial permits. “Usually one fish per day per boat,” says Beezer. “To qualify in our tournament, a fish must be at least 73 inches.”
When the tuna are running, “Some guys go out every day, yet catch only one fish all season,” he says.
Why fish for giant bluefins? “For the challenge of finding, catching and bringing aboard the largest and strongest gamefish,” says Dan DeSantis, 41, of Easton, Mass. He keeps his 61-foot Garlington sportfisherman at Hyannis Marina each summer, and fishes every September and October day that he can spare from operating his Chevrolet dealership.
“Landing a giant bluefin can take 20 minutes to three hours, luckily not as long as the swordfishing scene in [Ernest Hemingway’s book] ‘Islands in the Stream,’ ” he says. Sometimes DeSantis and his captain, “Snick” (never called by his given name, Harry Acres), hoist the fish aboard with a block and tackle, but, “Usually we have enough adrenalin to pull in huge fish through the transom door,” says DeSantis.
Tournament fish are weighed “in the round.” Otherwise, anglers clean them at sea, taking “unbelievable care to make sure the meat is perfect and stays that way,” says Snick, 37, who has skippered for DeSantis for eight years. Most giant bluefin are flown to Japan for sushi.
When the bluefins aren’t running off Hyannis, DeSantis seeks yellowfin tuna, what he deems the best eating fish. He takes his buddies “fun fishing,” but only he and Snick fish the tournaments.
Snick takes the boat, Dealer Incentive, south each fall. DeSantis fishes for marlin and bluefish in the Bahamas, cobia off Florida, and sailfish off Isle Mujeres, Mexico. “I’ve got to keep practicing. All the variables keep us fishing. Once you land a giant bluefin, you’re bitten.”