Tuesday 4 July 2023 – My first-ever Fourth of July in the USA! We had two activities to look forward to, the first of which was Chatham town’s 4th July Parade. The Sheas had kindly offered to bring seats for us and told us where and when to meet them on Main Street.
At first, the auguries were not too positive. It rained very hard at about 0830, and the visibility as we walked from the hotel was not something that was too encouraging. Some people, it was also clear, had other priorities.
However, foggy or not, the rain appeared to be in abeyance as we approached the town and we got our first inkling of the atmosphere of the day.
It was clear that people had been out very early, or late yesterday, or possibly both, putting chairs out to reserve a place.
Some had even planned for the earlier rain.
It’s a remarkable and lovely characteristic of the town’s celebration that no-one apparently stole or moved any chairs. I can’t see that happening in the UK. Generally, as we headed to our agreed meeting place, the feeling in the air was of extreme geniality, with people wishing each other “Happy Fourth!” and generally having a good time.
Many had made a special effort to dress for the day.
We met the Sheas a few minutes before the parade was due to start at 0930, and settled ourselves down to watch.
It was spectacular!
For about an hour, all sorts of groups of people, floats, vehicles and bands walked past. If you’ve 45 minutes to spare, you can watch it all here – though content is blocked in Russia, in the unlikely event you’re there at the moment.
There were some great old cars,
local organisations and society branches,
and, generally, much exuberant behaviour.
It was clear that a huge effort had gone into spiffing up floats and vehicles. Some of the trucks were huge and really beautifully polished up for the day.
All in all, it was a lovely experience, even if it was celebrating the fact that the USA had given us Brits a beating some 240 years ago.
The rain even held off for almost all of the parade, which was good of it. Afterwards we went to the Squire Tavern (one of the businesses which had made a contribution to the parade), where the place was simply soggy with atmosphere.
John pointed out one of the quirks of the place, which is its collection of licence plates, sent in by devotees who want their contributions on view for all to see.
Rather than repeat the excesses of two days ago, we cut and ran after a single drink and headed back to the hotel, to regroup for our second activity of the day – whale watching. For this we had to head to Barnstable, some 15 miles away, and board, along with many other revellers, a pretty substantial boat.
Just after we boarded, the heavens opened
which made me rather pessimistic about what the evening might hold. But, dammit, we’d paid for the ticket so we were jolly well going to stick with it.
The plan was that we would spend an hour or so getting from Barnstable past Provincetown harbour (which is right in the palm of the hand if you think of Cape Cod as an arm with a crooked elbow) and out into more open waters to look for whales. The lass who was doing the commentary pointed out that there was no way to detect where they were; we had to rely on luck and the skipper. Also, as we sped along, it was clear that, well, it wasn’t clear; visibility was dreadful. I therefore set my expectations really low and indulged in a bit of sporadic conversation with the people who were sharing our table.
The great thing about low expectations is that they are easily exceeded. After less then an hour, the word began to spread around that whales had been spotted. But, given the poor visibility and also my previous whale-watching experiences (where humpbacks typically were visible in the distance, best seen with binoculars or a long telephoto lens), I initially though that it wouldn’t be worth even bothering to take a look.
I’m glad that I changed my mind on that one.
If you have eight minutes to spare, take a look at what unfolded:
For those of you without the luxury of even that short time, here’s a summary.
When I did go for a look, there were actually a couple of humpback whales – a mother and her calf – close to the boat.
They were much closer than I’d ever been to a (live, swimming, not at Sea World) whale before.
Initially, they did little more than lazily swim around and occasionally surface to breathe (giving us a chance, being downwind at one point, to experience the true horror of whalitosis). But after a while, we got a brilliant display of tail waving, fin slapping and – most dramatic of all, of course – breaching.
It was spectacular – we were truly lucky to have such a great display, and so close to the boat. The skipper did really well to get close to the whales without disturbing them so that they continued to disport themselves; it even looked like the mother was waving to us with a fin at times.
After such an inauspicious start, the whale watching turned out to be a splendid experience, made all the more satisfactory because I got some decent video from it, because, as everyone knows, if you can’t share photos or videos, it didn’t happen.
The weather by this stage had cheered up a little
So it looked like we might also enjoy the final piece of the day’s entertainment – the firework display at Provincetown harbour, which we would watch from the water.
Sadly, the weather had other ideas about that, particularly as it started.
The fog did lift a little as the display continued
But then its own smoke started to obscure it.
So the July 4th fireworks were not as spectacular as we might have hoped (frankly we do just as good a job every November in Chobham). But that couldn’t diminish the pleasure we felt at having had such a rewarding experience watching whales at play. By the time we got back to the hotel it was really very late, but we’d had a great Fourth Of July.
I’m actually writing this at home, completing the Cape Cod story after a nice farewell lunch with the Sheas, grinding our way to Boston airport and flying back to the UK. It’s been a really excellent few days in Cape Cod – meeting new/old friends, experiencing the charm of Chatham and re-acquainting myself with the highs and lows of Gunpowder Gin.
We rarely revisit anywhere on our travels, on the basis that there are always fresh and new places to seek out, experience and (in my case) photograph). The Azores has been one exception, and I rather think that Cape Cod might be another. We both feel that there’s a lot more to explore in those 339 square miles.
So that is all for New England. After some three-and-a-half excellent weeks there, we now have to prepare for our next adventure, which starts in just over a month. Come back some time soon after August 12 to find out what that will be, won’t you?