4. Lighthouse Overlook: Treacherous Waters

38 Main St.
Lighthouse Overlook: Treacherous Waters

Looking out over beautiful Lighthouse Beach, it is difficult to imagine that the waters beyond are some of the most treacherous along the Atlantic coast. Around the Lighthouse and this Overlook area are testaments to the problems these waters have caused sailors for hundreds of years.

It was in Pollack Rip, south and east of Monomoy, where the Mayflower turned back from its intended course, and ended up instead at Provincetown and then Plymouth. A nearby plaque located at eTour site #5 describes this historic turning point in more detail, and the eTour map shows the approximate location of this change of course, with a pin marked ’5a’.

From the earliest days of settlement along the coastline, shipwrecks and ships in distress have been part of Chatham’s history. Assistance started with simple huts for stranded sailors. Then U.S. life saving stations were first established in Chatham in 1872, where crews were ready to row out to aid distressed ships. There were four life savings stations in Chatham, from the southern tip of Monomoy, up to the Old Harbor station located on North Beach, at the point of pin number 7a on the eTour map.

Over the years, there have other memorable events, and hundreds of anonymous wrecks. The story of the Wadena barge is memorialized in the Mack Monument (eTour location 10), across the street and to the right of the Lighthouse. Visit its eTour page for this story. The Wadena was also stranded south of Monomoy, in the same treacherous waters that turned back the Mayflower.

The Pendleton rescue was another memorable and far more successful event. There is a plaque recounting the story near the beach stairs. It is point number 8 on the eTour; visit that point to hear about this dramatic rescue.

Far outnumbering those incidents that are remembered individually with monuments or plaques are the ships that were simply lost at sea, and crews that never returned home. The Unknown Sailors burial ground is the resting place of some of those whose dead bodies washed ashore at Chatham. This burial ground is location number 9 on the eTour.