Posted on December 17, 2020
WELLFLEET — Two spotter scopes sit on a desk in the harbormaster building on the town pier. When necessary, Harbormaster Michael Flanagan will bring a scope upstairs to get a better read on what’s going on in the harbor.
Flanagan has kept an eye on the busy harbor for the last 22 years. He’ll take his last official look out over the waves on Dec. 31, when he retires.
Flanagan was appointed to the position in 1999, and for more than two decades he and his staff have enforced federal, state and local rules, regulations and bylaws.
They’ve towed in boats that have run out of gas or been otherwise disabled. They’ve rescued fishermen, boaters and marine mammals. They’ve put out boat fires. They’ve kept the peace.
They’ve kept up with mooring slips, waiting lists and slip renewals, and have chased down payments from people who try to drop in moorings without paying the fee.
Flanagan has also overseen some big projects during his tenure.
A state of the art septic system was put in and it’s $30,000 cost was paid for entirely through the Marina Enterprise Fund. The L-pier was rebuilt and rehabilitated with $700,000 of Housing and Urban Development funds.
In 2002, another HUD grant allowed the town to rebuild the south bulkhead with greenheart timbers, a special hardwood that isn’t pressure treated. The catwalks were removed and a floating dock system was rebuilt.
A rip rap revetment was rebuilt using stone from a dismantled Skaket Beach sea wall. The price of trucking the stone in was $3 million. The state paid half, and the rest was paid for again through the Marina Enterprise Fund.
“We don’t use taxpayer dollars,” Flanagan said. “Everything at the marina is paid for from the enterprise fund.”
“He’s dedicated to our harbor,” said Nancy Civetta, the town’s shellfish constable. “He recognizes the asset it is to our community both for locals and for visitors.”
Civettta and her staff work with the harbormaster staff daily.
“He’s always ready to jump on a boat and get out and help, whether it’s a boater in distress or he’s negotiating an altercation,” Civetta said.
A year or two ago, Flanagan got a call in the morning about two fishermen stranded off Indian Neck close to low tide. Flanagan and Assistant Harbormaster Will Sullivan found the two in waist-deep freezing water, close to hypothermic.
“They understood the seriousness of it,” Flanagan said. “Will and I saved two lives that day.”
Flanagan was lucky to get the town’s 16-foot workboat out of the harbor. The harbor has collected so much silt since it was last dredged in 2002 that boaters can’t get in or out at low tide. Flanagan calls it a public safety issue, and there are plans underway to dredge the harbor next year.
Dredging of the federal channel by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, however, finished last month. The last time it was dredged was in 1995.
Another dredging operation has begun on the North Anchorage area near the transient docks, fuel docks and launch ramp. Workers have until Dec. 31 to do as much dredging as they can before the right whale migration starts.
“He really worked hard for the town to make this happen,” Civetta said.
Select Board Vice Chairwoman Janet Reinhart agreed.
“He got a great group of people together to get the dredging done,” she said.
Assistant Shellfish Constable John Mankevetch, a.k.a. Johnny Clam, has worked with Flanagan for more than 25 years. He credits Flanagan with the success of Wellfleet’s robust shellfishing fleet.
“He runs a wonderful harbor,” Mankevetch said. “Anytime you needed a little something extra, he’d help. Boaters could always count on him for a tow in or any other service.”
Mankevetch recounted the time he “foolishly ran out of gas” in the harbor. Flanagan showed up in 15 minutes with fuel to get him going again.
And Flanagan hasn’t just helped humans. He and his staff have been called on when marine mammals have been stranded, whether it be dolphins, turtles or whales. His staff recently towed in a dead minke whale so the International Fund for Animal Welfare could perform a necropsy on it. They have also rescued Kemp’s ridley and other sea turtles during cold stranding seasons.
Wellfleet Harbor has long catered to the local fishing community, and Flanagan hopes it will continue that way after he departs his post. But he sees challenges ahead. He’s afraid of the gentrification of the harbor, that the influx of wealthy property owners could displace those who work on the harbor daily. He doesn’t want to see gates on the gangways or parking restricted.
“That, to me, is not Wellfleet,” he said. “I’d hate to see that happen.”
A longtime commercial shellfisherman, Flanagan said he plans to do more sport fishing in retirement, and he intends to be active on the tidal flats.
His wife also has plans for him.
“I’m going to do whatever my wife tells me to do,” he said with a laugh. “She has a list.”
Contact Denise Coffey at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter: @DeniseCoffeyCCT.