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Cape vacationers are weathering a chilly summer season

Rita Spear, 95, from Brooklyn, Conn., was protected from the wind while reading a book on Bank Street Beach in Harwich.
Rita Spear, 95, from Brooklyn, Conn., was protected from the wind while reading a book on Bank Street Beach in Harwich.John Tlumacki

YARMOUTH — Just before noon on Tuesday, Yarmouth’s Thatcher Beach was all but empty, an unusual sight for Cape Cod in July.

But then again, it also didn’t feel like Cape Cod in July. A brisk breeze shifted the temperature from relatively cool to downright cold under an overcast sky.

“This summer has been brutal,” said Jason Nolan, 41, a vacationer from Franklin, whose family was one of the few at play on the sand. After the pandemic, he said, “You’d hope it’d be perfect.”

Sean Cosentino (left) from Westchester, N.Y., and his cousin Caleb Callaway from Nashville stayed warm as they took a nap on Bank Street Beach. “It’s a bummer that the sun isn’t out,” Cosentino said.
Sean Cosentino (left) from Westchester, N.Y., and his cousin Caleb Callaway from Nashville stayed warm as they took a nap on Bank Street Beach. “It’s a bummer that the sun isn’t out,” Cosentino said. John Tlumacki

Throughout much of the summer season, the Cape has been chillier than normal — a disappointment to travelers who spent months planning high-dollar vacations and dreaming of sun-soaked fun at the shore.

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For those who skipped trips in 2020, the less-than-perfect conditions, with drenching rains over both Memorial Day and the Fourth of July, have spawned all the more frustration.

Earlier this week, some beachgoers huddled inside their cars to keep warm. Others opted for walks along the sand, bundled in sweatshirts and windbreakers instead of bikinis and trunks.

“It’s just totally unlucky. It’s never this bad,” said Todd Cirillo, 51, a vacationer from Whitman on a stroll with his wife. They hadn’t once braved the water on their four-day trip to the Cape.

“It’s a bummer,” Cirillo said. “This time of year, it’s supposed to be nice. It’s just wrong.”

Youngsters played in the surf at Coast Guard Beach.
Youngsters played in the surf at Coast Guard Beach.John Tlumacki

At Oyster Pond Beach in Chatham, about a dozen families spread their towels out on the sand, undeterred by the light drizzle. They crafted small sand castles and tossed balls on the beach, while a handful of children splashed in the shallows.

“When you have a 3½-year-old, you pretty much have to get out, no matter what,” said Rob Combs, 55, a vacationer from Connecticut.

He’s enjoyed just three “hot, beautiful, sunny days” during his 10-day stretch on the Cape, remarking, “We’ve had more bad days than we’ve had good days.”

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A family played miniature golf at Pirate’s Cove in South Yarmouth.
A family played miniature golf at Pirate’s Cove in South Yarmouth. John Tlumacki

When it’s too wet for water play, families like his are forced to find other outlets for their children. Combs rattled off a list of what he’s hit so far: a bowling alley, an indoor arcade, the Cape Cod Natural History Museum, shops, and the library.

“The Cape has always had to deal with less steady weather than other more tropical parts of the world, so there tends to be a lot of activities for people to do even when it’s not a great beach day,” said Paul Niedzwiecki, the CEO of the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce.

On Tuesday, dozens of like-minded families sought refuge from the morning’s mist at Pirate’s Cove Adventure Golf in South Yarmouth, where a line stretched out the door and parked cars spilled into an overflow lot.

Wally Geddis, 70, a vacationer from Easthampton who brought his grandchildren, said it was the “perfect” activity for such a chilly morning.

“You just go with the flow, and that’s why this is here,” he said.

Children from Sudbury and Weymouth posed for a group photo by their parents at a pirate statue at Pirate’s Cove miniature golf course in South Yarmouth.
Children from Sudbury and Weymouth posed for a group photo by their parents at a pirate statue at Pirate’s Cove miniature golf course in South Yarmouth.John Tlumacki

Other families flocked to the nearby Whydah Pirate Museum, where there was an hourlong wait for entry. Terry Bowes, a grandmother from Arlington, confirmed that the weather was behind her visit to the collection of pirate artifacts with her grandson, James Elliott, 8.

“That’s why we did this this morning,” she said.

James explained that the weather has “limited the time that we can spend at the beach.”

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“It can be sunny, and then basically straightaway to pouring,” he said. “Yesterday, I basically just stayed inside all day.”

People filled the sidewalk on Main Street in Chatham on a non-beach day.
People filled the sidewalk on Main Street in Chatham on a non-beach day. John Tlumacki

Meanwhile, in Chatham, Main Street buzzed with shoppers. There wasn’t a single open spot in the public lot, and pedestrians spilled over the edge of the sidewalk.

At the Eldredge Public Library, a local program for summer readers featuring live animals attracted over 100 children and parents, dozens of whom might otherwise have been at the beach.

At Chatham Penny Candy, a line of tourists stretched out the door.

“It’s crazy busy,” said Candace Bouffard, owner of Beach Bum Surf Co. “Every day it’s been like this in Chatham.”

People on a tour boat took photos of seals lying on a sand bar in Chatham Harbor across from the Chatham Fish Pier.
People on a tour boat took photos of seals lying on a sand bar in Chatham Harbor across from the Chatham Fish Pier.John Tlumacki

Unable to bask at the beach, “Everyone has been shopping and eating,” she explained. “On the sunny days, it’s dead, because everyone’s trying to go to the beach for like the one day that they can.”

“It’s been killer for business,” Bouffard said. She’s even had trouble stocking her shelves with enough shirts to keep pace with demand.

Nonetheless, Bouffard said, she feels bad for the tourists who are unable to enjoy the outdoors — and for the businesses that are weather-dependent, like boating and whale watching.

“It’s unfortunate that people are only here for a limited amount of time and the weather doesn’t cooperate and they don’t get to enjoy some of the beaches that we have,” Niedzwiecki of the Chamber of Commerce agreed.

Still, he said, the Cape is experiencing one of its busiest summers ever. And though there has been less buzz by the beaches, he said, there’s been “a lot more activity” on hiking trails and in the state forests.

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“We continue to see a lot of people that choose the Cape and are down here this summer,” Niedzwiecki said. “We’re just seeing them in slightly different places on days that aren’t great beach days.”

Matthew Lokey, 16, from Newtown, Conn., enjoyed the surf at Coast Guard Beach in Eastham.
Matthew Lokey, 16, from Newtown, Conn., enjoyed the surf at Coast Guard Beach in Eastham. John Tlumacki

Despite the weather, most vacationers said they were enjoying their trips to the Cape, and were glad that the state’s beloved seaside towns have returned to normal after COVID-19.

“It’s been a great vacation, awesome,” Combs said. “Going out for dinner, a lot more restaurants are fully open, it’s easier to get in places. It’s great.”

Kenneth Kaleida, 71, who made the 640-mile drive from Pittsburgh to Yarmouth, had no complaints as he sat by the beach with an e-book.

“Would I like it a little bit warmer? Sure,” he said. “But it’s OK. I like being at the Cape, so it’s not bad for me.”


Camille Caldera can be reached at camille.caldera@globe.com.