PROVINCETOWN -- There are few things more peaceful than having the whole beach to yourself in Provincetown in the middle of summer.
Stop laughing. You must not know about Long Point.
Most visitors consider that squat white-and-black lighthouse across Provincetown Harbor merely a picturesque view taken in amid the shopping and socializing of Commercial Street. But the narrow spit of land Long Point Light sits on makes up the very tip of the curving Cape, and offers the same blue-sky expanses, white-sand beaches, breeze-blown dune grass, and warm-water swimming as the popular Herring Cove and Race Point beaches, without anyone invading your personal space.
"Very few people go out to Long Point," said Laurel Guadazno, education and program manager of the Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum. "It's a little more than a mile across the stone jetty, and then another mile and a half to Long Point Light. Often people will ask how they can get out there, but the minute they hear it's a 3-mile walk, they're over it."
Luckily, there is an easier way. For about $60, including tax, fuel, and a damage waiver, you can rent a skiff from Flyer's Boat Rental and zip across the water in just minutes -- no physical exertion required.
Before heading out on a recent day, we packed a beach blanket and sunscreen and stopped to get a picnic lunch of design-your-own sandwiches at the Provincetown General Store, just up Commercial Street from Flyer's docks. After a quick refresher in skiff-skippering ("Make sure your fuel lines are connected," said deckhand John Besemer, 19), we were off.
Just being out on the water away from the crowds was a pleasure, despite enough choppiness to dot the harbor with small whitecaps. We dodged pot buoys and orange Flyer's floats as seagulls screeched past and saltwater sprayed our faces, finally beaching on the coarse sand a few hundred yards from the light. After lunch we set out to explore.
We walked across the dunes to the top of one of the two hillocks that afford the best view of the harbor and Provincetown's shoreline, with Truro stretching off to its right, and the Atlantic to the left. These twin high points may appear to be natural formations, but they're actually the remains of embankment fortifications built during the Civil War as a base for cannons in the event of a naval attack. The fighting never got this far north, but one of the mounds holds a reminder of another conflict: a weather-beaten wood cross draped with a tattered flag bears a hand-painted sign memorializing Charles S. Darby, "gallant soldier, killed in action Oct. 17, 1944." It was erected, said Guadazno, by a fraternal organization of Provincetown artists called the Beachcombers in memory of one of their own.
Beside the hills sits the lighthouse.
Built in 1875 to replace the original 1826 structure atop the keeper's house, the light and its 1904 oil house used to store kerosene for the lamps are the only structures left on Long Point, which is now part of the Cape Cod National Seashore. But from 1818 until the 1850s, the peninsula was the site of a thriving settlement that held a school, a saltworks, windmills, boat landings, and breakwaters in addition to the homes of 38 fishing families.
When a large salt deposit was found in Syracuse, N.Y., the settlement disbanded, but many of its houses can still be seen, marked with blue and white plaques, in Provincetown's West End. "Wood was precious here," says Guadazno, "and they were thrifty New Englanders, so they put the houses on rafts and floated them back to town." The light might appeal to aficionados, but the view of the water -- purple at its farthest point, green closer in, and sandy olive near the shore -- was spectacular.
We made our way over the rosa rugosa and Queen Anne's lace past a shorebird nesting area and back to the rocky beach. After a walk around the point we plunked down for a rest near the boat and found three huge wood ticks casually strolling on our legs. It was a lesson learned, and a small price to pay for a day at the loneliest beach in Provincetown.
Elizabeth Gehrman, a freelance writer in Boston, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.