Cape Cod Sunsets: In Pursuit of the “Green Flash”

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When I was working on cruise ships, in a pre-innkeeping lifestyle, sailors would tell me stories of seeing the “green flash”, a phosphorescent burst of greenish hue that supposedly occurs just as the final remnants of the sun disappear into the water. In all my days at sea, above and below the equator, I paused at day’s end to watch intently as the sun set. Try as I might, however, in my five years at sea, I never witnessed the “green flash”.

Sunset at Gray's Beach

Part of me thought it was an old wives tale, or in my case, old sailors. But part of me, the romantic “I believe in Santa Claus and the good fairy” part, really, really wanted to see it. Years later, after my swashbuckling seafarer days, I was on a cruise with my husband, Rich, that took us south to Guatemala. Leaving port at the end of the day, we were on deck just beneath the bridge waving goodbye to the locals who had gathered to see us off. As we steamed toward the horizon, for some strange reason, I recounted the tale of the “green flash” and my disappointment in never having seen it myself.

Caught up in the moment of wistful recollections, but with some circumspection, he indulged my romantic notion and stopped to watch the sun sink slowly in the sky. Perhaps it was the warm trade winds, or the gentle swell of the ocean beneath us, or even the effervescence of the bubbly in our glasses, but at the very moment the sun slipped softly below the horizon…there it was. Ever so brief, but none the less brilliant, a flash of emerald green. And though we’ve never seen it since, every time we watch the setting
sun, no matter where we are in the world, we hold our breath and hope that it appears.

Very few places on the  east coast of the continental U.S. have a view of the sun setting over water, save for the west coast of Florida, some offshore islands, and parts of Cape Cod. We invite you to witness this phenomenon the next time you visit us. Even if you don’t see it, it sure is fun trying. Here are some of our favorite spots to catch the sunset on this magnificent peninsula we call home:

Gray’s Beach, Yarmouthport
A long boardwalk across the marsh leads to a viewing platform. Along the way, you might spot a crab or two in the tide pools.

Chapin Memorial Beach, Dennis
Right across the town line from Gray’s Beach. Bring a blanket or a beach chair for comfort.

Wychmere Harbor, Harwichport
Wychmere is considered by some to be one of the prettiest harbors on the Cape. Pull into the little observation area off Rt. 28, but remember that parking is limited to 15 minutes.

Skaket Beach, Orleans
Set right in the crook of the Cape’s elbow, Skaket offers you that rare East Coast treat of seeing the sun set on water.

Great Island, Wellfleet
This secluded section of the National Seashore overlooks Cape Cod Bay to its west and Wellfleet Harbor to the east.

Cape Cod Light, Truro
The view from this vantage point includes dunes, ocean, bay, Pilgrim Monument, and Cape Cod Light to frame your sunset.

Race Point, Provincetown
Race Point sits on the very tip of the Cape, surrounding by water on three sides.

From Sea or Sky
Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard also have beautiful sunsets, but our favorite treat is to catch the sunset from the back of the ferry on our return trip from one of the islands. Even better is to catch it in-flight aboard a Cape bound plane.