When looking for things to do in Chatham while on vacation that are great for adults and kids of all ages, we recommend exploring the waters of Pleasant Bay and Chatham Harbor on an amazing seal tour. We found a boat tour was the best way to watch the harbor and gray seals up close, in addition to viewing Chatham Light, Chatham Fish Pier and the Break.
Since moving to the Cape in 2006, I've taken a few whale watches out of Barnstable Harbor. This tour is fun and informative, and each time we've seen plenty of whales! But, in my twelve years on the Cape, I had never taken a seal tour. In fact, I had never seen more than three seals in the same place (at Nauset Beach; that's another story and involves sharks—eek!).
We arrived at the Beachcomber office in Chatham, boarded a bus and were taken to Ryder's Cove. Honestly when Tyler, Jim and I saw the boat, we looked at one another and said, "I think we're gonna need a bigger boat!" It didn’t seem large enough to fit all 27 of us, but it did, and quite comfortably.
Now comes the amazing part. It was a gorgeous day and the breeze felt great as we sped out along the harbor. Our captain was an older gentleman who clearly knew this boat and the Chatham waters very well. We enjoyed his interesting commentary about the harbor, the history, and the hundreds of grey seals we were about to see.
The seals pack together on sand bars and make an incredibly loud and raucous noise that’s somewhere between a groan and a roar. They are voicing their displeasure that there is no room to move around and spread out. And each one takes up a lot of space—the males weigh close to 700 pounds!
We were struck by how brave and even friendly the seals seemed. As our boat slowly gotwithin 25 feet of them, the younger ones disappeared under water, but the larger seals watched us and swam close to the boat. They would peek at us, then duck under water, and we’d try to predict where they would pop back up. It was often much farther away than we had predicted. Their faces with their big eyes are endearing. Our Captain jokingly said we could take one home with us if we wished.
The seals were fantastic. We spent about 20 minutes boating back and forth near them taking pictures and admiring their cute antics. A few followed our boat as we drove away from North Chatham towards Tern Island. We drove by the Chatham Fish Pier, which we had only seen from the land side. We were struck by the beauty of the fishing boats and the sandy, undisturbed beaches on Tern Island .
Next we traveled past the Chatham Lighthouse and Lighthouse Beach where many people were walking and relaxing. This majestic, vast beach leads to Morris Island. The weather was perfect, and the combination of sun and breeze on the boat was very enjoyable.
Back to Ryder Cove, we returned by shuttle to Beachcomber Tours office on Crowell Road. The late afternoon tour took about 95 minutes. We felt that it was a great experience and worth the $34 ticket price ($28 for kids 3-15). I would highly recommend a seal tour when you visit the Cape. There are other tours available, some out of Orleans and Harwich. You will find a complete list of Sightseeing Tours on our Vacation Planner.