Photos by Dori Arrington
A New First
Lewes, Delaware, triggers a rumination on two kinds of boating: retracing tracks to a familiar harbor, or throwing lines for a new adventure.
We have a running debate when cruising aboard Liberdade: Would we rather stop at a familiar and comfortable harbor, or venture into a new destination? Stopping at a favorite is easy—we know the marina, the dockhands welcome us back, and we get to visit the local restaurants we know and enjoy. The alternative is, of course, the anticipation and excitement of exploring a new location. We find that striking a healthy balance between the two is key to a fulfilling life at sea.
In our years of cruising the Eastern Seaboard, Cape May, New Jersey, has consistently been one of those favorite stops. For more than 200 years, the historic seaside village has built its reputation on welcoming visitors to its wide beaches and cool ocean breezes. Cape May occupies a prominent point on the northern shore of Delaware Bay, where the bay meets the Atlantic Ocean. Its location makes it the perfect place to begin or end an offshore run along the New Jersey shore. For many non-boaters, the Cape May-Lewes Ferry, a ferry system that traverses the 17-mile mouth of Delaware Bay, is the preferred way to arrive. On our way south last fall, it was time to mix it up and see what was at the southern terminus of this popular ferry route.
Tucked safely behind Cape Henlopen on the southern shore of Delaware Bay is the town of Lewes, Delaware. Pronounced “Lew-iss,” this small community is proudly known as the first city in the first state. The area was originally settled in 1662, with Delaware being the first state to ratify the daring constitution of a young, inspiring nation.
Lewes’ downtown waterfront is located on the Lewes-Rehobeth Canal, which connects the Delaware and Rehobeth Bays along its 8-mile length. Boat access to town from the Delaware Bay is through Roosevelt Inlet. Uncertain of depths in the inlet and canal leading up to the town’s municipal marina, we decided to plan our arrival at high tide and as close to slack current as possible.
Typically, the dock master provides the first impression we form of a place. Our first visit to Lewes was no different. One evening a few days after making our reservation at the town docks, my phone rang with an unfamiliar Delaware phone number. It was John Lafferty, the Lewes City Dock Master. He said he had been thinking about our planned arrival, and was calling with updated information on the inlet and canal depths leading to town. John had run out to the inlet that evening at low tide and wanted to give us the depths so we could more accurately predict our arrival. His call was a step above and beyond the usual dock master’s responsibilities, and one we appreciated greatly. Thanks to John, Lewes had made a good first impression.
Our arrival was early in the morning after an overnight run from Long Island Sound. We made it through the well marked inlet and motored slowly the 1.5 miles to the municipal marina’s floating pier. Shortly after tying up, we noticed the adjacent parking lot filling with people unloading shovels, rakes and plastic bags from their cars. Puzzled at what all of the activity was about so early on a weekday morning, Cali, our year-old Portuguese water dog, and I decided to go for a walk to investigate. We learned it was a group of volunteers who donate their time to maintain garden plots in public spaces around the town. The park adjacent to the marina was full of their handiwork in flower beds rich in fall colors. Lewes is a prettier place for the generous effort of these folks, who care about their community. Our second impression of Lewes was now as good as our first.
Directly across the canal from the city marina are the Anglers Marina and Lewes Harbor Marina, with a combined impressive fleet of charter-fishing boats. Whether you’re after game fish for catch and release, or fish for dinner, you will likely find it in Delaware Bay or the near-shore ocean waters.
The town maintains 200 feet of floating face dock as well as smaller slips along its waterfront location on the canal. Just steps off the boat brings you into the historic downtown area. The business district is a healthy mix of locally owned enterprises serving tourists and residents alike. A slightly longer walk takes you to Cape Henlopen State Park. With shoreline on the Atlantic Ocean and Delaware Bay, the park has some of the East Coast’s prettiest beaches. Windy days finds the beach on the well-protected bay side full of kite-boarders scooting along with the breeze and surf.
However you arrive in Lewes, whether by ferry or your personal boat, make time to linger. The northern tip of this small state has plenty to offer, from a downtown of perfectly preserved historic neighborhoods to wide, sandy beaches. Lewes started off as a new location, but after a pleasant all-around experience, I wouldn’t be surprised if it becomes a familiar harbor in no time.