The Cape May-Lewes Ferry celebrates 50 years of service this year; fifty years moving passengers and vehicles across the Delaware Bay from Cape May, New Jersey to Lewes, Delaware. By my calculation that puts the start date at 1964. I started riding the ferry in 1965. I was thirteen.
I recall the 1964 ferry as a big boat; thick sheet metal, half-dollar sized rivets, layer upon layer of paint, rust, and a loud diesel engine that you felt in your toes and that shot a plume of black smoke into the summer sky (top picture). I loved it.
The highlight of a ferry ride back then besides the joy of being at almost-open sea was docking because I loved to watch the ship bump the telephone pole pilings, bend them back, and creeeeaaaak as the ship's metal bumper ground along the wood. Today, ferry-goers ride in tonier ships (color photo) and docking is smooth as silk since the old telephone poles have been replaced with neatly fitted pilings with plasticized cushions. And I'd guess ship docking is assisted by computers these days.
My most vivid memory of Cape May-Lewes ferry travel was a summer day in 1965 when my buddy Billy Velvel and I hitchhiked the five or so miles from our home in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware to Lewes, boarded the Ferry for a quarter, and then hitchhiked from Cape May up the Jersey coast to Wildwood or Atlantic City or Ocean City, wherever the ride took us. On this particular adventure the hitchhiking failed us on our return to Cape May and that last ferry ride home. So we ran and ran, hitch-hiked and ran, all the while hoping and praying that we were not too late. There would be hell to pay with mom if we missed that ferry because a). mom didn't know we were in New Jersey, and b). she or dad would have to make the four hour drive around the bay to pick us up. Failure to make the return was certain death or worse. But we made it, barely, and I have never forgotten.
I get to the beach these days once or twice a year to visit family and to enjoy all that is enjoyable about the eastern shore. And more often than not, I stop by and visit the ferry and every couple of years I take the trip from Lewes to Cape May and back. I'm never, ever disappointed.
Except at the end because the trip is over, and because I still want to see and hear the old ship crash against the telephone pole pilings the way it used to.