Thursday, August 28, 2014

More Summer Talk: 50 years of the Cape May - Lewes Ferry

Yesterday (1964)


The Cape May-Lewes Ferry celebrates 50 years of service this year. That's fifty years moving passengers and vehicles across the Delaware Bay from Cape May, New Jersey  to Lewes, Delaware and back. By my calculation that puts the start date at 1964. I started riding the ferry in 1965. I was thirteen.

The 1964 ferry was a bulky boat made of thick sheet metal, half-dollar sized rivets, layers of paint, chipped off paint and rust and driven by a diesel engine that you felt and heard and that shot a plume of black smoke into the summer sky (top picture). What kid could resist it?

The highlight of a ferry ride for me in 1964, besides the joy of being at almost-open sea, was watching that big old thing dock. It was there that the ship's size and weight was appreciated. Under the captains guidance, the ship slowly drifted sideways until its metal bumper guard met the dozens of telephone-pole pilings driven into the sea bottom. The pilings bent under the mass of ship as it creaked along the wood towards the landing.

Today, ferry-goers ride in tonier ships (color photo) and docking is as smooth as silk. The old telephone poles have been replaced with neatly grouped pilings with smooth plasticized cushions. Hardly as much fun but I still watch it dock when I ride the ferry.

My most vivid memory of Cape May-Lewes ferry travel was one summer day in 1965 when my buddy Billy Velvel and I hitchhiked the five or so miles from our home in Rehoboth Beach to Lewes, purchased round trip tickets for a quarter, and then hitchhiked from Cape May up the Jersey coast to Wildwood. It's very likely that neither of us had any more money than the cost of the ferry ride and that both of us were shoeless.

I mention that because on this particular trip the hitchhiking failed us on our return to Cape May and that last ferry ride home to Lewes.  We ran, hitchhiked, and ran some more hoping and praying that we we didn't miss the boat. There would be hell to pay with my parents if we did because a) they didn't know we were across the bay in New Jersey, and b) mom or dad would have to make the four hour drive around the bay to pick us up.  And then there was the problem of knowing how we could even call them. Failure to make the return trip was certain death for me. (See image below)

Thankfully, we made it with just a couple minutes to spare.

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 the old, fat ferry crunch the old, creaky telephone poles.


Francis Shivone said...

Ok So when are we going to delaware again ?

John said...

I've never been to Delaware or on a ferry. But it sounds fun.