Our Trip To Delaware, August 2005

by Michelle Erica Green

On August 6th we drove over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge to Cambridge, home of the Richardson Maritime Museum and home port of the skipjack Nathan of Dorchester, which was out in the Choptank River instead of docked when we arrived. The Kalmar Nyckel, which we had seen previously at the Alexandria Waterfront Festival, was also cruising as we drove into town and we saw her for the first time under sail. Because the museum did not open until 1 p.m. and we had arrived before 12:30, we went to the Portside Seafood Restaurant and had crab soup and crab cakes before visiting the little museum, named for a Dorchester County master boatbuilder.

It's obvious that during an earlier era Cambridge was a thriving town, with big Victorian houses, two 17th-century churches and a courthouse, but now it's more working class with the nods to interested tourists. In the museum were models of locally-built ships, equipment and tools from historic ships and lots of information on Richardson, who counted among his ships the replica Maryland Dove which we saw at historic St. Mary's City earlier this summer, and many of the bugeyes and skipjacks he worked on (the Nathan of Dorchester is the last skipjack built on the Chesapeake Bay). The Pride of Baltimore II, which we have seen often in Baltimore Harbor, was built locally as well.

Click here for photos of Cambridge.

After a visit to the beautiful Kalmar Nyckel, which has gorgeous carvings on its stern and over its gunports, we drove into Delaware to Bethany Beach, where we met my parents at the rental office for Sea Colony and checked in to the condo where we were staying for the week. It was about a mile from the beach in the wooded, lakeside area of Sea Colony, right up from the tennis courts which made my father very happy. We unpacked, had dinner at the Cottage Cafe down Route 1 and then went to the beach in the early evening, where we saw mole crabs and the black-headed laughing gulls that I've only seen near this part of the Atlantic Ocean. There were horseshoe crab and fiddler crab shells washed up by the tide line but we did not see any live crabs, and did not stay on the beach after dark to see the ghost crabs because we wanted to stop and get ice cream and necessities at the store. So we came back and the kids and grandpa played poker while the rest of us read and fiddled with photos.

Sunday morning we got up at different times and went to do different things: Roy to play tennis with a friend who is also staying in the complex, Linda to get a newspaper, Paul to jog, me and Adam to look for frogs in a nearby swampy area. Then we all went to the beach, which was so crowded with umbrellas that we had to walk down quite a way just to find a non-packed spot; this was the busiest weekend of the tourist season on the peninsula and it was very obvious. In spite of all that, the beach was lovely: we did not build sand castles or dig for sandcrabs because we were all swimming, but the water was gorgeous and we saw dolphins not far offshore jumping in the surf.

Click here for photos of Bethany Beach.

Our afternoon at the beach was interrupted by a thunderstorm, which caused the lifeguards to clear the water and when we took the shuttle to Sea Colony's indoor pool we learned that Delaware has a law that even indoor pools must be closed for electrical storms. So we went back, dried off and went out for a very late lunch at Armand's Pizza, then drove to Fenwick Island to Sea Shell City and the Discover Sea Museum, an enormous complex which includes serious artifacts and scientific exhibits a floor above painted hermit crabs and every form of tacky shell souvenir imaginable (I resisted buying the tall ship made from scallop shells though I did get a pirate ship carved on a cowrie). We visited a couple of other shops -- have to have rock candy and salt water taffy at the beach -- and got some fresh fruit from a local stand, then came back for dinner. While it was still drizzling we talked about renting a movie and discovered that Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets was on Disney with the deleted scenes restored, so (all of us being geeks) we watched it.

Click here for photos of the Discover Sea Shipwreck Museum.

Monday morning after another walk to look for frogs and turtles (and a snake!) in the swamp, my father took Adam and Daniel to the pool nearest us at Sea Colony while my mother, Paul and I drove to Fenwick Island. We went to the Seaside Country Store (which has fudge and crab nuts among other delicacies and collectibles), the Float-ors (which has nautical souvenirs and artwork, plus actual floaters and crab traps as well as an Irish shop), past the Fenwick Island lighthouse and to a bayside beach area, where I hoped to see fiddler crabs but only saw boats launching into the bay.

After lunch we went to Viking Park, which has miniature golf and a go-kart course. I played one round (and won my group, which included my father and Daniel; Paul won the group with my mother and Adam). After that, while the rest of the males played another round, I took Adam over to the go-karts. He was only just tall enough to drive alone and was briefly the happiest boy in the world driving around the course; then his car hit the barrier, he was bounced about pretty hard, and he became absolutely disconsolate for the rest of the afternoon. Not even offers of Candy Kitchen could revive him.

Viking Park had big models of the guardians of the Underworld, Midgard and Kangor, "fire"-breathing dragons that actually kept the heat tolerable as they blew steam, and there was a nice breeze...plus we got Italian ices and ice cream. We went to the beach in the very late afternoon -- well, Paul and I did, while my parents took the kids to the pool in the high-rise complex, which meant that we could swim without worrying about watching them. We saw the dolphins again and a variety of gulls, terns and other seabirds, and many, many mole crabs, which made us go summon the boys. They came and we all dug for the sandcrabs for awhile before coming back to the condo for dinner and showers.

Click here for photos of Viking Golf.

Tuesday the original plan was to get up and go to Assateague Island relatively early, but it was raining in the morning, so Paul took the boys to the pool for awhile before lunch and we left in the early afternoon when the rain had slowed to a drizzle. We stopped at the Assateague Island National Seashore information center first, where we saw two movies -- one on the ecosystem of Assateague and Chincoteague during the various seasons, and one on the wild ponies and other animals of the barrier islands. There was also a touch pool with marine animals and some tanks of fish and shellfish in the visitor center.

We saw ponies almost immediately upon crossing the bridge into the park, grazing between the road and the salt marshes. We also saw white-tail deer, which are suppposed to be plentiful in the park but have been driven out by the Asian sika, a species of elk which were released on the island by some Boy Scouts and are driving the deer out (they're very cute and quite unafraid of people, at least). We stopped at a shipwreck site, a salt marsh where people were fishing for the plentiful blue crabs and clams, and along the Atlantic coast where we saw mole crabs and the little clams that burrow into the sand, plus the terns and seagulls that dig them out with their beaks to eat them. It drizzled on and off during these stops but it was blissfully cool, below 80 degrees all day, and since there wasn't thunder we could wade in the bay and the ocean.

Click here for photos of Assateague National Seashore.

The drive from Bethany to Assateague took us through Ocean City, so on the way back in the evening we had dinner at the original Phillips Crab House, where we used to go with Aunt Shirley and Uncle Paul during my childhood. We have come to the conclusion that Phillips is not close to the best seafood around but we wanted to eat there for nostalgia's sake, and their crab bisque is still excellent (the crab cakes and au gratin are good as well, I just think they're overpriced compared to similar restaurants). After dinner we drove past the high rise where we stayed a few times in my early teens -- the Braemor -- and came back for games and dessert while Dad watched part of the James Bond marathon on cable.

Click here for photos of local wildlife.

Wednesday the forecast had been for occasional thunderstorms, but other than some very early rain, we had an absolutely gorgeous day along the shore. After a late breakfast, we spent the rest of the morning and half the afternoon first at the beach, then at the pool that's just up the steps from the beach beneath Sea Colony's condominiums. It was once again quite crowded due to the beautiful weather. Despite clearing skies, the waves were rougher than the day before, churning up lots of sand and knocking people about in the water; it was harder to find mole crabs and also harder to avoid being hit by people surfing in on out of control boogie boards! The kids spent much of the time in the pool with my parents while Paul and I mostly stayed in the ocean, going to the pool near the end of our time down there to play catch with one of those water-filled soft footballs. We did not see the dolphins but we did see a huge horseshoe crab, unfortunately on its last legs, and many of the usual shore birds and clams.

Click here for photos of Sea Colony.

In the evening after dinner at the condo we went to the boardwalk in Ocean City. A lot of things at the beach seem smaller than I remember from my childhood (Phillips Restaurant, for instance, and many of the stores), but the boardwalk seems to have tripled in size. While many of the iron-on t-shirt places have been replaced by tattoo parlors and Candy Kitchens, the kitsch shops and waterside musicians and ice cream parlors have only increased in number, and there were three arcades between 12th Street and the end of the boardwalk alone -- I am sure there were more headed into the higher numbers. A blues band was playing down by the amusement park but we didn't sit and listen, as it was already dark. The amusement park area itself was absolutely mobbed (there's also a Ripley's Believe It Or Not added since I was last in Ocean City) and the kids weren't interested in riding, so most of our boardwalking involved strolling, browsing in the kitsch stores, eating ice cream, dodging the trams and wandering into the sand to the play equipment there. It was what I think of as a classic beach day: surf, swimming and boardwalk.

Click here for photos of the Ocean City Boardwalk.

Thursday we woke to the most gorgeous weather we've had here, albeit very hot -- 95 degrees by the afternoon. We went to the beach in the morning, where we had perfect blue skies with dolphins barely 100 yards offshore (and many of them by the looks of it -- more than ten at least, and one woman said she had counted 50). We also had the roughest waves yet; I am not sure whether this is from all the rain we had earlier in the week, from the tidal patterns or from the fact that Hurricane Irene was brewing in the Atlantic a long way offshore. We swam, dug for sand crabs and got knocked over by waves for awhile, then went to one of the Sea Colony pools, where we ran into people from our synagogue at home and the kids insisted on trying to knock us over.

We ate lunch at the condo, then in the late afternoon we went to Rehoboth, where we walked down the main street with the Thunderbird Shop, Sunshine Octopus (for Grateful Dead apparel), jewelry stores, etc. and walked along the boardwalk which was much less crowded than Ocean City's (though the beach was much more crowded with sunbathers and swimmers, plus lots of hungry laughing gulls). We played in the Playland arcade for awhile and the boys won stuffed dragons with everyone's combined tickets. We had dinner at Nicola's Pizza (which is a fun restaurant with photos all over the walls, a train running overhead and carousel horses scattered throughout) because a trip to Rehoboth requires Nic-o-bolis, then we had ice cream at Kohr Bros. for those who required soft serve and Coldstone for those who wanted hand-dipped with mix-ins. It was dark when we drove back to Bethany, so we parked near the beach and went to look for ghost crabs, of which we saw several.

Click here for photos of Rehoboth.

Friday while my parents had lunch with the Goldmans and visited the Copakens, Paul and I and the kids drove to Lewes, "the first city in the first state," founded in 1631 by the Dutch. We went first to the Zwaanendael Museum, which focuses on maritime history with a Dutch and Native American emphasis, though its centerpiece are artifacts from the shipwrecked HMS DeBraak, taken over from the Dutch by the British and destroyed in a storm after being separated from its convoy. From there we went for lunch at a local coffee shop, then went to the Lewes Historical Society Marine Museum in the Cannonball House, built in 1765 and damaged when the British bombarded Lewes in 1813. This museum had the lens from one of the lighthouses since fallen into the ocean, a chest carried on a ship from the Spanish Armada, a lantern from the USS Constitution, a 400-year-old locally made Indian canoe, the last Lewes pilot skiff and a pair of British cannons used in the 1813 bombardment. After that we toured the Lightship Overfalls, the last lightship built by the United States Lighthouse Service, commissioned as in 1938.

Click here for photos of Lewes.

On the way back to Bethany we stopped in Rehoboth once more because I wanted to go to Mostly Irish, the gift shop with souvenirs from the British isles including silver jewelry and imported Cadbury chocolate. Then we met up with my parents and went to the beach one last time. Despite gorgeous skies, the water was even rougher than the day before with white-capped waves out as far as we could see; we did not swim for very long, as it was hard work fighting the rip currents, but found a few last mole crabs and took the kids to the pool in the Sea Colony high rise complex. On the drive to Sea Colony West this time we saw a rabbit, swans, ducks and a turtle near the different lakes. We ate at the condo, did laundry and packed to leave in the morning.

Click here for photos of Rehoboth dolphin statues.

Saturday we had to check out by 10 a.m., so after packing up and getting everything into the van, we drove away from the shore to the Salisbury Zoo -- an excellent free zoo and public park at the edge of a town that has clearly seen better days, as its large mall is sitting empty with grass growing in the enormous parking lot. (A new highway was built several years ago and we suspect that cars that used to pass through Salisbury and stop for lunch now bypass it on the new roads, hurting its tourist commerce.) The center of the zoo is a large artificial lake filled with a wide variety of waterfowl -- geese, ducks, swans, herons, a couple of cranes -- as well as South American rheas and llamas, inspiring younger son to sing the llama song repeatedly. There are also bears, otters, monkeys, iguanas, a jaguar, a bobcat, an ocelot...many of the usual smaller suspects, though none of the larger African animals like the National Zoo has.

Click here for photos of the Salisbury Zoo.

After lunch we drove to St. Michael's, a historic city situated where the Potomac River joins the Chesapeake Bay, famous for tricking the British during the War of 1812 by putting lights in trees and on ship masts so that the British bombarded the wrong location. It's now home to the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, where there is an 1879 lighthouse, a boat yard and restoration shed, the buyboat Thor which is now on land for kids to explore, a waterman's wharf where kids can pull up traps full of blue crabs and eel, an indoor oyster dredgeboat and big exhibit on Bay oyster fishing, collections on steamboats and the transformation of the Bay from working fishery to tourist attraction, and collections on Bay naval and historical history. It's a spectacular museum, a bit like Mystic Seaport without the historical reenactors wandering through, but it was nearly 100 degrees and we spent far more time in the indoor exhibits than the hands-on ship and fishing demonstrations outside.

Click here for photos of St. Michael's.

We had dinner at The Crab Claw, a seafood restaurant on the premises (had to have one last meal of crab soup, crab dip, etc.) and drove home in the evening over a traffic-free Chesapeake Bay Bridge. Unpacking was enlivened by the terrible Redskins game and nearly-as-terrible Ravens game. It's going to be a long football season.