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Backyard Escapes: Delaware Bay

Delaware Bay is best known as a thoroughfare, but four great harbor stops make it a worthy cruising destination.

March 7, 2017
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Backyard Escapes: Delaware Bay AppalachianViews

CHESAPEAKE CITY

Chesapeake City is about midway between the east and west ends of the C&D Canal with a snug anchorage, marinas and free city dock. There can be a strong current in the canal, so pay attention to the depth sounder as you approach the harbor basin and favor the east bulkhead surrounding the grounds of the Army Corps of Engineers.

Once you’re tucked in, you’ll find that Chesapeake City is boater-friendly. We especially like the Chesapeake Inn, which has a marina, restaurant and great deck that’s perfect for a drink or a bite. Nearby, the town’s free dock works on a first-come, first-serve basis with a 24-hour limit. (Your best shot at a free overnight is during the week.) To anchor out, you’ll find 10 to 12 feet of water in the turning basin just south of the Army Corps of Engineers property, plus a dinghy dock in town. The marina has a free water taxi for yachtsmen on the hook.

We have fond memories of the first night of our Loop Cruise in Chesapeake City. We anchored in the canal basin and noticed a tug trawler flying the Loop Cruise burgee, just like the one we had hoisted. While we were newbies to being Loopers, the Michigan cruisers were on their way home after spending the winter in the south. We traded their adventure stories for our hopes of memories to come.

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Delaware Bay
Chesapeake Bay is known for its seafood. Joe Cicak
Delaware Bay
Chesapeake Bay is boater friendly. Coastalpics
Delaware Bay
Cruisers with a penchant for American history and an interest in cheese-covered steak sandwiches will want to drop the hook in Philadelphia. Andipantz

PHILADELPHIA

The City of Brotherly Love is about 35 nautical miles from the east end of the canal entrance. The Delaware Bay narrows into the Delaware River as you pass miles of chemical and power plants, along with low-lying marshlands and agricultural fields. About 10 miles up the river, you pass the entrance to the Christina River and the Port of Wilmington.

The bridges crisscrossing the river come into view just as you hear the roar of jets on the runways of Philadelphia International Airport.

You’ll pass the Independence Seaport Museum, dedicated to the region’s maritime history, at Penn’s Landing.

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Two marinas for transients are Piers Marina and the Philadelphia Marine Center. Both are on the waterfront below the Benjamin Franklin Bridge in the Penn’s Landing complex, close to the historic district and old city. Columbus Boulevard runs parallel to the river, and you can walk across the Market Street overpass and be in the heart of the city. The Liberty Bell, Independence Hall and other American Revolutionary sites are all here. Some of the original streets in the city were cobblestone, while others were made of Belgian block repurposed from ships’ ballast.

Cruising yachtsmen who appreciate art could spend several days touring the Barnes Foundation, Rodin Museum and Philadelphia Museum of Art, the last of which was immortalized by Sylvester Stallone’s triumphant run up the stairs in the film Rocky.

Delaware Bay
Philadelphia City Hall at night. Irmetov

LEWES, DELAWARE

This charming hamlet is only 12 miles across the bay from the Cape May Canal. As you approach Lewes from the north, you’ll see a wind turbine and ferry traffic. The Roosevelt Inlet is jettied and provides a straight run into the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal, which connects Lewes Bay with Rehoboth Bay. Entering the inlet to the north, there’s a U.S. Coast Guard station and a basin filled with charter fishing boats. Turn to port for a mile-and-a-half cruise to Lewes. Once in the channel, you will pass the Lewes Yacht Club to port and see waterfront homes lining the channel. The 7-foot-deep canal is popular with fishermen, so it’s a busy area.

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The city dock (with 200 feet of floating dock) is at the bridge that crosses the canal and leads to the beach. It’s smack dab in the center of town and a block from Second Street, the main artery for shopping and restaurants. The aroma from the Notting Hill Coffee Roastery always lures us, and we’re suckers for its Ooey Gooey, a foot-long, twisted sticky bun. Lewes Public Beach is about a half-mile walk down Savannah Road, if you want to work off those sticky-bun calories.

Lewes has an interesting history too. The first Dutch settlers came in the 1600s but perished. Today, they are remembered in the Zwaanendael Museum, a showcase of local maritime, military and social history. A few blocks from the dock is Shipcarpenter Square, a community of restored 18th- and 19th-century homes around a grass commons.

Delaware Bay
Cape May is an under-the-radar, must-see yachting city filled white-sand beaches, Victorian-era homes and tasty saltwater taffy. Yvonne Navalaney

CAPE MAY, NEW JERSEY

Cape May is a favorite destination for us. The approach to the harbor from Delaware Bay is at the west end of the Cape May Canal, where the Cape May-Lewes Ferry terminal is located. From the north, the ocean inlet leads into Cape May Harbor, a bustling waterfront with workboats, charter boats, tour boats and U.S. Coast Guard vessels.

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Utsch’s Marina and South Jersey Marina are full-service facilities within walking distance of the trolley that runs into the heart of the city during the summer. You’ll find lots of restaurants, many specializing in, well, seafood.

The city of Cape May is a National Historic Landmark with houses and buildings that showcase Victorian-era architecture. From gingerbread cottages to historic inns, the structures sit on tree-lined streets running down to the ocean.

On Washington Street, you’ll find your souvenir at shops with toys, artwork, jewelry and clothing. Take a break and enjoy sweet treats such as ice cream, nuts, fudge and saltwater taffy — a must-have here.

We often anchor in front of the U.S. Coast Guard station. It offers good protection from ocean wind and solid holding ground. The first time we anchored there, we got the bright idea to go ashore and build a bonfire on the beach with a few other cruisers. Soon after we got the driftwood going, two official-looking Coasties strongly suggested we put out the fire and leave because we were on U.S. government property. We can only blame our indiscretion on our youth.

Delaware Bay
The Delaware Bay area offers cruising yachtsmen the ability to experience everything from bustling city life to serene silence. AppalachianViews
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