Destination Spotlight: Cape May, New Jersey

For cruisers heading North and South from the Chesapeake, historic Cape May is waiting.

June 11, 2010

Destination Spotlight: Cape May

Pity poor Delaware Bay. Few bodies of water this large are so unloved. When the Northwest winds of autumn run down the axis of the Delaware, particularly on the incoming tide, a yacht will take a wicked pounding from the closely spaced “square” seas that result. Chances of being run down by a freighter are also better than average since this is the second busiest shipping lane in the U.S. after the Mississippi River.

So why would a boater venture here? Simple. Coming from New England, it is the route we take to Chesapeake Bay (in contrast, much beloved), and usually we are heading south just when those autumn winds are kicking up.

That is why we love Cape May as much as we spite the Delaware. Having coasted the Jersey Shore, we round up into her wide all-weather inlet and find a snug berth at any one of 10 marinas. This is the place to wait for light air and a day when the tide begins to rise after dawn and helps carry us 46 nautical miles to the C&D Canal, then over into the Chesapeake. We will be in company, of course, because when conditions are right, migratory boats spill out of Cape May in one direction and the sportsfishermen in the other.


Waiting for weather at Cape May takes you back to the days when Roosevelt was president—Teddy, not Franklin. And it was a refuge even then. Cape May was developed by well-to-do Philadelphians seeking to escape “dreadfully hot, pestilent summers.” The result was an architectural treasure trove, one of the two greatest concentrations of Victorian buildings in the country, second only to San Francisco.

When dressed “polychromatically,” as the preservationists say, Victorians are called “painted ladies,” and they are lovely and evocative of spring all year round. The other phrase you hear is “carpenter gothic,” the gingerbread look achieved by skilled sawmen. With so many, in 1976 Cape May became the only city designated a National Historic Landmark in its entirety. More than three-dozen of Cape May’s big Victorians now earn a living as bed and breakfast inns like the whimsically named Angel of the Sea or The Butterfly Breeze; others have been converted into boutiques.

With an atmosphere this genteel, you are assured of fine dining, and Cape May does not disappoint. The Lobster House on Fisherman’s Wharf is a throwback to a bygone era of expansive seaside restaurants, even incorporating a fish market to stock the ship’s freezer for those nights at anchor in the Chesapeake. You can always get a bowl of great chowder there or sit at the raw bar for shucked treats. Another Cape May tradition for more than 30 years is the Mad Batter Restaurant and Bar on Jackson Street, part of the Carroll Villa Hotel. The Batter is famous for its sumptuous, imaginative breakfasts.


Cape May is also one of the few layovers that truly rewards the cruiser who shipped bicycles aboard. Pack your camera and binoculars and pedal a leisurely five miles to Cape May Point State Park, site of the 1821 lighthouse and some of the best bird-watching in the United States, discussed in greater detail in a companion story.

Photo credit: Gretchen Whitman, Nature Center of Cape May

For cruisers on the Intra Coastal Waterway, Cape May, New Jersey is a welcoming place to stop over and relax. Next time you’re cruising through this historic seaside town, tie up at one of their many marinas.


South Jersey Marina (shown above)
1231 U.S. Highway 109
P.O. Box 641
Cape May, New Jersey 08204
Tel: (609) 884-1600
Fax: (609) 884-0039

Canyon Club Resort Marina
900 Ocean Drive
Cape May, New Jersey 08204-5401
Tel: (609) 884-0199
Fax: (609) 884-6060

Cape May Marina
12 Falcon Ridge
Cape May, New Jersey 08204
Tel: (877) 868-8853
Fax: (609) 884-7338


Snug Harbor Marina
926 Ocean Drive
Cape May, New Jersey 08204-5400
Tel: (609) 884-4217

Bree-Zee-Lee Yacht Basin
970 Ocean Drive
Cape May, New Jersey 08204
Tel: (609) 884-4849

Ustch’s Marina
1121 Route 109
Schellenger’s Landing
Cape May, New Jersey 08204
Tel: (609) 884-2051
Fax: (609) 898-0136

Two Mile Landing Marina
Ocean Drive
Wildwood, New Jersey 08260
Tel: (609) 522-1341


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