Sunday, August 7, 2016

The Old Fleet

Many years ago when I was young, the Delaware River and Bay Authority operated a fleet of four ferries between North Cape May, New Jersey, and Lewes, Delaware.  The vessels were headquartered at a large terminal facility at the western end of the Cape May Canal, and this site provided ready access to the open water of the Delaware Bay while also affording sheltered berths.  The service began operations in 1964, and it continues to the present time, although with a newer and more modern fleet.  The old ships, while now mostly gone, live on in photographs and memories, and they hold a special place in my personal chronicle of the sea.

My family vacationed every summer in Cape May during my teenage years in the late 1960s and early 1970s.  At first, we simply watched the ferries at the terminal in North Cape May and from Sunset Beach in Cape May Point.  After a while, though, just watching was no longer enough for me, and I pestered my parents about sailing on these big ships.  But my father balked at spending money for a mere joyride.  He had no desire to go to Delaware and did not see what the point would be.  He did inquire about the cost, however, and we learned that same-day, round-trip tickets for pedestrians were actually quite inexpensive.  My mother and grandfather also liked the idea of going sailing, and so we all went to sea with the fleet for the first time in August of 1972.

Our first voyage took place aboard the Delaware.  The weather was beautifully sunny and clear and the sea calm.  The Delaware rode placidly and comfortably across the mouth of her namesake bay to Lewes and back in about three hours.  It seemed to go by very quickly.  In my adolescent enthusiasm, I wandered all over the ship examining everything and feeling great delight in going to sea aboard such a capital vessel and in deep water.  With my adolescent lack of foresight, however, I took several pictures but not nearly enough, and I never thought to record the day’s events and voyage particulars in any kind of notebook.  While I regret that now, I am glad that I bought every postcard of these ships that I could find.

This initial voyage across the Delaware Bay proved to be so enjoyable for the entire family that we did it every summer for the next three years.  We made our subsequent voyages aboard the New Jersey, the Cape May, and I think the Cape Henlopen as well.  My grandfather, a former Captain of the ferry boat Henry Ludlow on the South Shore of Long Island, especially liked these longer crossings of the Delaware Bay.  He and I frequently walked around the ships together, and he often shared his expertise about various aspects of the ferry, the sea state, the weather, and the docking maneuvers with me.

One of my favorite aspects of these ferries was their paint scheme.  A very distinctive, multi-colored, and even unique design, it really made these ships stand out and be recognized.  It was so much more attractive, and it required so much more skill to apply, than the sprayed-on single color paint jobs of many vessels.  Over the years since, I’ve come to appreciate just how much a good paint scheme can contribute to a ship’s character and persona.

The four round-trip voyages that I made aboard the Delaware Bay ferries in my teenage years were all wonderful experiences.  They introduced me to the magnificent physical and spiritual  beauty of the sea and to the ineffable pleasure of going to sea.  They also helped me realize that seafaring was the career that I wanted to pursue.  After sailing across the bay several times, I next wanted to sail across the oceans, and eventually I did.  Now, many years later, I have fond memories of the old fleet of Delaware Bay ferries, and I’m happy to share some of my favorite photographs of them here:

An aerial view of the Cape May terminal.  This is actually in North Cape May, several miles from town, on the north shore and west end of the Cape May Canal.  This view is to the north.  On the left, to the west, is the Delaware Bay.  The ships present are, left to right, the Delaware, the Cape Henlopen, and the Cape May.

A stylized profile view of the Delaware, the largest vessel in the fleet.

The New Jersey.  She has just departed from the North Cape May terminal and is heading west out of the Cape May Canal.  In just a few minutes she will reach the open water of the Delaware Bay and then she will turn south.

The Cape Henlopen.  She has just entered the Cape May Canal from the Delaware Bay and is heading east toward the ferry terminal.  This is the same Cape Henlopen that now sails on the New London, Connecticut, to Orient Point, Long Island, route operated by Cross Sound Ferry.

An antique postcard portrait of the Cape May.  This was most likely a black and white photograph that was later hand painted in color.  A very interesting artistic style from a bygone era.
A real color photograph of the Cape May approaching the big terminal in August of 1971.
The Cape Henlopen (partly obscured) and the New Jersey at the docks in North Cape May in August of 1971.
The Delaware approaching the terminal in August of 1972.
Aboard a ship and at sea!  From the Delaware as she heads south toward Lewes, we see the northbound New Jersey, bound for Cape May, in August of 1972.
As the Delaware returns north from Lewes to Cape May, we see the Cape Henlopen heading south for Lewes.  Same day in August of 1972.

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