Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Cape May Canal

One of my favorite places anywhere, and one that is unique to Cape May, is the Cape May Canal. Some of my earliest memories are at the canal as we used to go swimming there before it was widened and deepened to accommodate bigger boats and more boat traffic. My father prefered swimming in the canal over swimming in the ocean, because he could swim across and back. My swimming skills never advanced that far: I've got a powerful doggie paddle and I can frolic with the best of them, but I never really developed a good crawl stroke. These days, it would be impossible to swim across the canal any day that the water is warm enough because of the increased boat traffic, and there's really no place to hang out since the strip of beach went away when it was widened. This video shows boats in the canal with dredging going on in the background. I love how Beethoven timed the music so that the climax happens when the boats pass each other. Genius.

The canal was dug in less than a year during World War II because of the potential threat of German U-boats going north through the Delaware Bay into the Delaware River and taking over the important ports of Camden and Philadelphia. Fort Miles, strategically placed on Cape May and Cape Henlopen (the Twin Capes), guarded the bay, and the canal was dug to give mosquito boats easy access to the bay from the base on the ocean side. Cape May's part of Fort Miles is now the Coast Guard Training Center, and Cape Henlopen's is now part of Cape Henlopen State Park. This photo was taken from the fire tower in the park looking down at the restored barracks of Fort Miles. If you look closely in the parking lot, you can see my red MINI!

The canal is important today not only because it is part of the Intracoastal Waterway, but because the Cape May-Lewes Ferry docks there. This ferry has always been important to me because it is just a year younger than I am and I have always heard its whistles from our house. During the summer when the ferries make more crossings for summer travelers, the whistle is more frequent. When I walk on the bay as I have all my life with family, friends, dogs, or alone, the canal is the spot where I take a break on the rocks, maybe watch a ferry come in or go out, and then turn around. This routine is fundamental to my existence as it's one of the few things that has stayed constant. This photo was taken on a baywalk, and you can see a ferry off in the distance:

My perception of the ferry, though, has changed over the years. It used to be a rarity that I would be on the ferry. I was usually watching it from the shore. But occasionally, if my parents and I went south on a trip, we would take the ferry to save time and driving. Even my dog, Bambi, could walk around on the ferry, but not in the cabin. It was exciting even though it wasn't much fancier than a bus then. As a child I was familiar with the Staten Island Ferry, and the Cape May-Lewes wasn't even as nice as those! Now the ferries are much nicer and more comfortable.

We never explored Lewes, though. I had a kind of xenophobic picture of Lewes, Delaware, until recent years when curiosity got the best of me. The ferry began running shuttles buses to take ferry passengers to points of interest on either side. My mother and I were curious about the outlet malls in Rehoboth, and ventured onto the ferry as foot passengers to see what this was all about. We had a ball shopping and enjoyed the cruise back home after we had shopped all day. After Mom was gone, I started to explore the historic parts of Lewes and Cape Henlopen State Park, and soon began to write articles for the ferry's free magazine, Twin Capes Traveller. Here's the red Mini on the ferry heading over to Lewes for a research trip.

These days, I've come to know Lewes, Cape Henlopen State Park and Rehoboth Beach as extensions of my home base of Cape May, and I love writing about their unique features almost as much as I enjoy sharing Cape May's distinctive personality.

1 comment:

Brian Johnstone said...

No Wake

Me no wake either, but with this description of the canal and the ferry I feel quite cozy in this state.

Next time I'm over in that state, cape side, I might just have to visit the canal. As a native New Jersian and frequent visitor to CM I can honestly say I've never really taken in the canal... only went over it.

Thanks for the info.