Exploring with Eleanor--Maritime Adventures in the First Town in the First State


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    Lewes (pronounced lou-is), Delaware, the first town in the first state, has a maritime history that they love to share with visitors. The shoulder season of fall concentrates on more than its great beaches. The weather's warm, and there are still many outdoor things to do. The crowds have departed, and good deals on lodging have arrived. The same logic applies to spring.

    Tours by the beautiful sea

    In 1828, because of a dire need to protect shipping traffic from the treacherous storms along the Atlantic Coast, breakwaters were built in Cape Henlopen. They were second only to those in Cherbourg, France, and the first in the Western Hemisphere. They're now listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

    Visiting the lighthouse that sits on the east end of the breakwaters involves a tour (www.delawarebaylights.org) that features a boat ride, inspection of the interior and a climb to the top lantern room.

    Learn about past service on the water before the US Coast Guard
    existed at the Indian River Life Saving Station.

    The Lantern Tour of the Indian River Life Saving Station (www.destateparks.com) tells landlubbers of the valor of the surf men who once manned the historic building and others like it along the East Coast. Every night, from the mid-19th century to the early 20th century, men patrolled the beaches, searching for ships in distress. Their mission was to rescue all on board. Today, docents dressed in the uniforms of the US Life-Saving Service (the mother of the US Coast Guard) explain the maritime equipment displayed in the museum. You'll hear harrowing tales of shipwrecks and life-saving efforts. Then, by dark of night, you can follow the interpreters as they guide you to the water's edge by lantern light. You, too, will be carrying a lantern to illuminate your way over sandy mounds. Listen hard for the desperate cries of mariners in distress.

    Hung above the entrance to the Indian River Life Saving Station.

    Dolphins belong to the family of mammals that incudes killer whales and porpoises, but they are the favorites of humans, and they seem to like humans, too. Children especially enjoy watching for their playful antics of leaping in the air and following boats. Beginning in May, Fisherman's Wharf offers whale- and dolphin-watching cruises (www.fishlewes.com). You can spend two hours or more searching the ocean for these fascinating creatures. The cruises are offered from morning to night (including a dinner cruise), and guarantee a dolphin sighting. Reservations are required.


    Visit the Overfalls lightship, one of the seven remaining lightships. A couple of the sailors' bunks on
    the Overfalls lightship.

    Of the 179 lightships built in America between 1820 and 1952, the Overfalls (www.overfalls.org) is one to the seven remaining, and has been deemed a National Historic Landmark. The floating lighthouse sailed under the US Coast Guard and maintained military standards. The vessel was assigned to remain in the same ocean location for two years, and the 14 sailors who made up its crew worked two weeks on, and were given a one week shore leave. You can board and view their quarters, galley, mess, upper engine room, captain's and officers' living spaces and more. At the foot of the gangplank is the welcome center and ship's store, where you'll find a collection of nautical items to take home. The ship is open every day except Tuesdays and Wednesdays from Memorial Day through Columbus Day.

    Water crossings

    You can explore the Rehoboth Lewes Canal (www.foursquare.com) on the water taxi Mummichog (an Indian word meaning "minnow") for an early morning eco-tour. Look for sightings of blue herons, osprey, geese, egrets, beavers and other wild life. You'll have a great view from the Trident Tri-toon open-vessel, piloted by a captain who'll point them out.

    The Woodland Ferry has a checkered past.

    Vehicles from horse-drawn buggies to automobiles have rolled onto the Woodland Ferry since the 1740s, making it one of the longest-running ferries in the country. It spans the Nanticoke River, and operates daily. The cable ferry was established and run by the Cannon family until mid-19th century, and is now under the auspices of the Delaware Department of Transportation. It has a checkered past because of the despicable exploits of Patty Cannon, who used the ferry to transport kidnapped black people (escaped slaves and, even, freemen) on their way to Georgia.

    For more information on Lewes' rich history, go to www.visitsoutherndelaware.com.


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    Public Disclosure-- Please Read
    I recently learned of a FTC law requiring web sites to let their readers know if any of the stories are "sponsored" or compensated.  American Roads and Global Highways' feature writers are professional travel writers. As such we are frequently invited on press trips, also called fam trips. Most of the articles here are results of these trips. On these trips most of our lodging, dining, admissions fees and often plane fare are covered by the city or firm hosting the trip. It is an opportunity to visit places we might not otherwise be able to visit and bring you a great story. However, no one tells us what to write about those places. All opinions are 100% those of the author of that feature column.  

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