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Cape May Ferry, Early Morning


As much as I love graceful bridges and admire amazing tunnels, I won't go out of my way for one the way I will for a ferry. There's something magical about a road interrupted by water and linked by a boat.

And the ferry that links Cape May, New Jersey and Lewes, Delaware has a special charm: It is one of only two that is part of the U.S. numbered highway system, filling in a 17-mile gap in U.S. 9. And it fit nicely into a four-day road trip in late October to visit a daughter in Washington, DC.


Ferries are not as common as they used to be; many of the ones that used to cross major rivers gave way to bridges as traffic increased, especially after World War II. Not fifty miles away from Cape May, the Delaware Memorial Bridge, built in 1951, erased the US 40 bottleneck caused by the ferry service between Pennsville, New Jersey and Newcastle, Delaware, a ferry I remember from early childhood.

In those days, there wasn't a ferry from Cape May to Lewes; this is a relatively new service that started in the 1960s, with ferries left over when another the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel put an end to the ferry between Little Neck and Cape Charles, Virginia, near Norfolk. Over the years, those ships have been replaced by newer ships, like the Cape Henlopen, my vessel for the day.


And it was an early day. At this season, there are only three round trips a day; in summer there are many more sailings. I picked the first run at 7 am because I wanted a full day on the other side. At the time, I didn't realize it meant arriving at the terminal at 6 am. Oh, well: I was second one in, and the still-dark combined with wet weather made interesting images.


The dark and the weather also gave me some interesting abstract images, such as this one of the web fence across the end of the ferry, viewed through the windshield. In the end, I decided it would be an unfair One-Clue Mystery.


Eventually, the boat filled up with vehicles—there was little foot traffic on this run—and we set sail from the Cape May terminal, still in darkness, and still getting enough rain that standing outside for pictures was uncomfortable.


Once underway, I retreated to the passenger deck to look around. There were plenty of comfy seats, some with tables, and many marked off with big Xs to ensure social distance. On this trip, they weren't needed!


There's food available aboard, but nothing you'd want to look forward to: all either snacks or microwaveable. But there are cafes in the terminals; I didn't check them out. Onboard there's also an extensive souvenir shop, but it wasn't open on the early run.


As the sky grew lighter, there were more opportunities for pictures, mostly of the various navigation aids that spot the route and mark the channels.


And even a small lighthouse


We also had quite a flock of birds following us...


Eventually, Lewes appeared in the distance, with the distinctive blue-towered ferry terminal.


Back to the car to await landing; I was the second car on, and in position to be the first off, so no time to be wandering.


And off to a day on the Eastern Shore and Annapolis. In the rain, unfortunately.

More ferries are in my future; I plan to return to the ferry between Millersburg and Liverpool, Pennsylvania. Years ago, when my children were young, the open-topped paddle-wheel barge that crosses the Susquehanna was a highlight of a road trip. It's been there since the 1750s, and I hope it will still be there for me.

And then, there's a ferry between Ludington, Michigan and Manitowoc, Wisconsin that fills in a 63-mile gap in U.S. 10 as it crosses Lake Michigan...


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The best part of every trip is realizing that it has upset your expectations

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