- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 20, 2003

Come September, the surf should still be warm, the sands dazzling and the shops still open on Delaware’s coastal strip.

But other than beachcombing and visiting the outlets jammed together on U.S. Route 1, what else is there?

Plenty. Delaware’s only winery is barely a half-mile from the main highway; the town of Lewes has enough history to keep most people busy for at least a day; and there’s a three-masted tall ship available for a ride around Cape Henlopen.

First, the ship.

The Kalmar Nyckel is the name of a Swedish merchant vessel that arrived on the banks of the Christina River atop the Delaware Bay in 1638 carrying 24 men from Sweden, Finland, Germany and Holland. The idea was to establish a fort and trading post for Sweden in the New World. Where it landed is now known as Wilmington; the entire area around Wilmington was called “New Sweden” at one time.

The Kalmar Nyckel crossed the Atlantic four times — which was quite a record for 17th-century ships — but is believed to have sunk off the coast of England in the late 1600s. In the mid-1990s, the Kalmar Nyckel Foundation in Wilmington raised $5.5 million to rebuild the ship as an armed merchant vessel that serves as Delaware’s “tall ship.”

It also is docked near the Cape May-Lewes ferry terminal on the Lewes side for tourists who wish to plunk down $40 for a three-hour sail. Children younger than 13 get in for half price.

Sailing on the graceful barque is an adventure, as its deck is 93 feet long and its tallest mast is higher than 10 stories. It also has six miles of rigging and 10 cannons stationed on deck. The crew — most of whom are volunteers — are friendly, and the ship conforms to U.S. Coast Guard safety standards.

Be sure to sneak a look into the sumptuous captain’s cabin at the small display with all manner of antique lamps and maps. The woods that went into the ship’s construction are Central American hardwoods, Douglas fir, Sitka spruce and several species of local hardwoods. When not docking or casting off from the dock, the captain and his mate are available for questions or chitchat.

It’s also a pleasure simply to sit on the forecastle, a raised area overlooking the main deck, and gaze at the sea, the gulls and the dolphins that play around the ship. The deck space is a bit short of seating, however, so be prepared to do some standing. Snacks and drinks are provided.

The ship was in Lewes all of July and is in New England this month. But the Kalmar Nyckel returns Sept. 16 to Delaware and will be available for sails and tours through Oct. 5. Coastal Delaware weather commonly remains in the 80s well into October.

• • •

Before stopping by the ship, try visiting the Zwaanendael Museum in Lewes. There you will pick up some good maritime facts, such as that Delaware Bay has the world’s largest population of horseshoe crabs. The museum has an exhibit on these prehistoric creatures, believed to be 350 million years old.

They are also Delaware’s official marine animal and have their own Web site: www.horseshoecrab.com.

“Zwaanendael” means “valley of the swans” in Dutch, and the Flemish-style museum is a copy of the town hall in Hoorn, Holland. It’s impossible to miss, as it’s located on Route 9 at Savannah Road as one drives into town.

• • •

Lewes was originally a whaling colony at a time when whales were plentiful in the bay. These days, one has to sail five miles out into the ocean to view them. After Henry Hudson sailed up the Delaware Bay in 1609, thinking the waterway was a route to the Far East, word was out that here was a place ripe for good fishing.

Lewes was first established in 1631, but its Dutch inhabitants were killed by Indians that year. A second settlement was established by the Dutch in 1658. The Dutch and English wrestled for control of the area, and the British won, making Delaware a part of New York. In 1682, William Penn acquired control of three Delaware counties from the Duke of York, adding it to Pennsylvania. The tiny settlement was renamed Lewes, after a town in Sussex County, England. Ann of Cleves, one of Henry VIII’s many wives, had a home there.

In 1776, Delaware separated from Pennsylvania, became a colony and in 1787 became the first state. Lewes got a bit of notoriety in 1813 when the British bombed it during the War of 1812.

A replica of the original settlement is on Shipcarpenter Street, about three blocks down Second Street from Savannah Road. The Lewes Historical Society has either moved or reconstructed 12 dwellings from the 17th and 18th centuries for viewing. They include the state’s oldest house, a one-room school, a general store and several homes. Admission is $6, and volunteer guides outside each building are eager to answer questions.

The Burton-Ingram House, for example, has an impressive display of widow’s weeds, the black clothing that Colonial women wore for the rest of their lives once their husbands died. Make sure to see the “modesty boot strap,” a contraption that enabled women to remove their boots without allowing onlookers to get a glance at a possibly alluring ankle.

The general store has Journals of the Lewes Historical Society for sale, which give fascinating accounts of the local history of the area. One of the booklets tells of the building of a huge breakwater in Lewes Harbor inside Cape Henlopen. Tons of stone were brought in for the project, which was begun in 1829 and finished in 1898. This was to give protected anchorage for ships and provide a place for a lighthouse.

Some very decent restaurants and art galleries are scattered about the small town. There is no dearth of good art in the area, according to Tony Boyd-Heron, owner of the Peninsula Gallery at 520 E. Savannah Road. Eight Lewes art galleries will have a joint reception from 2 to 6 p.m. Sept. 13.

• • •

Want to see what’s across the water? The modern Cape May-Lewes Ferry terminal is only a few miles outside of town, and it provides a pleasant 90-minute ride to Cape May, N.J., a beach town filled with Victorian homes and quaint shops. The ferry ride costs $25 per car, but walk-on passengers can board for $6. A $3 round-trip shuttle into downtown Cape May is available once the ferry docks in New Jersey.

The best way to see Cape May is to rent a bike ($4 an hour or $9 a day) rather than put up with the stiff parking fees (75 cents an hour) in town. New Jersey beaches come with plenty of convenient restrooms but be forewarned: Beach admission is $4 daily.

However, if one is staying several days on the Delaware coast, Cape May is worth a day trip simply for the dozens of beautifully decorated Victorian homes that line the streets and the three-block Washington Street Mall, which boasts several very nice shops. Swede Things, a Scandinavian gift shop at No. 307, boasts some beautiful and reasonably priced lamps and paper mobiles.

• • •

Back in Delaware, the beaches — except for those at state parks —are free. Non-water-related things to do include filling up at Thrasher’s French Fries — which serves near-legendary munchies — and perusing the Shipwreck Museum, 708 Ocean Highway in Fenwick, which showcases some of the coins, bullion, gold and silver bars, weapons, jewelry, porcelain and pottery recovered from local wrecks. It’s on the second floor of the Sea Shell City building.

Or one can visit Nassau Valley Vineyards, Delaware’s lone winery, just outside Lewes on Route 9. In the early 1990s, proprietor Peggy Raley noticed that the area’s well-drained soils, temperate climate and long Indian summer were good for growing vines. But “farm wineries” that combined grape growing with winemaking were not allowed in Delaware then. In 1991, Ms. Raley drafted a law to create wineries in the state, and two years later, she obtained the needed state and local licenses.

The vineyard opened in 1993 but took another seven years to start producing its best wines. Today, Nassau Valley has a do-it-yourself tour on the history of winemaking, a wine-tasting room decorated with modern art, and six wine selections: two cabernets, a merlot, a chardonnay, a chambourcin and a seyval blanc.

The entire area is filled with beach rentals, but those desiring luxury accommodations can park themselves at several places in Rehoboth. The Boardwalk Plaza Hotel, at Olive Street on the boardwalk, has a fabulous beach view and restaurant right over the water. The restaurant, Victoria’s, serves a killer dessert: Bananas Foster pie, a banana cream concoction drizzled with caramel and sprinkled with almonds.

The Plaza and the Bellmoor, an inn and spa a few blocks inland at 6 Christian St., boast a new trend in lodging: adults-only swimming pools and hot tubs. The Plaza’s adults-only area is atop the fourth floor; the Bellmoor has its adults-only pool in a ground-floor-level garden. Families can frolic about in a second-floor pool and hot tub.

The Bellmoor’s fourth-floor suites are especially luxurious, with two bathrooms, a balcony, window seats and lots of room to stretch out. The inn offers afternoon tea as well as huge breakfasts in the ground-floor lobby.

WHAT: The tall ship Kalmar Nyckel

WHERE: Moored at Cape May-Lewes Ferry dock in Lewes, Del. Follow the signs from Route 1.

WHEN: Sail dates are twice daily Sept. 16-Oct. 1. Tours at Lewes town dock are Oct. 3-5.

COST: Sail tickets $40 adults, $20 children younger than 13.

INFORMATION: 888/783-SAIL for information and reservations or see www.kalnyc.org

WHAT: Twelve historic homes preserved by the Lewes Historical Society

WHERE: Shipcarpenter and Second streets, Lewes, Del.

WHEN: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Friday, 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday

COST: Tickets $6

INFORMATION: 302/645-7670 or www.historiclewes.org.

WHAT: Zwaanendael Museum

WHERE: Kings Highway and Savannah Road, Lewes, Del.

WHEN: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, 1:30-4:30 p.m. Sunday

COST: Free

INFORMATION: 302/645-1148, www.destatemuseums.org/zwa/

WHAT: Nassau Valley Vineyards, Delaware’s first and only winery

WHERE: 32165 Winery Way, Lewes, Del., ½ mile east of the intersection of Routes 1 and 9

WHEN: 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, noon-5 p.m. Sunday

COST: Tours and wine tastings free

INFORMATION: 302/645-9463

WHAT: Boardwalk Plaza Hotel

WHERE: Olive Street at Boardwalk, Rehoboth

INFORMATION: 302/227-7169 or www.boardwalkplaza.com

WHAT: The Bellmoor Inn and Spa

WHERE: 6 Christian St., Rehoboth

INFORMATION: 302/227-5800 or www.thebellmoor.com

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