LOWER TOWNSHIP – Marge Farina, of Bethany Beach, Del., walked off the Cape May-Lewes Ferry on Wednesday and gave her friend Monica Schlussel a warm hug.
Farina takes the ferry several times a year to visit Schlussel and other friends in South Jersey. She relaxed on the 45-minute ride across the bay while reading a Debbie Macomber novel.
“I really enjoy the ride,” she said.
The ferry has been extra-busy this summer after one of its three boats, the MV Delaware, dropped out of commission for emergency engine repairs. After inspections and sea trials by the U.S. Coast Guard, the ship rejoined the fleet Wednesday so the ferry service could resume its normal schedule, said James Salmon, spokesman for the Delaware River & Bay Authority.
And not a day too soon. The agency estimated it was losing $11,000 in ticket revenues for every day the ferry was inoperable.
The Cape May ferry terminal was bustling with summer travelers on Wednesday.
Unlike a bus station or plane terminal, the Cape May ferry terminal is relaxed and unhurried. Nobody has to run to gates or wait in long security lines. Many visitors watched for the next ferry from the outdoor patio tables in a waterfront setting so scenic it is used for wine and beer festivals on the weekends.
“We’re staying in Wildwood and we’re just taking a day trip to Rehoboth,” said Mary Finucane, of Blackwood Township while sitting in the shade of a patio umbrella.
“It’s a very pleasant ride. You see lots of wildlife. We really enjoy it,” she said.
Jay Creech and his wife, Helen, were returning to Annapolis, Md., after a visit with friends in Cape May Point, where he went surf fishing.
“Our visit wasn’t long enough. But this is an easy trip. We just park the car at the Lewes terminal and walk on the ferry,” he said.
And for some people, the boat ride the 17 miles over the Delaware Bay is the destination. Judy Greener, 64, and may Collins, 57, both of Lower Township, planned to take a shuttle bus to Lewes for lunch. But the ferry itself was the real reason for the trip, they said.
“It’s really a pleasure. You meet people. They have great bartenders,” Greener said.
“I’m hoping to see some dolphins. They’ve even seen a whale,” Collins said. “Next time we’ll bring our bikes.”
More than 43 million people have taken the ferry since its creation in 1964. Each ferry carries as many as 100 cars and 1,000 passengers for the 80-minute ride across the bay.
Riders from South Jersey said the ferry is a big travel convenience for travelers heading to Maryland, Virginia or points south, saving time that otherwise would be spent driving up to the Delaware Memorial Bridge, a toll bridge also managed by the DRBA.
The ferry also offers travel packages with bus transportation to and from Atlantic City, the Cape May County Park & Zoo and the Cape May Lighthouse.
“The Cape May-Lewes Ferry is a great marketing partner,” said Vicki Clark, president of the Cape May County Chamber of Commerce. “They market the area for people who come for a longer period of time.”
Clark said the ferry helps open the county to a big market across the Delaware Bay. Lots of through-visitors inquire at the Visitor Center about restaurants and attractions they can enjoy before their ferry reservation, she said.
Jackie Dooley, of Cape May Point, said she always looks for the distant ferry while watching the sunset from the beach. She recalls a leisurely trip taking the ferry across to visit friends in Delaware on a sunny day much like Wednesday.
“I sat out there with a glass of wine. I enjoyed every moment of that,” she said.