Tice’s Shoal is the prettiest parking lot around.

Pleasure boats anchor at this spot in Barnegat Bay, just off the south end of Island Beach State Park, in all but the most ridiculous weather. Many come across the bay from docks in Barnegat, Ocean and Lacey townships.

The shoal consists of an expanse of shallow water next to the state park’s island, which farther north becomes Seaside Park and Seaside Heights. Tice’s Shoal has no defined boundaries; the only landmark is a wooden overlook deck. From there, a path extends to the other side, the ocean side, of the thin island. Some days a dozen boats will be there, on others several hundred will be anchored together. All you need is a boat, or a friend with one. This isn’t the wine-and-cheese yacht crowd, nor is it a sit-in-a-beach-chair crowd. Whatever it is, it looks like fun and it has kept people coming back for years.

There are other places like it in the area, too.

On a recent Sunday, dozens of 20- and 25-footers anchored side-by-side on the Cove, the south end of Brigantine’s bayfront.

“You couldn’t get a credit card between the boats July 4,” said Frank Miller, 59, who comes from his Atlantic City home a few days every week in the summer.

An enterprising craft named “The Water Weenie” cooked and sold hot dogs and grilled cheese sandwiches.

On Miller’s boat, he said, “We have a bathroom, a cooler. We have all the amenities.”

Shallows spread far from the beach, the size of a few football fields, and indeed plenty of folks tossed footballs in ankle-deep water.

“People on the beach are just sitting there,” said Tom Kemmerer, visiting from Turnersville to boat with his brother, who is from Brigantine.

Docking a boat at the Cove is free. Absecon resident Nicholas Glick pays $185 a year for a permit to bring his truck onto the Brigantine beach, one of the few that allows motor vehicles. Some weekends, his whole family comes in the truck one day, and the other day he takes the boat to rendezvous with them.

“I love it down here, man,” Glick said. “I haven’t seen a single fight down here. Everybody watches out for everybody’s kids. If there were a bunch of scumbags down here, no way would I bring my kids.”

Drawing a crowd

Chris Ward has been visiting Tice’s Shoal for more than 30 years, and he now brings his 33-footer over from the Lanoka Harbor section of Lacey.

“I’ve been going there since before that deck was built and before it was really well-known by anyone,” said Ward, 45, who usually takes his wife, two daughters and some friends. “In 1975, it was probably a dozen other boats on a busy weekend.”

Now Ward’s “Friends of Tice’s Shoal” Facebook group has more than 500 members. Far more boaters make the trip these days, usually to lounge on deck, swim or just wade around in the shallow water to socialize. Still, the local appeal is preserved.

“Most of the people here are people that live around here. We don’t get many of the tourists out here,” said Cheryl Verdino, 39, of Berkeley Township’s Bayville section.

“Most of the boats you see here all the time. We just float around, go from boat to boat.”

More than two-thirds of the bay is less than 5 feet deep, a sign on the nearby observatory deck says.

Verdino sat on the stern of her family’s boat on a weekday afternoon, smoking a cigarette and reveling in her surroundings. The ocean’s sand and surf  lay a short wade and walk away, across the skinny island of Island Beach.

“We usually leave (the boat) here and go to the beach and don’t have to worry,” Verdino said. “People out here watch out for you.”

The atmosphere is convivial, apart from one boat passenger who shooed away a reporter, saying, “We’re not the friendly type.” Verdino met Barbara Marcks at Tice’s four years ago and they have been friends ever since.

Verdino and Marcks, 48, of Howell Township in Monmouth County, brought their boats together on an afternoon during the recent heat wave. Marcks came with her husband, Dave, son, Josh White, and his girlfriend, Carlie Manchester. The Marckses, owners of Geese Police (a firm that rids properties of unwanted waterfowl), make it out to Tice’s three to four times a week, she said.

Local flavor

The Tice’s crowds are livelier than those on the beach, Marcks said. They’re also more likely to be local, her husband added, since boat owners these days want to use as little gas as possible.

“You know how many people last year didn’t even unwrap their boats?” Dave Marcks said, referring to the weather-resistant plastic sheaths many boat owners use during the winter.

Manchester, 22, a Connecticut native who has spent her share of time on boats moored in the Long Island Sound, said, “It’s more peaceful out here, more breeze. Being on the water is great.”

A few Frisbee tosses away from the Marckses’ and Verdinos’ boats, six employees of Martell’s Tiki Bar in Point Pleasant Beach clutched coastered beer cans and busted chops.

They sometimes play football or Marco Polo while trying not to disturb their more mellow boating neighbors. Visitors to Tice’s Shoal, no matter how energetic, respect their surroundings, said Jay Mariano, 34, a Martell’s employee.

The origin of the Tice’s Shoal name is unclear: The Ocean County Historical Society spent a recent day poring through old books and documents but did not find the answer. When Ward began visiting in the 1970s, his crowd called it the Rendezvous, simply because they would always rendezvous there.

In the Barnegat Bay a few miles south of Tice’s Shoal, where the Long Beach Island causeway meets the island, boats often gather about 100 yards from the bathing beach. Even on July 4, though, there weren’t many more boats than on a weekday afternoon at Tice’s.

So how did Tice’s Shoal, that exact location, become so popular in the broad Barnegat Bay, when so many other places could offer the same thing?

Why there, when other spots of shallow water are a short walk away from the beach and, in the other direction, a short boat ride from the mainland docks?

Gauging by the stories, it’s tradition through repetition, through generation after generation coming to the same place, dropping anchor and soaking up one more relaxing day on the water.

Contact Eric Scott Campbell:

609-289-2483

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