Stuck in Cape May — and Loving It!

One of the best things about cruising to Cape May by boat is that we often get stuck there. This is meant as the highest compliment: rough water in either Delaware Bay or the Atlantic can extend a Cape May visit by a few days.

Tour, walk, read a book, nap in your bunk, an excellent meal; and then do more of the same the next day. Cape May can’t be seen in a few hours or even a day; it is the kind of place that keeps boaters returning on a regular basis. ICW travelers make Cape May a routine Spring Forward (North) – Fall Backward (South) stop.

Our favorite marina is Utsch’s, with South Jersey Marina running a close second. While each provide excellent service, even cleaner restrooms, and knowledge about what is going on, their flavors are a little different.

Utsch’s is the most transient and quickly accessed as one enters/exits the Cape May Canal. It has been around for over half a century, fifty four years to be exact, under the capable ownership of the Utsch family. A relatively recent Internet Lounge and Laundromat can compete with the newest marinas. Gas and diesel are pumped regularly. This spot has everything one could want for short and long stays and service for most any problem imaginable. Fishermen come for party and charter boats along with a popular Striper Tournament every fall.

How people can forget the name Utsch’s is beyond me; but I am frequently asked, “What is that marina called, you know, the one with the strange sounding name and super-nice bathrooms, that sits almost directly under the bridge into Cape May?” Utsch’s has been tooted in Northern Waterway Guide in their top ten marina category. Parking is convenient and ample.

If you want to be seen and see all that is going on, stay at the South Jersey Marina. Fishing boats come and go at all hours. Most slips have excellent views of the harbor, activity at the famed Lobster House, and beyond. It is a boater’s paradise with all types of boats and housing in view. Sitting on the deck and taking in the scenery is a favorite pastime. People flock to South Jersey Marina; it is on the direct path for walkers, bikers, and drivers arriving at Cape May. They have a sister marina, Canyon Club Resort Marina on Ocean Drive.

Slip availability should always be confirmed with the dockmaster. Fishermen insist that Cape May is the place to keep your fishing boat. Friends from two hours away travel to the area on a regular basis while large sporfishermen from the east coast fill Cape May docks during tournaments.

Anchoring out is an option around Cape May for those not interested in seeing a town where pride of ownership is evident and historic preservation is a way of life. There is no anchoring allowed in the Cape May Canal. Anchorages are found in the harbor on the east side of the Canal; however, continual wake and occasional noise can upset bad sleepers. A premier spot lies just north on the ICW a few miles. Sunset Lake is located west of Wildwood Crest.

While boating there is half the fun, the town is as visitor friendly as the local marinas. Wining and dining can vary from something sugary and gooey in the morning with a cup of coffee to the fanciest inn for dinner. Throw in Philly cheesesteaks, subs, and pizza in between.

No visit to Cape May would be complete without a stop at the Lobster House (609-884-8296) for a meal, the freshest seafood market around, and a congenial atmosphere. Their chowders are excellent; service is prompt; and visitors can watch the day’s catch being unloaded. For tired boaters take-out is available. Breakfast and lunch are also served.

Getting around Cape May is easy for boaters. Walking gives the best overview of the town. Bikes are fun if the traffic isn’t bad. Taxis, trolleys, and airport shuttles are available. Strolling the streets – main roads and back alleys – shows the flavor of Cape May. One beautifully restored home after the next is seen with occasional homeowners coming out to delight visitors with their project. Restaurants frequently invite inspection and provide outside menus so diners are not caught unaware of specialties and prices.

The Emlen Physick House was built in 1879 as a country estate designed by architect Frank Furness (he has been named one of America’s top ten architects). It has been restored by the Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts, open for tours and inspection most of the time.

Boat slips can be at a premium during the summer months, so make plans well ahead of time if possible. Cape May welcomes boating visitors and friends who may drive down to join them. A few good days in Cape May can beat a bad one on the water anytime.