Tag Archives: Cape May

Sunset Beach: A Concrete Boat and Cape May Diamonds

At dusk any night of the week, locals gather at Sunset Beach, Cape May Point, NJ, to watch the spectacular reddening of the sky over Delaware Bay. From May through September they are also there for the evening flag ceremony that honours veterans right before sunset.

For newcomers, perhaps the most amazing sight at Sunset Beach is the half-sunk concrete ship Atlantus. Due to a shortage of steel during World War I, the Federal government experimented with concrete ships and produced 12 of these heavy-weight floaters. The Atlantus was the second prototype, a 3,000 ton, 250-foot long freighter with a five-inch-thick hull of concrete aggregate. Launched on Nov. 21st, 1918 at Wilmington, North Carolina, the Atlantus served for a year as a government-owned, privately operated commercial coal steamer, plying the waters of New England. Needless to say, the concrete experiment was not particularly efficient and the ships were decommissioned at the end of the war. The Atlantus went to the Bone Yard at Pigs Point, Norfolk, VA, and in 1920 it was towed to Cape May where a Baltimore firm was planning to start a ferry service between Cape May and Lewes, Delaware. The Atlantus was supposed to act as a dock, but she broke loose of her moorings and now lies with her bow peeking forlornly from the water’s surface. She’s a big draw for tourists who are also attracted to the beach to search for Cape May Diamonds.

As the Atlantus appears now.

What’s a Cape May Diamond? About 200 miles upstream along the Delaware River quartz deposits get dislodged by the swift waters and are carried along the strong current to Delaware Bay.

Tumbled by the tides, the opaque nuggets (some as big as an egg!) are washed ashore at Sunset Beach. Pop into Sunset Beach Gifts and you’ll see a selection of polished, cut quartz crystals that dazzle like diamonds in pendants and earrings. Prices range from $25-$40 for a pair of earrings. www.sunsetbeachnj.com

Cape May, NJ, Naturally

Heading out on a salt marsh safari in the Skimmer with Ginny and Ed, I felt a little lost…in time. With the shoreline’s cacophony of electrical wires and buildings at my back, I was looking out at a shimmering, grassy carpet covering the shallow waters of Cape May Inlet. Other than the odd small boat, it felt like our group was totally alone, exploring the shores where the indigenous Kechemeche people use to gather shellfish.

“This is the ocean’s nursery, small crabs and shrimps provide a smorgasbord for migrating and resident birds. Look, there’s the osprey nest,” said Ed, the Skimmer’s captain. “And there’s an osprey,” chimed in Ginny, his partner, pointing to a dark, large-winged bird cruising the thermals above the marsh. Being fall, many of the migrating feathered residents had already departed for the south. Great herons, snowy egret, king fishers and cormorants were still there, though, providing plenty of fodder for our binoculars.

As Ginny took the wheel, Ed urged us to come and look at his touch tank.  Gently he plucked out starfish, crabs, whelks, and sea urchins for us to admire. “These creatures are part of the chain of life. This whole area is full of nutrients and is rich with wildlife,” he explained.

“We love it out here. For eight months of the year, seven days a week, we’re on the water. That’s the houseboat we live in,” said Ginny pointing to another flat-bottomed boat tied to the dock. She and Ed told us they have been taking visitors out for eight years and their safaris are considered a top attraction. “We take out lots of school groups, but individual travelers are also a big part of our business. We just want to share the natural beauty of the area. That way people will be more inclined to appreciate it and protect it. In many places along the coast, the salt marshes have been filled in. That’s a shame. We need them, they are the area’s lungs,” explained Ginny.

Ed expertly swung the Skimmer around and we headed back to shore. The water sparkled as swallows flitted by looking for insects. Breathing in the clean air, I felt totally at peace, but also a tad jealous. What a wonderful place Ginny and Ed call home. www.skimmer.com, (609) 884-3100. For more information on New Jersey flora and fauna, go to www.njaudubon.org