Bucket List Travels: Surprising Cape May

Morristown resident Paul Partridge has been building a travel bucket list for years. Now he’s diving in – near and far – and shares his adventures in this column.

Even after 12 years of family retreats, Cape May offers new surprises and adventures

Text and photos by Paul Partridge

The Bread Lady

 

Nothing like an afternoon siesta.

Down towards the Nature Conservancy on Sunset Boulevard sits an inconspicuous roadside stand that’s open one or two days a week, and the days change randomly. Enfin Farms operates like Vatican City does when choosing a new pope. Thousands breathlessly wait for the signal, only in this case the signal comes via Facebook and Instagram: One hour ‘til fresh bread!

 

Signal given, the race is on. Men, women, children, and dogs dash to the stand on foot, bike, car, golf cart and jogging strollers to secure a place line in hopes of getting one or two loaves of the best (still warm) homemade wood-fired bread you’ve ever tasted.

 

The Bread Lady makes 15 or so different varieties, but those waiting in line don’t know what today’s offerings will be. But we don’t care. Because whether it’s beet and dill or rosemary or pumpernickel, we know it’s going to be amazing. We also know that her 100 or so loaves will sell out within minutes, so we pray she doesn’t run out before it’s our turn. 

 

Tiki Cruise

 

The phrase ‘tiki cruise’ conjures up images of loud, drunken revelers cruising the harbor in a floating Mexican hat.

Billie after her rescue at sea.

Nevertheless, I agree to go when I learn that we have the boat to ourselves, and our dog Billie is welcome.

 

Our 2-hour sunset cruise gives us a chance to explore Cape May from the water. As a bonus we have Captain Rob, a fountain of knowledge. By day, Rob is a tugboat captain. Today he’s sitting in for the boat owner, who’s taking part in the MidAtlantic fishing tournament. Some fun facts we learn from Rob:

 

  • 80% of the world’s squid production comes from Cape May. Also, a very high proportion of bunker, which is used for cosmetics and other fish oil products. 
  • The tournament purse for this year’s MidAtlantic competition was $5.23 million. 1st prize in the white marlin category paid $871,404. Second prize went to Michael Jordan’s boat (yes, that Michael Jordan), paying $693,615.
  • One angler tried to cheat by pumping his catch with seawater to add weight. One of the judges was a taxidermist who deduced that the fish was waterlogged. The competitor was disqualified. 

 

The Marvelous Mrs. Mallard

 

Leaving the beach for happy hour.

One afternoon my daughter Emma and I are taking a walk. Suddenly, a mallard duck lands at our feet and starts to follow us. Her little duck feet struggle to maintain our pace. So she flies ahead and waits by the side of the road for us to catch up. 

 

The same pattern repeats a few more times. Finally, she takes flight high into the sky. We wave au revoir. 

 

A minute later she’s back, this time landing across the street. She waddles through traffic straight to us and settles at our ankles. Maybe it’s a relative reincarnated, Emma suggests. The duck accompanies us for another half mile, finally breaking off to swim in a backyard pool. 

 

Later that evening, we learn that Carol, my mother’s best friend for 70 years, passed away earlier in the day. Mom wonders if the Marvelous Mrs. Mallard was Carol saying goodbye. 

 

Pontoon Swoon

 

My wife’s brother Marco is an avid fisherman. The rest of us are the gang that couldn’t cast straight. Our specialty

Casting for dinner.

is hooking everything that’s not a fish. Fingers and thumbs? Check. A baseball cap? No problem. The boat’s canopy? Snagged it. A PBS tote bag? Reel it in. 

 

For years we rented the same ragtag pontoon boat. To picture it, imagine a 1967 VW Bus – not well maintained. Duct tape holding the seat cushions together. Shag carpeting. Cigarette burns in the dashboard. More than a little rust.

 

On our first fishing trip, we said to the marine owner, “We’d like to rent this pontoon boat.”

 

“You would?” he said, totally surprised.

 

Even worse than the relic’s shabby condition is the engine – a 4 horsepower lawnmower engine. It’s the only craft that can go full throttle through a no-wake zone without creating even a ripple. Each year we putt-putt along, embarrassed, passed by kayakers, row boats, floating sea gulls, turtles. Last year, when a woman doing an open ocean swim zipped lapped us, waving, we decided it was time for an upgrade. 

 

We found a new marina with an updated pontoon boat and – best of all – a 60 HP engine! So we set out with great expectations and the wind in our hair (for once).

 

Trying (unsuccessfully) to kiss a fish for luck.

The fish start biting right away. First a small shark. Then several dogfish. Marco tries to kiss a dogfish for good luck, but it jumps out of his hand. Uh-oh, is this bad luck?

 

As we wonder, the engine makes a grinding noise and abruptly conks out. The mooring line is wrapped around the propellor. We cut the line free, restart the engine, and breathe a sigh of relief. Then… “Dog overboard!” Billie is in the water – and getting pulled away from the boat by the current. Emma leaps in and manages to wrestle her aboard after a few nervous minutes. 

 

We decide it best to take Billie ashore. My daughter Grace, Billie and I offload at The Crab House at Two Mile Landing. The rest of the crew ventures back out, catches more dogfish, several black sea bass and a 19” flounder, which becomes dinner.

 

Other Fun Surprises

 

Elaine’s Porch – an ideal summer hangout with a neat outdoor bar. One of the regulars is Chunk the bulldog, a spitting image of Winston Churchill. Only thing missing is a cigar.

 

The Washington Inn restaurant – at some point during dinner, you will say Wow! Especially if you try the crab & corn chowder or the lamb cavatelli.

 

Cape May Point Beach – never crowded, a daily dolphin show right offshore, good fishing off the rocks, and delightful sunsets.

 

Music – free concerts all over town. Enjoyed the Sensational Soul Cruisers and Hunka Junk at the Cape May ferry, and The Big House Band in Rio Grande.

 

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