Call me a soldier of fortune -- at least where the water is concerned. Having done nothing more than wade in the surf after spending several weeks here along the Atlantic, I decided, like Ishmael in Melville's "Moby Dick," that I would "sail about a little and see the watery part of the world" -- well, at least of Ocean City.
No vacation at the shore is a vacation unless you spend some time playing in the water. And water sports are as much a part of the resort as the beaches, the T-shirt shops and amusement parks.
Unfortunately, these sports tend to be more expensive propositions, resolving many to remain on the beach. But by clipping newspaper and other coupons, beach-goers can save $5 to $10 on everything from windsurfing to parasailing.
So with my wallet in hand, I ventured to the shores of the Atlantic to give some of the more popular water sports a try. Here's what I sampled:
Windsurfing showed me very little of Ocean City's waters. But then I couldn't have handled much more than the area off the shoreline at 51st Street in the Isle of Wight Bay.
Windsurfers make the sport look easy. It is. And it isn't.
I found a windsurfing lesson beforehand at Sailing Etc. to be invaluable. While on shore, an instructor points out the dos and don'ts, including how to climb aboard, get in position, and how to pull up and maneuver the sail.
Some of it will be lost on you until you're in the water. In the surf, instructors follow along on jet skis to offer tips and to tow worn-out students to shore (there's a lot of climbing back aboard and pulling the sail out of the water).
Justin Graham, manager of Sailing Etc., says most novices have problems coordinating the wind, the board and themselves.
"People don't seem to have a concept of where the wind is coming from," he says. "People will get up on the board, pull up the sail and face into the wind."
Backs should always be to the wind. That's something nobody in my class seemed to have a problem with. Balance and maneuvering the sail to catch the wind for speed seemed to be more of a problem.
Mr. Graham points out that children are better windsurfers than adults because they don't conceptualize everything; they just do it.
Don't let that stop you. And by all means take a lesson beforehand. It's well worth the money ($48 at Sailing Etc., which includes the board rental). I had plenty of time in the water and adequate instruction.
Three women, giggling nervously, accompanied me and a pair of instructors from O.C. Parasail as we motored out of the 54th Street dock into the Isle of Wight Bay, where each of us took the opportunity to fly above the water for a sensational eight minutes.
Little instruction is needed for this sport. Outfitted with a harness and reins, I was lifted off the deck at the bow of the boat. Once in the air, sitting straight and holding onto the harness, I was mesmerized by a stunning view of the bay, Ocean City and the Atlantic.
Depending on how much you pay for the trip, the boat's tow line lifts you up to float 400 to 600 feet in the air, For an additional $10, you're allowed two free-falls to the water.
It's quiet flying over the bay; the noise of the motor is muffled by the distance and a steady, warm breeze.
OC The trip, at $35 to $50, is short but the thrill is unbeatable.
One windsurfing instructor called these machines "the sport for morons." I might have agreed with him had I not taken advantage of the jet skiing offered by Island Watersports.
With Island Watersports, jet skiers are not left to their own devices. Instead, two guides on jet skis accompany a group out of the marina, under the U.S. 50 bridge and through the channel to Sinepuxent Bay, on the west side of Assateague Island.
After about a 15-minute ride, the group is let loose in a 3-square-mile area north of the Verrazano bridge, where you're allowed to get wild and see the wild (namely the ponies on Assateague).
Jet skis are easy to maneuver, though they take a little getting used to. They're more difficult to maneuver with somebody else along. Island Watersports recommends that couples take separate machines, which rent for $55 an hour; $65 an hour for an adult and one child. A deposit is required and reservations are recommended.
For me, sailing is the water sport and the best way to see the "watery part of the world."
While I had sailed before arriving in Ocean City, I had never sailed on the ocean. And I wasn't about to go it alone. So I chose to take advantage of the services of Monty and Sara Lewis.
The Lewises, both retired, sail a 35-foot yacht, the Vivacious, on the bay and the ocean, offering morning, afternoon and evening cruises. They limit their guests to six or fewer.
Water sports outlets
Bay Sports, Ruddertowne, South Dewey Beach. Open 9 a.m.-7 p.m. daily. (302) 227-7590. Hobie Cats, sunfish, paddle boats and jet skis. Sales and rentals. Sailing lessons in season daily by reservation.