Under Sail--FROM LEWES Breeze-fanned ship offers leisurely look at historic seaport

June 20, 1993|By JoAnne C. Broadwater | JoAnne C. Broadwater,Contributing Writer

LEWES, DEL. — Lewes, Del.--The cool evening winds blew steadily at 15 knots, and the swells were big and long as the Jolly Rover moved out of the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal into the open waters of the Delaware Bay.

The crew moved efficiently on deck, preparing the 79-foot topsail schooner for sailing, apparently oblivious to the ship's pitching and rolling. Clad in crisp, nautical whites, they set the lower sails, and then First Mate Robert Casler climbed the rigging to unfurl the topsails.

As 1,800 square feet of traditional tanbark-colored sail swelled and filled with wind, Capt. Ward Walter shut down the engines and the ship was under sail.

This was an exciting ride for the 13 passengers who boarded the Jolly Rover. Among those greeted by the crew were a young couple from Washington, a family with two children from Maryland and a husband and wife from New Jersey treating their young grandson to the cruise.

Also along for the ride was local architect Geoff Drake, a year-round Lewes resident who occasionally volunteers as a crewman.

"I've sailed all of my life, and the Jolly Rover is just a delight," Mr. Drake said. "It's fun introducing people to the area on a boat like this."

The three-hour sunset cruise was favored with strong winds that carried the vessel all the way to the Atlantic Ocean. Dolphins swam close by to spy on the passengers. And, as Captain Walter turned the ship to head back to port, the sun could be seen hanging on the edge of the horizon before slipping into the darkening water.

This was the Jolly Rover's first day of warm-weather cruising out of Lewes, the historic waterfront town which will be her summer port. In early May, the ship left St. Petersburg Beach, Fla. -- where she cruised during the winter months --and headed north for her second summer of carrying vacationers on sailing trips into the bay. Cruises are scheduled to continue through October.

The ship, which can hold 49 passengers, sails two to three times a day and is within easy driving distance of all the Delaware and Maryland beaches.

Even on hot summer days when the winds are mild and the water is calm, the Jolly Rover's sails can be hoisted. The topsails still catch enough wind to move the schooner through the Delaware Bay at a quiet, relaxed pace.

New, but it looks old

Although the Jolly Rover is modeled after the swift schooners used by 19th-century pirates and smugglers, she is a new vessel -- commissioned just over a year ago. She was built by Rover Marine Ltd., a firm owned by Captain Walter's family.

"My brother, father and I have built about a dozen topsail schooners, and we are still affiliated with five of them," said the 32-year-old captain, who lived aboard a 52-foot schooner for 17 years while he was growing up.

"My father, Merritt Walter, designs all of the boats," he said. "And my brother, Shon Walter, oversees construction. We used zero outside contracting on the Jolly Rover. Not a nut, bolt, screw or stroke was done on this boat that wasn't done by one of the family."

It took two years of welding, fitting, topcoat applying, electrical and plumbing work, sandblasting, engine installation and rigging finish the Jolly Rover. And the Jolly Rover II is currently under construction.

Sailing is definitely a family affair for the Walters. Captain Walter's children -- Chessy, 7, and Lee, 13 -- are both "great sailors" and sometimes help out as members of the Jolly Rover crew. Captain Walter's wife, Carolyn, runs the ticket booth and handles bookkeeping.

"I like the Delaware Bay," Captain Walter said. "There's better sailing -- more open water and better winds generally."

Docked at Lewes

When she's not cruising the bay, the Jolly Rover is docked at the city pier in the heart of Lewes -- a quaint little town flavored with history where visitors can enjoy shopping, boating, fishing and a quiet beach vacation.

Lewes, home of the southern terminal of the Cape May/Lewes Ferry, was originally a whaling colony settled by the Dutch in 1631. Today, the town has a historic area filled with interesting old buildings, many of which were moved here from other locations because of their significant architecture or history. Among them is a house that was struck by a cannonball during the bombardment of Lewes in the War of 1812.

This year, tourists will be able to enjoy the sights of Lewes during 15-minute spins around town in horse-drawn carriages. The rides will be offered Wednesday through Sunday from early afternoon until early evening.

"It's a pleasant way to see some wonderful old houses," said Michael De Long, owner of the Lewes Carriage Company. "We take the time to really point out interesting things to [people], things they normally wouldn't see if they were racing through in a car."

The antique carriages -- surreys with fringe on top -- will be pulled by chestnut-colored horses named Old Jack, Jack and Blaze. Carriage drivers pick up passengers outside the New Devon Inn at Second and Market streets.

Going in style

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