Posted by: beachchairandabook | October 7, 2016

End of Summer by the Sea: Shipwrecks, Seacrets and the Wawa of Wine

Growing up on the Eastern Shore of Maryland I understood Ocean City to be a sundown town – we were more than welcome to work, but never to stay and play. My first visit to OC was a mid-January weekend in the late 1990’s.Even in winter it was everything I love about a beach town. I’ve been going back ever since.

As usual we lucked up with little advance planning.We got in and out before Bike Weekend. And in spite of the early biker arrivals and a convention at the hotel, we scored an oceanview room at the Princess Royale. In mid-September, there’s no denying the slow march of fall, but the bright blue beach umbrellas, silver blue water, bright sun and sand helped us hold on to our favorite season a little longer.

For me, there are two mandatory stops on any Ocean City visit. Number One on arrival is Sea Shell City, just over the Maryland line on Fenwick Island in Delaware. If there can never be too many sea shells in your world (as in mine), this is the place to see. One whole section of the coastal/nautical gift shop is dedicated to shells of all kinds, from the very tiny to the magnificently large and very pricey.

On each previous visit I spent so much time among the sea fans, conch and Babylon shells that I never paid attention to the small Shipwreck Museum up a flight of stairs from the main floor. What an incredible surprise to find a display of  items recovered by Mel Fisher, the legendary Key West treasure hunter and his “Golden Crew” of divers. On a previous birthday trip to Key West I made it a point to visit the Mel Fisher Museum, but had no idea that some of his treasures were so close by. A few pieces of the over 40 tons of gold and silver from the Nuestra Senora de Atocha and the Santa Margarita were right there, practically in my backyard! Even more meaningful were a set of shackles from  the slave ship Henrietta Marie, “the English ship”  Fisher’s divers discovered while searching for the Atocha. When I mentioned my Key West visit  to the sales associate, she told me that the Shipwreck Museum’s owner had been one of Fisher’s crew. It was only fitting that in the guestbook comments section I wrote “today’s the day.” It was Fisher’s never-give-up mantra. Although this was strictly a fun in the sun trip, the history fix was an extra bonus.

Number Two on the must-see list is Ocean City’s iconic Seacrets. Even on a Tuesday night, the entertainment complex known as Jamaica USA welcomed a steady stream of people looking to enjoy its brand of Caribbean-inspired food and drink. Inside, across the lot from a Jamaican bobsled, an oversize postcard welcomed visitors.  At the outdoor Rock Bar, a dock stretched out into the Bay next to tables set out into the water. Cocoa Tea’s reggae classic “Rikers Island” and other Caribbean  tunes floated out over  the palms, sandy beach and its bars. With the sun setting over the water and a Seacrets rum float in hand, it was the next best thing to sunset  somewhere in Caribbean.

After Seacrets, it was time to buy a bottle of bubbly to toast the birthday girl. Every store we found was on the other side of the Coastal Highway. A few more blocks and a u-turn later we came upon something I’d never seen before.  I call it the Wawa of wine – in addition to the usual offering of snacks, the main product of this Exxon station/convenience store is wine.The presence of hot dogs, hot coffee, and cold drinks is secondary.The words “food”, “express” or “quick stop” are nowhere to be seen in the sign over the store – only The Wine Rack. And there are more – so if you’re on the lower shore and need a bag of ice, a dozen eggs, a tank of gas and a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc before you reach the beach, check the Rack.

The next day’s weather was  just as perfect as the first. After coffee on the beach, it was time for a real birthday morning breakfast.There are as many breakfast places in the OC as there are miniature golf courses with dinosaurs, waterfalls, giant Tiki heads and pirate ships. Google “Ocean City breakfast” and take your pick. (Apparently, Ocean City nights call for more than coffee and a doughnut for the next morning’s  meal). Our choice was Bayside Skillet – who wouldn’t love the  pink and white decor and bright pink, yellow and blue fringed umbrellas over outdoor tables? Before a drive down to the boardwalk we feasted on coffee, Old-Bay rimmed Bloody Mary’s and a breakfast big enough to carry over into lunch.

We walked off some of that big breakfast on the Boardwalk. It was close to the end of season, but lots of souvenir shops were still open. (Hide your kids, hide your wife – who comes up with those T-shirt slogans??)  To my ever increasing beach town mug collection, I added a cup painted with sea shells, sea grass and an Adirondack chair looking out over the water. It was mid-September, but still a bright, hot, splendid summer day.The Ripley’s shark bared its teeth over the boardwalk. The Giant Ferris Wheel stood high over the Pier. Flags fluttered around the Ocean City Firefighters Memorial. Beachcombers lounged on the wide sandy beach under bright red umbrellas. It was the perfect way to celebrate a birthday and wish an almost-farewell to summer by the sea.






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