Things to Do

Maritime Day setting sail in Lewes

By Craig Horleman
Posted 5/14/24

The rich maritime history of eastern Sussex County will be on display Saturday, as Lewes Maritime Day will be celebrated at the Lightship Overfalls and Lewes Canalfront Park from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

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Things to Do

Maritime Day setting sail in Lewes


LEWES — The rich maritime history of eastern Sussex County will be on display Saturday, as Lewes Maritime Day will be celebrated at the Lightship Overfalls and Lewes Canalfront Park from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Co-organized by the Cape May–Lewes Ferry and the Overfalls Foundation — and supported by the Zwaanendael Museum, the Lewes Historical Society, the Lewes Chamber of Commerce and the city of Lewes — the day will include maritime exhibits and demonstrations, boat rides, vessel tours and other activities.

New Jersey’s official tall ship, the A.J. Meerwald, a Delaware Bay oyster schooner, will be available for dockside tours Saturday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., as well as for a public sail Sunday at 10 a.m. Tickets for the sail can be reserved at

Started in 2007, Maritime Day was originally set at the ferry terminal, moving to the park in 2022.

Heath Gehrke, director of ferry operations for the Delaware River & Bay Authority, and Mike Safina, president of the Overfalls Foundation, help to organize Maritime Day each year.

“I moved down here a few years ago and got to know Heath. Turns out, Heath and I are both alumni from the Merchant Marine Academy. I started talking about, ‘Hey, what should we do about Maritime Day this year?’ I was a new president at the Overfalls. And we were concerned that we weren’t getting enough public attention at the ferry terminal,” Mr. Safina said.

“So, I said, ‘Well, what if we decided to move it over to the Overfalls and hosted it in the park and tried to get the city more involved? And it’s actually been growing. With the park being more centrally located, it’s been pretty good.”

Mr. Gehrke added that, despite the move, the mission of Maritime Day has remained the same.

“We still want to celebrate the rich history of Lewes in terms of maritime, and also, we talk with folks about, ‘What if you wanted to work in maritime?’ (and) whether that’s something (in which) you want to get involved — in the ferry or eventually become a pilot or a merchant mariner,” he said.

“We’ll have a table set up for the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, and (it will) be probably combined with my table, since I’m an alum. We can talk to people about, ‘Hey, I’m interested in going to a federal maritime school. How would I go about doing that?’ So, it’s kind of educational in a number of different respects.”

Additional exhibitors include Cape Water Tours, the Delaware River & Bay Lighthouse Foundation, the Fort Miles Historical Association, the Freedom Boat Club, Groome Church, the Lewes Yacht Club, the Marine Education, Research & Rehabilitation Institute, the Military Sealift Command, the New Hope Canoe Club Ministry, the Pilots’ Association for the Bay & River Delaware, Sea Scouts, the Pirates of Lewes Expeditions and the University of Delaware.

A brief ceremony will be held at 10 to kick off Maritime Day and to reopen the Lightship Overfalls for the season. It will include proclamations by local officials; remarks by keynote speaker Lt. Danielle Taylor, supervisor of the U.S. Coast Guard Marine Safety Detachment in Lewes; and the laying of wreaths to honor local mariners and Overfalls Foundation members who have passed away.

The Overfalls and its museum at 219 Pilottown Road will be open for free tours throughout the day.

Other activities include a water cannon display by the Lewes Fire Department’s boat, a life raft demonstration by ferry staff and Lewes Historical Society interpreters portraying historical figures from the U.S. Life-Saving Service at Canalfront Park and The Lewes Maritime Museum-Cannonball House.

Built in 1938 for the U.S. Lighthouse Service, the Overfalls, aka LV-118, was decommissioned by the Coast Guard in 1972 and has been in Lewes since the year after.

The “Overfalls” moniker is in honor of the Overfalls Shoals lightship station nearby and the American lightship sailors who served there. The vessel is preserved, maintained and operated by a team of volunteers who make up the Overfalls Foundation.

The group acquired the lightship from the Lewes Historical Society for $1 several years ago.

“It never fails to surprise us that we get so many visitors that come aboard for the first time. Many of them live in the area and have never been aboard the ship before. We are offering free tours Saturday, and it’s great to see people come aboard,” Mr. Safina said.

Plus, the Overfalls is not the only attraction on-site.

“We have the Monomoy lifeboat from the Merchant Marine Academy, an historically preserved lifeboat from the World War II era. We have that on display outside,” he said.

“And then, we also have a third attraction that doesn’t get a lot of attention. But we also house the Delaware Maritime Hall of Fame. It’s a granite marker on the park side of the ship that commemorates individuals that have had a long role from the state of Delaware, in either supporting the maritime industry or possibly working to preserve history of the maritime community.”

After Saturday’s free tours, the ship is open Thursdays through Sundays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. through September and then on weekends through Columbus Day. It’s also available Veterans Day and the first Saturday in December, to coincide with the Lewes Christmas Market.

Tours are $5 for those 15 and older and free for children under 14 and foundation members.

Additionally, the Overfalls’ canal-side happy hours return May 23 and continue on the third Thursday of each month through September, from 5-7 p.m.

“It’s just a little beer-and-wine social. We have some live music for that. And again, it’s another opportunity to come on down and see the ship for free and get to know other members of the community,” Mr. Safina said.

Family programs will also be on tap this summer, as well as a fundraising gala at the Lewes Yacht Club on Oct. 12.

President of the organization for four years — and a Navy veteran with expertise in shipbuilding — Mr. Safina said the foundation’s bylaws require him to step down at the end of the year. But he plans to remain a volunteer and urges others to help out, as well.

“I’ve really enjoyed working with the organization. The mission is good. I like the mission of education. It’s a great way to get kids out to learn about possible careers in the maritime industry,” he said. “Our docents come from all walks of life. Each add their own little flavor to the tours. So, it’s kind of interesting.”

For information on the foundation and Maritime Day, visit

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