FENWICK ISLAND

Searching for the Last Vestiges of Quiet

Survival of the quietest: The Fenwick Island Lighthouse stands tall against the sky. The area is slowly redeveloping its landscape and its sensibilities.
Survival of the quietest: The Fenwick Island Lighthouse stands tall against the sky. The area is slowly redeveloping its landscape and its sensibilities. (Art Baltrotsky Ftwp)

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Friday, May 19, 2006

Fenwick Island has long been coupled with Bethany Beach as one of "the quiet resorts," meaning in contrast to Ocean City. But not surprisingly, given its position between the two -- and the tug-of-war between the natural beauties of the wildlife and seashore areas to the north and the build-up to the south and west-- the once "affordable" family village is developing a split personality.

Stretches of Lighthouse Road/Route 54 and the smaller streets looking west into Little Assawoman Bay, once filled with small houses and RV parks and beloved for their sunset views, are being filled in, and their skylines elevated, by expansive homes and townhouses. "Marina" equipment increasingly means jet skis, there's only one miniature golf course left and even the Seaport Antique Village, long the favorite fantasy mansion of resort shoppers up and down the shore, has been sold for redevelopment.

If it weren't for the Fenwick Island Lighthouse and the state line -- established 1750-51 and marked with the arms of Lord Calvert on the Maryland side and William Penn on the Delaware side (then the lower Pennsylvania) -- Fenwick Island would be hard to distinguish from Ocean City.

So spend time along the relatively solitary waters on either side of the highway -- not so solitary as to be dangerous; most of the state park shoreline is patrolled by lifeguards -- and hope that what is still "quiet" can continue to survive.

FRIDAY

7:30 p.m. One of the few good sunset views left is that from the Tiki Bar at Harpoon Hanna's, Route 54 and the bay (302-539-3095). A deckuva spot, as the prez might say, the Tiki Bar is the ideal place to watch the returning WaveRunners and parasailers as they head back to the adjacent Shark's Cove Watersports rental shop. Drink with care -- the bar menu's cutesy names don't give much clue to the sugar rush or the headache, and the DJ can be loud.

8:30 p.m. The Fenwick Crab House (Fenwick Center, on Coastal Highway one block north of the Maryland-Delaware line; 302-539-2500) is famous for its classic Maryland crab cakes and seafood combinations, and all-you-can-eat steamed crabs, fried chicken, jambalaya and corn on the cob.

10:30 p.m. Let dinner settle over a nightcap at Smitty McGee's Raw Bar and Restaurant (Route 54 in the Bayville Shopping Center; 302-436-4716), which is a kinder, gentler neighborhood hangout than it might seem at first glance. Tip the staff well, and they'll make it worth your while.

SATURDAY

8:30 a.m. Refill the gas tank at the Royal Farms station at 701 Coastal Hwy., wash your hands at the handy sink and then customize your own breakfast order -- bread, filling, condiments -- at the computer kiosk. Add a 20-ounce cup of coffee and hash browns for $1.59, and when the order is complete, walk over to the beach, take a bench and dine al fresco.

9:30 a.m. Get tackle and bait (and lots of good advice) at Fenwick Tackle (Route 1 and Maryland Avenue; 302-539-7766) before driving to Fenwick Island State Park, where you can change at the bathhouse, grab a soft drink and stake out your territory ($8). Enjoy the sun and surf-cast for bluefish, stripers, flounder and blowfish. If the fish are striking, you can take your catch to Hook 'Em and Cook 'Em at the Indian River Marina (just north of the inlet bridge on Route 1; 302-226-8220) to have it filleted and packed in ice to haul home. When you get too hot, take a dip; this is one of the area's prettiest beaches.

1 p.m. Order some good authentic Greek grub at Capt'n Pete's Mediterranean Cove (700 Coastal Hwy.; 302-537-5900), and settle in on the screened-in porch.

2:30 p.m. Take advantage of the cool inside the free DiscoverSea Shipwreck Museum next door (708 Coastal Hwy.; 302-539-9366), which has a huge rotating collection -- it can display only about 20 percent at a time -- of mostly 18th-century artifacts such as firearms and cannons, pottery, silver and pewter, personal effects, an hourglass salvaged from a merchant vessel more than three miles deep in the Bermuda Triangle, and a chestful of British and Irish ha'pennies recovered from the Faithful Steward, which went down near Lewes in 1785 on its way to Philadelphia.

5 p.m. Arrange a kayaking lesson at Coastal Kayak (if you need one) and then head out for a two-hour sunset eco-tour of the salt marsh area or the back bays of Assateague Island National Park, where you might see the famous ponies as well as waterfowl. Coastal Kayak rents a variety of kayaks from $15 an hour and usually has plenty on site at its ocean access on Route 1 two miles north of Ocean City and three miles south of Bethany Beach; for tours, call ahead to reserve a guide (302-539-7999).

8 p.m. David Twining's Nantucket restaurant (Coastal Highway at Atlantic Avenue; 302-539-2607) has been serving quahog and scallop chowder -- make that "chowdah" -- for 15 years, and the bar crowd is full of so many regulars you'd think they'd been there for the first batch. Only the lofty cathedral interior is new.

10 p.m. Fenwick may be quiet, but it's not dead: Like any good watering hole, the Quail Pub (1 Sunshine Plaza; 302-537-4104) stays open as long as there are customers (or until the 1 a.m. last call bell).

SUNDAY

8:30 a.m. Stop into DelVecchio's Bakery in the Bayville Shopping Center on Route 54 (302-436-9618) for sticky buns, elephant's ears, muffins and coffee, then load up on enough Greek spinach bread, foccaccia, bagels, biscotti, crusty rolls, whole grain and pepperoni cheese bread to treat the office. Then park around Carolina Street and take one more walk on the beach.

10:30 a.m. Shopping Fenwick Island is a short walk. On the Coastal Highway at the corner of Carolina Street is, naturally, Carolina Street (302-539-2405), a house-and-garden gift shop of whimsical accessories, fine and distressed and shabby-chic garden accoutrements. Across the street is the Seaside Country Store (1208 Coastal Hwy.; 302-539-6110), where the scent of candles nearly, but not quite, overwhelms the aroma of the homemade fudge, a resort tradition and required tasting. Sea Shell City (708 Coastal Hwy. under the DiscoverSea museum; 302-539-9366) is an old-style Fenwick Island souvenir stop and rather sweet.

Noon It may be cheating, because it's just on the Ocean City side of the line, but barbecue is a beach tradition, too; and Nick's Original House of Ribs (145th Street and Coastal Highway; 410-250-1984) is one of the area's best.

On the way home Selbyville, where Route 54 joins Route 113, is the nearest town to the Great Cypress Swamp or, in the local vernacular, "Burnt Swamp," so called because of the fire that repeatedly ravaged it, one lasting eight months. More famously, perhaps, the swamp is, or at least was, home to Delmarva's own Bigfoot, the Selbyville Swamp Monster, which has been spotted on many occasions and repeatedly caught on film since the first photos were published in 1964. Tall, damp and yeti-ish, and reportedly with suitably fetid breath, the photos fit the decades-old myth to a T. More recently, however, the creature was unmasked. The monstrous hoax was actually perpetrated by town resident Fred Stevens, who has said he made his Halloween costume out of his aunt's old raccoon coat.

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© 2006 The Washington Post Company


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