BRISTOL BOROUGH >> As I walked beneath the iconic letters spelling out the name “Bristol,” I kept one eye to the sky.
It was one of those days that could go either way - a sudden downpour of rain or rays of sunshine breaking through the clouds.
I was holding out for the latter as I walked across the Bristol Wharf and out onto the town’s new dry docks where the 1928 oyster schooner, the AJ Meerwald, sat quietly anchored in the Delaware River.
To all those boaters out there, I know the excitement I had climbing aboard the tall ship for a two hour voyage on the Delaware River might seem over stated, but this was a first for me out on the river. And I was excited.
With my camera in hand, I soon joined members of the Friends of the Delaware Canal aboard the tall ship ready for the sail and hopes of capturing the beauty of the river, the ship and views of Bristol from the Delaware.
After a lesson from Ethan on life vests and areas of the ship to avoid while under sail so not to get hit by the boom, we were underway, cutting our way through the water toward the Burlington-Bristol Bridge.
The members of the crew recruited a hearty group of volunteers to help hoist the sail. And with their help, we were soon under sail, the wind powering our ride. Glimpses of Burlington came into view and then faded in the distance as the clouds continued to hang heavy allowing only a few splashes of sunshine to briefly brighten the bow before fading again.
After making the turn back toward Bristol, Susan Taylor, the executive director of the Delaware Canal, handed out goodie bags each filled with a soft chocolate chip cookie, a Philly soft pretzel, a snack-size bag of Cheez-Its and Swedish Fish. I thought the fish were a nice touch.
As the boat sailed back toward Bristol, crew member Joshua Scornavacchi of Reading shared the fascinating history of the Meerwald, a restored oyster schooner home ported in Bivalve, N.J., and today used for educational purposes by the nonprofit Bayshore Center.
I shut my eyes trying to imagine the sights and sounds as the crew harvested oysters from the Delaware Bay back in the Great Depression when South Jersey was the oyster capital of the world.
In 1942, at the outset of World War II, the Meerwald was pressed into military service through the War Powers Act and was used by the Coast Guard as a fireboat. After the war she was returned to the Meerwald family.
As the boat neared the mouth of the Bristol Marsh, Susan Taylor shared the history of the nearly 60 mile long Delaware Canal, which met the Delaware River here at the Bristol waterfront.
“Looking toward the town you would have had a tidal lock to keep out the tidal water and to allow boats to come from a higher level in the basin down to the river level. Once they were in the river they were lashed together and towed by boat down to Philadelphia,” said Taylor.
As the journey continued, the ship passed along the Bristol shoreline as Taylor pointed out landmarks and sharing the history of of the borough, including Senator Joseph Grundy, the Grundy Mill and more.
As the ship passed under the imposing Turnpike Bridge, streaks of sun bathed the Meerwald’s deck I crossed my fingers hoping the sunny break would last as we made the turn and headed back to the dock.
As the Bristol shoreline passed by, the sun bathed it in light revealing beautiful views of the town, from the steeples of St. Marks and St. James Episcopal churches to Lions Park and the iconic Bristol Wharf.
Thanks to the Meerwald crew for a great experience on the Delaware River and the Friends of the Delaware Canal for the invitation to climb aboard.
For more on the Meerwald and the Bay Shore Center, visit Bayshorecenter.org.