Kalmar Nyckel not coming to Lewes this year

Silting prevents tall ship from getting to ferry pier
June 22, 2018

Silting near the finger pier at the Cape May-Lewes Ferry terminal in Lewes will force the Kalmar Nyckel to go elsewhere this summer. The Tall Ship of Delaware makes its way south every summer, offering daily trips in August. It was slated to visit Lewes Aug. 15-24. “We learned the silt build-up at the Lewes dock has increased to a level where it is too shallow for the ship to visit this important port during our 2018 sailing season,” said Cathy Parsells, executive director of the Kalmar Nyckel Foundation.

James Salmon, public information officer for the Delaware River and Bay Authority, said the Kalmar Nyckel requires a depth of at least 12 feet, and the depth at the pier at low tide is about 9 feet. The depth needed for ferry boats is only 7 feet, but, Salmon said, the silting is limited to only the finger pier and the area near the pilot boat launch. “For whatever reason the silting materials that have come into the area are not affecting our piers [for the ferry],” he said. “We don’t need to dredge.” 

Salmon said soundings are performed every year to determine the depth around the berthing slips and throughout the breakwater harbor. He said the ferry operations are unaffected by the silting, and large-scale dredging of the entire area is not being pursued. Parsells said the Kalmar Nyckel Foundation is working with the DRBA and the Pilots’ Association to determine if funding and permits can be secured for a smaller-scale dredging so the dock can be ready for the 2019 season. 

Dredging of the entire area typically occurs every few years, Salmon said, and a smaller-scale dredging operation to take care of only the finger pier and the pilots’ association would cost an estimated $250,000 to $500,000.  “We love having the Kalmar Nyckel here,” Salmon said. “It’s a great attraction and incredible draw for people who are maritime enthusiasts and history buffs. It’s something we really value, but we don’t have that kind of money. We’re looking for a community effort on this. Everybody is working together to try to figure this out.” 

The 141-foot ship has a busy schedule this summer, with planned trips to Provincetown, Mass., July 15-29, then to Kingston, N.Y., Aug. 3-12. It will head to historic New Castle Aug. 23-Sept. 3, then to the Baltimore Inner Harbor for a quick two-day visit Sept. 7-8. 

The Kalmar Nyckel has been coming to Lewes for most of its 20 years of sailing. It did not come in 2017 due to repairs in dry dock, said Jan Ross, director of marketing and public relations for the Kalmar Nyckel Foundation. “For the majority of years, the ship would spend a month in Lewes from early August through Labor Day, offering two sails per day, roughly 40 in a month's time. In past years, we were able to sail twice daily as we were not dependent on the tide to sail.”

In 2014, the ship scheduled 42 sails in total; 40 from Aug. 5 through Sept. 7 and two additional sails in mid-May at the start of the sailing season. 

As the silt began to increase and the water levels started to decline in 2015, the Kalmar Nyckel was only able to offer 18 sails on the high tide from Aug. 4 to Sept. 7.

For more information about the Kalmar Nyckel, go to