And it is a challenge—not only is the river about a half-mile wide, with container ships chugging busily up the center channel and creating significant wakes, but it’s also a tidal river with plenty of current.
For sailors, all winds and tides are an invitation, and on the second Saturday of June visitors can join or watch a flotilla of sailboats move from the shore to the center of the river and back again, spinnakers arcing.
Those interested in crewing on one of the boats for Separation Day should reach out to the club’s racing director in advance. Interested parties beware; passionate club members offer a persuasive argument for paying the reasonable annual fee to join. No experience is required, and by the time new members finish the rigorous training program they’ll know how to manage the river’s vagaries.
It is Separation Day, a Delaware holiday commemorating the Colonial Assembly’s vote to declare the “three lower counties of Pennsylvania” separate from Great Britain more than 2 weeks before the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776.
The vote took place in the town of New Castle, which also has a protected inlet with a beach that has long been used as a landing spot for the likes of visitors like William Penn. Today, Battery Park, on the edge of town, is home to a mooring for the 12 brightly painted sailboats owned by the New Castle Sailing Club.
The eight Thistle and four Flying Scots sailboats run regular races from spring through fall, but Separation Day is a special regatta and the traditional opening of the summer season. It’s also part of the town festival, so the course is traditionally set for optimal viewing from the park. The winning skipper’s name is engraved on a perpetual trophy that is presented by the mayor and kept in the clubhouse.
The boat races run from around 9:30 a.m. until noon, but the party doesn’t end then. Held since 1976, the annual festivities are a confluence of historical eras and include politicians in colonial attire marching in the kickoff parade, a Beatles tribute band, a Beautiful Baby contest and a display of cars ranging from Model T’s to Bel Airs. Fireworks over the river echo throughout the town to end the celebration.
Mara Gorman is an award-winning freelance writer, author of The Family Traveler's Handbook, and blogger at The Mother of all Trips. When she's not on the road with her two school-age sons and husband, you can find her in Delaware. Follow her adventures on Twitter @motherofalltrip.
MORE SUMMER TRAVEL QUESTS
4) Sail in Delaware's Separation Day Regatta