In 1609, Captain Henry Hudson encountered Cape May, NJ for the first time aboard his sailing ship, the Half Moon. It was a brief visit, but in his logs, there are accounts of the abundance of life that was present in the waters surrounding the cape. Herds of Dolphins and massive Whales were seen feeding on the immeasurable bounty of fish present in the virgin estuary of Delaware Bay. Over the years, the area Captain Hudson encountered would be named Cape May, for it’s 1620s governor Captain Cornelius Jacobsen Mey.
A land-based whaling settlement, one of the first in the colonies, would take up residence on the high bluffs of Town Bank. But by the 1670s, whaling from shore became less lucrative, and again the whales and dolphins were left to themselves. Fishing and tourism would become the staples of the local economy.
With tourism and fishing developing into staples, taking tourists fishing became popular in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Sightseeing slowly caught on in the 1950s, while party boat fishing entered what would later be called the golden years.
Whale watching and Dolphin Watching in Cape May, NJ has a rich history, dating back to 1987. A man named Captain Ron Robbins is essentially the godfather of whale watching in this area, and he started it all. Ron decided to leave the bait and fishing rods home in favor of binoculars and suntan lotion. With his vessel, the “Holiday,” a former fishing vessel, Ron slowly plied the waters of Delaware Bay and the nearby Atlantic Ocean, with great success finding Humpback, Fin, and Right Whales.
In 1990 the long-time sightseeing vessel, “Big Flamingo,” under the command of Captain Ron Sinn and Captain Jeff Stewart, followed in the footsteps of Ron Robbins. The sightseeing company, “Captain Sinn’s Dock,” and the name “Big Flamingo” had been around since the 1950s. The sightseeing company, “Captain Sinn’s Dock,” and the name “Big Flamingo” had been around since the 1950s.
The all-new Big Flamingo in 1990 was all aluminum and capable of running at 25 knots. The face of east coast whale watching started an evolution as now the journey could be shortened to a mere three hour trip.
In 1993, Captain Jeff Stewart, with the help of investors, broke away from the then 40-year-old business of “Sinn’s Dock” after failing to purchase it, to form his own company, the Cape May Whale Watcher. Captain Jeff had a difference of opinion on the way things should be in this fledgling business of whale and dolphin watching. The only way to put his ideas to work was to do it for himself. And so Cape May Whale Watcher found its way to the Miss Chris Marina in Cape May, NJ. The boat, a former “Big Flamingo” herself, was the new benchmark of whale watching in New Jersey. All aluminum, over 100 feet in length (while others were 50-65 feet in length), quad diesel power (instead of twin diesels), speeds to 26 knots (instead of 12 knots), and seating for over 290 passengers (instead of 149 like most), there was nothing else like her in 1993.
The largest and the fastest boat with the Marine Mammal Sighting Guarantee.
Some of the ideas Captain Jeff can be attributed with for modern-day whale watching- The Guaranteed Sighting of Marine Mammals. Since day one, he vowed to guarantee sightings of Marine Mammals (either whales or dolphins) and if we fail to sight Marine Mammals, we provide the customer with a Free Pass, which never expires.
Since day one, he vowed to guarantee sightings of Marine Mammals… Captain Jeff also prides himself on utilizing a purpose-built vessel for whale and dolphin watching. While all other vessels in the state of New Jersey use a fishing boat, designed for fishing, with rod holders, anchor winches, gaffs, and fillet tables, Captain Jeff Stewart has never used a fishing boat for whale watching. The Cape May Whale Watcher was never designed specifically for fishing, but instead she was designed for maximum passenger comfort.
In 1996, the business officially became Captain Jeff’s Cape May Whale Watcher. While other businesses have come and gone, different captains, boats, locations, etc, we are the same boat since day one, the same captains, and much the same core crew all at the same location. When others talk about experience, since 1987 or since 1977, think about this: Captain Jeff has been sightseeing and dolphin and whale watching since 1973. He learned his trade from a business that had been in place since the 1950s. His wife, Mary Stewart, has been his wife and involved in the business since 1976 herself. Their son Captain Jeff Jr. has been on deck with his father since 1990, at the age of eight, and has had his Captain’s License since 2003. Other seasoned captains that join the Stewarts are Captain David Githens, Captain Miles Lentz, and Captain Jack McDevitt. Now deceased, both Captain Jeff’s parents, Robert A. Stewart and Elizabeth D. Stewart, had been involved with the business from 1993-2007. Arny and Betty are missed by all every day, both crew and customers alike.
In 2007, with the ever-changing face of the business, came a change for the Miss Chris Marina. Captain Jeff, never satisfied with the status-quo, set out to out-do even himself. The new vessel was a behemoth to be named Spirit of Cape May. Over the course of 2 years in total time, and to the tune of over $3 Million, the Spirit of Cape May took shape from the remains of an old Caribbean ferry boat. With everything new: from aluminum skin to frames, to wires, railings, seats, decks, windows, appliances, engines, electronics, you name it–it is new! The all-new Spirit of Cape May represents the New Benchmark of the New Millennium. Captain Jeff did not stop with the Spirit. As of 2011, the Cape May Whale Watcher has received a bow-to-stern refit consisting of a new cabin, new seating, new snack bar, new restrooms, new electronics, etc.
Captain Jeff and his wife Mary believe in giving back to the customers as well as the community.
Where do the improvements end? The answer is they do not. Captain Jeff is not the kind of businessman hoping to stash away and save his money in hopes of one day retiring from the business with a big cash out. Captain Jeff and his wife Mary believe in giving back to the customers as well as the community. The Miss Chris docks have undergone extreme makeovers, making them safer and more user friendly, as well as more environmentally friendly. The Boarding for both the Spirit of Cape May and the Cape May Whale Watcher does not involve steep gangways or slippery steps. Instead, each boat has its own independent, ADA-compliant ramp system for loading and unloading.
The grade varies with the tide, but the tread, handrails and width are the best in the industry. The Marina now boasts a picnic area as large as the County Zoo. The marina itself is the home to daily fishing boats, kayak and boat rentals, crabbing and fishing supplies, gift shops, public restrooms and both car and bus parking. We also have a host of amenities right in the area to make your stay more enjoyable including restaurants, bars, gas stations, a fish market, seafood takeout, as well as downtown Cape May, hotels and motels, Cape May Point, Wildwood Boardwalk, Cape May and Wildwood Beaches and the County Zoo all within about ten minutes drive.