A scattering of pastimes Flying, archaeology among diverse activities in or near Ocean City


If the sweltering heat and jellyfish-filled ocean are keeping you off the beach, there's still plenty to do in Ocean City, especially if you want to try some more unusual pastimes.

For one thing, you could rise above it all -- literally. Two companies offer sightseeing flights daily from the Ocean City Airport.

Skyway Express (289-4500), which also flies the only commuter service between O.C. and Baltimore-Washington International Airport, takes to the air Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. and weekends from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. The trip costs $10 per person for a 15-minute ride, and you can take a second flight free if you come back within 30 days and bring two paying friends with you.

The flight leaves the airport over the northern tip of Assateague Island, heading up the bays to the Route 90 bridge and coming back along the ocean. You'll cruise at about 1,000 feet -- roughly the same altitude as the top of the Empire State Building.

The tours are given in a Cessna 172, which seats three passengers, or a Piper Navajo, which seats six. Skyway's pilot base manager Jeff Zampitella says you shouldn't be nervous about boarding the little "puddle-jumpers," even if you've never flown in a small plane.

"There's nothing to it," he says with a laugh. "We fly about 30 flights a day, and they've all come back."

Greg von Rigler's Sky Tours (289-TOUR) also offers sky-high views of Ocean City, with day or evening flights available. Rather than flying a set route, Mr. von Rigler shows passengers what they want to see, anywhere from Cape Henlopen State Park down to the NASA facility near Chincoteague, Va. Flights cost $20 per half-hour. Mr. von Rigler's plane holds up to three passengers, and when there's less than a full load he usually brings along his dog, Mate.

If fear of flying keeps you grounded, maybe you should dig into the offerings at Furnace Town, located about 30 minutes from Ocean City. Built around the former Nassawango iron ore furnace, this 25-acre historic site features a collection of authentic period buildings arranged to re-create a 19th century village.

Each summer, local archaeologists stage an excavation at the site, and volunteers are invited to participate. You must bring your own tools and register in advance. There is a small admission fee. For more information, call Furnace Town executive director Kathy Fisher at 632-2032.

The sea nettles won't sting through a wet suit, so Ocean City is still a great departure point for serious scuba-divers. If you have open water diving certification, at least two local companies will rent you scuba equipment and deliver you to interesting dive sites off the O.C. coast.

Sunsports at 73rd Street and Coastal Highway (524-0744) runs wreck diving charters from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. for $60 per person. Debbie Miculinic, who owns and operates the shop with her husband Mike, says they go when they have enough people signed up. They usually have enough divers to justify weekend trips, and will go during the week if they get four or more people signed up.

Mr. Miculinic, who also offers diving instruction, takes divers to one of several offshore sites for a 60- to 90-foot dive. One frequent destination is the Blenny, a World War II submarine that's 70 feet down about 12 miles off the coast of Ocean City.

Sunsports rents all the equipment you'll need, including the required two oxygen tanks. Photographs and artifacts from Mr. Miculinic's many dives are also on display at the store.

Calypso Dive and Travel makes five scuba-diving trips a week from Ocean City's commercial harbor, located off Golf Course Road near U.S. 50. The Grasonville-based company charges $65 per person and also offers full equipment rental. Calypso works with several O.C.-based boats, and owner Christopher Sloan says he and his captains are familiar with 30 to 40 wrecks. They tailor their destinations to the proficiency level of the divers.

Like Sunsports, Calypso runs a diving trip whenever they have four or more divers signed up, with trips departing most Saturdays and Sundays and some weekdays at 7:30 a.m. and returning around 4 p.m. Call Calypso in Grasonville (301-827-7000) to sign up.

If you prefer to play in shallow water, take a swing at the Ocean City sport of bayball, which looks a little like softball, but is played with a volleyball in the knee-deep waters of the Isle of Wight Bay. Local bar leagues compete every Monday through Thursday behind Bimini's bar in the 45th Street Village. There are games daily at 12:30 p.m. ("the sober league") and at midnight ("the drunk league"), or you can get up your own team for a wet romp around the base buoys.

For another kind of competition, check out the Paddock Nite Club's homemade bikini contest. Every Sunday evening, inventive contestants parade their creations at the Paddock, competing for cash prizes. The grand prize, a 1979 Volkswagen Beetle convertible, will be awarded in September.

The Paddock (289-6331) is located on Coastal Highway at 18th Street. The rules are simple: no cloth or store-bought swimsuits are allowed, and no indecent exposure (as judged by the club's management). Awards are not based on how great you look in a bikini, so imperfect bodies are welcome. Creativity is the key; the first winner made her outfit entirely of fruit.

If you prefer a more conventional form of gambling, you can board a Casino Connection bus for a day in Atlantic City, N.J. Buses leave the Ocean Plaza Mall parking lot Monday through Thursday at 7:15 a.m. and 9 a.m. The round-trip fare is $33, which includes transportation via motor coach and the Cape May-Lewes ferry and a bonus from the casinos.

Four or five different casino destinations are offered each day, including Trump's Castle and Taj Mahal, the Sands and Resorts International. You must be 21 or older to go, and reservations are suggested. Call 524-6667.

You know what they say on the T-shirts: When the going gets tough, the tough go shopping. Even that revered national pastime can be a little offbeat if you know where to look. Christmas shopping, for example, is no big deal; but in July?

"We're open 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. every day, and every day we're very busy," says Becky Jones, manager of Christmas Spirit. Located on Coastal Highway at 34th Street (with locations in Annapolis and Rehoboth Beach, Del., as well), this giant holiday wonderland features 38 Christmas trees decorated in themes such as Victorian, Halloween, Oriental and, this year's most popular, the Americana.

Besides all the ornaments to create your own theme trees, Ms. Jones says Christmas Spirit sells a lot of collectible items, like Dickens Village lighted houses and Byer's Choice carolers.

Actually, Christmas shops abound in this summer resort. In addition to Christmas Spirit, check out the Christmas Shop, on the boardwalk between Eighth and Ninth streets; the Yule Log Christmas Shop in the 45th Street Village; and a holiday/New Age store, Christmas Tree Hill, which just opened in Rehoboth's Ocean Outlets seaside.

Ocean City also offers shopping for more seasonal items, of course, and plenty of bargains. There's a huge flea market from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every Friday, Saturday and Sunday in the parking lot of the Convention Center at 49th Street and the bay.

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