OCEAN CITY -- Fall came early to the beach over the Labor Day weekend, pushing summer 1994 out the door with gusty winds and rough seas.
"It's a dry nor'easter -- waves breaking 6 to 7 feet," Beach Patrol Captain George Schoepf said yesterday. "It's a hellacious surf. If you're not a swimmer, you shouldn't be out there. We're not letting them in above the waist."
Few of the visitors who crowded Ocean City for a last bit of summer's last holiday weekend ventured to the beach yesterday afternoon, and fewer still got wet. Instead, they bundled up and strolled the Boardwalk, buying funnel cakes, fries and pizza.
"We figure it's our last day, the end of summer -- so we might as well enjoy it," said George Piteira of Silver Spring. He and three friends drove down for the day and were planning to eat lunch on the Boardwalk.
"It's like a sandstorm out there!" said Alex Swab of Beltsville, who came down with Mr. Piteira.
"We were hoping to do some reading on the beach, but not with all this sand blowing," said Ed Tillman, who left Ellicott City with family and friends to enjoy one last weekend at the shore.
Mr. Tillman wrestled unsuccessfully with a beach umbrella by the waterline yesterday afternoon, finally retreating to the lee of the Boardwalk to enjoy the beach.
Behind him, Frederick and Grace Thomas were wearing jackets and feeding French fries to the sea gulls.
"He gave me an outing for my birthday, which was yesterday," said Mrs. Thomas. The couple had come to Ocean City from Millersville.
The blue umbrella stands on the sand beside the Boardwalk were closed yesterday but saw heavy use as shelters for beach-goers seeking respite from chilly winds and blowing sand.
"We just drove up for the day," said Heather Hamilton of Bethesda, who sat behind one of the stands to eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with a friend, Barbara Hill of Washington. "We were determined to have a picnic on the beach, no matter how much sand blew on us."
Although the holiday weekend marks the unofficial end of summer, the town of Ocean City anticipates a steady stream of visitors through the fall.
Among the events are the state surfing championships and Sunfest. Both are scheduled for the last weekend in September.
Over the weekend, boating traffic was light because of heavy winds and strong seas, the Coast Guard said.
"We've got 10- to 12-foot waves offshore," said duty officer Mark Spillane. "It's nice and quiet; it's a lousy Labor Day boating-wise."
One busy spot on the Boardwalk was the Kite Loft, where sales were brisk.
"The winds have been too strong today," said marketing director Stu Eisenman. "The kites are kind of unstable; the winds are gusting to 35 miles per hour."
The weekend's autumn weather didn't discourage 12,000 people who attended Saturday night's concert on the beach featuring Dion, Jefferson Starship and the Beach Boys (most of whom opted for jackets and hats for their 90-minute show).
"I think it could've been a better turnout if the weather hadn't been so cold," said Ocean City director of tourism Bob Rothermel. He said 12,020 tickets were sold and the show brought a lot of business to the Boardwalk.
No early figures were available for the total number of visitors to Ocean City for the weekend, he said.
Business was brisk and then some early Saturday at one downtown bar, according to police and witness reports. A fight that began over one patron's refusal to pay for a $1.49 stick of beef jerky became a full-fledged melee at the Bearded Clam on Wicomico Street.
"It was a big free-for-all," said Mike DeRoche, a Bearded Clam doorman involved in the fight. "It got to be a big melee."
The bar had about 100 people in it when the dispute began just after midnight, he said. Four police officers arrived and tried to arrest Matthew Thomas Foy of Mount Airy. The fighting escalated, and eventually, 20 police officers battled patrons and passers-by inside and outside the bar.
"They came out of the woodwork," Mr. DeRoche said of the crowd that gathered in front of the bar. "They stopped the cars on the street to watch."
Six officers were injured, according to police reports, with one officer being treated for neck and shoulder injuries at Atlantic General Hospital in Berlin.
Six people, including Mr. Foy, were arrested and charged with assault and battery, hindering arrest, obstructing an officer and resisting arrest.