Shallow-water travel

On the Bay

Kayaking: A growing number of outfitters are offering their services as guides and instructors to those who want to learn to paddle the waters of the bay.

July 30, 1999|By Tom Horton | Tom Horton,SUN STAFF

I'VE LONG maintained that kayaks are great tools for exploring the Chesapeake region's thousands of miles of shallow shorelines and winding tidal creeks.

A kayak is more capable than many power boats of crossing open water between islands or rivers, even of crossing the bay itself, and can handle unexpected weather.

Downside: They are expensive to buy, and rental places are few and far between. Also, many people don't want to go on their own without more experience.

In the past year I've become aware of a growing number of guides catering to those who want to kayak the bay and ocean-side areas of Maryland and Virginia.

These range from comfortable weekend packages in conjunction with hotel accommodations to no-frills paddles of a few hours.

Though trips as exotic as kayaking Vietnam are available through bay outfitters, for the most part, trips are pitched to less-experienced kayakers.

Some outfitters have the traditional, decked sea (or touring) kayak, which makes steering easy via a rudder worked by foot pedals inside the boat.

This type of kayak can be tippy, and takes a bit of getting used to before a novice feels comfortable.

Many outfitters now use "sit on tops," a variation of the sea kayak that I used to dismiss as a toy. These kayaks are essentially slabs of foam-filled plastic molded in the shape of a hull with depressions for one's feet and seat, sometimes with a backrest.

They are comfortable, unsinkable, stable and easier to get in and out of than decked kayaks (important when stopping to explore). They paddle well enough for day trips, and some models could be used for serious expeditions.

They were the kayaks of choice during a day I spent recently with Eastern Shore Escapes, one of the most innovative groups offering guided kayak trips.

It is part of a for-profit spinoff of The Nature Conservancy, the nation's largest land conservation organization.

With investment from foundations, banks and private individuals, Eastern Shore Escapes is designed to demonstrate economic development that would keep intact the region's natural resources and beauty.

The company offers weekend paddling packages, with food and lodging at local bed-and- breakfasts and hotels, on the Eastern Shore of Virginia and the lower Eastern Shore of Maryland. Local naturalists go along to inform and educate.

Nature interpretation is also available from Tangier Sound Outfitters, run by Bob and Carol Leef of Crisfield. Both are experienced outdoors people.

The Leefs offer everything from a "sunset paddle" around Janes Island State Park, to kayak camping expeditions on Smith Island, seven miles off the mainland.

The most ambitious outfitter I know of around the bay is Amphibious Horizons in Annapolis. The owners, Andrea Nolan and Mike Savario, are former Chesapeake Bay Foundation educators.

They offer everything from "munchkin tours" for children ages 5 to 10 at Quiet Waters Park in Annapolis to expeditions in Louisiana, Vietnam and Baja California.

Amphibious also advertises all sorts of kayaking instruction, from beginner through certification for would-be instructors.

A note here on the subject of kayak safety. There is an industry standard for an outfitter's skill (American Canoe Association certification), but it's not required. Experience and safety preparedness among guides could range widely, so you need to ask.

In rural Mathews County, Va., between the Rappahannock and York rivers, another laudable attempt to establish kayaking as part of a sustainable economy is developing.

A nonprofit there has established Mathews Blueways, a 90-mile system of paddling trails encompassing the county's highly scenic bay shoreline.

You can purchase a trail guide that includes launch areas, places to stay and eat, and tide tables for the area. (Tides are important to know, so you don't end up on mud flats and can go with the flow rather than against it.)

Another guide I've personally experienced is Dan Vaughn on Tilghman Island. He runs a pleasant and informative day trip that includes workboat harbors and unspoiled creeks around Tilghman. Other trips are negotiable.

As kayakers are wont to be, Vaughn's a character. You might think his company, Island Kayaks, is from Tilghman Island, but step around the corner of his house and you're among palm trees and other paraphernalia that take you to the Caribbean.

In the near future, I see the development in Maryland and Virginia of much more extensive paddling trails on both the Chesapeake and the back bays behind the barrier islands.

I think it will be possible to paddle and camp all the way around the bay and the Delmarva Peninsula.

To contact kayak outfitters:

Eastern Shore Escapes, 1-888-VA-SHORE; www.vashore.com

Tangier Sound Outfitters, 410-968-1803

Amphibious Horizons, 1-888-I-LUV-SUN; www.amphibioushorizons.com

Mathews Blueways, 804-725-4125; blueways@eudoramail.com

Island Kayaks, 410-886-2083

Chesapeake Bay Kayaks, 1-877-8-PADDLE

Pub Date: 7/30/99

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