New kayak program is peddling paddling

Afloat: Nonprofit program offers one-person craft for traversing the Inner Harbor.

March 29, 2001|By Stacey Hirsh | Stacey Hirsh,SUN STAFF

Those in the corporate world travel to work and business meetings by car, train, even airplane. So, now what?


That's right. A new, nonprofit program that developer Bill Struever and restaurateur Charlie Gjerde are launching next month encourages those who live, work or hang out around the Inner Harbor to kayak across it for business or pleasure - or both.

"It's a way to commute," Struever said.

It's called the Canton Kayak Club. Members pay $100 a year for a training session from the Living Classroom Foundation and access to a purple kayak at one of six secure docks around the harbor during the season, May through October.

The club is starting with 15 kayaks, said Carlton T. Battle, assistant development director for Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse and a member of the kayak club's board of directors. Four of the docks - in Canton, Fells Point and Locust Point and outside Federal Hill - will be ready for use when the club opens April 16. The opening of two more, one in Inner Harbor East and another at a location that has not yet been disclosed, will follow.

About 25 paddlers have signed up so far. But businessmen and women around the water said that the Canton Kayak Club, despite its quirks, is likely to stay afloat.

"You wouldn't have to go to the gym in the afternoon," said Matt Goddard, president of G1440, Baltimore, a Web design firm with offices in Canton. "You'd take your lunch break and hop in a kayak."

"I'll definitely try it," said Brian Ocheltree, chief executive officer of e.magination Networks LLC, an Internet development firm. Ocheltree is not a kayaker. But on April 16 his company will move to Tide Point (one of Struever's developments along the water in Locust Point), and he will test the waters. "I don't know that I would use it for business because I have 15 wireless devices on me at any one time," he said.

Struever argues that kayaks are safe for electronic devices. To prove it, he even propped a laptop onto his kayak one recent afternoon (though he didn't make it very far into the harbor that way). He did, however, make it all the way across with his leather satchel of papers stuffed into his kayak.

Even if gadgets and papers stay dry, what about clothing? If they're not dampened by what Struever calls the "eau de Baltimore" filling the harbor, wouldn't they be moistened from sweat?

There's a new gym in Tide Point complete with showers for those who sweat. But local businessmen and women said kayaks are more likely to be used as transportation to informal meetings, for example, with peers from other local companies.

"It really depends on who you're meeting with," said Goddard of G1440.

Ellen Dempsey, a partner at Gr8 LLC, an agency in Canton that does marketing and Web design, suspects workers at her company would use the kayaks to commute or on lunch breaks. The dress code there is casual, and many employees already bike to work or spend lunchtime at a gym or walking.

But there was one little issue to be addressed: "If I were going to get in a kayak with a computer on my back, I'd want to be fairly certain I wasn't going to capsize," Dempsey said.

"You don't tip," Struever insists. "There's no way to tip in this kind of water."

Struever argues that getting wet is a problem only in the wind and rain.

Gjerde, the restaurateur, said the long-term goal of the club is to equip the kayaks with computerized tracking systems so that members about to hit the water can check the club's Web site to see if there's a kayak at the dock they're headed to.

Kayaks, Struever said, are the fastest way across the Inner Harbor.

As proof, Gjerde hopped in a kayak on a recent afternoon and raced a reporter traveling by car from Tide Point to Fells Point. The kayak won. But the water was choppy that day, and Gjerde emerged with his pants soaked in eau de Baltimore.

The risk of a little water doesn't stop at least one businessman. When Struever, who is known for using his kayak to move about town, was at Tide Point and running late for a meeting at the Marriott with Gov. Parris N. Glendening in January, he paddled there.

"I was at the Marriott with the governor in seven minutes," he said.

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