Braving the rough, and sometimes still, waters
Three ‘yakkers’ launch into why they enjoy the activity
Surrounded by water on three sides, the Southern Maryland peninsula offers many kayak launch points and opportunities to explore, exercise and reconnect with nature.
Even though she grew up near the water, Anne Stark of Waldorf said her first trip out in a kayak was just nine years ago at her parents’ beach cottage in Fairhaven on Herring Bay. She said she thought it would be fun and the activity “didn’t require gasoline [and the kayak] was easy to transport … It was something I knew I could do on my own.”
She said she knew the tides change quickly, so she “made sure it was a
calm day to kayak.” She said she spent her youth waterskiing on rivers, but appreciates “the quiet and the environment more [after retiring]. Now I enjoy the silence of just being on the water and being able to approach wildlife without frightening it away.”
Daniel Schlueter of Lusby said he spent his youth canoeing in upstate New York, and he tried his hand at kayaking 17 years ago in the summer. “My first kayak experience wasn’t great because of the crampedness of being in a cockpit and a continued fear of dumping over,” he said.
Viet Nguyen of St. Mary’s City said he’s been working at BluHaven Marina in Ridge for five years and has been “on the water forever.”
One of many reasons Stark says she kayaks is for the exercise. She said her pilates class has “strengthened my core which has allowed me to paddle even longer distances with no back pain.” Her arms and shoulders “definitely feel stronger from the motion of paddling,” she said.
“Not only does it strengthen your core, it eases the mind unless weather is threatening,” Schlueter said. The activity “connects you with other like-minded people, and allows you to explore where 95 percent of the public never get to see.” He said he enjoys “exploring the creeks, watching for wildlife and seeking fossils.”
“I love breathing in the clean air and being close to the water,” Stark said. “Every time I paddle it is a new experience, I see something new. I think that is why I love it so much.”
Nguyen said kayak fishing has grown in popularity in the area, and it is mostly experienced fishermen who want to challenge themselves with a different means of transportation. Kayaking offers the opportunity for people who like to fish to access areas too small for larger boats, he said.
Schlueter said launch docks are ideal for getting into the water but “some ‘yakkers’ won’t paddle if the water is below 60 degrees. Thus they are missing at least two or three months out of the year.”
Stark said she doesn’t have to worry about winterizing her kayaks, unlike boats or other equipment.
“I’ve gone out every month this year so far,” Nguyen said. “I wouldn’t go out if it was snowing.” He said the longest paddle he’s done in 2017 is 8 miles, and “you can average about 3 miles an hour.” He said he belongs to a couple of different kayaking groups and is taking on the challenge of paddling 201.7 miles this year.
Stark said she thought the activity was “very easy to learn, is inexpensive and great for your soul. All it takes is one time, and you’re hooked.”
Ideal conditions relate to a few factors, Schlueter said. “Knowing the tide, timing and wind is crucial,” he said. “Knowing the amount of heat you’ll be in — another key factor.”
Schlueter said to expect duck and goose hunters to be out in the fall, and “they are not happy with paddlers passing through.”
Nguyen said the activity is all about finding what you are comfortable with. “Make sure you have the mandated safety gear” such as a personal floatation device, a whistle or other noise-making device, and lights if going out at night, he said.
“Sometimes you should take a spare paddle,” he added. “If you lose it or it breaks, it’s your primary means of propulsion.”
Stark said she was paddling once on Herring Bay in an area that “had skates ... most likely a cownose ray.” While Stark said she knew the area well “the person I took paddling was a beginner and in unfamiliar territory.”
She said the animal went underwater and only a portion of its fin could be seen above water. “The fin looked like a shark headed right for us,” Stark said.
After discussing if the fin belonged to a shark or not, Stark said her friend began to panic. “I thought I would let this go for a minute but gave in after a few seconds since I could see the fear in her face,” she said. “She was immediately at ease seeing the fin turn another direction and learning it was just a skate.”
Schlueter said paddling in lower Maryland “always seems to draw thunderstorms or buffeting winds and chop.” He said he took students out and “the majority opted for the canoes … a terrible decision that resulted in at least two flipping and the rest pushed into the reeds, which was no fun.”
Nguyen said working at a marina offers plenty of stories, such as people failing to tie up their kayaks or other water vehicles. He said to make sure to leave “some contact information in your kayak, and tell someone your float plan.”
Stark said her favorite place to paddle, Mattawoman Creek, “is a special place that future generations will hopefully be able to enjoy.” She said it’s the only Western Shore site with American lotus and from the “moment I launch the kayak I feel happy because of the beauty here.”
It’s a “22-mile-long river, and seven miles of it is freshwater-tidal estuary that flows into the Potomac River,” she said. “It is a great place for beginners who want to try kayaking since it is mostly a calm river.”
With the creation of the Wa- tershed Conservation District passed by the Charles County commissioners, the creek will be protected from overdevelopment. “If the WCD had not passed the development lobby would have been able to build 17,000 more housing units across the Mattawoman Creek watershed and in the headwaters of the Port Tobacco River,” she said.
Schlueter said his favorite places to kayak is a “shaded river with a slow current … All we have in mid-river is tidal inlets and open-river paddling.” He said he likes to launch “near Broomes Island at Nan’s Cove,” and his favorite places to launch are on St Leonard’s Creek in Calvert County and other Patuxent River tributaries.
Nguyen said those with the will and the ability can kayak the entire watershed of the St. Mary’s River. “There is a public launch off of Great Mills Road that the first mile isn’t too wide or deep, and then it opens up to” St. Mary’s College of Maryland, and eventually the Potomac River, he said.
Because Southern Maryland is on a peninsula, “there is a lot of water access,” Nguyen said. “We’re practically an island.” He also suggested areas such as Tanner Creek, Mallows Bay and Leonardtown Wharf.
“The people there do a great job of maintaining” the wharf, he said. He said local county governments “provide great water access” and have more information listed on their websites for kayaking launch points.
“It’s not fee-based, it’s total public access,” he said. He said there are also private launches around the Southern Maryland area available. He said he prefers to go out kayaking solo because his friends “have kids and careers now.”
Stark said she doesn’t have a preference for equipment, and has two Dagger kayaks she will trailer to various locations in the county.
Schlueter said novice kayakers should rent or borrow kayaks before purchasing their own.
“Don’t buy a boat, try it, and then leave it in the garage untouched for years,” he said. “Better to rent or borrow, experiment and expect some strain but also some rewards.”
He said the gear could bog kayakers down, too. “You will find you spend more time storing, maintaining and sorting than you will kayaking,” he said. “Don’t overload with all the extra gear you think you need.”
Purchasing second-hand items can also work, Stark said. “I bought the kayaks, the life jackets and paddles second hand for a great price from a D.C. resident who was moving,” she said. “The previous owners used them as white water kayaks at Great Falls.”
“Do not see a sale at BJ’s and buy a flimsy sit-on-top just on a whim,” Schlueter said. “Each paddler will develop their individual tastes regarding speed, conditions, and what hobby they want to weave into it” such as photography, fishing or nature watching.
“I think it is also important for rookies to stay in the shallows until they learn to trust their boat & abilities,” he said.
Nguyen said he prefers his Wilderness Tsunami 145 sit-in kayak.
“Try different brands of kayaks,” Stark said. “Ask someone who owns a kayak what they like or dislike about theirs. Some people like an open versus closed kayak.”
Viet Nguyen of St. Mary’s City paddles as he backs away from one of the docks at the Historic St. Mary’s City waterfront.