Brav­ing the rough, and some­times still, wa­ters

Three ‘yakkers’ launch into why they en­joy the ac­tiv­ity

The Enterprise - - Front Page - By JACQUI ATKIELSKI jatkiel­ski@somd­

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.

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