September 2008

The Chesapeake is a Great Staycation Place

Fall is the time of year that we all get that satisfied feeling about our sport of paddling. It is that time of the year that we most often find ourselves saying “Wow! This is a great day to be out!” or “Isn’t this gorgeous!” or “I am so happy to be out paddling!” It is the excitement of the cooling days, the great scenery of the coming fall and maybe, just maybe that edgy feeling that winter will be showing its face soon enough. We start finding the time to appreciate our days on the water and we start thinking about where we can go to squeeze in those last great paddle vacation experiences of the season; before the frosty bite of father winter is felt.

Well we all want to travel far away for a vacation trip of a lifetime, but at the same time we all know that crunch feeling as we top-up at the fuel pump. It can be tough looking forward to a long drive to a new paddle spot. Add a couple extra boats on the top of the car and your best paddling pals in the back seat, and that far distant spot gets farther still. So what are you to do to enjoy the rest of the season? Create a Staycation in the Chesapeake Bay Region.

You know we are really lucky to be paddlers in this area. The Chesapeake Bay is, after all, the largest estuary in the US. With over 64,000 square miles of watershed covering 7 states (if you consider D.C. a state) there is more water and more varieties of water than you could explore in your long-lived paddling lifetime!

I was approached by a new paddler the other day who asked a very common question. She said, “How can I learn about all the places that I can launch my new kayak around here?” Wow! That is a question! The answer: “You can’t!” You can TRY to learn, read about, ask about, and investigate all the possible kayak launch spots in the Chesapeake Bay Region, but you will never find them all, there are so many!

So as one of those paddlers who consider it an ongoing project to explore this area, I thought I would mention only a few of my memorable places where I have paddled within the Chesapeake Bay watershed. And I will mention how you can learn about more.

A recent spot where I went paddling along with a couple of friends is Cape Henlopen in Delaware. For a great kayak-savvy, beach-goers exotic destination, Rehobeth and Lewes Delaware are not very far away from Chesapeake Bay central. These two towns offer tourists delights with lots of beach town glitz and a small town, Bay-side feel respectively. There are many places to stay. For the get-out-of-town paddler, there is a beach-side State Park where you can easily get the feel of the sand between your toes.

But when I frequent Cape Henlopen, it is usually for a day paddle with friends in that area. I like to skip the tourism and go straight for the water. I was shown the ‘locals’ way to launch by entering the State Park and parking at the small hidden lot only a simple carry from the swimmer’s beach. You can easily get your kayak unloaded and carried to the water and quickly slide out away from all the hubbub of the towns.

Once on the water there are lots of choices here. At first you are protected between the arm of sand at the tip of the Cape and the stone breakers. Except for the need to know the tide and the need to watch occasional power boats, this area is very calm and protected. But you will quickly be lured out of this harbor. If you go left into Delaware Bay you can retain much of the protection from the shoreline and you will get the chance to see the cities from the waterside. But you will have to keep an eye out for active boat traffic, especially the infamous ferry which speeds back and forth across the Delaware Bay. Want more seclusion? Then go out of the little protective harbor to the right instead. A whole new world awaits out there. For one thing, after rounding the corner, you actually enter the Atlantic Ocean, so be prepared to encounter tides, big waves, and more boat traffic. But at the same time you will find beautiful beaches that look like they are out of a fantasy brochure. Land carefully and walk along them with pleasure. Continue to paddle and you will most likely see pods of dolphins cresting beside you. They seem to like this area because the current rushes up to offshore sandbanks and creates spots where fish like to feed and hide. If you paddle farther along the shore you will find the busy beaches of Rehoboth, but if you stray away from shore you can see the Harbor of Refuge Lighthouse in all its glory. Of course all around the lighthouse are fast moving currents, chop and that speeding ferry again. Be well prepared for open water if you venture this way, and always bring a friend and a radio for backup.

Want more protected water in this area? Then drive down to Rehoboth, only a few miles south of Lewes, and find the Indian River inlet. This is an open expanse of inland water (actually a part of the eastern inland waterway system) where you can explore in comfort and even paddle the back channel which connects all the way from Indian River to the Cape Henlopen harbor.

Need another Staycation idea? Another of my favorites is Westmoreland State Park just below Fredericksburg Virginia. Here is a great spot to camp alone or with all your paddling buddies. You could even rent a cabin if you like. This campground has a beach as well as a ramp from which you can launch your kayak into the Potomac River. Again, paddling choices abound in this area. If you launch from Westmoreland and paddle north, up the Potomac River, you will quickly come to Pope’s Creek. Here is a quiet place to explore back into a secluded area and back into history. Along this creek is the birthplace of George Washington.

Instead of paddling north on the Potomac, if you would rather, paddle south, then you will soon find yourself paddling under the Horsehead Cliffs. These tall clay walls are remnants of an ancient time when this area was a sea floor. People often find ancient sharks teeth and other fossils in the clay under these cliffs.

Now if it is open-water excitement that you are searching for, the Potomac even offers this from this Staycation location. If you launch into the Potomac from Westmoreland, and look far across the river towards the south, you will see St. Clement’s Island. This island, which can be accessed by water only, is the site of the first English settlement in Maryland. You can even camp overnight on this island with prior arrangements with the State Park system. But to reach this island it is a grueling 8 mile open water trip, sometimes influenced heavily by the weather on the lower Potomac. If you attempt this, be very prepared; bring buddies and your radio.

Well, let me mention one more possible paddling Staycation for you consider around the Chesapeake Bay area. As members of the CPA you are probably familiar with Eastern Neck Wildlife Refuge. It has been the target for one of the best series of paddles that has grown out of our great group of club paddlers. Eastern Neck is a small island which you can circumnavigate in a few hours by kayak, and holds some of the best abundance of wildlife to be seen from the water in this area. Many migratory birds stop in this area, and many predatory birds live here too. The island has some semi-protected paddling spots where it faces the Chester River, and it has some open water opportunities also where it fronts the open Chesapeake Bay.

If you want to stay over in this area, while you explore the water, you can camp at a site just above the Island or you can find great comfortable stay-overs in some of the waterside small towns on your way to the Island. Rock Hall, Maryland is a great little gem of a town to visit if you are in this area. Chester, Maryland holds lots of history just waiting to be explored.

So if you want to find a Staycation for yourself in the Chesapeake Bay area, how do you find great places to paddle? Here are some options:

  1. Check out a paddling destination book. Some local versions include:
    • Andrea Nolan’s “Sea Kayaking Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay”
    • Andrea Nolan’s “Sea Kayaking Virginia”
    • Tamsin Venn’s “Sea Kayaking Along the Mid-Atlantic-Coast”
    • Michaela Gaaserud’s “Sea Kayaking the Baltimore/Washington D.C. Area”
  2. Check out a club site or search the web. Sometimes clubs like the CPA will have links that could lead you to launch sites. Following up on these sites could lead you to a great Staycation.
  3. Mingle with other paddlers. There is no better way to learn anything about paddling than to hang out with other paddlers. You can do this in the CPA by going to one of the many events throughout the year, hanging out at one of the Paddling Piracies, or by reading the postings on the club forums.

However you learn about a new kayaking vacation trip, remember that you do not need to look for one far away to find a great one. There are many right here in the Chesapeake Bay area that will provide you with a great memorable Staycation. So if you are now eager to get in another trip on the water before the winter comes to the area, start planning, and start paddling on the Chesapeake!

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