With more than 95 percent of the Chesapeake Bay’s shoreline in private ownership, getting out on the water can be a challenge. Recently, outfitters and nonprofit groups on both sides of the Bay have tried to scale that barrier by offering more rentals for boats and paddleboards and providing maps of trails and launch sites.
Staff at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St. Michaels, MD, appreciated those efforts and wondered how they could augment their boat tours with more on-the-water experiences. The solution: Allow visitors to rent boats that were hand-crafted at the museum under the supervision of shipwright Jennifer Kuhn.
In 2015, the museum began renting kayaks, sailboats and rowing skiffs by the hour, half day and full day for those who wanted to get their feet wet, so to speak, before committing to the sport, or for vacationers looking to get out on the water.
The boats are constructed during the museum’s Apprentice for the Day program, when volunteers work on boats over the course of a few months or, in the case of a new Draketail under construction, more than a year. The rowing skiffs take about six to eight months to make. The wooden kayaks are put together using a kit from Chesapeake Light Craft in Annapolis.
Kuhn is hoping that the rentals will be another draw to the popular shoreline museum. “People come to visit the museum and they’re not aware that that’s something they can do,” Kuhn said.
Customers launch from a floating dock on the museum campus into Fogg’s Cove, a protected inlet off St. Michaels harbor with direct access to a wide section of the Miles River.
The museum would like to offer guided paddling tours, but doesn’t have the staff yet. Kuhn said that she inspects the boats for safety — kayaks and smaller boats don’t require a Coast Guard inspection — and has a chase boat on hand if a kayaker requires a rescue. For sailing, the museum offers lessons at $50 per hour or $250 for a full-day lesson.
Rowing or paddling vessels cost $10 an hour for members and $20 an hour for non-members. On Fridays this summer, you can book two hours for the price of one.
Kuhn hopes to generate more attention for the rentals. People are still learning about it, she said: The museum vessels are less visible than those along the main road, where outfitters place kayaks to attract potential renters. Kuhn said she’s not trying to compete with the local shops — she’d just like to complement what they offer with a historic and local twist. “For our guests,” she said, “it’s a unique chance to play around on the Miles River in a handcrafted wooden vessel.”
Starting June 21, the rentals will be available Wednesday through Sunday until Aug. 27. Reservations are encouraged; contact Kuhn at 410-745-4980 or firstname.lastname@example.org. For information, visit cbmm.org/visit/small-craft-rentals.