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Explore the Peninsula by sea | From paddle boards and kayaks to harbor cruises and air boats

ecarrigan@dailypress.com
Exploring the Peninsula series: see what the Peninsula has to offer by sea

Editor's note: This is part two of a three-week series on ways you can explore the Peninsula by air, by sea and by land. We intend to give you a taste for adventure in your backyard, but recognize this is not an exhaustive list. We welcome your comments and suggestions on our Facebook page (Daily Press Arts and Entertainment).

There is no shortage of methods to explore the waterways that shape the Peninsula. Residents and visitors can enjoy views from public piers, drive over or under water during commutes — and some folks are fortunate enough to own or rent homes where they can wake up to a water view every day.

Exploring the Peninsula by sea has been how residents have toured the area since before it was established — from the Native Americans to the first colonial settlers, who made it to Old Point Comfort and back around the James River before establishing Jamestown, at which point they used other waterways such as the Nansemond and Chickohominy Rivers to trade with natives.

Today, there are still many opportunities to explore the Peninsula by water comparable to how it was chartered more than 400 years ago.

Patriot Tours and Provisions at Yorktown Beach provides the opportunity to kayak and paddle board along the same river John Smith traveled when he was captured by Native Americans. Miss Hampton II harbor tours bring you to Blackbeard's Point and close to Civil War history where the Battle of the Monitor and the Merrimac took place.

Here are some ways you can explore the Peninsula by sea:

Kayak/paddle board

Patriot Tours and Provisions' biggest draw is its Segway tours, but owners Jill and Randy Pryor also offer kayak and paddle board rentals for their customers to explore the shore of the York River.

"With the kayaks and paddle boards, because we have the tandem kayaks, we can always have an adult and a younger kid and we have some larger paddle boards that can accommodate an adult and a child as well," Jill Pryor said.

"We have places around the shoreline we recommend people explore and visit."

For people who have never kayaked or paddle boarded before, the York River is a safe place to start out.

"Because of where we launch, there are protective coves," Pryor said. "There's a row of them and especially on a calm day, you have an area to get comfortable before you start exploring further."

Pryor encourages people to explore other waterways around the Peninsula.

"We only offer it here in Yorktown, but there is so much fantastic waterfront areas," she said. "So even if you try it here one day, there's so many places that you can go if you ever end up with your own (kayak or paddle board) or are looking for other rentals and stuff like that."

Bay Country Kayaking offers guided kayak tours that launch from Williamsburg, Yorktown, Mathews, Gloucester and the Eastern Shore. When the eco-tourism company opened, managing owner Shannon Alexander thought her business would attract mostly tourists but was surprised to find that they see a lot of locals, too.

"Here it's like, wow this is almost in my back yard and I didn't even realize," Alexander said.

Bay Country Kayaking is a family owned business, founded to share the family's love for Hampton Road's scenic waters and educate others on their "ecological, cultural and historical significance," their website states.

"I try to get as locally-specific as I can," Alexander said of her tours. "I try to get a few really, really specific facts about the body of water that we're on or the small creeks that we're on."

Jill Winkowski, a Newport News resident, experienced the Peninsula by sea on a kayak tour guided by Alexander.

"We saw the back side of Camp Perry and then the (Naval Weapons Station), so for me it was kind of like looking at things inside out and she had a wealth of knowledge about the wildlife in the area and the conservation," Winkowski said of the nearly three-hour tour that launched from New Quarter Park in Williamsburg.

York County Parks, Recreation and Tourism, in cooperation with Chesapeake Experience, hosts "Bring Your Own Kayak" or canoe outings on the third Saturday of each month from July through October. Led by eco-tour guides, the tours are free to participants who come with their own kayak or canoe.

Participants interested in the BYOK program should arrive at New Quarter Park at 9 a.m. and expect the tour to last about two and a half hours. Chesapeake Experience offers kayak, paddle and life vest rentals for $30 but must be reserved at least 24-hours in advance of the tours.

Airboat rides

Jamie Moore's grandfather purchased the York Haven Marina after World War II and since then, the business has been passed down through three generations. Currently Jamie Moore operates the marina with his brothers Justin and Starkey and he recently added a new dimension to their business: airboat rides through Chesapeake Bay Adventures.

"I had taken my daughter for an airboat ride in the (Florida) Everglades when we were down there one year and I got looking around and I said, 'Man this is just like Poquoson except we won't have gators' and one thing led to another and I ended up getting it and bringing it up here," Moore said.

The airboat was custom made to handle the Peninsula terrain.

"That's really what made the airboat here viable, one is the shallow water. You can see the bars and stuff, I've seen this completely exposed during the south wind," Moore said, pointing to exposed sandbars on an aerial photograph of the Poquoson River. "And it's the prettiest white sand you've ever seen, you'd think you're in the (Florida) Keys and the water clarity is pretty good."

The airboat, which is 18 feet long, eight feet wide and has 600 horsepower that allows it to travel at around 60 miles per hour, has carbon-fiber blades and is made out of aluminum steel with a polymer bottom.

This design essentially allows the boat to slide across the water. Its elevated seating sets it apart from traditional boats that riders sit inside by providing riders with more clear views.

"I can also go places that kayaks can't go or paddle boards, so it's different than a conventional watercraft, not just by design but the feel of the boat," Moore said. "The design of the boat actually allows it go to into shallow water."

Chesapeake Bay Adventures offers multiple tours, including at sunrise and sunset.

"They all just want to learn different things. Some people might want to learn history and some may just want to go fishing, some might want to go out there and just sort of find a private spot where they can relax a little bit and some might just want to go for a fast boat ride," Moore said. "We kind of give them some options but just let them say 'Hey this is kind of what I'm thinking, can you do that?' and we try to accommodate if its within reason and we just have so much fun doing it."

The City of Poquoson has helped promote Chesapeake Bay Adventures, adding airboat rides to the list of things to do for tourists who visit Williamsburg or Jamestown on their vacations.

"I actually took this British couple out last Fourth of July and the guy was like, 'Tell me about this Siege of Yorktown' because they don't teach that in their history books and I said, 'Well, I wasn't going to hurt your feelings and bring that up but that's when we kicked y'all's butts back across the pound,' and he got a good chuckle out of it and so did I and it was pretty neat," Moore said.

Buddy Green, who has lived in Poquoson for 38 years, has been out on the airboat twice with his family.

"It is just the neatest thing," Green said. "You see things that you'd never see from land or from a boat."

Operating the airboat has provided Moore with a new way to see the water he grew up on and a career he couldn't imagine not doing.

"Just being out here all my life and it just being new for me again," Moore said. "I couldn't imagine myself doing anything else."

According to Moore, Chesapeake Bay Adventures is the only commercially operated airboat in Virginia and North Carolina, where he is currently working on opening a second location. Jamie took a US Marine Training course to operate the airboat commercially.

Miss Hampton II

The Miss Hampton II has been providing tours of the Hampton Roads Harbor since 1989. The website advertises it to be the only area cruise to offer professional tours guides, who narrate of some of Virginia's history from the past 400 years.

Benn Trask, a middle school history teacher in the city of Newport News, is one of the narrators and deck hands on Miss Hampton II.

"The neat thing about Hampton Roads is it's a great, wonderful, natural harbor and that means vessels can move in and out and it's not frozen over and the tides are moderate so it's not dangerous so it's a great place to anchor," Trask said, before noting the flip side to these advantages that contribute to much of the area's history.

"When you are at war, that means your enemy can move in, they can move out, and so that's what happened with the British during the American Revolution War of 1812."

When narrating the Miss Hampton II tour, Trask includes some of this historical information, and if weather permits, cruise-goers also will stop at Fort Wool for a guided walking tour.

Trask noted that each tour is different depending on the narrator and what's going on in the harbor at the time of the cruise. It's not uncommon for people to see dolphins, osprey, learn about naval vessels and aircraft carriers, and for locals to come back more than once.

"It's just always evolving," Trask said.

Chris and Garrett Brockway, 9-year-old twins visiting a friend in the area from out of town, enjoyed the harbor cruise from the top deck of the Miss Hampton II, and used binoculars to get up-close views of battleships and bridges.

"It felt kind of good because we're on water and I'm never usually on water because I live in Massachusetts and me and Garrett are here for vacation so to be on the water is awesome," Chris said.

Garrett, a young history buff, liked the historical aspects of the tour.

"I like how we got to see battleships, the main guns and how they target and destroy," Garret said.

The return trip back to the harbor features a narrative of the Battle of the Monitor and the Merrimac.

From mid-April until the end of October, Miss Hampton II offers daily cruises Tuesday through Sunday that depart from the downtown Hampton waterfront.

"It takes you down to the naval base and it goes in front of Fort Monroe, which means you sort of touch upon the Chesapeake Bay and you dip into the Elizabeth River, and you can see Newport News," Trask said.

Sailing

Arielle Darrow fell in love with sailing after a day on the water with a friend, and then became a member of the Old Dominion University sailing team. Since then, she has sailed the East Coast, from Saint Martin to Newport, R.I., and is now the sailing director at Hampton Yacht Club.

The yacht club offers sailing lessons for children and adults.

"It's just the biggest stress release you could possibly imagine," Darrow said. "As soon as you hoist your sails and go with the winds, it's just very calming."

Sarah Geyer and her husband John purchased a sailboat from the Hampton Yacht Club in January without knowing much about how to sail. Sarah has taken a class with Darrow and participated in the yacht club's women's sailing events where she has learned safety skills and how to work the main sheets.

"It's just a great new adventure and Arielle's class is awesome," Sarah said. "She really give you a confidence in your abilities and is very informative and the Hampton Yacht Club is a really great place to be."

Jennifer Hollock's family moved to the area about three years ago and found the Hampton Yacht Club to be the perfect place to learn to sail because the club has sailboats for members to use.

"I always wanted to learn how to sail because it seemed like such a timeless thing," Hollock said. "I like that it's not something that's changed a lot over the years."

Hollock and her husband hope to be able to purchase their own sailboat within the next year or two. In the meantime, they are taking lessons and have enrolled their daughter in the club's junior sailing program. Hollock said when they're ready to purchase their own boat, she and her husband hope to be skilled enough to enjoy the sea on their own.

"I like how there are a lot of beaches around here that you can only get to by boat, that you can't drive to, so I think that's a really neat feature about this area," Hollock said.

Darrow adds that there's another advantage to sailing in this area.

"It's the peacefulness of going through the water and we sometimes have dolphins following along with us because we don't have the motors so we get to experience the marine life as well," Darrow said.

The youth summer program has several sessions that run from mid-June through August. The programs include a full week of classes with full-day or half-day options, and depending on the child's age, they will learn the basics of sailing, boat handling, navigation and racing rules.

The youth program is not limited to members, though members and members' grandchildren receive a reduced rate. The adult program is limited to Hampton Yacht Club members.

Airboat adventures usually cost $50 per person and last about an hour, but the price may change depending on the type of adventure.

Explore the Peninsula by sea

Patriot Tours and Provisions

Where: 321 Water St., Yorktown

Information: 757-969-5400 or patriottoursva.com

Rentals: Single kayak rentals are $35 and tandem kayak rentals are $55. Paddle board rentals $35. All rentals last for two hours.

Bay Country Kayaking

Information: 855-865-2925 or baycountrykayaking.com

The tour launching form New Quarter Park lasts about two and a half to three hours and costs $55 for adults and $30 for children. There are four tours that launch from Gloucester and range from two and a half to three hours in length and cost between $45-50 for adults and $25 for children. Bay Country Kayaking also offers tours from Mathews and the Eastern Shore.

York County Parks, Recreation and Tourism BYOK

Information: 757-890-3500 or call New Quarter Park at 757-890-5840

Kayak reservations can be made by calling 757-259-6859 or chesapeakeexperience.org/experience/Queens.htm

Chesapeake Bay Adventures

Where: York Haven Marina 100 Mingee St., Poquoson

Information: 757-868-4532 or chesapeakebayadventure.com

Harbor tour

Where: 710 Settlers Landing Road, Hampton

Information: 757-722-9102 or misshamptoncruises.com

Tours are $26 for adults, $23.50 for seniors over 60, $13 for military and $15 for children ages 6-12. Children under six are free.

Cruises depart at 11 a.m. Tuesday-Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays.

Sailing lessons

Where: Hampton Yacht Club, 4707 Victoria Blvd, Hampton

Information: 757-722-0711 or hamptonyc.com

Tuition for the junior sailing program is $250 for members and $300 for non-members for classes or $850 for members or $950 for non-members for race teams.

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