MOMENTS AFTER our arrival for a kayaking tour around Quiet Waters Park in Annapolis, a small motor boat zoomed by the dock, creating a wake.
"Slow down!" yelled our guide, Gary Schaumburg. "It's 6 knots through here."
This park is aptly named Quiet Waters, and kayaking enthusiasts really want to keep it that way. It's an ideal place to kayak if you find the Potomac River intimidating but the C&O Canal too tame. Amphibious Horizons rents boats and provides instruction from the park's dock.
Most in our group of eight single and double sit-on-top kayaks had some experience. I was in a tandem kayak with my 6-year-old daughter in the front seat. Schaumburg gave us a quick refresher course on how to hold the paddles properly and how to turn our kayaks in the water. The August day had been a scorcher, so we eagerly headed toward the boats for a Friday evening paddle. It's usually about 10 degrees cooler on the water than on land, with more of a breeze.
Schaumburg let us paddle around Harness Creek, which flows along one side of the park, for a few minutes to get our bearings and adjust to the light current. I dipped my hand in. It was as warm as a bath. Because the Chesapeake Bay and its surrounding waters are so shallow, Schaumburg explained, they warm quickly in the heat. At several points during our trip, Schaumburg touched the bottom with his paddle to show us the creek's depth.
Our colorful flotilla of kayaks -- orange, yellow, green and blue -- set off after Schaumburg to explore Harness Creek. Houses, boats and private docks dot the shoreline across from the park, but the park side of the creek is undeveloped and wooded. We paddled into a cove and past a half-submerged old boat that must have been abandoned after a storm. Schaumburg pointed out white PVC piping in the water that marked the site of an oyster restoration project. Oysters filter and clean the water as they feed. Several environmental organizations are working together to monitor the impact of the oyster colony on the creek's water. Above our heads, large birds soared and circled. Ospreys from a nearby nest had hatched earlier in the season, Schaumburg said. The fledglings seemed full of the joy of flight as they honed their hunting skills. Their cries punctuated our entire ride.
As we headed out of the cove and turned toward the wider South River, the wind was directly in our face. The current immediately picked up, and we had to paddle much harder to follow our guide, who promised calmer waters once we rounded the point of land. There were waves created by the wind and the wakes of boats tooling up and down the South River. Our kayak rode the crests and dipped into the troughs while I paddled my hardest to get around the point. Not surprisingly, my daughter wasn't a whole lot of help. My paddles dug deeper and faster.
Whew. We cruised past old pilings and floated into another cove. The wind died and the water smoothed. A green heron we had startled cried out harshly and flapped away into the woods. Up ahead two vultures perched with hunched shoulders in the dark branches of a dead tree. Schaumburg told us that groups occasionally see cow-nosed rays swimming in these waters. The tips of their fins stick out as they glide, and one kayaker had asked if it was a shark.
Schaumburg had brought drinks and snacks for all of us, so we hopped out and pulled our kayaks onto the Quiet Waters Park dog beach. Downstream, a black Labrador retriever was fetching a stick from the water. After battling wind and waves, I felt like I deserved a cookie or two. We chatted and rested for a few minutes. Schaumburg explained that the wind usually dies down with the setting sun, so the ride back would be much easier.
We were hoping to watch the sunset from the South River, but the sun had sunk behind an impenetrable bank of clouds and haze. We had to settle for an orangy glow on the water as we headed back into Harness Creek. As promised, the waters had calmed. This time we paddled closer to the developed side of the creek to take a gander at the local digs. Some houses were nearly baronial while others were modest cottages. We headed back past the Quiet Waters dock and into a secluded cove where we were surrounded by woods. The water was now like very warm black velvet. The silence was broken only by our paddles and our voices, hushed by the loveliness.
As we turned out of the cove and toward the dock, we were greeted by a bright orange half-moon that more than made up for the lack of a sunset. Schaumburg broke into a few strains of "Shine on Harvest Moon" in the near darkness. We all paddled into the dock slowly, savoring those last, precious moments of calm and peace.
QUIET WATERS PARK -- 600 Quiet Waters Park Rd., Annapolis. 410-222-1777. www.aacounty.org/RecParks/Parks/quiet_waters_park/index.cfm. The Friday evening guided paddles have ended for the season because of staffing changes, but kayak, canoe and paddle boat rentals continue weekends from 9 to 6 through October. Boats must be returned by 6. Paddlers can easily follow the path we took on their own. Ask at the rental shed for guidance. A single sea kayak rents for $17 for the first hour, $13 for each hour after. A single sit-on-top kayak rents for $11 for the first hour, $9 for each hour after. A canoe or tandem sit-on-top rents for $13 for the first hour, $10 for each hour after. The park does not have a launch site, so you can't bring your own kayak. The park is open from 7 a.m. to dusk and closed on Tuesdays. There is a $5 vehicle entrance fee. The park also has six miles of walking and biking trails, a large children's playground, a dog park and a dog beach. Several of the walks and gazebos have great views of South River. On U.S. 50 east toward Annapolis, take Exit 22, Route 665 (Aris T. Allen Boulevard). Stay on Route 665 until it merges with Forest Drive. Follow Forest Drive for two miles. Turn right onto Hillsmere Drive. The park entrance is 100 yards on the right.
AMPHIBIOUS HORIZONS -- 410-267-8742 or 888-458-8786. www.amphibioushorizons.com. Kayaking instruction and "roll" classes on weekends through October at Quiet Waters Park. A four-hour basic course is $85 per person. Guided kayaking tours throughout the Chesapeake Bay area are Saturdays from 9 to 4 and leave from various locations. You can rent or bring your own sea kayak. Full-day trips of eight to 12 miles are $85 with rental, $45 without. Scheduled trips include:
Saturday -- Blackwater/Cole's Creek.
Sept. 17 -- Oxford.
Sept. 24 -- Blackwater North.
Oct. 1 -- Day's Cove.
Oct. 8 -- Rhode River.
Oct. 15 -- Assateague Island.
Oct. 22 -- Mattaponi Creek/Jug Bay.
Oct. 29 -- Morgan Creek.