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Washington Summer Guide 2011: Where to Spend Time on the Water

Sail on the Chesapeake, float down the river, or cool off in a secret swimming hole

Right: Climb aboard the schooner Woodwind for a two-hour sail. Photographs by Ariel Skelley and Pete Chambliss. 

Learn How to Sail
With easy access to the Potomac River and the Chesapeake Bay, Washington is a good place to learn to sail. Beginners can start with small boats at the Washington Sailing Marina (1 Marina Dr. at Daingerfield Island, Alexandria; 703-548-9027) near National Airport. The marina offers camps for children ages 9 to 15 and adult classes on nights and weekends. You’ll be tacking and jibing on a 19-foot Flying Scot in as little as two days. Weekend clinics cost $345, and a four-session weekday class is $325. The school also offers clinics on sailing larger keelboats.

The bay is a better place to take the helm of a bigger boat. Chesapeake Sailing School (7080 Bembe Beach Rd., Annapolis; 410-295-0555) and Annapolis Sailing School (7001 Bembe Beach Rd., Annapolis; 800-638-9192) offer weekend courses on boats more than 22 feet long. The weekend program at Chesapeake Sailing School costs $395; Annapolis Sailing School is $495.

Go for a Boat-Ride in Annapolis
You don’t need sailing lessons to experience the beauty of cutting through the water powered only by the wind. Step aboard the Woodwind (410-263-7837) in Annapolis. The two-masted schooner is a replica of classic wooden schooners from the early 1900s, but with polished mahogany trim, shimmering chrome, a large cockpit, and a spacious interior, it’s designed to offer passengers a more comfortable experience. The boat runs two-hour weekday sails for $36 ($25 for children under age 12) and weekend and sunset sails for $39 ($25 for children).

Windsurf Lessons for Beginners
Farther north on the bay, you can take sailing down to its elemental basics. At Gunpowder Falls State Park (410-335-5352), winds from the Chesapeake funnel up into the Gunpowder River to provide an ideal playground for windsurfing. It’s just you, your board, and your sail on this wide section of river fronted by a white sandy beach. Ultimate Watersports runs six-hour courses in one or two days. The two-day clinic allows students time to digest the basics of balancing on the board and controlling the sail before moving on to tacking and jibing and racing atop the water at high speeds. The course costs $175, and the company offers equipment for rent.

Go Tubing Down the River
On hot days, head to Antietam Creek for a tubing trip with River & Trail Outfitters (301-695-5177). The creek is spring-fed in a shaded hollow, making the air about 20 degrees cooler than in DC. The trip lasts 3½ to 5 hours, costs $41, and passes beneath several historic stone bridges.

For those who want some sun while tubing, Shenandoah River Outfitters (800-622-6632) rents tubes for $20 a person plus $6 if you bring a cooler. Drop-off and pickup are included in the self-guided trip on a spectacular section of the Shenandoah River near Luray, Virginia, that flows between the Massanutten Ridge and the Blue Ridge Mountains. The water is knee-to-waist-deep, and you can take in mountain views during the entire float.

Cool Off at the Swimming Hole
16315 Old River Road, Germantown
Just north of Potomac along River Road is a cool and refreshing swimming hole. Actually, it’s more like a wading-and-sitting-in-the-water hole and is a favorite of cyclists riding in Poolesville. The “hole” is a shallow section of Seneca Creek located next to Farm and Home Services formerly Poole’s General Store. There are nearby picnic tables where you can hang out and dry off after a dip.

Wine and Water at River & Trail Outfitters
Water leads to wine—and sometimes live music—on canoe/kayak winetasting excursions offered by River & Trail Outfitters. Starting at Tarara Winery in Leesburg, paddlers are shuttled on an old school bus about five miles to a boat launch along the Potomac River. No experience is necessary; river guides provide a basic course on paddling before you board either a canoe or a kayak—your choice. The approximately three-hour trip includes lunch on a small island. This flat-water section of the Potomac is known for its abundant wildlife—eagles fly overhead, and Great Blue Herons abound on the river banks. The paddling portion ends back at the winery with an outdoor winetasting. An extended version of the trip adds an evening concert at Tarara. The cost is $88 a person; click here for a schedule.

Rent Pontoon Boats at Lake Anna
The 17-mile-long, manmade Lake Anna is perfect for pontoon boating with its deep, calm waters and secluded coves where you can escape the water-skiers and Jet Skis. You can rent 20-foot pontoon boats for as little as $200 a day from Lake Anna Boat Rentals (540-895-0342). And don’t miss exploring Lake Anna State Park’s nearly 3,000 acres, with more than 15 miles of trails.

This article appears in the June 2011 issue of The Washingtonian.

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