Friday, August 7, 2009

Kayaking on the Potomac - Jack's Boathouse

For two years we've driven over the Key Bridge on beautiful, sunny days and peered enviously at those people who are lucky enough to be on the waters of the Potomac. For two years we've looked over the bridge's edge and done nothing... until just recently when we took the proverbial plunge.

Spurred on by one of J's more intrepid co-workers, our group arrived one Saturday morning at a vibrantly colored shack at the base of the Key Bridge on the Georgetown side. This site has been the home to Jack's Boathouse since World War II and by all accounts, is still going strong based on old-time niceties. Each soon-to-be kayaker was greeted warmly by our host, who I can only assume was the Jack. Plucked from the pages of "The Old Man and the Sea" or perhaps an Ernest Hemingway look-alike contest, Jack runs his business as if it were set in Mayberry and had Andy, Aunt Bee, and Opie as regulars.

The point is that "Jack" and his team do everything they can to make sure you have a great day. Forgot your sunscreen? No problem. There's a bucket of communal tubes waiting for you. Need something to keep your cell phone dry? Take a ziplock bag, free of charge. No place to keep your car keys? Just drop them in the bin with everyone elses. Don't know how long you'll be out on the water? No need to worry about that either. Just pay for the first hour ($10) and settle up afterwards... scout's honor.

If the business end of Jack's Boathouse sends you back to an easier and simpler time, the kayaking part transports you to a peaceful place away from the hustle and bustle of the city. A couple of hours on the river is like a 3 day vacation. A little exercise, some sun and fresh air, and some amazing views. What you see is up to you. Go downstream and you'll find the city and its world-famous monuments, all while enjoying the peace and quiet of the river. From your kayak you can see the traffic and crowds that fill DC on a summer's day, but the beauty of it all is that you can't really hear or feel them. In other words, it is the perfect way to see the city.

Alternatively, you can choose to paddle upstream (or stay around Roosevelt Island) to avoid the urban landscape and take in the natural beauty that is often forgotten by those of us who work and live in DC.

As we've said before, J and I both grew up in the sprawl of concrete that is also known as Southern California. Among the not-so-appealing features is the fact that an hour's drive in any direction almost always lands you in the middle of more strip malls. A well-planned and navigated two-hour drive can sometimes get you to "nature" but even then, it depends on traffic. What I'm saying is that having a river with easy access via Jack's (and I'm sure other establishments) in the middle of town is something that no Washingtonian should take for granted.

Being on the river helps us remember that DC's sites are not only named after Presidents. Other monuments exist that go by the name of Oak, Walnut, and Ash. Our city's national treasures are also called Heron, Duck, and Crane. But the symbol of our nation, whether seen etched in granite or viewed high atop a tree from a kayak on the river goes by only one name: Bald Eagle.

J Says

I'd always watched enviously as kayakers made their way up and down the Potomac. I always assumed that they had their own kayaks or knew how to kayak. Now, after a visit to Jack's, I realize how easy it is to join them.

I don't have much kayaking experience but I found the river to be calm and easy to navigate. We went in the morning on a nice sunny day and had a blast. As we made our way back to Jack's around noon, the water was a bit rougher and the sun was beating down. I highly recommend going on the earlier side if you want to avoid the crowds and want to feel like you have the river to yourself.

The only drawback I can think of is the parking situation. Georgetown is not known as an easy parking destination. Jack's has a small lot (free for renters) but if that's full you're left to contend with meters (2-hour limit) or pricey paid lots nearby. If you don't want the parking headache, try the metro and Circulator buses to get you closer to the waterfront.

Now I'm going to go check the weather report to see if there's kayaking-friendly weather in store for the weekend...


blunoz said...

This was an exceptionally well-written post by both of you, especially the paragraph leading up to the bald eagle sighting. Bravo!

Totally coincidentally, I took my boys to Jack's Boathouse and we did their Sunday evening guided tour just 3 days after you posted this. We had a great time.

FYI - The salty old-mariner looking dude is actually named Frank, and he's the original Jack's son.

Kayak Kate said...

Thanks for the fabulous post with so many beautiful pictures! Kayaking in DC sounds like an excellent way to spend a vacation.