There wasn’t a kayak yard like it anywhere. Yeah, you could pick up one from big box chain store from some high school kid that thinks a blade is something to shave with. And I know of one dealer with a great reputation and mind boggling selection. But, the shop isn’t located where customers aren’t free to try before they buy. This yard was located on a small cove of an expansive salt marsh giving rookie paddlers a calm place to learn new skills and veteran kayakers access to the Chesapeake Bay. The owners also lead guided tours in a few choice locations in their water encircled county. A simple red barn with a zillion fiddler crabs scurrying around roto-molded plastic and Kevlar composite hulls ready and waiting for adventures. This was Bay Trails Outfitters.
There was nowhere else I was going to buy my first kayak. The owner, Shawn Towne, had a “day job” as he was running BTO. Talking with him, I understood I should make my first boat versatile in my two major interest, fishing and exploring. Of course, he allowed me to put his suggestion to the “test paddle.” I found the recreational/touring Wilderness Systems Pungo 140 as the kayak with the right combination of stability for hauling up large croaker and the speed to get to where the were swimming. Not long after buying the boat (he let me put it on lay-away), I added outdoor photography to my list of interest. The Pungo served that purpose as well.
After making the purchase, I would often stop by BTO just to see what was new. I’d pick up brochures of the new models from Necky, Perception, and the like. Sometimes I’d come home with a new whistle, t-shirt, or some other what-not. It was just cool walking among the fiddler crabs daydreaming of being able to buy a 16-foot sit-on-top, or one of those sleek performance touring boats. Unfortunately, the dream died for Shawn and his wife a couple of years ago. One of our park guest gave me the sad news that Bay Trails Outfitters went out of business.
Had it not been for BTO, I would have never seen and experienced the wonders of kayaking. Paddling against an incoming tidal current on the Mattaponi River, slaying croaker with Berkley Gulp jigs, seeing dolphins jump and splash with me in their home, losing that huge croaker (or red drum) on Horn Harbor; these are the things Shawn and Jan gave me. Coupled with my photography and writing, they also helped to lay the groundwork for me to obtain the most enjoyable secular job I have ever had.
Here’s to you Shawn and Jan Towne. Thank you so much for providing me with a seed that has bloomed into this flower of a blog called Baystride and planted me at York River State Park. Your work was not in vain. I pray that our economy will turn around and you will resurrect the best kayak yard this side of the Eastern Shore. Until then, Bay Trails Outfitters – Memory Eternal.