Boaters Heed A Call for Memorial Day

By Audrey Lazarus, PR Chair, KNSPS

How do most boaters celebrate Memorial Day? On the water having fun.

This year, however, things were different. Two groups of Queen Anne’s County boaters came together to help us remember the true meaning of the holiday.

They honored our servicemen and their families in a unique and remarkable way.

The Kent Island Outrigger Canoe Club (KIOCC) and Kent Narrows Sail & Power Squadron (KNSPS) answered a call from “Carry the Load” — an organization that supports families of American veterans — especially those fallen heroes who have made the ultimate sacrifice while serving our country.

This year, Carry the Load sponsored a relay march starting at West Point, NY on May 1 heading south down the Eastern Shore of Maryland on the way to their ultimate goal of Dallas, TX, which they plan to reach on May 27.

On Sunday, May 6, their walk would take them across the Bay Bridge – provided they could obtain the necessary permit.

But just as they were preparing to leave West Point, their worst fears were realized. Authorities could not justify the risk to motorists in closing a lane of traffic. There would be no permit.

The event sponsors needed an alternate way to cross the Chesapeake Bay, maintain the integrity of the relay, and continue to make progress towards Texas. And they were out of time.

Hearing of their plight, KIOCC leaders Jim and Debbie Hall offered to have their members paddle outrigger canoes across the Bay along with the veterans assigned to that leg of the march – four ex-Navy Seals.

When Carry the Load accepted, Jim had a second thought, “What have we committed to do? Paddling two small canoes across a shipping channel four nautical miles in early May with potentially dangerous ship traffic and inclement weather. We need help!”

That’s when Debbie reminded Jim that KNSPS had assisted them with safety escort boats for KIOCC’s annual outrigger canoe race, which circumnavigates Kent Island over Labor Day Weekend.

One call to KNSPS Commander Tom German was all it took. Tom said, “Yes, we want to help.” And within minutes of putting out the call to KNSPS Squadron Members, two captains and their first mates agreed to join Tom in providing boats to protect the canoes from freighters, barges, cruise ships, fishing boats, and uncertain weather conditions, as they made their truly historic crossing.

And then Tom thought, “Since we’ll be crossing all the way from Matapeake on Kent Island to Sandy Point on the Annapolis side, we really should alert the Annapolis Sail & Power Squadron (ASPS) and see if they’d also like to help.”

Tom called ASPS Commander Marianne Ponzio. And again, all it took was one call. Marianne arranged two more boats and crews from ASPS to also serve as safety escort boats.

On Sunday, May 6, eight canoeists paddled with four Carry the Load veterans in two outrigger canoes, flanked by five power squadron boats, from the Eastern Shore and all the way to the Western Shore, crossing directly under the Bay Bridge, a trip that took some ninety minutes.

For readers not familiar with the crossing route, this was not a warm Caribbean-style island hop, at least not on May 6.

This was a four-mile crossing directly through a major active shipping channel where weather and wind were unpredictable. Fog and choppy, cold water added to the dangers.

However, with strong, capable KIOCC paddlers, committed ex-Navy Seals, and the safety of KNSPS power boats providing emergency back-up, Carry the Load was able to keep its relay moving along its planned path without interruption or delay.

It was a great feeling when the canoes finally landed on the western shore and Carry the Load’s mission to reclaim Memorial Day was able to continue on to Dallas, TX.