Kaholo 14 SUP by Chesapeake Light Craft

On Saturday, September 4, 2021, CLC Sales Manager Nicky Stimpson became the first woman to paddle the 220-mile length of the Chesapeake Bay. Atop a CLC Kaholo 14 she built herself, Nicky spent seven grueling days on the water, covering as many as 40 miles in a single day.

Nicky was taking part in the Bay Paddle, which had paddlers aboard SUPs and kayaks stroke their way from Havre de Grace, Maryland, at the top of the Bay, to Cape Charles, Virginia, the bottom tip of the Eastern Shore. The goal? To raise money and awareness for the Oyster Recovery Partnership and Chesapeake Conservancy, programs supporting the health of the Chesapeake Bay.

Bay Paddle raised over $100,000 for oyster recovery and conservation efforts on the Chesapeake, one of the world's largest salt water estuaries. Participants stopped at night, and stood down for two days to let Hurricane Ida sweep through. Many participants paddled the course as a relay with other team members. Nicky paddled the whole way, an amazing athletic feat, in the process raising more than $7,000 in donations for the cause. 

What follows is Nicky's own account of her adventure. Nicky is a professional athlete, and for months she trained with the intensity and discipline of a professional athlete. It's a tale of passion, grit, and mental toughness...all for a great cause. -John C Harris

Part 1: 220 Miles on a Stand-up Paddleboard

By Nicky Stimpson
October 29, 2021

Dramatis Personae:

Nicky Stimpson: Rowing and paddling coach, athlete, married mother of two, and Chesapeake Light Craft’s Sales Manager, Raid Chesapeake’s President.

John Staub: CLC’s CEO, and skipper of the chase boat as far as Tangier Island.

Jay Hockenberry: CLC’s Senior Designer, and co-skipper of the chase boat.

Ed Wigglesworth: President of CLC and chase boat skipper from Tangier Island south.

“Helga”: A CLC Kaholo 14 stand-up paddleboard, built by Nicky for her own use.

The Chase Boat: A 2021 Steiger Craft “Miami,” CLC’s 21-foot fleet tender and escort vessel.

A Chart of Nicky's Journey (click images to enlarge):

SUP Bay Paddle - Nicky Stimpson
Nicky's course down the length of the Chesapeake Bay, from Havre de Grace at the top to the Bay Bridge-Tunnel at the bottom.


Thursday, August 26 - Travel Day

 The start of Bay Paddle was scheduled for 9:00am in Havre de Grace on Friday, August 27. As a former coach and inveterate worrier, I prevailed upon my colleagues to head to Havre de Grace a day early so we could get settled in and launch CLC’s chase boat. When I coached rowing at the Naval Academy we had the luxury of arriving at our away-game destination a day early, to rig the boats and give the crews an opportunity to row the course. That’s exactly what I wanted to do in Havre de Grace.

After a rush of activity at the shop, Ed Wigglesworth, John Staub, Jay Hockenberry, and myself hit the road with CLC's 21-foot, 4700-pound chase boat in tow, two CLC Kaholo 14 paddleboards on top of the car, and enough gear to sustain us for a month. We were compelled to make a quick stop at the Towson Best Buy so Staub could pick up a second camera. We were determined to document every moment of our trip!

SUP Bay Paddle - Nicky Stimpson
"We hit the road with CLC's 21-foot chase boat, two CLC Kaholo 14 paddleboards on top of the car, and enough gear to sustain us for a month."


At Havre de Grace we launched the chase boat at Jean Roberts Memorial Park, and motored up to the Havre de Grace Marina to dock for the night. At the marina we said our goodbyes to Ed (he would swap with Staub later; Jay was in for the long haul). Also at the marina we met our genial AirBnB hostess, Cheryl, who was intrigued by our journey. Cheryl’s house was a two-minute walk from the marina.While ferrying our gear to the house, Cheryl gave me a nice tour of Havre de Grace. By the time I got back I was itching to get on the water and paddle down to the start.

Jay joined me on our spare Kaholo 14 SUP. Over the course of the journey all of the CLC guys would come out and paddle with me at some point. This always turned into a paddleboard lesson as well as a welcome distraction. Staub followed us in CLC’s 150hp Steiger Craft chase boat, idling along as he clicked away with his cameras. During my training this past summer Staub was a regular on many of my practice runs. So by the time Bay Paddle came around I was comfortable directing him to “Take a picture of me in front of the lighthouse!” and so on.

SUP Bay Paddle - Nicky Stimpson
"Jay joined me on our spare Kaholo 14 SUP. Over the course of the journey all of the CLC guys would come out and paddle with me at some point."

 Back at the boat we stored the paddleboards for the night. The guys deployed their fishing gear while I did my recovery routine with my foam roller, lacrosse ball, and stretchy bands. When it was time for dinner we walked over to Water Street Seafood. The decor could not be more appropriate for our trip: Chesapeake Bay landmarks and all things nautical adorned the walls. Over dinner the guys studied the suggested route for Friday’s 34-mile leg, while I reflected on what was to come. 

SUP Bay Paddle - Nicky Stimpson
"The guys deployed their fishing gear while I did my recovery routine with my foam roller, lacrosse ball, and stretchy bands."

I had wanted to paddle the length of the Bay pretty much ever since I heard about Chris Hopkinson’s plan. I trained all summer and was definitely ready both mentally and physically, but in the few days leading up to the trip I would ask myself, “Can I really do this?” Those feelings of doubt bubbled up during dinner. John Staub, my cheerleader, "big brother,” and the driving force of this crazy adventure, assured me that I was.  


Friday, August 27 - Day One

Chesapeake Light Craft SUP Bay Paddle - Nicky Stimpson
Day One: 28 Miles from Havre de Grace to Rock Hall


The next morning we were up, caffeinated, slathered in sunscreen, and out the door by 7am. The three of us walked down to the marina and the mood was jovial. Once on board the Steiger Craft chase boat I ate my usual breakfast of granola dust -- or “dirt” as my colleagues affectionately call it. We motored down to Concord Point where the various participants would be starting that day. After landing at the town pier I hopped off the chase boat with Staub and Jay and checked in with Chris and his volunteers. Also there were my buddies from Team CheSUPeake and Team Maui Oysters, friends I train with and compete with in SUP races in our area. Being with my friends and joking around definitely helped with my jitters. They were doing Bay Paddle as a relay and were sharing a large catamaran for the week to use as their support boat and accommodations along the way. All summer long we acted like little kids getting ready to go to summer camp. Geeking out about what gear to buy and the food we would cook. I always felt bad if someone who wasn’t doing Bay Paddle had to endure our incessant chatter.

After checking in I was interviewed by the local news station with my Kaholo paddleboard, now affectionately named Helga. I got a chance to talk about what I do at CLC, how I built my board, and the preparation I did over the summer. After the interview I needed time to just sit and have some time to myself, take some deep breaths and mentally prepare for the things I could control as well as the things I could not. 

Just before 9am my friends and I were itching to go! I unloaded Helga from the roofrack of the chase boat and joined the crowd of paddlers on stand up paddleboards, kayaks, surf skis, and outrigger canoes. Bay Paddle mostly attracted paddlers from the local area but also athletes like Alessia Faverio from Asheville, NC, who went on to become the first female to solo paddle the Bay in a surf ski. 


Chesapeake Light Craft SUP Bay Paddle - Nicky Stimpson
"I unloaded Helga from the roofrack of the chase boat and joined the crowd of paddlers on stand up paddleboards, kayaks, surf skis, and outrigger canoes."

Just before the start, Chris Hopkinson addressed the 20 or 30 paddlers from the edge of the pier. A small crowd joined him while he encouraged the paddlers to raise their paddles in the air and we all let out cheers of excitement. Then, we were off! The surf skis and outriggers were on the horizon within minutes. The water was perfectly flat and still while I settled into a relaxed rhythm along with my dear friend, Carleen Birnes. Carleen and I have paddled many, many miles together, including around the island of Manhattan. We were able to chat  as we cruised along with our friend Jess Kenendy in her outrigger canoe. Up ahead of us were Annapolis SUP racing phenom Regan Littell, and the co-owner of East of Maui surf shop, Mark Saunders. Regan’s boyfriend, Tilghman, was teasing them about how it wasn’t a sprint while he tried to catch up. 

After navigating our way through a “grass reef” we got into the wider portion of the Bay. At that point my friends started to rotate paddlers from their relays and I was on my own for a little while. Jay and Staub remained up ahead leading me in the chase boat. The common theme of each day’s paddle was to aim for a point of land, paddle up to it, then pick another waypoint. 

I’m often asked, “What did you eat while you were paddling?” I carried a hydration pack on my back and drank my calories with a product called Tailwind. At 200 calories per scoop I was able to stay on top of my hydration, electrolytes, and calories for most of the day. I would stop about 2 times each day to actually eat. Eventually I fell into the habit of paddling the first 10 miles, then stop for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, white cheddar cheez-its, and a pickle. When not in the mood for that I would switch it up with hard boiled eggs and cheese. And of course I ate many Larabars throughout my journey.

SUP Bay Paddle - Nicky Stimpson
"I’m often asked, 'What did you eat while you were paddling?'”


After stopping for my first meal break I continued my trek to Rock Hall. The temps were in the 90’s that day and we ended up paddling against the wind and the tide. The paddlers spread out into three groups with the surfski/OC contingent in the lead, then my group of SUPs and some kayakers in the middle, with a third group of SUPs and kayaks at the back. We were all required to have VHF radios on us and it was helpful to hear the chatter of what was happening with the other groups. The heat was starting to take its toll on some folks who hadn’t been staying on top of their hydration. Thanks to my experience in long distance summer events, I knew to keep taking intermittent sips from my hydration pack. I would remind myself to drink once every mile.

SUP Bay Paddle - Nicky Stimpson
"The temps were in the 90’s that day and we ended up paddling
against the wind and the tide."

Around 2pm Chris put the word out to paddlers and support boats that a storm was predicted for the afternoon and all paddlers were required to get off the water at 4pm. Prior to Bay Paddle I was told that since I was a solo paddler with my own support boat I would not always have to follow the lead of the relay teams or the solo paddlers without boat support. So as I saw it, that 4pm rule did not apply to me. I spoke to Jay and Staub and we decided I would try to paddle as far as possible and hop on board the CLC chase boat if a storm seemed close. 

At around 5pm and mile 25, dark skies started to close in. The guys anchored close to shore and I scrambled aboard while they hoisted Helga onto her spot on the racks atop the chase boat's cuddy cabin. I assumed my daily position of lying on the deck with my legs propped up on a cooler. I would look up at the tails of the boards and the sky above. The initial plan was to wait out the storm on the boat, and then paddle the remaining 9 miles into Rock Hall Harbor & Haven Harbour South Marina. TowBoatUS was one of our safety boats that day, and radioed to us about the looming storm. “You’ll want to head north or go south to Rock Hall to get out of the storm,” said the Captain. Staub replied, “We are going to wait here a bit and see how this shakes out.” We didn’t think the TowBoat captain liked that answer because he repeated, “You’ll want to head north or go south to Rock Hall to get out of the storm.” It was clear that he had to look after us until we got to safety.. 

This was the first of many instances during this trip where my coaching instincts kicked in. I have been in many situations where Plan A has dissolved and I needed to come up with a Plan B. The goal never changes, but sometimes you need to find another approach. Since I wanted to be sure I covered the “entire length of the Chesapeake Bay” it was time to come up with Plan B. We discussed how Day 2 was 21 miles and that 9 miles remained today. So, it was decided that we would place a waypoint at our current location and return to it the next day, creating a 30-mile Day 2. That settled, we pulled up the anchor and motored to Rock Hall Harbor. 

Once the boat was moored, I caught up with my friends and took a much-anticipated shower. Then we waited to be picked up by our host for the evening, Sarah Schutt. I knew the Schutt family from my time coaching at the Gunston School in Centreville, MD. Sarah and her husband Ed had five children and I coached their eldest, Eli. I had a feeling that a family with five kids wouldn’t blink an eye if my crew and I crashed at their house for the night. Sarah arrived at the marina with her Sprinter van and apologized for the clutter left by three kids returning from Europe and another about to depart for college. All three of us are parents, and we were just happy to have accommodations for the night. Once at the house we were treated to pizza, a drink, and a very entertaining Sarah. 

I retreated to bed around 8pm feeling tired but glad I had my first day under my belt. Could I get up tomorrow and do it all over again? 


Saturday, August 28 - Day 2

Chesapeake Light Craft SUP Bay Paddle - Nicky Stimpson
35 miles, through Kent Narrows and into Eastern Bay. Eastern Bay doesn't look big on a chart, but it cuts up rough whenever there's wind.

We were out the door by 7am. The other paddlers were due to check in with Chris at the marina before paddling to Kent Narrows and ending the day at Claiborne Landing. I ate breakfast on the chase boat and checked my phone. My younger son, Matthew, had sent me a video wishing me luck that day. I started to record a reply but choked up, so I had to record it again. We tried to keep this going during the trip so I could give him and his brother Will updates about my adventure. Then I sent Chris a text that I was heading back to where I left off, and we motored out of the harbor.

At first I thought starting on my own would be a bummer but in fact it relieved the pressure of trying to keep up with my friends. Once I got started that morning the wind was at my back and the tide began to ebb to the south. I fell into a slow, relaxed rhythm, conscious of the many miles that lay ahead that day.  

After passing a few fishing craft, we made it past Rock Hall again and Kent Narrows rose above the horizon. At the Narrows there was a viewing party planned to cheer on the paddlers as they came through. I could hear the chatter over the radio about the progress they were making and the pod of dolphins that greeted them at the Narrows. I was bummed to miss the dolphins! By 11:30 nearly everyone was making their way into Eastern Bay and I was miles away in the mouth of the Chester River.  

By 1:30pm I finally made it to the Narrows, where we needed to make a stop to refuel the chase boat. Greeting me at the dock were Ed and his wife Heather who gave me words of encouragement and a much-needed resupply of water and cheez-its. Also at the dock were my friends Liz and Cassie. They had waited for me! And they had been having a grand time at Red Eyes. It was such a boost to see my tipsy friends greet me and have a bit of silliness before embarking on the last 12 miles of Day 2. 

Paddling through Kent Narrows on a Saturday in August is quite a scene. The dock bars are filled with people and every type of boat is on display. I threaded my way through the crowd of boats and started to hit my stride in Eastern Bay.

Once past Parsons Island the wind picked up and I had a great downwind run all the way to Claiborne. At one point I caught a good sized “bump” and the Kaholo 14 SUP went flying down the small wave! But I didn’t step back towards the tail quickly enough and the nose started to go under, so I decided to bail off. A jellyfish was lying in wait and I felt the sting on my upper thigh. When I surfaced Staub and Jay exclaimed, “That was awesome! Do it again!” I obliged and started surfing swells as I headed towards Claiborne. You’ll expend a lot of energy to power the board into position to catch a good wave, so after a bit of surfing we decided I should maintain my steady pace instead. 

Chesapeake Light Craft SUP Bay Paddle - Nicky Stimpson
"Once past Parsons Island the wind picked up and I had a great downwind run all the way to Claiborne."

SUP Bay Paddle - Nicky Stimpson
"When I surfaced Staub and Jay exclaimed, 'That was awesome! Do it again!'”

CLC owner John Harris had joined the escort fleet in his Swedish-built cruising sloop, a Marieholm 33. John's sloop glided along under sail, in and out of view, as I progressed south towards Claiborne. The day before I had boasted to Chris that we had planned cheap and rugged accommodations, to make the trip affordable as well as a great adventure. With no shore facilities available on this leg, we had John meet us in his sailboat so we could have dinner on board and spread out between the two boats to sleep for the night. 

Chesapeake Light Craft SUP Bay Paddle - Nicky Stimpson
"CLC owner John Harris joined the escort fleet in his Swedish-built cruising sloop, a Marieholm 33."


My back was getting sore and fatigue was setting in. At last I made Claiborne, and Chris was there on the beach waiting for me. He helped me get my board out of the water and we sat on the beach and chatted for a bit. He told me about Hurricane Ida, which was forecast to hit the Gulf of Mexico in the next couple of days. There was a chance we might have to wait it out for a day or two. He suggested I watch my mileage while keeping the weather in mind. The goal was to get me to Cape Charles by Friday (a day later than scheduled) and then finish on Saturday if need be. We said our goodbyes and I paddled back to the CLC chase boat. 

We motored to Tilghman Creek and rafted up with John’s Marieholm 33 for the night. My shower was a dip in the creek...and another jellyfish sting. We all hung out in the Marieholm’s cockpit while I broke into a single can of wine and ate some cheese & crackers. Dinner was pasta with rotisserie chicken from the meal plan that Jay and I created. After sundown I fell into my bunk, ready to gear up for Day 3. 

SUP Bay Paddle - Nicky Stimpson
"We all hung out in the Marieholm’s cockpit while I broke into a single can of wine and ate some cheese & crackers."

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