It's almost 6 p.m., and Bill Struever has a meeting clear across Baltimore's Inner Harbor. The route is less than four miles long, but with downtown traffic and parking, the trip could take an hour. You never know. Instead, Struever, considered the city's most active developer as well as something of an eccentric visionary, takes a nifty shortcut. He slips into a bright blue kayak outside his waterfront office and paddles across the harbor in minutes.
"It's by far the quickest way to get from one side to the other," he says, "not to mention the most exhilarating."
A longtime kayaker, Struever, CEO of Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse, imagined that downtown professionals and residents would welcome an alternative to cars, buses, even water taxis. So in 2001, after converting an old Procter & Gamble soap plant on the harbor into an office complex called Tide Point, he added a small dock. With help from restaurateur Charlie Gjerde, he started the Canton Kayak Club (motto: "Whatever floats your boat").
For $100 ($175 per couple) per year, each member has access to about 40 kayaks, as well as paddles and lifejackets, that are distributed among four docks around the harbor from April to October. After attending an introductory course, members receive the combination to the locks that secure boats and gear.
In three years, membership has grown to more than 300. One is Lilly Thayer, a public relations manager who works on the waterfront. She paddles to work once a week, storing her clothes in the kayak's watertight compartment. Once at the office, she hits the showers. "You're getting some seriously cruddy water all over you," Thayer says. "It's not the best thing if you have a client meeting."