Guide at a Glance
St Michaels, Maryland, United States
Sightseeing, Sunset Cruise
Get to Know Sailing Guide Capt. Iris Clarke
I asked my father, ‘How much does she cost every year to maintain?’ He had a glint in his eye, and when he (told me) I sucked air — that was a huge number. And I said, ‘Does she come with an endowment?’ He shrieked with laughter. So I did what many people have done before me and … started a charter boat business. As a kid I had cut my teeth in the charter business, I have started a couple of businesses in my life, so I became a guide and charter boat captain.
How long have you been guiding?
I got the boat in 2001 but she needed some work. My first full season (started in) 2003. We operate from end of April to end of October, so it’s a six-month season. Then, once the season is over, the boat goes to a boatyard and we service her. I have the mechanics go over the engine with a fine-tooth comb — it takes a couple of months to get all the work done. She’s high maintenance. I start varnishing stuff in my varnish shed in the winter — it takes about two months — and in the spring it takes a while to get her up and running again. People get this idea that I get six months off every year … it’s almost day for day (maintenance). It’s partially a function of how old she is and partially a function of how picky I am.
Do you have a certain style of guiding?
I have a sense of humour — it works well for me as captain of the ship. I tell stories the whole time and I crack jokes. I could not make a living doing it — I’m not a comic, I’m a storyteller.
We start from St. Michaels — it’s ranked in the top 100 best little towns to visit in the U.S. It’s very small, very quaint — it doesn’t have bells and whistles like Nantucket, but it’s not under the radar. We do a mini harbour tour before we set sail. Once we leave the harbour, we go out in the river and I go with the wind.
Tell us about Selina II.
You’re sailing under 1,000 square feet of canvas. … You’re used to seeing a sailboat with a mast in the middle. Wipe that out of your mind — move the mast forward on the boat and the boom goes the length of the boat, with a squarish sail.
What types of tours do you specialize in?
We offer private charters that are longer than two hours. Sometimes people charter us for four hours; occasionally we have an all-day or sometimes even an overnight, but that’s not my bread and butter. If people are interested we let them steer the boat. We have adult beverages on board. I offer sailing lessons — I don’t position them with ‘you’re going to get off the boat with a certificate.’ It’s hands-on, the theory behind sailing, the experience of being behind the wheel. A lot of people will never get their own sailboat but they want to get on board and feel that. We do a table for two, it’s very romantic, I get that catered by a fancy restaurant in town. We’ve probably had about 500 engagements on the boat. Then we have weddings on board — I did 35 weddings last year and have done 125 so far overall.
You know when you touch something you leave a fingerprint? What people don’t realize is when we are around other people we connect with them and leave heartprints. The people that come for a sail with me leave part of themselves with me because they leave a heartprint behind and hopefully I leave them with a heartprint. It is what I give and what I solicit from my guests. I want to share the aspect of life that’s lovely.
What are the benefits of hiring a guide?
Visually, you’re going to see things that you cannot see from land … it’s not a bird’s eye view, it’s a pulled-back view. You get a better sense of the lay of the land and how the pieces fit together. Another aspect is cultural. I am seeped in the culture of sailing and yachting. There are multiple cultures on the water. Because it is my native tongue, that comes out. A lot of folks that come to St. Michaels are land lubbers and just being around me and on my boat imbibes a bit of the yachting culture in them.
How often do you travel?
I travel once a year. Because I sail all the time I go on a non-sailing trip, but invariably I end up on the water — it just happens.
If you like this, you might like: Tips for Better Boating with Children
Capt Iris became a US Coast Guard Licensed Captain in 2001. She is the third generation in her family to operate the worlds largest surviving cat boat built in 1926, the “Selina II”. An avid sailor, Capt Iris is also know for her story telling skills, sense of humor, and warm friendly demeanor. Her love of the Chesapeake Bay and historical & environmental knowledge of the area, make for a realxing and informative day on the water.