HAVRE DE GRACE — Chris Hopkinson eyed the wind nervously as he geared up beneath the Concord Point Lighthouse in Havre de Grace, preparing for a 240-mile paddle board journey to raise money for the Oyster Recovery Partnership.

“I just want to get out there and start paddling,” he said in an interview as the sun rose over the Chesapeake Bay. “In the last couple of weeks, it’s been a lot of overthinking. Right at this point, I just want to get on the water and not think about what I ate this morning, what I ate last night, how I’m going to recover, what the wind is going to be like.”

An Annapolis native, Hopkinson has trained 20 hours a week for five months in distance paddle boarding. On Friday, he began a nine-day voyage that will end up in Virginia Beach, Va. with stops along the coast including Fort Smallwood Park, Annapolis and Chesapeake Beach.

He set a fundraising goal of $200,000 for Oyster Recovery Partnership (ORP), a nonprofit seeking to restore the health of the bay. With sponsorship from local favorites Flying Dog Brewery and Old Bay Seasoning, Hopkinson had raised over $125,000 by Friday morning.

Hopkinson first learned about the importance of oysters to the bay’s health while helping his daughter with a science experiment.

A single oyster can naturally filter up to 50 gallons of water in a single day, but over-harvesting and habitat loss have caused the oyster population to decline by 99 percent since the 1880s. For every dollar raised, ORP can plant up to 100 oysters. If Hopkinson meets his goal, the organization will be able to restore as many as 20 million.

“The goal isn’t really to paddle the bay,” Hopkinson said. “The goal is to bring awareness to oyster recovery and everything they do to protect and save the bay.”

In his first public speaking engagement since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, Havre de Grace Mayor William Martin presented Hopkinson with a challenge coin, which the city awards to citizens who achieve accomplishments of note.

“We want to bring the bay back to what it was. That's what today is all about, and what Chris is about to undergo is in that same spirit,” Martin said. “On behalf of the great citizens of this city, we thank you for choosing Havre de Grace as a starting off point in the spirit of the cleanliness of the bay.”

ORP Executive Director Ward Slacum thanked Hopkinson for his dedication to the restoration of the bay. He encouraged attendees to donate in support of Hopkinson’s mission.

“We see Chris as an inspiration,” Slacum said. “To Chris, on behalf of Oyster Recovery Partnership, our partners, our sponsors and donors to the Bay Paddle, we wish the wind at your back — hopefully not too much wind — and fair weather on your trip down the bay.”

It was a cool, clear morning. As Hopkinson unloaded his paddle board from the roof of his car and carried it to the edge of the water, he joked that it felt like walking the gauntlet.

Hopkinson’s wife saw him off from the pier, as did their son and two daughters.

With food and water stashed in a pack, Hopkinson set off alongside Bryan Gomes, a youth educator with the nonprofit ClearSharkH20, who will follow Hopkinson in a kayak along the journey. As he cast off, Hopkinson called cheerily, “See you in Virginia Beach!”

“Doing this nine straight days is a little overwhelming,” he said in an interview before setting out. “Hopefully when I’m actually on the water, my head will just go blank for a little while and I’ll just try to survive each paddle.”

As of Tuesday, Hopkinson had completed 88 miles of the proposed 240 mile trek.

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