Half Shell Adventures: Making Memories on Maryland's Waters
Boats, drinks, music, friends, crabs, oysters, sunsets. Is there a greater joy in this world?
I stumbled across Half Shell Adventures months ago, and every photo they shared was transporting me from my phone to the smell of seawater, the touch of wind, sounds of laughter and the taste of Old Bay.
I reached out to Audrey, Half Shell Adventure’s Marketing Director for the scoop on this exciting new venture and how I could be a part of sharing a very memorable opportunity with Lady Oyster seafood lovers and followers.
Here is the story of Half Shell Adventures.
1. Let’s talk background. How did Half Shell Adventures begin?
In November of 2017, a nonprofit called Living Classrooms Foundation posted that they were looking to sell Half Shell, one of several buyboats in their fleet. Don & Gwyn Novak and John & Debbie Whelan (my parents) are longtime friends with unique and complementary skills and backgrounds. The four had been dreaming and “hypothetically planning” one day starting a boating business that would offer private events, food & beverage service, and a new source of entertainment that Calvert County had yet to see. When Gwyn (who is not technically an owner but works in very close coordination with Half Shell Adventures) saw the listing for Half Shell, the four friends immediately hopped on a phone call to ask each other, “Are we ready to make this dream a reality?” The answer? “Let’s do it.”
2. May you share more about the area where you are based, and what you love about it?
All five of us (Gwyn, Donald, Debbie, John, and myself) are Maryland born and raised. Gwyn, Debbie, and I are all from Calvert (Gwyn’s family owned the old Bowen’s Inn, where Gwyn’s business No Thyme To Cook is currently located). John is from Potomac, MD. Donald is from the Eastern Shore of Maryland and has always been a waterman. His knowledge of fishing, oystering, marine construction, and many other water-related industries is astounding. We have all grown up on the water and have loved experiencing it in different ways – from catching and enjoying fresh seafood, swimming and playing in and on the Patuxent River & Chesapeake Bay (when there are no sea nettles, of course!) – we all jumped at the idea of being able to share those similar experiences with our guests.
3. On your website, you mentioned that you also offer crab and oyster feasts. This sounds incredible. Pray tell?
We are happy to offer both private and publicly ticketed crab feasts and oyster scalds. For both event types, guests pay a per person price to enjoy delicious crabs and oysters, caught fresh from the Chesapeake or Patuxent. In many cases, Don has caught our crabs and oysters. We have also worked with outside vendors – Mel’s Crabs is one of them.
4. May you share some of the most memorable moments on Half Shell?
In addition to serving as HAS’s Marketing Director, I also bartend and host on all of our events. For a typical event, Don or John would captain and the other would serve as first mate. The three of us have loved watching strangers become friends on our publicly ticketed cruises. After our Speakeasy 1920s-Themed Costume Party Cruise in October, two couples ended up going out for dinner after the event because they hit it off so well and had so much fun together! We love watching people’s faces as they take in the sights of the Solomons Harbor, the river, and the bay, especially if they’re on a boat for the first time (or the first time in a long time). The way a guest’s eyes light up as the watch a picture perfect sunset over the Solomons bridge is absolutely priceless! On a private charter, we hosted a family that had members visiting from as far as Hawaii, and getting to go on a charter with us was actually a surprise gift to the family from one of the guests. Seeing their reactions as they saw the boat for the first time was awesome! There was another private charter where two young kids caught their first fish! (The little boy is featured on our Instagram page.) Lots of really cool memories have been made on our boat, and we feel very fortunate to have shared them with our guests.
5. May you discuss some of the options you have available, and are there any new plans for the future?
We offer two general types of events: private charters and public cruises. Typically, all events are two hours, unless a private charter group requests a different cruise length. Private charters can be catered through No Thyme To Cook, or guests can bring their own food onboard. We take requests for beverages as well.
Our public events are ticketed at usually $10-40 per person, depending on the event. We’ve hosted such a wide variety cruises – from decade costume parties, a Jimmy Buffett-themed cruise, fundraising nights benefiting local charities, listening cruises for concerts at the Calvert Marine Museum, wine tastings with local wineries like Port of Leonardtown and Robin Hill Farm & Vineyards, teacher appreciation cruises with discounted tickets, ladies nights, and more.
Looking forward to next season (we hope to start back up again in April, depending on the weather), we hope to offer far more events – hopefully 3-4 in a week rather than 4-5 in a month – and continue to get creative in our offerings! We’re also considering a loyalty program of sorts – kind of like a frequent flyer program – to reward our loyal, repeat customers. Details for this haven’t been worked out just yet. Perhaps most importantly, we feel strongly about staying connected with our guests and the community. That means that if we hear from our customers that they want or don’t want a certain type of event, service, or offering, we listen! We’re excited to see how the business continues to grow.
Editor’s Note: Thank you, Half Shell Adventures for sharing your story and awesome experience!