I’ve been visiting my daughter in the ‘Port City’ of New Hampshire these last days of Summer. She has returned after living away from the seacoast for a couple of decades and is catching up on the history and culture of this vibrant city on the Piscataqua River.The river was named by the Abenaki tribe with their word for rapid waters. They weren’t kidding. The tidal currents are very powerful in from the Atlantic and the Gulf of Maine. The tide actually rises over 9 feet at Portsmouth and into Great Bay, where there is a confluence of five river systems; the fresh water meeting the salt.
A gundalow is a flat-bottomed barge- type of cargo vessel constructed and operated in and around this estuary, and was designed to carry timber and wares to settlers making their homes in this colony. With a draft of just 15 inches, it could be operated in shallow water and in close to shore. The Great Bay is rimmed with salt marsh and mud flats. Wares were loaded high onto the flat decks since there was no cargo hold. The forward mast was about 20 feet tall, and the long tapering spar, which bore the triangular ‘lateen’ sail, was lashed to the mast so it could be lowered to the perpendicular for passage under the river bridges, then raised again into the wind.
The non-profit Gundalow Company has re-created a gundalow, the “Piscataqua”, and conducts sailing tours for 4 miles up-river to the mouth and the Gulf of Maine. Andrea has been volunteering as a deck hand. As the boat moves away from the dock and into the river’s current, the volunteers encourage the passengers to help pull the ropes raising the sail on the spar. Moving past the historic Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, there are views of lighthouses and defensive emplacements along the shores. The pleasant crew is very helpful in making it an enjoyable voyage back in time. Coming-about and beginning the return journey, one can feel the relentless power of the surging waters. A volunteer recounts the impossible attempts of those who tried a swimming escape from the shore-side prison still seen at Kittery, Maine.
Should you be lucky enough to find yourself in Portsmouth, whether climbing aboard the nuclear submarine “Albacore”, sipping espresso at a sidewalk table in Market Square, visiting Strawberry Banke , the nearby John Paul Jones house or strolling the gardens at Prescott Park, plan to spend a few leisurely hours on the brine with the knowledgeable crew of the “Piscataqua”. The whole family will have a nautical blast!