Friday, May 25, 2012

Sail the Piscataqua River in a Gundalow!

Few experiences are so lovely as floating down the Piscataqua River under sail on a Gundalow.  What is a Gundalow, you ask?  It is that flat bottomed, lateen-rigged, sailing workhorse of the old Portsmouth seaport.  With the launch of the new Gundalow, Piscataqua, you can now see first hand the wonders of sailing the river with its swift currents and shores teeming with nature, industry, cottages and rocky shores.

A few days ago, I sailed down river with Executive Director Molly Bolster and her Gundalow crew, led by Captain Matt Glenn.  Leaving the dock at Prescott Park, Captain Matt used the motor to ease us into the main current of the river.  Once clear, the crew placed a few volunteer passengers on halyard lines and we raised sail.  Cutting the motor, Captain Matt let the river currents do most of the work just as the sailors did for generations.  The sail was mostly a secondary source of power since the river is so swift.  We drifted past the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard with its submarine pens and Coast Guard cutters on one side and Pierce Island Park on the other.  Through the narrows of the river we got a close up view of the old Naval Prison which dates from 1908 and closed in 1974.  Beyond the prison, we see the island village of New Castle with its lovely cottages and boats moored off the shore.  On the opposite shore, Kittery Point comes into view with grand summer homes and fishing shacks as well.  We returned under power, crossing through the pillars that once supported the old Memorial Bridge where you can see the reconstruction work.  We waved at the people having drinks and dinner along the waterfront and then returned to dock at exactly 7:00 p.m.

Along the journey, the crew explains about the educational programs that the Gundalow offers to school groups.  We draw water from the river to examine the microscopic plankton that keep the river alive and feed the larger marine life, all of which depend on our interest in keeping the river healthy.  A portion of your ticket proceeds supports these education programs.  The crew is happy to explain the boat, the river and local maritime history along the way.  They will even let you steer the boat!

From Memorial Day to Columbus Day Weekend, the Gundalow will offer regular tours, three times a day, from Thursday through Sunday.  The Morning Sail begins at 10:00 a.m. and the Afternoon Sail at 2:00 p.m.   The Sunset Sail begins at 6:00 p.m. from May through July, 5:30 p.m. from August to September and at 5:00 p.m. to the end of season to accommodate the shorter daylight hours.  All tours leave from the dock in Prescott Park between the Shaefe Warehouse and Mechanic Street and last 2 hours.  Be sure to arrive 30 minutes before departure.  Captain Matt is very prompt and the tour is no fun from the dockside!

Each Thursday, the Sunset Sail will feature either a lecture or live music to serenade your trip on the river.  Tickets for the tours can be purchased online and cost $36 for a day sail and $41 for a sunset sail.  Children ages 5 to 12 are welcome at a discounted rate.  Tickets can also be bought at the offices at 60 Marcy Street across from Prescott Park.

It takes about 20 minutes to walk from the Martin Hill Inn to the Gundalow, or it is a short drive and there is public parking at Prescott Park and at Pierce Island.  The Inn can book your sail for you, if you wish, just speak to the Innkeeper.  Bon Voyage!

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