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Portsmouth in the Fog


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On Saturday, March 6th, a group of NSPN paddlers hosted the Vermont Frostbiters for a late-winter paddle in Portsmouth, NH. With Jed Luby guiding, the group of Jim Brayden, Rick Crangle, Suzanne Pritchett, Paula Riegel, Gerry Smith and Mark Stephens from NSPN and Joe Brzoza, Bryan Lewis, Jonathan Long, Glen Michaels, and David Miskell from the Frostbiters launched from Pierces Island at 10AM. Conditions for the day were potentially challenging, as a small craft advisory had been issued for later in the day, the outer harbor and shipping channel were heavily socked in with fog, and the paddle was to be against the tide in both directions. The full moon spring tide promised that currents in the Pisataqua River would be running at a good four knots on the ebb later in the afternoon – just about the time we were scheduled to be working our way back up to the put-in. (Who planned this trip, anyway?)

We headed up around Pierces to the main river, across from the naval base on Seavey Island. As we turned east into the river, our lone harbor seal of the day popped up for a brief look at us but was quickly gone. The river was flooding at between 1-2 knots as we worked our way against the current down the channel toward Portsmouth Harbor. We were all quickly warmed up by the exercise and sea hoods were coming off up and down the line. A couple of the Vermont Greenland paddlers decided to cool off by sculling for a quick dip in the 37 degree water. The fog got thicker as we went, and the old naval prison on Sullivan Point, with its crenellated towers and gothic demeanor could have been mistaken for the ruins of some medieval fortress on the Rhine, were it not for the fog horn blasts from the Fort Point Light and the smell of brine which now started to reach us from the sea.

After passing Salamander Point and Fort Point Light, we crossed the shipping channel to Wood Island on the Maine side of the harbor for a break. (Ah, a two-state paddle! A first for some of us.) From this hunk of rock, the most southerly outpost of the Maine Coast, we could hear, but not see, the horn from Whaleback Light further out, and we watched a good sized freighter come in, guided by the harbor tugs that busily plied the river all morning. The sea was flat, the fog thick, and the predicted winds were non-existent. We decided to cross back over to New Castle Island to look for some play in the rock gardens lining its eastern shore. There was just enough swell at the southern end of the island to make for some opportunities to lighten our boats of a little gelcoat on the rocks, for those so inclined. Jonathan in particular seemed intent on shaving a layer off his Elaho. David decided to taste the rockweed at another point, but quickly righted his Pintail and saved the rest of his appetite for the lunch break.

After lunch at Frost Point in Little Harbor, we headed up the backside of New Castle Island, accompanied by a brief rain shower – the only noticeable precipitation of the day. The ebb current was already picking up under the State 1B bridge, but the rest of the trip back to Pierces was relaxed. After group pictures, some folks hauled out, but the residual pod headed up-river to check out the currents above the Badger Island bridge. We were just before max ebb, and the river was ripping at a good four knots in spots as it came through the constriction between Badgers and Nobles Islands. After some eddy play, we headed back to Pierces and were packed up by 3PM. (Trip Distance: 8.7nm)

While not one of the more sterling days to showcase the home waters for our northern visitors, everyone agreed it was a good day. As one of our frozen friends commented, “Hey, its water!”.

PPPO at Gerry Smith’s was catered by Dottie (and Buddy) Hogan. Homemade minestrone soup, Anadama bread, cold cuts, and, of course, Suz’s chocolate cake for dessert.




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