In any event, our next mission was meant to be a more trailblazing one, and one more appropriate to our mission. Gosport Harbor has the Cruising Guide seal of approval, and even our anchorage by the breakwater was not particularly shallow. No, we had set our sights on the seemingly nameless patch of shallow water behind New Castle Great Island, NH.
The Piscataqua river reaches the sea at Portsmouth and Kittery and divides among a maze of rocky islands. At the southwestern side is the rather large New Castle Island. Between the island and the mainland shore is a large and somewhat exposed harbor called Little Harbor. It is only "little" compared to Portsmouth. Little Harbor is protected by a couple of breakwaters and its skyline is dominated by the massive Wentworth Hotel and an equally imposing marina. If you had to spend a night on the water here it probably wouldn't be the end of the world, but we found it was a bit rolly. It was not our goal. At the head of the harbor is a little draw bridge, which is not continuously manned. The sign on the bridge reads that the bridge operates between 7 am and 11 pm, but requires at least four hours notice to open. There is a phone number posted to a dispatcher in Concord, 603 271 6862. We found the dispatcher extremely courteous, and in the event, the bridgetenders (also friendly and courteous) were on the scene within one hour (However, on our departure we were reminded somewhat grumpily by a more local official that there really should be at least four hours notice given. It was also implicitly suggested—both entering and leaving—that we not do this run too frequently. We reassured them that we were staying for two whole days, and that we were returning to points south afterwards). The opening is narrow and the current runs hard under the bridge, and its best to hug the island side. Again, counterintuitively, it is easier to control your vessel if you go in against the current (so on a falling tide inbound, rising outbound). Once inside, the channel is dredged and marked for a short ways. Then two options present themselves. To port , Sagamore Creek makes off to the southwest. It is a cool place to check out, but mooring and anchoring seems like it would be tricky, maybe even impossible in such a narrow and riparian environment.
We proceeded to starboard, past a large and impossibly cool looking seventeenth century home on the left and Leach's Island on the right, before emerging into a large expanse of open water dotted with tiny islands. This body of water, unnamed on the charts, is separated from Portsmouth Harbor by a chain of islands joined by fixed bridges and causeway. Small power boats can get in and out under the bridges, and small sailboats use the area as an enclosed playpen. There seemed to be an active junior sailing program of optis, Turnabouts and 420s using the area on both days that we were here. Bearing to to starboard around Leach's and the alarmingly named Pest Island, we oonched our way past the six foot spot on the chart, but stopped somewhat shy of of the 1/2 foot spot, where we found a mooring near a float that seemed to need the attention of a lawnmower. In all our years of cruising, we have seldom seen a more peaceful or attractive spot, though it must be admitted that we were hard aground for at least three hours on either side of low-tide. Surveys with the boat hook suggest we have about two feet of water for a boat that draws three. The mud is soft enough that we simply sit in it, more or less level, while we are aground.
We love tiny islands, and this little sound contains many. On the chart the smallest ones are unnamed, but the town of New Castle's zoning map is more revealing.
From the Zoning Map and older chart one can see several things. There is a tiny islet, exposed at all tides, with trees on it even, that is not even shown on the newer chart. A series of old half-tide breakwaters connects this series of islets and creates a lagoon that remains full of water (despite the mudflats shown on both charts) even at dead low tide. Based on the name of the largest islet, and a nearby street name, it would seem that this was once a Mill Pond of some sort. It is tempting to try and explore it by boat, but the breakwaters over the two entrances suggest that utmost caution is in order, and we have no idea what the Low Tide depths might be on the far side.
The wildlife here is spectacular and the water is very calm, even in a nasty blow. We saw a bald eagle, several great blue herons, and numerous terns. The city of Portsmouth is an easy walk or motorized dinghy ride away and has many charms. Of our two days here, the weather was spectacular on one day and horrendous on the other. It was a good place to be for either situation. You should not come here and spend less than two nights out of consideration for the bridge tenders, who have much demanding work to do on the Piscataqua bridges.