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Gundalows - a new life for the Piscataqua

by Lee Mylchreest on 14 Sep 2012
Gundalow in action .. .
Amid the commercial fishing boats, motor boats and submarines that grace New Hampshire's Piscataqua River in the Northeast of the USA, the lateen sail of a gundalow stands out as an historic reminder of the area's long maritime history. But this is no ancient vessel, according to Union Leader correspondent Gretyl Macalaster. No, it is fully certified by the US Coastguard to take passengers out to learn about the great river.

Three hundred years ago, gundalows like the Piscataqua and the Edward H. Adams were a popular mode of travel and transported goods throughout the rivers of the Great Bay watershed.

The gundalow is a flat bottom cargo vessel, up to 70 feet (21 m) long. They characteristically employed tidal currents for propulsion, shipping a single lateen sail to harness favorable winds.

These days there are only two, lovingly re-created by shipbuilders to honor the important role the ships played in the area's commerce.

The Edward H. Adams was constructed in 1982, and since the 1990s, volunteers and staff with the nonprofit Gundalow Company have provided on-deck education programs to school groups and the public, but without the ability to take passengers out on a sail.

Last December, the Piscataqua was launched after 10 months of building, and recently celebrated its 150th public sail. It is these sails that make educational sails for schoolchildren possible. Educational sails and dockside lessons continue until mid-October, and the Gundalow Company is looking for educational volunteers to help.

On board, students learn not just about the history of gundalows and maritime trade in the region, but the importance of the watershed, how to protect it and what lives in it.

On a Friday afternoon, while most New Hampshire schoolchildren were back in the classroom, two students from Wellesley, Mass., joined a public sail with their parents.

Drew Hawkinson, 15 and his sister, Katie, 12, helped with a 'plankton tow,' lowering a net over the edge of the shallow boat to graze for plankton in the water. They then used small magnifying devices to analyze the wildlife they gathered, with the help of crew member Megan Glenn. They also learned what an estuary is, helped to rig the sail and steer the boat.

'Educational sails really try to connect the students to the estuary,' Glenn said.


If you are anywhere within reach of the river, they are always looking for volunteers. Glenn said people interested in becoming educational volunteers do not need to have a deep knowledge of the estuary, or of sailing, but an interest certainly helps.

Interested volunteers can contact the Gundalow Company at their www.gundalow.com!website.

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