Blog : Families See a Different Side of Portsmouth on a Gundalow Company Sail

By Craig | Jul 1, 2014 | in

By Kyle Bonus
Green Alliance Writer

In an area rich in history, it’s important to have opportunities to take a step back from the present and learn from the past. The Gundalow Company offers school children and the public a chance to use their vessel as a time machine to sail back in time and learn the importance these unique transports had on the region's maritime industry.

In the 1650s gundalows, a shallow drafted type of cargo barge, were specifically designed for the region. Their unique flat-bottom design allowed for the vessel to rest on the muddy river-bottom when the tide went out, and evenly rise with the incoming tide. Gundalows made it possible for cargo to be shipped upstream from Portsmouth to towns such as Durham, Newmarket and Dover, expanding trade and developing Portsmouth into a successful port town. Because of their key role in developing the area's economy, the gundalow is often referred to as the tractor-trailer of its time.

However, as new means of land transportation were developed, including the growth of the railroad, the gundalow became obsolete and nearly forgotten. In 2002 a group of individuals concerned with both the preservation of the gundalow’s history and the well-being of the seacoast's waterways started The Gundalow Company, a non-profit, to share their concerns with the public.

Today the Gundalow Company offers various types of group sailing trips through Portsmouth and Kittery on their gundalow, the Piscataqua, designed to emulate the cargo barges of the past. The Gundalow Company is passionate about spreading awareness of the region's maritime heritage and environment through education and action. With education at the forefront of the Gundalow Companies mission, many school and youth sails are offered for children of all ages from spring to fall.

“Education is our mission," said founding memeber, and Executive Director, Molly Bolster. "We put that out front and center always.”
Because of their committed focus on the preservation of the area's history and natural environment, the Gundalow Company joined the Green Alliance — a union of local sustainable businesses promoting environmentally sound business practices and a green co-op offering discounted green products and services to its members.

The Gundalow Company’s youth and school sails are aimed to get children involved with hands-on activities aboard the Piscatatua. During sails, children perform water quality sampling tests to check the water's chemistry, and collect plankton to be examined under microscopes provided on deck. These activities are designed with the intention of sparking conversation and thought amongst children so they can see how humans have impacted our waterways in the past, present and what it means for the future.

Mid-trip there is a five minute quiet period so that children can observe their surroundings in peace. After this time, children are asked to share what they've seen and experienced while sailing along the river. By engaging children reflect on the experience, The Gundalow Company hopes it will energize future generations to preserve the health of the river's ecosystem and the area's history.

“My favorite part of the field trip was getting to go under the deck on the gundalow. We learned about how waste travels in water and how it effects our environment,” said a fifth grade student of Shapleigh School in Kittery, Maine.

Youth and school sails offer children unique opportunities to participate in the running of the vessel. Each trip begins and ends with the children assisting in the raising and lowering of the sails. Children also navigate the gundalow using hand-barring compasses and nautical maps as well as a chance to steer the helm.

“It’s a pretty lively two and half hour program aimed to have the kids come away with a greater appreciation for seeing their area from the water," said Bolster. "The vast majority of kids that do the program have never been on a boat or on the rivers of the Piscataqua region, so they don’t know what’s in their very own backyard. It can be a really eye-opening experience."

With two sailing seasons of youth field trips under their belt, the Gundalow Company has received incredibly positive feedback from area schools. Teachers at the Shapleigh School in Kittery recently set sail with their fifth grade classes and could not have been more pleased with the experience.

“Bringing our classes to the Gundalow was one of the most memorable events of the year. If you're looking for a fun, active, educational field trip, we highly recommend the Gundalow,” said one Shapleigh School teacher.

The Gundalow Company feels everyone should have a chance to experience sailing along the Piscataqua River, especially local residents who have yet to fully immerse themselves in the history of the seacoast.

“We built this boat for the community and want it to be thought of as a resource for local kids and families,” said Bolster.

With summer's warm weather now upon us it is the perfect time to experience life aboard the Piscataqua. The Gundalow Company now offers Kids Sail Free trip (all kids under 13 sail free with a paying adult) every Saturday morning 10 a.m. to noon. On this weekly sail, children participate in many of the same activities offered on the private tours.

Green Alliance Members receive 10% off sailing tickets and 10% off private charters. Join the GA now and receive one FREE ticket to a Gundalow Sail (up to a $40 value)! Join here!