Blog : Gundalow Gatherings Teaches Children and Adults About the Seacoast's Maritime History

By Corey | Apr 14, 2015 | in

PORTSMOUTH - The rivers of the Piscataqua Region are the veins running through the seacoast's historic maritime region, connecting commerce, trade, people and history. Between 1690 and 1900, the vessels that dominated these waters of the Piscataqua Region were gundalows – flat-bottom, shallow drafted cargo barges reaching 70 feet in length. These unique ships helped shape the way business ran throughout the seacoast region, transporting goods and people before roads and bridges were viable options. But as the rail system became the preferred method of trade, gundalows, and the waterways of the seacoast, fell out of favor. Today, The Gundalow Company, a non-profit organization based in Portsmouth, uses educational programs aboard recreation gundalow ships to ensure that the people of today and tomorrow understand the significance of the region’s maritime heritage and environment.

On April 25 the Gundalow Company will host the 4th Annual Gundalow Gatherings, a night of food, drinks and conversation focused on the area's maritime history and future conservation. Attendees of the fundraising event can choose between nine dinner locations held at the homes of the hosts in Portsmouth, Kittery and York, Maine. All of the evening's proceeds support the Gundalow Company's 2015 education programs.

According to the Gundalow Company's Operations Director, Sue Cobler, the Gundalow Company's award-winning education programs help to connect younger generations to their natural environment, as well as its history, to foster future generations of river stewards. Cobler credits the hand-ons experience students are given to work step aboard a replica gundalow and sail the Piscataqua River, learning how to operate the vessel.

"The cultural and natural history of the area comes alive as students join the gundalow crew," Cobler said.

For Cobler the fundraising events, like the Gundalow Gatherings, are important to make educational programs like hers accessible to all students, regardless of their ability to pay.

"Each dollar we raise goes directly to reduce the cost of our programs to students," she said.

Those attending the Gundalow Gatherings event will also be doing some learning of their own. Each dinner has an overarching topic to be discussed, including linking gundalows to global aquaculture, sustainable seafood, the business and love of lobstering, the history behind Portsmouth's clipper ships, understanding the humpback whale and others.

“Our mission applies to young and old alike,” Cobler explains. “Besides raising money for our school programs, our Gundalow Gatherings serve to educate adults on current issues related to their natural environment and maritime history." Cobler added that the Gundalow Gatherings also inform guests about the Gundalow Company's programs and help build community support for the organization.

At the Gundalow Company, Cobler's goal is to connect the past with the present, tying in contemporary coastal issues such as water quality, habitat restoration, conservation, and stewardship to the rich maritime history that revolutionized sea commerce. Formed in 2002, the Gundalow Company began their educational programs with the launch of the Fanny M., a reconstructed replica of the last commercial gundalow to sail at the turn of the 20th Century. In 2011, in addition to their stationary exhibit Captain Adams, the Gundalow Company built a new gundalow – the Piscataqua. Inspired by the original Fanny M., this fully functional gundalow was built specifically for locals and visitors of all ages to sail on the river.

Gundalows were the ideal vessels for navigating the shallow rivers of the region, able to carry freight up to 50 tons between oceangoing schooners and growing towns. During their heyday, gundalows were primarily built from wood-lot timber. Most saltwater farmers, fishermen and traders often built their own gundalows based on their specific needs, which left no two gundalows alike.

Today the Piscataqua serves as a floating classroom for school and youth groups.

In the past year, over 2,000 students, scouts and campers have enjoyed a unique educational experience on the new vessel. Participants dive into hands-on activities during their voyage, including raising the sail, steering the vessel, learning to navigate with historical and modern technology, towing for plankton, exploring the human impact on the Great Bay and Piscataqua River's ecosystem and analyzing water quality. These educational programs combine concepts from social studies, science, math, art and language arts. And they help students develop critical thinking, problem solving, decision making and team-building skills.

The Gundalow Company's educational programs span all levels of difficulty and ages, and their education team will customize a trip to incorporate any requested topics of learning.

One of the newer programs Cobler hopes the Gundalow Gatherings will raise support for is the River Kids Day Camp, debuting this year. The first campers of this new program will spend their mornings on the water doing interactive activities on navigation, environmental science and history. Their afternoons will be spent doing shore based explorations. For children who are ready to take the reins of the gundalow, they can participate in Crew for a Day, in which students will be able to play leader with hands-on sailing and help direct a crew through dockside activities like setting the sail, steering the boat and engaging in active learning and teamwork.

An expanded school sail for grades 6-12 focuses on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) based learning. In addition to the hands-on science provided on all other sails, this program incorporates a higher level of problem solving boat steering and sailing technique.

The Gundalow Company is also a business partner of 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. Gundalow’s dedication to educational programs designed to teach the value of environmental stewardship and eco-friendly Seacoast tourism option certifies this non-profit as proudly sustainably green business.

Tickets to Gundalow Gatherings are $75 per person and include food and drink that have been generously donated by the hosts ($50 of which is tax deductible and can be purchased online).

For more information about the Gundalow Company, visit www.gundalow.org
Learn more about the Green Alliance at www.greenalliance.biz