A Family Adventure

Tyson, Emilie & Isaac

Kayaking across Portsmouth harbor to Maine

July 21, 2019
Emilie Phillips

It was my idea to paddle Portsmouth. Tyson said it would be too built up, but the MITA guide showed places to stop. I thought crossing the mouth of the Piscataqua River would challenge our family’s skills and endurance.

Putting in a Odiorne Point

We put in at Odiorne State Park and paddled out Little Harbor. Then came the crossing to Gerrish Island. The critical part was avoiding the power boats in the main channel. That’s best done by crossing quickly and staying as a tight group, not easy to do with a six year old. Isaac hasn’t yet learned how to pick out visual references for a heading. And he is still working on direction control. We compensated as best as we could for him weaving back and forth. No boats ran us over.

Isaac in front of Wood Island life saving station

At Fort Foster, we poked around the tide pools for half an hour. Then it was time to head back to New Hampshire. Preparing to leave, Tyson noticed a stiff breeze blowing at us from across the Piscataqua. I checked the airport weather station later. It reported 14-22kts. That seemed like a lot of headwind for Isaac. The tide had also turned and was going in, but we didn’t think the current would be a problem. Tyson suggested paddling upriver to a narrower crossing between a MITA island in Pepperell Cove and Fort Constitution. Once on the New Hampshire side, we could paddle south in the lee of New Castle.

Crossing the Piscataqua

At the island, the wind turned to blow straight down the Piscataqua river from Portsmouth. We also discovered a significant current flowing up towards Portsmouth. Net, we weren’t getting pushed either up or downstream, but the opposing wind and current built up chop. The boat traffic stirred up more waves. I saw a few waves crash over the top of Isaac’s coaming.

I thought we would be safe once we made it within hailing distance of the Portsmouth Harbor Light. No more boat traffic, and less wind and waves. But the current here was stronger than it had been in the channel. The constriction at the point was speeding up the incoming tide. The current held Isaac at a standstill. I instructed Isaac to study his speed relative to the water compared to his speed relative to the rocks on shore. Once he understood, he paddled hard and rounded the point.

Isaac caught Mom

From Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse out to the ocean, New Castle Island protected us from the wind. When we turned the corner into Little Harbor, the wind again blew straight into our faces. Tyson wasn’t feeling very patient, so it was up to me to motivate Isaac to paddle into the headwind. Isaac’s one capsize of the day happened while he and I were playing catch in Little Harbor.

Tyson liked the area enough that he researched other kayak accessible public stops in the area. Here’s the list

All Photos

GPS Track