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Designing the Super Gundalow


Portsmouth’s little tall ship is now 25 – and expecting a baby. The gundalow Captain Edward Adams will continue sailing the Piscataqua, but plans are on the drawing board for a new wooden ship that will carry Seacoast passengers.




Mother Nature does not recognize man-made roads. She does her traveling now, as always, on currents of air and currents of water. From the air, the Piscataqua region is more blue than green. Water connects everything in this small network of tidal rivers, bays, marsh, ponds and streams, all backed up against a vast shimmering ocean. If you want to know the real future of the Seacoast’s fragile ecosystem, don’t travel by car – take a gundalow.

gundalow01And that’s exactly what the Gundalow Company plans to do. With its existing gundalow, The Captain Edward Adams, now celebrating its 25th birthday, plans are on the table to build a second very special craft. The new improved gundalow will carry passengers into the past, to view life along the river as it appeared centuries ago. But the new gundalow is also very much a 21st century vessel. Passengers aboard the floating school will learn to test water quality in the Cochecho River, observe blue heron and bald eagles off Adams Point, plant baby oysters in Great Bay, map the swirling tidal currents, and re-enact life aboard the flat-bottomed wooden vessels that built this region. Along the way, students who join the program will become leaders, learn self-reliance, practice teamwork and master maritime skills that are fast fading in these high-tech days.

There was a time when almost everything around here, from bricks and lumber to farm animals and freight, came and went by water. Gundalows by the score sailed up and down the Piscataqua, their sturdy construction and shallow draft made these lumbering craft the ideal vehicles to navigate the dramatic tides, that shifted daily from perilous waters to a mucky low ebb. The arrival of trains, trucks and trolleys killed off the gundalow business. The last commercially run gundalow was built in 1886.


For many Seacoast residents, 5 P.M. on June 13, 1982, ranks among the most stirring moments in Portsmouth history. Ten gigantic oxen, one weighing thirty-eight hundred pounds, hauled the Captain Adams along on wooden rollers from Strawbery Banke Museum to the Piscataqua River in the pelting rain. A full day passed as over three thousand onlookers urged the gundalow team ahead. Historian Richard Winslow captured the splashdown in his book "The Piscataqua Gundalow:

"Gee up! Gee up! Gee up!" the drovers yelled frenziedly, cracking their whips on the backs and shoulders of the oxen. The beasts dug their hooves into the turf. They plodded forward. The cable pulled taut. The gundalow slid ahead on its log rollers. "Whoa! Whoa! Whoa!" the drovers yelled as the gundalow approached the edge of the logs. With tongs and peaveys the crew brought the rear logs to the front in preparation for another pull.


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Tuesday, November 21, 2017 
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