Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Travel: Newcastle, New Hampshire - a Kayaker's Dream

Happy 4th of July!

I can't think of a better seacoast area to explore by kayak over the 4th of July holiday than Newcastle, New Hampshire. Newcastle is essentially an island that sits due east of Portsmouth, NH, adjacent to the mouth of the Piscataqua (locals pronounce it pis-CAT-a-kwa, but I've heard pis-ca-TAK-wa is more correct) River. Newcastle proper defines the eastern border of a protected body of water that is considered part of the river, but doesn't have any current, save for the flow under 2 bridges that, along with their respective causeways, mark the northern and southern edges of this expanse. These causeways are part of the looping Rt.1B that shoots off coastal Rt.1A just before Sagamore Creek in the south and reconnects to Portsmouth Ave./Newcastle Ave. and downtown Portsmouth in the north. South of the Rt.1B loop is another protected body of water that is defined by the mainland to the west, Odiorne Point to the south, 2 breakwaters opposite each other to the east, and the Newcastle coastline and Rt.1B to the north. 2 protected water expanses, plus access to Sagamore Creek, the ocean beyond the breakwaters, and the impressive Piscataqua River is quite an array of paddling opportunities in a relatively confined area. That said, the area is not without its challenges, and even dangers.

View of Sagamore Creek

As one might imagine, kayaks are not the only craft making use of this area. Boats of all types are present, and jet skis appear from time to time. Fortunately, they are relegated to deeper sections, and much of this area is relatively shallow. Kayaks truly have an advantage here. Currents are not a major factor in most of the area, but they can be profound with tidal flow under the causeway bridges and around points and the breakwaters. I've never been turned back by a current here, but I could see it happening, depending on the tide. I think the biggest danger in this area is complacency. It is so ideal, that a kayaker might get a little too comfortable and not fully focused. Pinch points like bridges should be navigated with respect for their dangers. Also the Piscataqua is a substantial river - one of the bigger rivers in the area. It moves a tremendous amount of water. No one but experienced kayakers should venture beyond Newcastle Ave. and into the main river - and, forget about paddling against the current unless the inbound tide is pushing you. It is a seriously dangerous area and should not be taken lightly. The ocean beyond the breakwaters can also be dangerous, so the same advice applies. If you decide to paddle beyond them, watch for the lines of fishermen who cast off the end of the south breakwater.

Parking is available at Odiorne Point State Park for a fee, but gates may be closed in off hours. The parking lot can also fill up fast in the summer. There is limited parking on the other side of the short wooden bridge adjacent to the lot entrance, but it is a steep slope and the tide can rise and swamp your vehicle, so be careful to park above the high tide line. I have parked here many times, but it can be challenging, and the bottom is quite muddy at low tide. There are several spots on the Portsmouth Ave. section of Rt.1B in Newcastle, with a gravel boat launch suitable for kayaks, but I am unaware of any required fees or permits to park there. I have parked on the roadside in the past, and have not received a citation or had any issues. There is significant parking and a boat launch on Pierce Island, just off the Strawberry Bank section of Portsmouth. However, this is north of Newcastle Ave., and is in the main river. The water is protected on the south side of Pierce Island, but if you want to access the Newcastle protected waters, you will have to pass under a bridge that could have a significant current on an outbound tide.   

Paddling options are plentiful here. You can wander through the many islands in the section encompassed by Rt.1B. You can paddle upstream on Sagamore Creek, which stretches west and expands into a wider, less developed section . You can raft onto the beach at Odiorne Point and go for a swim (expect cold water, though). For the experienced and adventurous, you can paddle into the Piscataqua, and travel downstream to circumnavigate Newcastle, then re-enter past the breakwaters on the south side. This area is also a decent location for kayak fishing, although I never hooked a striped bass here in the 'yak. One unusual option for the adults is to pull up onto the small beach to the left of BG's BoatHouse on Sagamore Creek and enjoy a couple of libations and maybe a lobster roll, before you head back out to the water (just make sure it's not more than a couple libations - operating a kayak while inebriated is dangerous, and possibly illegal). 

Newcastle is also home to the historic Wentworth By The Sea Hotel, which was the location for the signing of the treaty that ended the Russo-Japanese war. Odiorne Point to the south was once home to huge defensive battleship sized guns, designed to attack possible invading German Navy ships during the 2nd World War. Many of the installations, although decommissioned and in disrepair, are still present - as well as secretly accessible (though officially off limits) underground tunnels and chambers. 

With mostly calm waters, multiple paddling options for all skill levels, and amazing scenery like the Wentworth By The Sea, you would be hard pressed to find a better kayaking location than Newcastle, NH. You could even rent a kayak or two, if you don't own one, at Portsmouth Kayak Adventures located right on Rt.1B (called Wentworth Ave in this stretch). Oh, and I haven't yet mentioned the many attractions in nearby Portsmouth - one of this country's oldest cities and home to great shopping, food, and near to my heart, beer at places like Earth Eagle Brewings.

So, show your patriotic pride and travel to a historic area that played an important role in fighting the Revolutionary War, ending the Russo-Japanese War, and protecting our coast during the 2nd World War, in addition to building and repairing all manner of U.S. Navy ships at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard - and enjoy it from the perspective of a fantastic paddle adventure on its welcoming waters.

- TB on the Water 




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