Piscataqua offers historic Merrimack River tours

Courtesy photoThe sailing gundalow Piscataqua is visiting Newburyport and Lowell’s Boat Shop in Amesbury. 

NEWBURYPORT — The Piscataqua, a reproduction of a 17th-century gundalow, docked on the city’s waterfront on Wednesday and will be offering historical tours of local waters through next Tuesday.

The 65-foot, lateen-rigged vessel is operated by the Portsmouth, New Hampshire-based Gundalow Company, will offer a selection of educational and recreational tours for the public on Saturday and Sunday before running a set of trips out of Lowell’s Boat Shop in Amesbury on Monday and Tuesday.

Gundalows were flat-bottommed river barges developed in the 17th century as a way to transport goods from deepwater ports, such as Newburyport and Portsmouth, New Hampshire, to smaller towns.

“You can think of them as the 18-wheelers of the 17th and 18th century,” said Rich Clyborne, executive director for Gundalow Company. “Over time the gundalow adapted to what you’re looking at now. They’re mostly used for transporting salt marsh hay, bricks, coal and firewood between towns.”

The company will host “Harbor Sail” trips in Newburyport on Saturday and Sunday from noon to 1:30 p.m., which Clyborne said will take guests of all ages on a fun, educational cruise from Plum Island to the Gillis Memorial Bridge. Admission is $28 for adults, $14 for kids, and $5 for kids under age 3.

There will also be “Sail and Sips” tours, which are in collaboration with local historical tour group Untapped History. After a 90-minute sail, participants will be treated to three colonial era-inspired cocktails at Michael’s Harborside. Saturday’s program costs $55 and runs from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m.

From 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. on Sunday, the Piscataqua will sail out of Newburyport on a Concert Cruise featuring music from Celtic band, Penhallow. Admission is $40 for adults and $20 for children.

The vessel will also offer “Sunset Sails” from 5 to 7 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, with a cost of $35 for adults and $18 for children.

After moving to Lowell’s Boat Shop, the gundalow will host “Merrimack River Sails” from 3 to 4:30 p.m. on Monday and Tuesday, as well as “Lowells Sunset Sail” programs from 5 to 7 p.m. both evenings. Monday’s “Sunset Sail” will include guest speakers from the Merrimack Watershed Group.

Clyborne highlighted the vessel’s programs as a way for people to learn about the evolution of shipping in the area.

“We like to think of it as a way to step back into history and see the development of the waterfront over the last few hundred years,” said Clyborne.

“Gundalows really helped the development of the economy in this area,” he said. “Without them, Newburyport and Portsmouth probably would not have become the important ports they were back then.”

For more information, visit www.gundalow.org/the-gundalow-piscataqua-is-sailing-on-the-merrimack-river-this-sept/

Staff writer Jack Shea covers Newbury­port City Hall. He can be reached via email at jshea@newburyportnews.com or by phone at 978-961-3154. Follow him on Twitter @iamjackshea.

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