Harbor Tour of Portsmouth New Hampshire

This past Thursday night I had the opportunity to go on a harbor tour/cruise of Portsmouth, New Hampshire along the harbor out to where it runs into the Atlantic Ocean.

Portsmouth harbor portsmouth new hampshire
Portsmouth New Hampshire harbor view

Portsmouth is a beautiful coastal city on the northern end of the New Hampshire seacoast. In the harbor view above you can see a new, waterfront condo project under construction and the white steeple of the Old North Church to the far right.

At only 13 miles long, the New Hampshire coastline is shorter than any other state that borders an ocean.

Memorial Bridge over the Piscataqua River, portsmouth nh
Memorial Bridge over the Piscataqua River connects Portsmouth to Kittery, Maine

Because Portsmouth is a working harbor with lots of large ship traffic in and out, two of the bridges over the river are drawbridges which raise every 30 minutes from 7:00 AM until 7:00 PM to accommodate harbor ship traffic. In this photo the middle section of the bridge is starting to lift.

portsmouth nh harbor moran tugboat company
Moran Tugboat & towing company tugboats

The Piscataqua River is the third-fastest tidal river in North America and also very narrow by modern shipping standards. Local river pilots take the helm of in and outbound commercial vessels and guide them safely through the channel. These two large tugboats are operated by Moran Towing & Tugboats. Because the Piscataqua flows so fast these tugs only operate at “slack tide”, roughly four hours a day.when the incoming tides temporarily balance the outgoing river currents. Check out this Portsmouth harbor cam to watch river traffic live. The images refreshes every 10 seconds.

portsmouth naval shipyard portsmouth nh
The Portsmouth Naval Shipyard was established in 1800

The Shipyard’s primary mission today is the overhaul, repair and modernization of Los Angeles-class submarines. The dry-docks have recently been enlarged and upgraded to accommodate the new and larger Virginia class submarine with the first due in for a tune up later this month.

USCGC Campbell (WMEC-909) is a United States Coast Guard medium endurance cutter based at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine and is the 5th Coast Guard Cutter to bear the name. She regularly patrols the Atlantic Ocean from the Gulf of Maine to the Caribbean Sea
USCG Cutter Campbell based at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard

The Campbell regularly patrols the Atlantic Ocean from the Gulf of Maine south to the Caribbean Sea.

Portsmouth Naval Prison, Kittery ME
Portsmouth Naval Prison

This is Portsmouth Naval Prison which is curiously actually located in Kittery, Maine just across the Piscataqua River from Portsmouth. The prison has been closed and abandoned since the 1970s as too expensive to rebuild or to tear down. Scenes from the movie “The Last Detail,” starring Jack Nicholson were filmed there.

new castle nh harbor smallest town in nh
New Castle, New Hampshire the smallest city in NH

This is some of the waterfront of New Castle, the smallest city in New Hampshire and the only one located entirely on islands. New Castle is also home to a US Coast Guard station and the historic Wentworth by the Sea hotel.

setting sun over portsmouth new hampshire
Setting sun over Portsmouth Naval Shipyard
portsmouth light at New Castle Coast Guard Stations setting sun over portsmouth new hampshire
The green light at right is Portsmouth Light on the New Castle Coast Guard Station grounds.

Portsmouth light was originally established before the Revolutionary War when American was still a British Colony.

In 1946 the current lighthouse keeper’s wife Connie wrote a book titled not surprisingly “The Lighthouse Keeper’s Wife” and described the view from the top of Portsmouth Light. “I looked down forty feet to the little white scallops of incoming tide washing over the rocks, caressing each one lovingly. …We could look up the Piscataqua River to Portsmouth, with its gleaming white belfry of North Church, a landmark for sailors, silhouetted against the sky. …At the center of the harbor was Whaleback Lighthouse, and ten miles out to sea from that was the lighthouse on White Island, part of the Isles of Shoals. Both sent their beams across the water.”

Lighthouse keepers were or often became, a little ‘different’ from the rest of us. Imagine your job was taking care of Whaleback Lighthouse on an uninhabited, rocky small island day in and day out.

One lighthouse keeper was reported to use the top of his light to shoot passing ducks. He also had a small dingy that he used to row to shore occasionally where he would borrow a resident’s car to visit the local grocery store.

Whaleback island lighthouse entrance to portsmouth harbor
Whaleback Island lighthouse marks the entrance to Portsmouth Harbor

Whaleback Island is actually part of  a  jagged ledge known as Whaleback. This ledge is completely underwater at high tide and is a continuation of the southern portion of Gerrish Island in Maine.  The little dots you see in the water are buoys for lobster traps.

whaleback island lighthouse at darkness falls and a light fog starts to roll in
Whaleback Island at twilight as a light fog starts rolling in.

By the way, this is a working light house; the reason it appears dark in the photos is that the light only flashes on and off every few seconds but trust me, you do not have any problem seeing it when its light flashes. Whaleback light gives 2 white flashes every 10 seconds and during foggy weather, 2 blasts on its foghorn every 10 seconds. Click here to hear the Whaleback Light fog horn. It’s not too loud so it won’t blast you out of your seat. ;)

portsmouth nh harbor at night
Portsmouth Harbor at night is a beautiful sight too.

We got back to the dock around 10:00 PM after a great tour of Portsmouth Harbor. If you ever in the area I recommend a harbor tour as a ‘must do’ part of your visit.

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