26 July 2008 | Isles of Shoals
Beth - hot days and cool nights
We made a nice early start from Gloucester with a plan to reach Isles of Shoals in good time and secure a mooring ball. I say "nice early start" - which for us was 0700 hours, but the fishing boats started leaving the harbour around 0430. We'd feel the roll as they went by and then drift off to sleep again - glad to be in our cosy berth.
The Isles sit off shore about 6 miles from Portsmouth and Kittery, and are divided between New Hampshire and Maine. We passed by the lighthouse on White Island sounding its haunting fog horn and into Gosport Harbour, the one sheltered place between islands named Cedar and Star and my favourite ... Smuttynose! By arriving at noon, we thought perhaps we'd beat the crowds, but the moorings were all occupied and we were just lucky that as we cruised slowly through the field, a tour boat was leaving. As Jim picked up the ball, he noticed that it had a name on it but we figured we'd stay till we got kicked off. Anchoring here is not recommended because of the rock and kelp bottom, but by evening, several boats had dropped their hooks - and we would have too if we'd had to.
These islands are full of stories - of pirates and Indian attacks and a murderous Prussian fisherman. They were centres of commerce back in the 1600 and 1700's when the cod fishery was richer than any seen before by the Europeans. Star Island has a big old hotel complex on it - dating back to 1872 when boatloads of visitors would come to "get away from it all". Now it is used as a retreat centre by the Unitarian Church and groups come in for daily and weekly programs. We watched as boatload after boatload arrived and disgorged people. Thomas Leighton, lighthouse keeper, built another old hotel on Appledore Island. His daughter, Celia Thaxter - a poet - lived here and hosted many literary figures of the day - Hawthorne, Longfellow and others. Most of the islands are open to the public during certain hours and we'd love to have gone over to Star Island but because we were on a private mooring, we were hesitant to leave the boat until later in the afternoon.
Fortunately, Susan and Mike (Tabbycat) came paddling by in their inflatable kayak so despite staying on board we had good company as we caught up with all their adventuring.
At the end of the afternoon, we felt ready to leave, so we dinghied to Smuttynose Island, and braved the resident seagulls to walk along the trail there. A couple of cabins are located right at the top of the path and we discovered that families who come for weekly stints as resident caretakers occupy them. Once upon a time, this little island was home to Captain Samuel Haley who built a ropewalk (not something you walk over but something you make rope on), a saltworks for curing fish, windmills, bakery, cooper and blacksmith shops. The tiny graveyard where he and his family were buried back in the 1700's sits just behind his cottage.
Now the island is home to a couple of sheep - the local lawn care workers - grazed around the meadows as we headed down the trail. Susan and Mike had warned us to beware of the protective gulls, and they were right. We moved along slowly as the adult birds shrieked and squawked loudly at us. The youngsters were pretty much adult sized, but mottled in colour and not yet airborne. We watched as the adults shooed them into the bushes while they took to the air - hovering over our heads and warning us to stay clear.
Boats kept coming and going all afternoon; as soon as a daytripper would leave, another one - or a cruising boat - would take its place. The Portsmouth Yacht Club owns a few of the balls and our guidebook said that folks from there have first dibs on those balls. We watched as a sailboat came along, had a conversation with two powerboats rafted on one of those balls. The powerboats left and the sailboat took its place so we thought they'd been booted out. About an hour later, the sailboat left too and we were wondering if he'd ousted the first boats just so he could stay a short time. Surely not - that seems hardly fair, but who knows?
We went over to Tabbycat in the evening for shared edibles (pork cubes in spicy peanut sauce, tendercrisp pattypan squash slices, smoked oyster-stuffed mushrooms, chocolate chip cookies) and a rousing game of dominoes. Finally we had the opportunity to learn this "cruisers" game. The version we played - and that played by the cruisers in the Bahamas - was Mexican Train Dominoes and it was a blast. Mike and Susan were good teachers and gave us tips on how to use strategy as well as luck. In the end I won and it had nothing whatever to do with skill. A house rule that Tabbycat picked up from Morning Glory was that at the end of each round a score of 50 or 100, 200, 300 etc can be halved. Imagine the surprise when my 400 score got cut down to 200 near the end of the game. Imagine how frustrating that must have been for those who were truly in the lead! It was a fabulous evening with good company in a beautiful place.
Next time, we'll plan to explore some of the other islands - because for sure - there will be a next time!