Great Bay, NH

from Newmarket, New Hampshire

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Great Bay, NH

The Road Trip: Start from the town of Newmarket, near Portsmouth, NH. Travelling north on highway 108, turn right on Bay Street immediately after crossing the river. Drive about 3.75 miles down the twisting road and turn right on Adams Point Road. The kayak parking is on the left in 1/2 mile. A boat ramp is nearly hidden nearby.

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The Launch: Local advice was to launch in 1/2 tide or above. The ramp area can be mudded in at low water. Tidal range is about 8 or 9 feet here.

Time and total distance: The trip to Exeter is 15 NM round trip. To Newmarket is about 12 miles round trip. Just to explore Great Bay (my trip here) is 7 - 10 NM. Best to time your trip from a couple of hours before high water to a couple of hours after.

RouteRoute Looking out from the ramp area, the passage to Great Bay (called Furber Straight) is on your right. Furber Straight can be very rough when the tidal inflow or outflow is at its maximum and when the wind opposes tide. Once through Furber Straight, the expanse of Great Bay is to your right (west), ahead and on your left (southeast) and straight ahead (south and SSW). For my first trip, we immediately crossed from the ramp to the east shore rather than crossing at a narrower point. A local paddler advised that crossing outside of the narrows helps avoid the often-rough water in the Straight. For our paddle the advice was unnecessary, as the tide was at its high and the water was smooth, with hardly any ripples.

We worked down the east shore, looking briefly into many scenic little coves. All of the eastern coves are mudded up at low water. Because most of the eastern shore is public land, and there are only tiny towns near the eastern shore, the paddling is pleasant here. A flight of 5 swans passed over us as we paddled. We stopped to watch the birds and get a drink at Nanette Island. Here we parted company and set off on my own. I paddled directly across the Bay to the western shore and Lubberland Creek. The heading was 290. To head to the Squamscott River and Exeter, the heading would be about 250 and to go to the Lamprey River and Newmarket, the heading is about 270 from Nanette Island. I stopped briefly in the area of Lubberland Creek for a break and found duck blinds and a couple of "No Trespassing" signs. It is unclear what the extent of private land is here. Pulling out I scared up a green heron which was fishing only a few feet from me. There are signs of beavers at points along the shore.

Further up the west shore near the Footman Islands (Big Footman is private and has "No Trespassing" signs; Little Footman is uncertain) I saw a group of paddlers and paddled fast to meet them. I set a course between the tiny islands and found an area with unexpected currents as the tide was beginning to move out. The paddlers turned out to be 7 older women. They admired my wooden kayak and we went our way, they south and me, north. Two more kayakers came along and again admired my boat and asked how long it took to build (4 months in the basement, about 100 hours). Passing north through the Furber Straight with a tiny current behind me and about 4 Kt of wind behind me was quicker than I expected. More paddlers were around the ramp and again my boat was the center of conversation. I did not expect this much attention. Finally, while putting the boat on my truck, a motorboater came over and told me he was building his own kayak, too. This was a pretty short day for me, only 7 NM and 2 hours, with calm water and wind of 0 - 4 Kt. Temperatures were very hot, wearing Hydroskin, and most paddlers were wearing t-shirts and shorts. Air was 75 degrees at the start and over 85 when I was done; water was around 70 degrees. The only problem was that I almost did not find the ramp due to incomplete instructions. On a later trip to the same area, I paddled down the western edge of the bay to the Swampscott Railroad board, with its distinctive black-white-black-white pattern. The bridge is very low, and at high tide nothing much larger than a kayak can move through. I paddled a couple of miles up the river, past the incredibly noisy highway 108 bridge, but turned around well short of historic Exeter. An alternate launching spot, the public access at Chapman's Landing, is next to the 108 bridge. Most of the parking was consumed by construction equipment (a new bridge is going up). On the way back north, the water at the railroad bridge was so high that one motorboat had to stop and take off his awning to get under it. Out of the bay there were a few waterskiers - a real hazard to kayaks. There was some fast boat traffic in and out of the Oyster River, but not enough to worry me. Future trips will include further exploration of the rivers, and more exploration of the scenic eastern shore.

Paddling Tips: Local advice was to watch the chart for mudflats and be very aware of them in falling tides. Many people become stuck. The advice about the roughness of Furber Straight when wind and tide are in opposite directions was repeated by all the knowledgeable locals.

Watch out for: Mudflats. A few fishing boats.

Natural Features: This area has lots of birds. I saw a large number of cormorants, a green heron, and a flight of swans, all in 2 hours. Much of the area is wilderness and wildlife preserve.

Other Landmarks: Look for the black-white-black-white pattern of the Squamscott RR Bridge in the distance. The hills and mountains are low and don't provide good landmarks on your first visit.

Stretch Your Legs: Several small islands are suitable for breaks and birdwatching. Nanette Island near the east shore was pointed out as a good lunch stop, except in hunting season when it is used as a natural bird blind for hunters.

One Paddler's Story: I am new to the New England area, having paddled extensively in California. The Great Bay compares to the southern extreme of San Francisco Bay (but without the powerlines, airfields and urban surroundings of that area). I paddle a 17' wooden kayak (Pygmy Coho) which I built through last winter in my basement, and sometimes also paddle a 17' open canoe when conditions permit.

--Submitted by Gerald Hawkins

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