For all their isolation, the fabled Isles of Shoals makes an easy daytrip for many boaters in northeast Massachusetts, New Hampshire and southern Maine. Gosport Harbor, which is surrounded by 3 of the major islands in the archipelago, is some 6 nautical miles from Whaleback Light, at the entrance to Portsmouth Harbor. Meanwhile, Hampton Harbor, New Hampshire, and York, Maine, are some 10 nautical miles distant, with the Merrimack River mouth some 12 nautical miles to the southwest.
Gosport Harbor is the only viable anchorage in the Isles. Most of the moorings in the harbor belong to yacht clubs in Portsmouth, but if you visit during the shoulder seasons you might be able to borrow one. A stone breakwater fills the gaps between Smuttynose, Cedar and Star Islands, giving protection from easterly winds and seas. The west and northwest corners are unprotected, however, making the harbor an uncomfortable proposition in winds from these directions.
If you choose to anchor, note that the bottom here is mostly hard ledge and notoriously poor holding ground. Don’t leave your boat unattended in windy conditions.
The Isles of Shoals were first settled by fishermen in the 16th century and subsequently visited by many notorious pirates. Today, only a handful of people inhabit these rugged islands, but in the past it was a major destination for wealthy 19th-century Americans, many of whom stayed at the Oceanic Hotel on Star Island. Today the entire island and hotel are owned and operated by the Star Island Corporation, which is supported by the Unitarian Church. Visiting boaters are welcome to visit Star Island and the hotel via a public dinghy dock.
Neighboring Smuttynose Island can also be visited during the day. Access can be gained via Haley Cove, on the island’s western tip. Smuttynose has a number of trails that wind over the island and lead past an old fisherman’s cottage that has been restored by the church in conjunction with a group of conservationists. Boaters are welcome to visit the island and wander its trails.
Appledore Island, also owned by the Star Island Corporation, is leased to Cornell University and the University of New Hampshire, which hold summer marine biology programs on the island. A wide variety of classes are available. Dinghy access is permitted via the dock.
Lastly, it is possible to go ashore on White Island and view the lighthouse there.
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