Located just 5 nautical miles off the coast of New Hampshire, the Isles of Shoals are great boating destination and a world unto themselves. On a calm summer day, the islands are easily reachable from Newburyport, Massachusetts; Kittery and York, Maine; or Portsmouth, Hampton and Rye, New Hampshire, making them a great daytrip option for boaters who launch or keep their vessels in these ports. The archipelago consists of 9 little islands, clustered off the coast on the border between Maine and New Hampshire. In fact, the islands are divided between the 2 states.
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Gosport Harbor, which is bounded by Star, Cedar, Appledore and Smuttynose Islands, is the only viable anchorage. Most of the moorings in the harbor belong to yacht clubs in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, but if you visit during the shoulder seasons you might be able to borrow one.
If you choose to anchor, be aware that the bottom here is mostly hard ledge and notoriously poor holding ground. If you anchor in windy conditions, don’t leave your boat unattended. 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.
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. The public is welcome to visit the island and wander its trails.
Appledore Island, which is 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.