Nine miles off the coast, you can row a boat from an island in New Hampshire to an island in Maine.
The Isles of Shoals are a group of small islands off the coast, about ten miles from Portsmouth, New Hampshire, straddling the borders of Maine and New Hampshire. Star Island is home to a historic hotel from which you can rent a rowboat and enjoy a row in the ocean to the neighboring Smuttynose Island. Few things compare to the feeling of being that far out in the ocean, on some very small islands. And it's unlikely you'll ever find yourself that far from the coast, out in a rowboat. It's humbling. Plus, we'll give four thumbs up to any day we can get a boat-ride or two in.
Isles of Shoals Steamship Company in Portsmouth, New Hampshire will take you out to Star Island daily, during the ferry season. The M/V Thomas Laighton offers history tours of Portsmouth harbor, the Isles of Shoals and the New Hampshire Seacoast on the ride out to Star Island, where you can spend the day or more.
Isles of Shoals Steamship Company
315 Market Street
Portsmouth, NH 03801
Star Island will be your first stop. Leaving from Portsmouth, New Hampshire in the early morning gives you enough time to walk the circumference of Star Island and find a good place on the rocks to have lunch. Definitely pack a picnic- there's a snack bar at the Oceanic Hotel, but meals aren't available without a reservation. Walk the entire water's edge of Star Island- climb rocks, and watch as the view of the NH & ME coastlines changes from different perspectives.
After lunch, when you've fully explored Star Island, rent a rowboat from the hotel and row across to Smuttynose Island, where you'll be greeted by the current steward of the season.
Smuttynose Island is the home of two remaining houses, and you can explore one of them, which is maintained by the island steward. Rosamond Thaxter, grand-daughter of poet Celia Thaxter, spent much of her summers at Gull Cottage, a one-room shack on Smuttynose where the door was always open and visitors were always welcome. Aunt Rozzie was a philanthropist, a world traveler, and a genuinely fascinating woman. For many years, she hired a skipper to take her to and from the Islands. Read up on Aunt Rozzie before you go to Smuttynose. Her memoir Aunt Rozzie Remembers is available to read at the Kittery Historical & Naval Museum. Aunt Rozzie also wrote a biography of her grandmother Celia, titled Sandpiper. Celia's Among the Isles of Shoals is another wonderful book to check out before you go. Celia Thaxter lived on nearby Appledore Island off and on, where she hosted many New England artists including Childe Hassam. There are walking tours of Appledore available through the Shoals Marine Laboratory- this is another day trip though, since Appledore is only accessible by ferry from New Castle, New Hampshire. On this tour, you get a glimpse of Celia's famous garden.
Rowing a boat to and from Smuttynose Island is the highlight of the day. The water between Star Island and Smuttynose Island is calm but seems expansive because you're six miles from the coast. Despite crossing state borders, the rowing takes about twenty minutes each way. The last ferry back to Portsmouth, New Hampshire leaves Star Island in the late afternoon, getting you back to the mainland exactly when it's time to go get a cup of clam chowder.
TO READ BEFORE YOU GO
An Island Garden
Celia's fascinating stories of gardening on Appledore Island, along with beautiful illustrations by her friend Childe Hassam.
Among the Isles of Shoals
Celia's memories of growing up on the Shoals and stories about life on many of the islands.
Written by her granddaughter, the one and only Rosamond 'Rozzie' Thaxter, Sandpiper tells the story of Celia's strong love for the Islands.