PORTSMOUTH – Sailing aboard a gundalow is a unique experience, bridging past with present and providing an excursion like no other. In Portsmouth, The Gundalow Company's vessels the "Piscataqua" and the "Captain Edward H. Adams" are two such vessels with a full schedule of sailings for the entire family and special sunset sailings that bring a live, local band onboard to provide incredible background music for the two-hour journey.
Scheduled for the entire summer season, the sunset concert sails are offered every Thursday evening from 6 to 8 p.m. A total of 16 musical sailings are scheduled for the 2013 season, which doubles last year's lineup, according to Molly Bolster, executive director for The Gundalow Company.
"We offered six concert sailings last year and found they not only sold out, but we had people waiting on the dock just in case some ticket holders did not show up to claim their space," she said. "It makes for an incredible excursion and this year we had bands lining up to be part of the schedule."
Bolster said passengers are welcome to bring a picnic dinner to enjoy onboard with the music. The band lineup includes a variety of styles such as jazz, blues, ragtime and toe-tapping "back porch" music. All the musicians are local talent, including Antique Brass, which consists of five brass players who together create a moving, colorful blend on two trumpets, a French horn, a trombone and a tuba. Jeff Warner and Barbara Benn come aboard on July 18 offering guitar music from many traditions, and London Julie is a quartet of female musicians and vocalists who set sail July 25. Musical sails continue through Sept. 26, though because they are sunset excursions, the departure time inches earlier to 5 p.m. as the seasons change, according to Bolster. All gundalow sails hold 42 passengers. Tickets are $40 per person and reservations are highly recommended.
"We typically sell out early so if someone wants to go, it is best to plan way ahead," Bolster said. "If there is bad weather, a full refund is given … but we did not have to cancel any last year."
For those who do not know the vessel, a gundalow is a shallow-drafted type of cargo barge; basically the equivalent of today's tractor-trailer rigs, sometimes measuring over 70 feet long and 19 feet wide. First appearing in the mid-1600s, they navigated the rivers carrying cargo. From the 1700s to 1900s gundalows evolved into fully decked flat-bottomed cargo carriers with a cabin and lateen sail that could be lowered to go under bridges. The sail acted as an auxiliary engine, since gundalows otherwise relied on the tides to take them up and down the river.
The Gundalow Company was formed in 2002 as a nonprofit organization that took ownership of the gundalow, Captain Edward H. Adams. In 2011, Paul Rollins was hired by the Gundalow Company to build the Piscataqua on the grounds of Strawbery Banke. It was first launched in December of that same year.
For a full schedule, visit them online at www.gundalow.org or call 433-9505.