Isles of Shoals

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Photo: Bill Barton

Gosport Harbor is nestled between Star, Appledore, Smuttynose, and Cedar Island, with breakwaters connecting some of the islands to form the port. The islands lie on the border of New Hampshire and Maine. For those heading up the east coast, Gosport Harbor offers a tantalizing sense of what Maine can offer the cruiser. The islands are steeped in history, enjoy natural, rugged beauty, and intriguing buildings -- all meriting a visit.

Approach & Cautions

Photo: Bill Barton

The islands are low-lying and sometimes difficult to sight from a distance. If coming from the Cape Ann area of the northern Massachusetts coast, you will leave Anderson Ledge (marked by R “2”) to starboard and the White Islands with their picturesque lighthouse to port. Then proceed leaving Lunging Island* to starboard and Star Island to starboard. Note that Halfway Rocks Ledge lies midway between Lunging and Star Island (marked by R “4”). One can pass either side of Halfway Rocks; however, the better water is west of the ledge. Keep clear of the ledge and begin a turn into the center of Gosport Harbor, nestled between Star, Cedar, Smuttynose and tiny Malaga Islands, all connected by protecting breakwaters.

If approaching the Isles of Shoals from the Portsmouth area, one can make directly for Isles of Shoals Bell Buoy (RW “IS”) and then run up the middle of the harbor. For vessels arriving from further up the Maine coast, give ample berth to the ledges around Duck Island, then leave Appledore Ledge nun (R “2”) to starboard off the island’s northeast corner. From there, make for the Isles of Shoals Bell Buoy (RW “IS”) and then run up the center of the harbor.

  • Note it is possible to leave Lunging Island to port (taking the inside route near Halfway Rock), but the safer route is to go outside Lunging, leaving it to starboard.

Smuttynose at Isles of Shoals with a rocky shore, grassy lawn, and two building flanking a flagpole flying an American flag.

Isles of Shoals Chart

Click the chart to open Navionics.

Not to be used for Navigation.

Docking, Anchorages, or Moorings

With proximity to Portsmouth, the Isles of Shoals can be crowded on summer weekends and holidays. Often, the best time for a visit is a weekday when fewer boats from local harbors make the short six-mile run out to the islands. Private boats, except for dinghies, are not permitted at any of the wharves. Anchoring is possible; however, the bottom is notoriously filled with kelp on flat ledge. The holding ground is not good. In a pinch, one can try anchoring in the cove between Star and Cedar Islands with a trip line rigged. The best option is to pick up an available mooring. On weekday nights there are often free moorings to be found. The Portsmouth (PYC) and Kittery Point (KPYC) Yacht Clubs maintain some moorings marked with their respective initials. Visiting yachts may use these transient moorings; but, are asked to vacate if a club member requests. Typically, the writer has had little trouble finding a mooring mid-week.

There are also two or three moorings off of the pier on the west side of Appledore. These are only for daytime use for a short visit to Appledore Island and not for overnight use. One option is to explore Star the afternoon you arrive and then try a short Appledore visit as you depart the following morning.

Getting Ashore

Photo: Bill Barton

Three islands are worthy of an easy visit; Star, Smuttynose and Appledore. Each is beautiful with winding trails and vistas. Beware of poison ivy.

Star Island: You can land your dinghy at the float beside the ferry dock on Star Island. They do request you sign the visitor book before exploring further. Guests are welcome ashore from 10:00 am to dusk on weekdays and until 3:30 on weekends. Star Island Corporation owns and operates the island and up-to-date information can be found on their website at

Smuttynose Island: Fishermen apparently named the island for the far point’s resemblance to a dirty sea creature’s snout. The island is steeped in history and has walking trails. To land, row into Haley cove between Smuttynose and little Malaga Island and pull your dinghy up on the little beach. Descendants of Celia Thaxter, who own the island, ask you to sign a visitor log outside Roz’s Cottage on the knoll above the beach.

Appledore Island: The Shoals Marine Lab, jointly operated by Cornell University and the University of New Hampshire, maintains a few moorings off the west side of the island. These can be used for short, daytime-only visits. Take your dinghy in to the dock to get ashore; most of the island is owned by the Star Island Corporation.

Isles of Shoals Chapel, a stone building with a square bell tower.


Star Island offers a series of walking trails that meander out to the southern tip of the island. The rather grand Oceanic Hotel, numerous outbuildings and the granite Gosport Chapel offer a picturesque contrast to the wild, windswept southern shore. A marker denotes the event in 1848 when island school teacher Nancy Underhill was washed off the rocks and into the sea; her body would be found a week later in York, Maine.

On Smuttynose one can proceed up from the beach to sign in at Roz’s Cottage and then walk trails out to the far end of the island. Many who walk these trails come with an interest in the 1873 murders of two women on Smuttynose. However, it is equally worth pondering the rich history of these islands that were once among the earliest fishing settlements on the New England coast. These granite isles were sighted and named “Smith’s Isles” by English explorer Captain John Smith in 1614; the name was later changed to Isles of Shoals.

On Appledore trails crisscross the north and south portions of the island with beautiful views of the sea and shore. The rocks at “the Devil’s Dancefloor” near the northern tip are among the most stunning.

Other Things To Do:

The Oceanic Hotel, rambling and classic, on Star Island permits crews of visiting boat to have lunch, family style, in the dining room if you make a reservation (603-474-0441). Inside the hotel is a small gift shop with arts and crafts items as well as good books on the island’s rich history. There is also a snack bar with hot dogs, ice cream, frappes and other goodies. If you want to step back in time, just try sitting in one of the chairs on the hotel’s expansive porch and daydream of the days in the 1800s when the Isles of Shoals were a getaway spot for artists and writers, among them were Childe Hassam, Celia Thaxter and numerous others. The shady porch on a sunny summer afternoon is blissful!

The Gosport Chapel is a quaint, granite church built around 1800 and still used regularly by island visitors.

The Vaughn Cottage beside the Gosport Chapel houses a small library and museum focused on life on the Isles of Shoals from the early fisheries to the grand hotel era.

Celia Thaxter’s Garden is seasonally maintained and can be found a short walk north along the shore from the dock on Appledore Island. Celia grew up on the islands and her father built a hotel frequented by the likes of authors Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Sarah Orne Jewett and painters Childe Hassam and William Morris Hunt. Celia’s garden, bursting with poppies, delphinium, morning glories and wildflowers provided inspiration for these noted artists. The Shoals Marine Lab staff and students maintain the garden as it appeared in Celia’s time. The blooms and contemplative air merit a visit.

Shoals Marine Lab is perched in the buildings on Appledore’s shore. If you explore Celia Thaxter’s Garden and walk the trails of Appledore, you may also have a chance to chat with one of the scientists or students who work and study at this remote field station operated by Cornell University and the University of New Hampshire. For over half a century the Shoals Marine Lab has been exploring the waters, wildlife and islands of the surrounding Gulf of Maine.


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