With the down time after my hip replacement surgery, Lauren Steigerwalt, one of my dive buddies, joined me for a drive along the coast of New Hampshire to check out some of my favorite sites and also to explore other future dive sites. We started from the south at Rye, NH and worked our way up north to Portsmouth, NH. The diving conditions were spectacular as the seas were relatively calm with light winds from the southwest.
The sites we checked out were:
Our first stop was to check out Seal Rock in Rye, NH. It’s a great dive site and best to dive at high tide when the prevailing winds and waves are from the west. The site can be rough when wind blows from the east. What I love best about the dive is the underwater topography from the years of pounding seas and waves that have carved cracks, cuts, crevices into the ledges. There are even some swim throughs and small bowls.
The Dive - As you get in the water, follow the rocks offshore, then follow the rocks around the perimeter. The rocks extend further out to where you finally get to a sand and gravel bottom (around 25 fsw). No need to go further out. We dove mostly around 15 feet heading south until it was time to turn around.
Getting there - There are pullovers along the side of the road off 1A. Parking is free, however, parking is limited to 1 hour. Finding it is straight forward. You can enter “Seal Rock” on Google Maps to direct you there. Since we were coming up from the south, we parked at the nearest pullover closest to it.
Entry & Exit.
There is a small path to the water at the right side of the pullover. It’s not a bad walk to the water. You want to enter from the left looking out to the ocean. To the right, are large rocks that make entry/exit very difficult.
Getting there - Continuing further north, is Pulpit Rock, a site I have not tried before but I am eager to dive. When you see the tall tower on left side, pull into the pullover in front of the tower to your right (if you are coming from the south). You’ll want to park as far to the right end as possible to easily access the path to the water. Like Seal Rock, you have 1 hour of parking. You’ll know you’re there as you will see huge bedrock formations extending out into the water. There isn’t really a beach, just a narrow stretch of gravel and rocks between the rock and the road.
Entry/Exit - The right side of the parking pullover (where you want to park), you’ll see a path to the beach. It’s easier to get in and out there than it is on the left side. There are uneven layers of rocks blanketing the shallows so you need to be careful going in and out, especially at low tide as you’ll have to scramble over slippery rocks.
Swim straight out following the rock formations from one end to the other. Similar to Seal Rock, there are lots of cuts, crevices, small pinnacles, and short, sheer drop-offs from years of waves pounding on the granite ledge. Where the rock begins to dip into the water, you’ll come across of a mix of small to medium sized rocks. The maximum depth is 25 FSW at high tide.
SUNKEN FOREST, Rye NH
From Pulpit, we had to make a quick detour to check out the Sunken Forest which is just south of Ordione Point. I have previously written a blog post with a more detailed description of the site- the link to the Blog Post.
The Sunken Forest is best dove when the prevailing winds are from the west. The winds/waves were calm from the south west which made the visibility of the water was spectacular.
FORT STARK, New Castle NH
Continuing further north, we headed in the direction of Fort Stark in New Castle, NH. The entrance to the Fort and the parking lot was closed due to ongoing construction. There is parking there when the gate is open but DO NOT park along Wild Rose Lane or to the area before the entrance to the Park as parking is limited to New Castle Island Residents only. The New Castle Island Police do patrol the area.
The Dive: This is a good dive for new divers as there is little current and the site is relatively shallow. It can be dove regardless of the tide but best is to dive it at high tide as like the Sunken Forest, it is too shallow to dive at Low tide. The depth of the water is 15 to 25 feet. The bottom is mostly small boulders covered with kelp and rock weed before coming to eelgrass.
GREAT ISLAND COMMON, New Castle, NH
Continuing north, just after Fort Stark is the Great Island Common which is a park overlooking Portsmouth Harbor with lawns, picnic tables and BBQ pits and a great place for non-diver friends and family to hang topside if you want to get a dive in. Like the other NH sites, it needs to be dead calm for conditions to be good. The visibility can be stirred up with red seaweed if there is any chop or waves. There are two areas to dive. One is the rocky shore side to the south and the other is the sandy beach to the north.
The sandy beach area starts off as eelgrass before turning to sand. It’s really a site for those that just want to get wet or do some skills. It’s relatively shallow.
The Rocky shore part is a mix of small to medium sized rocks close in the shallows and small-to-medium-sized boulders further out. Depths are around 20 to 25 feet. The entry/exit is a bit tricky as it is blanketed with uneven rocks making entry/exit quite tricky.
FORT CONSTITUTION/ HARTS COVE
From Great Island Common, we headed to Fort Constitution in Harts Cove. This is one of my favorite dive sites. (I’ve logged close to 50 dives). We were just at low tide when we arrived and were amazed at the spectacular visibility of the water from the surface. Like Pierce Island, this is an advanced dive and should only be done with someone familiar with the site and tides given strong currents in between slack tide. You need to be very comfortable diving in currents before diving here. This is a site I always do at high slack after an incoming tide. I usually enter/exit to the left of the pier but one can enter/exit to the right- but you must not go too far out as you may interfere with NOAA or USCG operations. To the left of the pier is mud and muck and it can get very silty but if you are persistent, you maty find old artifacts such as antique ceramic pipes. Most of my dives are directly under the UNH Pier checking out the critters.
One of the dives I have not done but want to do is to go to the other side of Fort Constitution to check out the area for antique Cannon balls. (A “Cannon-ball Run”) We would have to enter at the normal entry/exit point to the left of the pier, follow under the pier to the end and cross over towards Fort Constitution in the direction of Portsmouth Harbor. It would be easiest to do after slack tide on an outgoing current going with the current to the leeward side and heading south looking for Cannonballs. We would exit at the beach at the end of Ocean Street and walk back to the Car at the UNH Pier. There is NO PUBLIC Parking at the end of Ocean Street so don’t attempt to park and dive from there.
PEIRCE ISLAND DOG PARK
Of course, I cannot do a trip to Portsmouth without checking out Pierce (or Peirce) Island. At 218 dives and counting, it is one of my favorite dive sites. To find it, Google “Luis’s Ledge.
One of my buddies submitted “Luis's Ledge to Google Maps as a site! You can even write a review!
Link to reviews
Like Fort Constitution, this is a dive you should not dive unless you are with someone very familiar with the site as there are tides and strong currents. I have blogged about this site in detail in my iDive New England blog post Yes, I’m a “River Rat”. This is a dive that you need to dive at slack tide. It’s best to dive at high slack with an incoming tide. The day we visited, the visibility at low-tide slack looked great.
It was a wild ride having a hip replacement surgery, and quite frankly a bit nerveracking being out of the water for so long. My gills remained dry for more than I would have liked during the recovery. But I found myself making the most of it rediscovering the beauty of my favorite sites along the New Hampshire coast.