Sue Reynolds is a well-known sea captain, plus
Longtime North Hampton teacher, founder of Lighthouse Kids, walking history book...
Story, photos by Bob La Flamme
Captain Sue Reynolds at helm (above); her view heading for Isles (below).
As a young girl she summered in Hampton within walking distance of the beach and thus began her longtime love of the sea. Today Sue Reynolds is possibly the best known sea captain on the Northeast Coast. A resident of Rye, she operates the "Uncle Oscar" out of Rye Harbor.
Her notoriety results from media exposure over the years concerning her many accomplishments. Yet most passengers come and go on her boat tours and know little or nothing about her background. She'd be the last to tell them that:
- She has raced sailboats.
- She bought the Uncle Oscar in 1995 and is owner of Island Cruises, Inc., out of Rye Harbor.
- She has taught school for 40 years, 38 in North Hampton.
- At North Hampton she has founded and spearheaded her 7th grade's Lighthouse Kids project that has raised money for repair of the lighthouse on White Island, at the southern end of Shoals islands, and that effort continues.
- She has inspired her son, Peter, who now owns the Granite State Whale Watch tour boat that also operates out of Rye Harbor.
And those are only the highlights.
What starboard passengers can see leaving Rye Harbor.
The Captain is also a student of Shoals history. When Reynolds narrates her tours, you feel as though you are back there in time. In your mind you can see Black Beard the pirate and his wife’s ghost left behind to protect his treasure; you can hear the story of the found silver bars of treasure that built a breakwater at the Shoals, and you can learn about the murders that occurred on the Shoals and see Marin’s rock where the surviving young lady hid in freezing conditions, and so much more.
Her walking tour of Star Island is a must. There is so much history there, an old graveyard and many notable structures, not to mention the beauty of the island. The nine islands collectively are known as the Isles Of Shoals, about six miles off the Rye coast. A group of European fishermen were believed to have been the first to occupy the Islands between 1615 and 1620.
After her lobster tours--which are educational and hands-on--she makes some lobster available to people who take her tours, sells some to the Lobster Shack and takes a few home. Captain Sue has seven traps, but the catch has been low this year so far because of all of the rain. “The lobsters have moved to deeper water,” she told me. On occasion she also catches fish and crabs in her traps. The other after-effect of the rainstorm, Reynolds said, was that boat operators have had to be on the lookout for a 50-foot tree adrift between Rye Harbor and the Shoals.
Reynolds' son, Peter, worked with her on the Uncle Oscar until he purchased the Granite State Whale Watch tour boat, also at Rye Harbor. He is just as passionate about the sea as his Mom.
When the television documentary of buried treasure by Black Beard the pirate was filmed on the Shoals for Histories Mysteries, Peter piloted the "Uncle Oscar" back and forth to the Isles ferrying cast, crew and equipment. You can see Peter and the "Uncle Oscar" in this film and in the ending credits.
The outside and inside (below) of Captain Sue's "Uncle Oscar".
Sue is about to retire from teaching. The money her Lighthouse Kids raised was used recently to fix the white brick tower. Future donations will go toward further work on the lighthouse, maintenance, possibly a railway landing to improve island access, restoration of the Keeper’s Cottage and generator building, and repairs of the walkways. For more information on the project and donations, you may wish to go to the website: wwwLighthouseKids.org
New Hampshire’s only offshore lighthouse had been neglected for years and had a major crack in it. Sue told her 7th grade students about this and the long history of the lighthouse. Hence the Lighthouse Kids project was formed.
The White Island Lighthouse was erected in 1820. The current structure was built in the early 1860s. The White Island Lighthouse is on the National Register of Historic Sites. In the past, lighthouse keepers and the US Coast Guard manned this lighthouse. Then in 1986 the White Island Lighthouse was automated. The Coast Guard maintains the lighthouse, but the rest of the buildings are the responsibility of the State Of New Hampshire. And so it is that the historic lighthouse is being restored and maintained through the efforts of the Lighthouse Kids.
The Lighthouse Kids and Captain Sue have captured the attention of many media organizations, having been featured on NECN (New England Cable News), on New Hampshire channels 9 and 11, and most recently on NBC Nightly News, among others.
Celia Thaxter, New Hampshire's most famous 19th Century poet, lived for many years on White Island. When she was four years old, her father was appointed as the lighthouse keeper. She died at age 59 on Appledore Island.
Some folks believe that her spirit still roams White Island. About 50 years ago the keeper's cottage was destroyed, most likely by Hurricane Carol.
During the summer Captain Sue conducts private tours, such as for whale watching or for special occasions, such as a wedding on the Shoals. In the course of the trips while at sea, she points out all kinds of birds, fish, mammals and leather back turtles.
Reynolds loves her job. “This is a great thing to do (for a living). I am very fortunate.”
Asked if she ever saw herself retiring from her tours on the Uncle Oscar, she said, “Obviously some day I will have to. Then I’ll just stay at Rye Harbor (selling tickets).”
What White Island and lighthouse look like from Captain Reynolds' tour boat.
Copyright © Rye Reflections 2006. All rights reserved.