A longtime ship docking pilot in Portland Harbor known for his hard-charging business style has retired, ending his last effort to regain control of the port’s lucrative ship-moving business.

“I have decided to retire and hang up my portable radio,” Arthur J. Fournier wrote in a letter submitted to the Board of Harbor Commissioners on Tuesday evening.

Fournier, 79, surrendered his state docking master’s license after more than two decades as Portland Harbor’s senior docking pilot, saying he is proud of protecting the harbor during countless ship transits and helping to improve safety procedures for docking and undocking oil tankers and other ships.

“While it is difficult to step aside after so many years from an activity that is both my passion and my profession, I do so with a strong sense of achievement and satisfaction,” he wrote.

In an interview Wednesday, he recounted some of his more memorable trips through the harbor and the narrow Million Dollar Bridge before it was replaced in 1997.

 “I was good to the old bridge and the old bridge was good to me,” he said.

In 1988, Fournier said, he piloted the largest tanker ever to pass through the Million Dollar Bridge.

It was nearly 94 feet wide; the bridge opening was about 95 feet.

He remembered having to stop and control a loaded oil tanker in the narrow harbor because of a car accident that prevented the drawbridge from opening.

He happened to have a Coast Guard admiral on board for that ride, he said.

“We were treading water down there. To me, it was just a delay and nothing more, but to the admiral and his entourage it was a big deal.
He said, ‘I’ve never seen anything like this.’ ”

The same admiral would present Fournier with the Coast Guard’s Meritorious Public Service Award in 2001, he said.

Fournier came to Portland Harbor in 1985 and drove out the established tugboat and ship docking business three years later.

He had already developed a reputation as a scrappy businessman in New York and Boston, where he once survived 12 gunshot wounds in a clash over the barge business, according to one of his better-known stories.

As the harbor’s senior pilot, Fournier helped create new licensing rules that, in part, require modern pilots to make 250 dockings as apprentices.

Fournier’s retirement marks the end of an era in Portland Harbor and the end of his latest business venture, Fournier’s Portland Towing and Ship Service.

The company’s tugboats have already left Portland Harbor and are now near the Cape Cod Canal, where one of Fournier’s sons, Patrick, runs a branch of the family tugboat business.

Arthur Fournier brought the tugs to Portland Harbor a little more than a year ago in an effort to undercut prices and take business away from Portland Tugboat LLC, the company he founded in 1985 and sold in 2001 for $9 million.

That bold business move was considered classic Fournier, pitting him against another son, Brian, who had remained with Portland Tugboat as the company’s president.

The rivalry led to dueling lawsuits, including one in which Arthur Fournier accused Brian Fournier of defamation.

Lawsuits on both sides have since been dropped or dismissed.

“I’m happy for him and I wish him a very good retirement,” said Brian Fournier, who is now one of three licensed docking masters in Portland Harbor. “He earned it.”

Arthur Fournier did get a small percentage of the business in Portland Harbor, his son said, but it apparently wasn’t enough to support a tug fleet.

“There’s not enough business in this port for two companies,” Brian Fournier said.

Brian Fournier and his brothers learned the trade from their father and worked together for many years, but Brian Fournier said he has not spoken with his father or brothers since the companies first clashed more than a year ago.

“It was bitter,” he said. “The end result is that it alienated the family, which is unfortunate.”

Arthur Fournier said he doesn’t know if his retirement will help repair the rift, but “it happens in the best of families.”

The elder Fournier said he started his latest venture in part to give his two other sons a shot at piloting in Portland Harbor.

Instead, they will continue to run the tugboat business in Cape Cod and in Searsport. Arthur Fournier said he will likely pitch in.

Fournier said he and his wife hope to spend more time in the Bahamas, where they have a home.

But he said he still feels fit enough to climb ladders and operate tugboats.

“I do it when I want to,” he said. “I only did what I really wanted anyway.”

Staff Writer John Richardson can be contacted at 791-6324 or at:

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