On the steamy morning of Sept. 3, as Maine and New Hampshire baked in a heat wave, Robert Schultze launched his small fishing boat into the cool waters off Portsmouth Harbor. It was a perfect day for spearfish diving and rod fishing for stripers and bluefish, he told friends before leaving his home in Shapleigh.

Schultze never returned. His 20-foot Aquasport, The Cat’s Meow, was seen that afternoon anchored outside the harbor. It was empty.

The air, land and sea search that followed was complicated by the remnants of Hurricane Earl, which roiled the ocean and blanketed the coast in fog. The search turned up nothing and was suspended on the evening of Sept. 4.

A week later, Schultze’s family is trying to come to grips with the likelihood that the man who grew up lobster fishing in Rye Harbor, N.H., and spent many years exploring the coast in small boats was lost at sea and drowned.

Not quite ready to declare him dead, Schultze’s children are instead trying to celebrate his life. They are remembering a fiercely independent man who, at 63, lived the way he wanted and, perhaps, died that way.

Schultze grew up in Portsmouth, N.H. At 6 feet 8 inches tall, he was a star basketball player in high school. His parents owned Schultze Meat Products Co., which was known for its natural-casing hot dogs.

But Schultze wasn’t interested in the meat business. He wanted to work with his hands, and he rebuilt structures ranging from lighthouses in Mexico to marinas on the Maine coast. He bred racehorses as well, and traveled often enough that his four children were home-schooled. He later lived in Eliot for 30 years before moving recently to Shapleigh.

Schultze never strayed too far from the water.

“We would always go out on father-and-son fishing trips, or just cruising around in the various boats he had over the years,” said Solar Schultze.

It was common for his dad to put his boat on the trailer and head out alone, Solar Schultze said. No one worried until a fishing boat’s crew saw The Cat’s Meow anchored off White Island on Sept. 3.

Aboard the boat were wetsuits and fishing gear. Life jackets were stowed. There was no sign that flares or other distress signals had been set off, according to Coast Guard Lt. Nick Barrow.

Those clues, and the approaching hurricane, led the Coast Guard, marine patrols in Maine and New Hampshire, and local police and fire agencies to concentrate on tidal areas around the harbor’s entrance.

Computer models based on Schultze’s age and body size, and environmental factors including the water temperature and currents, helped guide the search and project the man’s survival time in the water.

The search was called off after 7 p.m. last Saturday. Barrow said it was no longer reasonable to believe that Schultze would still be alive and on the surface.

“Any time we end a search without finding what we’re looking for, it’s a difficult decision,” Barrow said.

The unknown has left Schultze’s children contemplating exactly what happened to their dad. He was a strong swimmer. It was such a hot day, Solar Schultze said, that he may have gone for a swim.

Since the news broke last week, Schultze’s children have been contacted by many of their father’s friends.

“The outpouring of sympathy, condolence and support from friends and strangers (to us) alike has been overwhelming and wonderful at the same time,” said Kit Schultze, one of his daughters. “It’s so difficult, because he has basically vanished, with no explanation.”

The children have gathered this week, hoping for further clues and some closure. In the meantime, his son said, they just want people who wonder what happened to Robert Schultze to know about his life.

“We’re just trying to tell the story of our dad,” he said.

 

Staff Writer Tux Turkel can be contacted at 791-6462 or at: [email protected]