Capt. Jim Sharp spent 25 years, from 1964 to 1988, buying, restoring and sailing commercial schooners out of Camden Harbor. The names are familiar: Stephen Taber, Adventure, Bowdoin and Rosebay.

He also purchased some tugboats, including the “SS John Wanamaker” that he turned into a floating restaurant; a freighter and many smaller pleasure and utility boats.

For most of those years, Sharp’s Wharf in Camden was a beehive of boating and business, with offices as well as boats.

That Sharp, now 78, had such a physical career as a captain of sailing schooners was an achievement in itself. After being stricken with polio in his youth and undergoing major surgery so he could walk somewhat normally, he started running the family finance company outside Philadelphia.

But boating was his true love, so he bought some boats and operated charter and windjammer businesses in Florida and the Bahamas. In 1963, he came to Maine to work as a crew member on a schooner.

Maine got into his blood, and when he saw the Stephen Taber, a 68-foot, 22-passenger schooner for sale, he bought it and started running windjammer cruises in 1964. Once established in business, he bought the Bowdoin, Donald MacMillan’s Arctic schooner, and the Rosebay for use in the windjammer trade.

But the major boat in his life was Adventure, a 122-foot Gloucester fishing schooner, built in 1926 and fished until 1953. It was considered one of the best in the fleet.

Sharp’s new book, “With Reckless Abandon: Memoirs of a Boat-Obsessed Life” (Down East Books, $19.95), tells the tale of all of those boats, up until the Coast Guard refused to approve Adventure for carrying passengers in 1988. He subsequently retired, until opening  the Sail, Power & Steam Museum in Rockland a few years ago.

Q: I got this book from Down East and thought it was new, but I went into our files, and it was reviewed in 2007. Did Down East just pick it up and republish it or what?

A: It was redone by Down East. Devereux Books in Marblehead (Mass.) did it originally, but he retired and didn’t want to reprint it once all the copies sold, so Down East decided to get on it and release it.

Q: Is it selling well?

A: I don’t know, really, because they only released it this spring, but they are sending out a lot of publicity, which my previous publisher didn’t do.

Q: You seem to be an impulsive person, at least when it comes to buying boats – and maybe cranes. Do you regret any of it?

A: Of course, I am glad for every one I bought. One should never buy a boat that you will be ashamed of or that you can’t live with the character of. I love boats that have lots of character. I must admit that I was an addict, and I guess I was impulsive, at least when it came to buying boats. But I was very careful not to buy a boat that was in such terrible condition that I couldn’t restore it. Well, I guess I did get some, but you don’t want to live with an ugly boat.

Q: What kind of shape is the Adventure in now?

A: The hull has been rebuilt completely, and they spent $2 million on her. They still have the outer rigging to do and some interior things. She has been declared a national historic monument. She had a terrific history as a Gloucester fishing schooner, and I was glad to get her back in Gloucester. They still have to raise some more money, and they have a program to get it done in a year and a half, but they are pretty well along in fixing her up.

Q: When the work is done, are you going to sail her one more time?

A: If I’m not too old to do it, I certainly intend to. I keep hassling them that they have to get it done soon, or I’ll be too old. She wasn’t in that bad shape when I took her down there. She didn’t leak a bit, and we sailed her down there. I was bothered that (Gloucester “Adventure,” the group to whom Sharp gave the schooner) just let her sit for a while.

Q:
Has the Coast Guard gotten better in their understanding of wooden boats over the more than 20 years since you had the Adventure?

A: They have gotten a little better here on the coast of Maine. They had a little education of their marine inspector, and they are more reasonable than the last man I had the pleasure of dealing with.
These inspectors come in with no knowledge at all, and they tell us for four to six years how things have to be, and then they get transferred to Arizona or someplace, and someone else comes in. It’s totally ludicrous, but that’s the way it always is in the federal government. But two years later, I would never have had the problems I had.

But it wasn’t all bad. I was 25 years in the business, and it is a tough business. I was already considering retirement, so the Coast Guard probably just pushed it ahead a year or two.

Q: Tell me about the Sail, Power & Steam Museum that you’ve opened and are running now.

A: After all these years in the business, I had made a fairly extensive collection of memorabilia in my home and barn. When this property, the former Snow Shipyard, came up in South Rockland, I thought I would give back to the community some of the collection I had created from sailing around the world. I figured rather than leave my money to my kids, I would spend it before I go.

So, when I flunked retirement and bought the building, I created some professional office space to pay for the museum, because a museum never pays for itself. But when the economy turned south, the office space couldn’t pay for itself, so I started to scrape up some donations, and that is not easy now, either.

So I filled the museum with my own memorabilia, and there were a lot of ships models from the Snow Shipyard, and I am displaying those. And then people come and say, “You should see what I have in my attic,” and I tell them we would be happy to borrow them and put them on display in the museum so people can see them.

We have a lot of wonderful things. We close in November, because I am too old now for Maine in the winter. We have educational programs all the time, and from 2 to 4 p.m. every Sunday, we have a concert.

Q: You mention playing guitar and singing evenings on the schooners. Do you still play?

A: I still play, but not as well as I used to. None of us are that good, but Gordon Bok does drop in every now and then, and some of us are pretty good. Everyone seems to have a good time.

Tom Atwell can be contacted at 791-6362 or at:

[email protected]