PORTLAND – The city has sold its retired fireboat for $25,000.

The City of Portland III went up for sale after Portland’s new $3.2 million fireboat returned to service at the end of February, once damage from a grounding was repaired.

The 50-year-old vessel drew three offers, said city spokeswoman Nicole Clegg, and $25,000 was the highest bid.

The buyer is John Kavanagh of Owls Head, who wants to bring the 65-foot-long boat to Rockland and refurbish it, turning it into a “live-aboard.”

“Everyone buys a summer cottage,” said Kavanagh. “You know what? I bought one that floats.”

City officials had thought they might have to sell the boat for scrap. Portland bought the boat in 1959 for $284,000 from Gladding-Hearn Shipbuilding of Somerset, Mass.

Kavanagh is dockmaster for Rockland Marine Corp. He wants to keep the fireboat there while he works on it. He plans to gut the inside and reconfigure the quarters to his liking.

The steel hull is in good condition, Kavanagh said, and he thinks he got a good deal. He said he would expect to pay at least $100,000 for a 65-foot, steel-hull boat. He can do most of the renovation himself, he said.

The idea to buy the boat was partly his wife’s, Kavanagh said. He and Theresa Kavanagh have lived on boats in the past. He was a commercial fisherman and she was a cook on a sailboat for about 10 years.

Kavanagh said he had planned to pick up the boat today, but it was out of fuel and the place where he would fuel up is closed on Saturdays. His plan is to come down Sunday with a bit of fuel to get the boat to the fueling station and make the seven- or eight-hour trip to Rockland.

He will use it as a houseboat until he retires, then think about taking it up to visit his family in Newfoundland or down south for warmer weather.

That would be lighter duty than the fireboat had for a half-century in Portland. A couple of months after it arrived, it was used to avert a major blaze after hundreds of gallons of stored paint and kerosene exploded in a building on Custom House Wharf.

The boat’s powerful streams of water broke through windows and ripped open sills to reach the center of the fire.

Its biggest fire was the spectacular blaze in 1969 that destroyed a grain elevator run by the Grand Trunk Railroad east of the Maine State Pier.

Land-based engine companies couldn’t reach the back of the building, where the fire burned most intensely. As water sprayed from the fireboat’s guns, a harbor tug braced against the back side of the fireboat to keep it steady.

Until Portland’s fast rescue boat, the 44-foot Cavallaro, was commissioned in 1993, the City of Portland III did double duty as fireboat and rescue boat. It also was the primary link between the city’s Casco Bay islands and the mainland, carrying city workers, supplies and even ballot boxes.

The vessel also carried the dead off the islands, becoming known as the “big red hearse.”


Staff Writer David Hench contributed to this report.


Staff Writer Matt Wickenheiser can be contacted at 791-6316 or at:

[email protected]


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