HAROLD ARNDT, shown inside the schooner Island Rover, currently has been given until Jan. 26, 2013, to complete his boat and get it out to sea.

HAROLD ARNDT, shown inside the schooner Island Rover, currently has been given until Jan. 26, 2013, to complete his boat and get it out to sea.

FREEPORT

In a life dedicated to restoration, resurrection and renovation, Harold Arndt has learned to live with a little rust. It just took about 12 years.

In the late 1970s, after almost a decade in business, the marine biologist’s wire mesh lobster traps started bringing in complaints: they were disintegrating on the sea floor in a matter of months.

FOLLOWING THE COLLAPSE of Harold Arndt’s trap and twine business along Route 1 — in the building that now houses the Sunrise Cafe — he served as the waste minimization officer for Bath Iron Works where, by coincidence, a co-worker had plans for a schooner that awaited only Arndt’s request.

FOLLOWING THE COLLAPSE of Harold Arndt’s trap and twine business along Route 1 — in the building that now houses the Sunrise Cafe — he served as the waste minimization officer for Bath Iron Works where, by coincidence, a co-worker had plans for a schooner that awaited only Arndt’s request.

When the legal battles — customers against Arndt, Arndt against his metal suppliers, customers against the metal suppliers — came to a close 12 years later, his business had disintegrated, too.

THE ISLAND ROVER is a 113-foot steel schooner being built in Freeport.

THE ISLAND ROVER is a 113-foot steel schooner being built in Freeport.

But with no business and a settlement of $250,000, a silver lining started to shine through.

“I always knew I was going to build a boat right there,” Arndt said, peering from a second-story glass door that overlooks tall jewelweed growing around the small buildings that previously housed chickens, sheep and rabbits in his front yard off Lower Flying Point Road.

From just outside that door, a slanted gangway leads to the rust-stained deck of Arndt’s 20-year, 113-foot steel schooner project: the Island Rover.

But Arndt can see beyond the surface rust speckling the top of the DH36 steel deck. “Blast and paint takes that all off,” Arndt said.

He sees a lighter-than-wood, nearly silent schooner where researchers can listen in on the complex communication of dolphins and whales with electronics powered quietly by solar energy.

At 69 years, Arndt’s not ready to fall to rust again.

Racing against time

From a well-used 30-foot Harvey Gamage-built yawl, Arndt took the keel for his Island Rover and started construction on his pet project in 1992.

But when the $250,000 from his lobster trap settlement ran out, he took a different approach, making his project a nonprofit foundation in 2001 to begin fundraising.

While the move allowed him to actively fundraise — the organization raised $46,299 from 2008 to 2010, according to documents the nonprofit filed with the Internal Revenue Service — it also put the project in conflict with local zoning ordinances.

The zoning problem first came before the town council in 2004 and again in 2010, when officials extended clemency to Arndt, giving him until Jan. 26, 2013, to complete the boat and get it out to sea.

The boat won’t be done by then, Arndt said, and money is the matter.

“If I had any money, I’d be working on the boat,” Arndt said. “I’d much rather have people out here laying down welding than hassling the town.”

Welding is the next hurdle, Arndt said.

“Until I can get the funds to hire a certified welder to weld the outside seams, we’re kind of in a bottleneck,” Arndt said.

Since the project started, Arndt said he’s discovered new ways to fundraise, like the website Kickstarter, but online campaigns for the project have been limited. Initial fundraising efforts gave donors naming rights to parts of the ship and that effort is ongoing, he said.

As for an extension on building, the matter returned during a July 10 meeting, when the council heard Arndt’s request for a five-year extension — to Jan. 26, 2018. Arndt first made the request in a letter to Town Manager Dale Olmstead in May and said that reception at the most recent meeting was not what Arndt had expected.

“I was taken off guard on what happened on July 10,” Arndt said.

Three councilors expressed skepticism about another extension at the July 10 meeting, according to meeting minutes, and Fire Chief Darrel Fournier made new recommendations that Arndt fix parts of the private Bucknam Road leading to his home, which Arndt said have been completed.

Without the extension, Arndt said, violation of the ordinance could leave him with fines of $100 a day until the 78-ton boat is removed.

With a public hearing on the agenda for a Sept. 2 meeting, Arndt said he’s begun campaigning.

So far, Arndt said Island Rover volunteers have logged around 35 signatures from neighbors and around 53 total.

“Volunteers are still gathering the signatures,” Arndt said.

Arndt’s life work

The Island Rover blends Arndt’s life work of scientific research and marine life and, separately, finding potential uses for everything from hot effluent water at the decommissioned Maine Yankee nuclear power plant in Wiscasset to shipbuilding materials at Bath Iron Works.

It was also research that led him to the lobster trap design that sustained his business for around 10 years.

“The very first (trap) was for research purposes to catch little lobsters that were in the heated water effluent” outside of Maine Yankee, Arndt said. “We wanted to see if they were growing faster or congregated there because of the hot water in the winter.”

Following the collapse of Arndt’s trap and twine business along Route 1 — in the building that now houses the Sunrise Cafe — he served as the waste minimization officer for BIW where, by coincidence, a co-worker had plans for a schooner that awaited only Arndt’s request.

By the mid-90s, Arndt had cut a deal with designer Bill Peterson who had resurrected the hull lines of one of his grandfather’s coastal schooners built in the 1800s.

But Arndt has big visions for modern elements that he said will serve as an example of sustainable and functional design.

Grills, purchased at auction from the former Friendly’s restaurant in Yarmouth he said, will be redesigned to allow operation using both propane and electricity.

The ship’s galley — to feature tableware and dishes from the same Friendly’s restaurant — will have special equipment that would allow the crew to purify saltwater to make it drinkable.

Photovoltaic thin-film solar cells atop the cabin will provide electric power to the electronic navigation, communication and scientific equipment and small galley equipment. The cells will provide quiet power to research equipment that he said typically requires noisy dieselpowered generators.

“There are a lot of scientists out there recording the conversation between porpoises and whale pods and they are trying to figure out what the sounds mean,” Arndt said. “This will be a very important vessel because we can run silent and they will be able to run recorders and electronic equipment.”

With diesel engines running at the same time as recording equipment, sound data at the same decibel level as the engines must be discarded to get rid of the engine sounds.

“And that eliminates whale sounds at that level,” Arndt said.

In addition to conducting scientific missions on the water, Arndt said the nonprofit has other goals in mind, like a “Re-school” focused broadly on sustainability and concepts like “repurposing” that Arndt puts alongside other “re-” words.

For now, with an expiring agreement with the town, the foremost “re-” word on his mind is “renew.”


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