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One man's waste is another

Jan 1, 2003

A passion for recycling and a love of steel has prompted a Maine sailor to combine his interests by building, in his back yard, a 113-foot schooner entirely of recycled and scrap material.

Harold Arndt has worked in the industrial waste and surplus industry for many years and has seen a lot of material go into the scrap pile that could be perfectly useful somewhere else. As a result, Arndt likes to say that the word "waste" is a misnomer.

"Waste is a resource in the wrong place at the wrong time," Arndt said, while pointing to the many piles of what appears to be junk, but are really pieces of the schooner that was taking shape behind him on his wooded land in Freeport, Maine. And steel, he stated with passion, is the only way to go. "Once you start building things out of steel, it's hard to stop; it becomes addictive because it's so forgiving. You make a mistake, you cut it out and put in a new piece. It's that simple."

The square-topsail schooner, to be called Island Rover, is being built entirely of recycled, reused, or refurbished equipment: Navy surplus steel and capstans and companionway doors from derelict fishing boats. In fact, Island Rover's galley will be equipped with kitchen appliances from a nearby Friendly's restaurant that went out of business recently. "We'll be the only vessel out there with a soft-serve ice cream machine," Arndt said. True to form, the machine sits in Arndt's shop, having already been used for the keel-laying party in the fall of 1997.

Surrounded on all sides by stately white pines and oaks, the schooner's keel lies on a giant sled. Rising from it are the five frames that Arndt has fitted in the last six months. Arndt recognized the benefit of building in the woods: the u-shaped frames are held in place by a cat's cradle of wire and rope that extends in all directions to the huge trunks and branches.Frames are arranged by laying them down on a steel platform next to the keel and are lifted in place by crane, operated by Arndt's 75-year-old father, Chris. As the frames rise into the air, the two banter back and forth good-naturedly, making cracks to each other about falling acorns and other potential dangers. They both could have been killed a few months ago when the crane, which was lifting the 5,000-pound main bulkhead, broke loose at an anchor point and toppled forward, thus dropping the massive load to the ground. Both were unhurt, however, and they transformed the incident, which resulted in a three-week repair job to the crane, into an educational experience. "When that happened, I learned a lot about how to brace the crane," Arndt said. "I'm just glad it occurred at the start of this project when we were lifting the heaviest piece."

The keel is full of waste steelmost of it in the form of counter-weights from a freight elevator that was torn out of a building in downtown Portland, Maineand a variety of scrap lead items: x-ray shielding, marine cable lining, tire leads, and fishing weights.

Arndt's schooner is a symbol, he said, for the projects that are possible if we are more careful with our resources. His work as an industrial surplus broker and consultant gives him an unlimited perspective into the types of equipment and waste material that is presently circulating the country. So taken is he by the philosophy behind his project that he is planning to have the schooner's main engines, a pair of 250-hp Cummins, burn bio-diesel, a fuel made from soybeans and corn oil.

"I never want a drop of petroleum-based diesel on the boat for any reason," Arndt said. "I hate the smell, and I want to make an environmental statement."

Despite the shoestring nature of the project, the comfort of the crew and passengers is a major concern to Arndt. Besides being equipped with a hot tub on the foredeck, which is heated by recirculated water from the main engines, the vessel will feature a "floating" engine room. "I found these resilient mount pads in Navy surplus to mount the engine room on so that the vibration of the engines is not carried through the steel hull. As a result, the engine room will be relatively silent," Arndt said. The pads are cinder-block-sized chunks of rubber and steel, built expressly for Navy ships intent on stealth operations at sea, Arndt explained.

To further minimize vibration, the schooner's propeller shafts will not be directly tied to the engines but will be powered by electric motors that are in turn powered by the main engines.

It would be expected that such a master of all tradesboat design, electricity, metal work, refrigerationwould have endless academic degrees. But Arndt is entirely self-taught, choosing to learn how to do something himself instead of hiring out. "My interest in doing things myself started a long time ago when I needed a steel trailer built for a project I was doing," he reflected. "Instead of paying however many thousands of dollars to have someone do it, I went down to Sears, threw down $100 and came home with a welder. And that's been my philosophy ever since."

Arndt's schooner, which he expects to complete for his retirement in 2005, will be used for one long circumnavigation. He will also carry up to six paying passengers to defray operating costs. The hull and rig were designed by Bill Peterson of Murray G. Peterson of South Bristol, Maine, and is essentially a larger version of the training schooner Ocean Star. Naturally, Arndt himself designed the interior layout since it involved the inclusion of so many unusual appliances and contraptions, the true shape and purpose of which only he knows.