Captain Jim Harkins is a Portland, Maine, native who runs Captain Jim’s Marine Salvage & Nautical Antiquities (www.marinesalvagemaine.com). It’s an unorthodox company that heats its warehouse with salvaged boat fuel, but then Jim is an unorthodox man, working 15-hour days, seven days a week, and calling that his “retirement.” Unsurprisingly, he spoke to Ocean Navigator while on a salvage job.
Ocean Navigator: How does your business work?
Jim Harkins: Boats get wrecked, people run aground, they get storm damaged and we go out and recover the boats and bring them back to our yard and decommission them. We take anything off them that can be resold and that goes into our store. The rest of the metal that comes off the boats we sort into the different uses, pump the fuel off the boats and clean the fuel, pull the water out of it, then the diesel fuel heats our warehouse and the gas runs our yard equipment.
ON: Your environmental practices are impressive. How much of the boat are you able to recycle?
JH: We recycle 99.9 percent of a boat. We get them cleaned off and cut them off at the waterline and all of the topside material gets shredded into fiberglass, which we sell to concrete plants [that] buy it to use in their concrete. The bottom paint gets ground up and burnt and used as fuel.
ON: How much of your operations run off recycled fuel?
JH: One hundred percent of our warehouse’s heating comes from recycled diesel fuel and our gas for yard machines is recycled gas. We buy very little fuel.
ON: Is that common for a salvage company?
JH: No, we’re one of the only places in New England that does this.
There are a lot of bad things on boats for the environment, fuels especially. Boats run aground and sit there for 20 years and the fuel ends up on the ground; some paint has arsenic in it; lead from the batteries. Boats really need to be disposed of properly. Our motto is, “If it didn’t come from nature, it doesn’t belong in the ground.” Our boatyards are always clean and healthy. There are just so many derelict boats, it’s almost at an epidemic level, and something had to be done to protect the environment.
The operation removes and resells old gear and recycles the hulls of old sailboats.
ON: You are also a dealer in antiquities, how did that get started?
JH: My grandfather ran the bomb-making plant during World War II, then after the war he ran the Spring Point Decommissioning Yard. He ended up with a lot of artifacts I inherited. It was sad; after the Gulf War, the scrap prices were through the roof and a lot of these beautiful brass and bronze artifacts went to the scrap yards. Beautiful, priceless stuff went to scrap, and I wanted to try to save this stuff.
ON: Do people buy it?
JH: A lot of times people buy it to furnish their homes. I had a stainless steel prop cage that an interior decorator from New York bought to use as a stainless steel nautical kitchen for a client.
ON: You also haul boats?
JH: The boat hauling is seasonal. We have about 600 costumers we haul for spring and fall. We’re pretty busy hauling from early May to early July — we’re nonstop boat hauling. The boat hauling phone rings again right after Labor Day and then we haul right up to early December.
ON: When you remove someone’s boat, do you buy it or do they pay you?
JH: It’s expensive to decommission a boat, so it all depends. It’s a case-by-case thing. If the salvage cost exceeds the decommission cost then we charge them for the difference, but every case is different.
ON: Any last thoughts?
JH: A lot of calls are older people who are selling their boat before going into retirement or who can’t afford to keep them anymore. It’s more than giving up the boat; it’s about growing old and not being able to do the things you want to do, so we’re very sensitive on calls like that. We always bring a bottle of champagne and the couples stand out in the street and wave goodbye. You’ve got to be really sensitive on a job like that — it’s emotional. Every salvage boat has a great story.