Coming ashore: Harpswell harbormaster to retire

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HARPSWELL — The town’s first full-time harbormaster will retire May 5 after 12 years at a job where he basically wrote the handbook.

Jim Hays, a former project manager at Bath Iron Works, was hired in 2005 after the town decided to upgrade the harbormaster to a full-time position.

“I’m basically a one-man band,” Hays said last week, flipping through a self-authored, three-page document that lists responsibilities that combine harbor management, policy-making, and waterfront enforcement.

Hays is kept busy in as many places as his duties dictate: on a skiff, taking inventory of moorings at the eight town landings; at his cluttered desk, overseeing waterfront projects and planning mooring registrations, and around the state, working with federal and state agencies.

“It’s hard to explain how much I do,” he said.

Hays said the previous, part-time harbormaster kept track of registered moorings by tagging sticky notes on a rolled-up paper map of the town in the clerk’s office.

When the clerk unraveled the map for Hays after he took the job, a flurry of tags fell to the floor.

These days, Hays keeps track of moorings with computer software and a digital plotting device. Maps of the town’s marine geography paper the walls of his second-floor office on Mountain Road.

As harbormaster, managing the town’s moorings is a sizable part of his job.

With 216 miles of coastline, Harpswell has about 3,500 registered moorings – 1,000 of which Hayes has added since he started – and he inventories them all by hand every summer.

Planning a mooring field, he said, is a difficult balancing act that combines planning, administrative and enforcement duties.

“And I’m dealing with three different communities, so to speak,” he said, referring to the idiosyncrasies of the people and geography of Orr’s and Bailey islands, Cundy’s Harbor, and Harpswell Neck.

Hays is also dealing with high demand: last Thursday, 90 people applied to register a mooring, and Hayes said not all would be approved because of a shortage of space.

Though he said it’s possible to do a lot of that planning from his desk, Hays said “it’s important for the harbormaster to show exposure on the water.”

Hays has tried to cultivate a presence, particularly for the area’s fishermen; it builds trust, he said, and a sense of safety.

He has even rescued a few kayakers while on the job – in most cases, because he happened to be nearby.

For that reason alone, the three-page job description Hays wrote for his successor might not encapsulate his legacy as well as something he inherited from predecessor.

Hays said he was given a log book when he started, in which he was to record every complaint he received from residents.

Like the map, he’s hardly had a use for it.

“Because by the time we get done talking,” he said, smiling, “it wasn’t a complaint anymore.”

Callie Ferguson can be reached at 781-3661, ext. 100, or cferguson@theforecaster.net. Follow Callie on Twitter: @calliecferguson.

Jim Hayes, Harpswell’s first full-time harbormaster, will retire May 5 after 12 years of service. Hayes has expanded and organized the wide-ranging responsibilities of the job.

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Reporting on municipal, school, and community news in Brunswick and Harpswell. Bowdoin graduate, Wild Oats sandwich-eater. Callie can be reached at 207-781-3661 ext. 100, or cferguson@theforecaster.net.