Wanted: Good home for Arctic Seal

Buy Photo Sean D. Elliot/The Day James Sheehy stands at the bow rail of the Arctic Seal, docked at the Central Vermont Pier in New London, on Friday. Sheehy hopes to sell the vessel, which hasn't been to sea in four years and which Sheehy believes could serve a number of roles if given a new life by a new owner.

New London - For four years, State Pier has been home to the Arctic Seal, a trawler whose owner wants it to have a new lease on life at sea.

James Sheehy of Gloucester, Mass., brought the Arctic Seal here in 2006 to have it overhauled at the Thames Shipyard & Repair Co. Alongside ferries, freighters and tug boats, the 165-foot teal trawler, which hasn't been to sea since arriving on the Thames River, stands out as a curiosity.

Now, Sheehy, an Irish-born New England fisherman, wants to sell the boat, which was designed to withstand the cold of the Arctic and has carried fish and researchers - and possibly drugs.

Sheehy ticks off the many new roles he believes the roomy, stable boat could take on: carrying cargo, fuel or cars; laying and servicing undersea telephone cable; being outfitted for treasure-hunting, diving or research. He's even fielded a couple of queries about its possible use in the Gulf oil spill.

"It has a lot of potential and a lot of good years (left) due to the restructuring of the hull," Sheehy says.

Powered by twin Caterpillar 800-horsepower engines, the boat has a 90 Kw and a 200 Kw generator, and air conditioning and heat on both levels. The 10 double- and single-berth cabins can accommodate 22 people. A 60-by-37-foot fish-processing area could be refurbished to house even more cabins, he says.

The asking price is $900,000. Sheehy said more than $2 million has been invested, but he declined to provide the estimated value.

Nelson Long of the Athearn Marine Agency in Fairhaven, Mass., is helping Sheehy market the boat. Its days as a fishing trawler are probably long gone, Long concedes, because Sheehy took out the malfunctioning refrigeration system.

"I went broke with this boat," Sheehy recalled one recent day as he showed off the large berths and wide bunks. He now relies on a boat docked in Gloucester for his work catching eels. He sells them to Koreans, who use them for sushi and eelskin wallets.

"I lost a lot of money because the refrigeration kept having problems," Sheehy says. "It would fail halfway through the trip and we'd have to come in. So I decided to reorganize and go with one boat because I'm not getting any younger and I don't need challenges in life. I just need to sell this one to somebody that's got a plan to put it to good use."

"That's why the boat is somewhat attractive," adds Long. "Because, basically, it's been stripped of its fishing gear and it's a platform. So if someone was interested, they could use it for a variety of purposes."

Before Sheehy bought it, the roomy trawler was apparently used in drug trade, Sheehy says. He bought it from a Florida fisheries company that had purchased it at auction.

But its original mission was research. Built in 1966 by the Burton Shipyard in Port Arthur, Texas, the boat was named the Arctic Seal because it had the capacity to travel to the world's coldest regions, Sheehy says. He doesn't know if the boat ever did travel north.

In addition to removing the refrigeration equipment and the electronics in the bridge, Sheehy has painted and cleaned the living quarters. The shipyard pressure-washed and painted the hull, rebuilt sea chests and checked propellers and rudders, Sheehy says.

Adam Wronowski, vice president of the Thames Shipyard, says the work was typical for the shipyard.

"We service a number of fishing vessels from all around the Northeast," Wronowski says. "We've got four booked up starting at the middle of June. Two are coming from Gloucester."

"The best shipyard I've ever been in is the Thames Shipyard," Sheehy says. "Their service is excellent, their trades people and management are excellent. You get every minute you pay for."

The Arctic Seal is one of three boats Sheehy has owned since 1988, after apprenticing in a small shipyard in Ireland as a teen and then switching to fishing to make more money. He came to the Boston area in 1983 and began working for a company there that outfitted new trawlers.

The Arctic Seal has "definitely taken me through psychological loops," he says. "It's like anybody that has a personal loss, because I've had a lot of personal attachment (to the boat). But I'm very comfortable letting go at this point."

Sheehy is taking referrals from an online website called www.superfleamarkets.com. He would consult with a buyer to help refurbish the boat to any of its varied potential uses, he says.

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