ROCKLAND, Maine — In the 19th century, the Snow Shipyard in Rockland Harbor bustled with activity as workers launched more wooden ships from here than anywhere else in New England. One of them, the Red Jacket, was the all-time fastest clipper ship ever built, sailing in 1853 from New York to Liverpool, England, in just 13 days and one hour.
And a whole fleet of schooners built here became hard-working casualties of the dangerous local work of shipping out tons of the highly combustible building product, hot lime.
Capt. Jim Sharp knows stories about these and many other aspects of the area’s rich nautical and transportation history, but too few people do, he said.
That’s why he’s particularly happy to share his knowledge at his new Sail, Power & Steam Museum, located next to the old shipyard at Sharp’s Point South on Mechanic Street.
“I gave a lecture a year ago at the high school, asking how many people know where there’s a lime rock kiln here in your town. Nobody put their hand up. They had no idea,” he said. “We don’t know where we’re going unless we look in the past and see where we’ve been.”
The museum could help make the lobster capital a Maine destination, he said. It is located midway between the Penobscot Marine Museum in Searsport and the Maine Maritime Museum in Bath.
Rockland City Councilor Brian Harden said that the Sail, Power & Steam Museum is a “different kind of museum,” and that he enjoyed the recent grand opening celebration.
“The whole atmosphere is very good,” he said. “To keep up with our marine heritage is positive.”
Sharp’s own story could be almost as big a draw to the museum as its treasures, like the actual half-models of boats used to make many vessels in the 1800s; the 1701 backstaff navigating tool owned by early American navigator Nathaniel Bowditch; and the cool 1930s “ballast computer,” which helped engineers plot how to load a ship in the pre-PC world.
Other highlights are an exhibit that explains the lime industry, a display of antique shipbuilding tools, vintage photos of schooners at work, and an old foghorn operated by a set of bellows — along with the 1912 International Harvester auto wagon, for use on land; a hand-carved bowsprit and a 1930 Model A Ford Doodlebug, rebuilt as a farm tractor.
Sharp, who really is a sea captain, came to Camden in 1963 and was a mainstay of the local schooner fleet for decades.
Over the years, Sharp has owned the Stephen Taber, the historic Arctic explorer vessel Bowdoin, the Roseway and the Adventure, among many other vessels.
The 1926 Gloucester fishing schooner Adventure — “the all-time high-liner,” Sharp said, which sported 6,000 square feet of sail — is one of his favorites.
“She was my pride and joy,” he said. “What a wonderful, handsome sailing machine she is.” One of the boat’s captains set many fishing records with the Adventure, and Sharp restored it to top speed after he acquired it in 1965.
The boat even made a cameo in a Hollywood movie called “Sail to Glory!,” filmed in Camden Harbor in the 1960s. The captain wrote about this and many other sea stories in his rollicking book, “With Reckless Abandon: Memoirs of a Boat-Obsessed Life.”
Another of his nautical finds is docked by the museum. The Rekord, a 1914 Norwegian freight and passenger ferry, is bedecked with brightly colored flags in its role as flagship vessel for the museum.
Sharp is offering free weekly tours of Rockland Harbor in the Rekord.
He’s obviously just as good at talking about local history and heritage as he is at writing about the Camden schooner fleet.
On a recent visit to the museum, Sharp and his wife, Meg Sharp, welcomed visitors and spent time chatting about the exhibits on display. Many of those nautical artifacts, they said, are on loan from area boat enthusiasts who are delighted to share their piece of history with the world.
“Now, we need more donations and grants,” Sharp said. “We’re excited to have something like this that really pertains to the local area.”
It’s not an easy time to start a new museum — the nearby Maine Lighthouse Museum sent out an SOS this spring pleading for enough donations to keep it going — but Sharp said that he believes in the mission of his nonprofit.
“I’m hoping we can get it to the point where it’s self-perpetuating,” Sharp said. “You’ve got to be able to touch these things and learn what they’re about. That’s when people get excited about it.”
For information about the Sail, Power & Steam Museum at 75 Mechanic St., call 701-7626 or visit the Web site www.sailpowerandsteammuseum.org.