When the city of Portland commissioned its new fireboat two months ago, the retired fireboat it replaced was put up for sale in a sealed bid auction. John and Theresa Kavanagh of Owls Head were the winners of that auction, with a bid of $25,000.

“We had probably bid on three or four other boats,” Theresa Kavanagh said May 8. “We knew our price range and what things were worth.” She said they had looked at wooden boats and sailboats and were hoping to find something with a steel hull.

The boat, which was built for the city of Portland in 1959 and known there as Engine No. 7, is 65 feet long and 18 feet across the beam, and draws 6 feet. The Kavanaghs plan to name it Alice Jane after John’s mother, who died when he was 7 years old.

Theresa said she had worked for 10 years as a cook on several ocean-going boats, including the Pride of Baltimore II, the Harvey Gamage and one steel-hulled schooner on which the crew rode out a hurricane off Bermuda.

“It’s a young person’s game,” she said. “Most people get out by their mid-30s.”

When one of the vessels she was serving on, the Corwith Cramer, was brought to Rockland Marine in the mid-1990s for its regular winter hauling out, then Theresa Tiedman was the purchasing agent for the refit. She met John Kavanagh, who is the dockmaster at the boatyard in the city’s South End, and in 2001 she moved to Maine to live on land with her own bedroom, fresh water showers and “the rest of the Martha Stewart dream.”

“Then I fell in love and I never left,” Theresa said.

Theresa said she expects the work on the former Portland fireboat to take at least four or five years, after which the couple hopes to travel. She has family in Honduras and said she likes the heat. John, who was born in Rockland, agreed that Maine winters can be long and hard.

“I grew up in this shipyard,” he said. “My dad worked as a fishing captain and when I grew up I went fishing, too.” He said that when the fisheries started to fail he came ashore to work in the shipyard.

He has family in Newfoundland and the couple said they plan to take their new boat between Central America and the Atlantic Maritimes.

After taking possession of the boat in the last week of April, the Kavanaghs brought it to Rockland where they are making their own inspection of the hull and interior. So far, they’ve found some rust holes on the deck and an exhaust leak from one of the boat’s four engines.

“Luckily we haven’t found anything insurmountable,” Theresa said.

Two of the engines are dedicated to the fire suppression equipment that runs throughout the craft. While the engines will remain, most of the pipes, valves and other bronze fittings will be taken out and sold. Theresa said removing those parts will take tons of weight off the boat.

Because the water used to put out fires had to be kept from freezing, all compartments, both above and below the decks, are heated. Theresa said that will make it easy to turn those areas into living spaces. She said they found some of the original blueprints for the John Alden-designed vessel.

Alice Jane still has the sirens, lights and water cannons that are standard equipment on fireboats, and the Kavanaghs are considering using the waterspouts on the Fourth of July.

“Until we have a chance to inspect all the systems, we aren’t sure,” Theresa said. Ultimately, they hope to find a collector to buy the hardware.

“Everything is pneumatic,” she said. “It’s all bronze under the paint.”

Once the unnecessary parts are removed, the Kavanaghs plan to turn the interior — currently a utilitarian combination of mechanical areas and basic amenities for a firefighting crew — into living space.

“We want to make it homey,” Theresa said. She said there will be some woodwork accents in the interior, but no bright work outside.

“I’m not doing any outside varnishing,” she said.

“She’s a roly-poly old thing,” John said of the boat they hope to turn into a floating summer cottage. He said it will be a while before the Alice Jane leaves Rockland.

“We’re in no hurry,” he said. His wife concurred.

“It’s more about the journey than the destination,” she said.

The Herald Gazette Reporter Shlomit Auciello can be reached at 207-236-8511 or by e-mail at sauciello@villagesoup.com.

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