A well-known New Jersey schooner will make its way up to Maine in September to have its wooden structure restored by local restoration company Clark and Eisele Traditional Boatbuilding. City Council approved a nine-month lease March 16 for the company to rent space in Belfast Yards and build a temporary structure to complete the project.

The AJ Meerwald is a 115-foot Delaware Bay Oyster Schooner built in 1928, owned by the Bayshore Center at Bivalve in New Jersey. It is New Jersey’s official tall ship and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1995. Given the ship’s standing in New Jersey, it was no easy decision to bring it up to Maine to finish the last part of its second restoration, Bayshore Center Executive Director Brian Keenan said.

“She is a beloved ship here in New Jersey, a beloved, well-known ship,” he said. “… it was not a small deal for the state of New Jersey to have her go to Maine and we know our local supporters are hesitant to see her leave her home port for eight or nine months, but we think it’s the right decision. But she’ll be missed for those nine months.”

After what he said was a desperate attempt to find a New Jersey shipwright, through a Facebook post, for the restoration, he received an answer from Clark and Eisele, based in Lincolnville. Maine is one of the only places along the eastern seaboard that still has a community with skills in traditional boatbuilding, Clark and Eisele co-owner Garett Eisele said. The boat’s sails came from Boothbay-based Nathaniel Wilson, regarded as a master sailmaker.

Maine has the infrastructure and skilled labor a lot of other places do not have to complete the project, Eisele said. He calls Maine a “holdover” in the dwindling industry. It is more efficient to have Front Street Shipyard bring the Garden State boat to Maine, rather than work in New Jersey. Clark and Eisele came to Belfast with the project because they have worked with Front Street Shipyard in the past, and the company has the facilities to accommodate the project.

The duo has worked on projects from New York, Vermont, New Jersey and Michigan, he said. Traditional tall ships are their “bread and butter,” but they also do occasional yacht work.

When working on old boats, Clark and Eisele use traditional techniques with modern tools, he said. They always match the original tree species for lumber, if available, when doing replacements, to maintain the integrity of the ship. They order custom fasteners and joints to match a boat’s original appearance.

When they are finished with restorations, the boats look almost the same as when originally built, Eisele said.

The schooner is a museum artifact for the Bayshore Center, which takes most fourth and fifth graders from South Jersey into the Delaware Bay and up the state’s coast every year to learn about the country's second-largest oyster fishery and its environmental impact, Keenan said. The boat makes trips every year from Trenton, New Jersey, down the Delaware River past Philadelphia, out through Delaware Bay, and then north along New Jersey’s Atlantic Coast up to the New York border.

There used to be over 500 of these schooners in and out of the bay every day, Keenan said. Now, better technology and regulations have reduced the number of oyster boats in the bay, but eight existing oyster boats like AJ Meerwald are still active in the local fishery.

The boat was donated to Meghan Wren, who founded what is now the Bayshore Center in 1988, then restored it for the first time in 1994 after years of fundraising, according to the Bayshore Center website.

The current $1.3 million restoration is being funded by a $535,000 New Jersey state grant and private donations, Keenan said. The museum has worked with Clark and Eisele for two years. He said the boatbuilders have been outstanding professionals, even making an overnight trip to New Jersey to do emergency work on the boat.

The schooner is expected to be in Belfast Sept. 15, where it will undergo restoration in a temporary structure. Donations to the project can be made at bayshorecenter.org.