Backyard boatbuilding projects are common enough, but a 70-foot steel schooner?

That’s what retired teacher Adrian Hooydonk is welding together beside his small, coveside house in Sprucehead. At this stage the vessel is a jungle of steel frames, deck I-beams and the growing number of steel plates, from keel up, which define the hull. He has built a couple of wooden skiffs before and restored a Friendship Sloop, but this is something new, on a grand scale, and it’s an education. He discovered that a regular cutting torch warped the steel plates but a plasma device cuts them like butter. “I enjoy doing it,” said this muscular man who wears a gold shackle in his ear. “It’s a head-scratcher. I have to think about it, read about it.” He can heft the 200-pound strakes by himself, moving them around his shop and hitching them to a chain hoist. He then raises them into place, clamps and wedges them temporarily, and welds the seams.

Hooydonk works alone, but often calls on his able-bodied wife, Pam, to lend a hand. She grew up in Orrington on the Penobscot River and shares his passion for boats and sailing.

He laid the keel of his schooner three years ago this April and expects it will take him another few years to complete the LUCTOR ET EMERGO, Latin for “struggled and overcame.” The vessel’s name fits the challenge of building her, but it’s also the motto of Zeeland, a group of islands in Holland where he grew up. He taught vocational education for 28 years, many of them in Rockland, and said one of the reasons he retired was to concentrate on the schooner. He helps support his project with trips to Matinicus using the old fish carrier BAJUPA, a fixture among local fishermen.

The Hooydonks hope to use their schooner to bring needed supplies — of the nonperishable variety — to impoverished people. Adrian Hooydonk said that when you donate $100 worth of goods to the needy in South America, or Africa, it then costs $100 to ship it. Anyway, bringing things to people in need would be a great excuse to sail all over the world. The couple has three grown children by previous marriages, none of them interested in sailing, Adrian Hooydonk said with a sigh.

It would help to be independently wealthy, but Hooydonk isn’t, and so far he has spent $30,000 on steel. If a shipyard was building the boat for him, he estimates it would cost him at least $1 million. Barely contained by a wood and sheet plastic shed, the schooner wowed students from a Rockland welding class; students who had been somewhat skeptical at first.

Hooydonk found the design of his dream boat in Howard I. Chappelle’s book, American Fishing Schooners, 1825-1935. His favorite is a two-masted 1889 market schooner designed by Washington Tarr and launched at Essex, Massachusetts. She carried fresh-caught fish from the Grand Banks back to port, racing to be first and get the highest prices. She is recorded as sailing at 16 knots, said Hooydonk, who has fished the Grand Banks himself.

The NICKERSON carried a lot sail, including topsails, and her boom overhung the stern. Hooydonk was attracted to large sail area, sweeping, graceful sheer lines and longevity. Oak planked on oak frames, the 96-ton vessel was wrecked at Cape Sable in 1923.

Before starting his own schooner, Hooydonk brought the plans to naval architect Mark Fitzgerald of C.W. Paine Yacht Design in Camden. Fitzgerald used computer models to check the design and said he couldn’t really improve on the original, designed from a simple half-model. Pam Hooydonk built a replica of that half-model from old boards.

The new schooner will have a forecastle with bunks for four crew members, a cargo hold and ample quarters aft for the Hooydonks. Capt. Brenda Walker of the Rockland schooner ISAAC H. EVANS has promised to supply used sails, and Hooydonk has a line on some red spruce in Eggemoggin Reach suitable for spars.

Hooydonk has a long and fond connection with the Friendship Sloop Society. which began years ago when he took his lobsterboat from Rockland to Friendship Harbor to help an aging sailor enjoy the sloop races. When he tied up to a local wharf, he was informed in colorful language that under no circumstances should be dock there, let alone set traps anywhere near there.

He found a warmer welcome from society members, including Captain Don Huston of the 1915 Wilbur Morse-built EAGLE. He ended up sailing with Huston, savoring fresh mackerel, rum and coffee perc’d on the smoky Shipmate stove. Hooydonk got Friendship fever, and found his own sloop, the 1901 Norris Carter-built OMAHA, wasting away in Brooklyn, New York. A tree was growing through her port side. He has since set her to rights, and he and Pam cruise together. OMAHA is stored at Spruce Head Marine, in sight of the Hooydonk’s house and schooner shed.