WINTHROP — George Szadis has a lawnful of kayaks and sailboats waiting for repairs at his house on Memorial Drive in Winthrop.

For the past 15 years, Szadis, 78, has surfed the web to find cheap or free boats to repair, then often giving them away or selling them for the cost of materials to area residents interested in sailing. The retired math and science teacher said he has restored 67 boats in that time.

One of those boats was donated to Sailing Ships Maine, a nonprofit organization that teaches area children to sail. Alex Agnew, co-founder and the current president of Sailing Ships Maine, said the sailboat Szadis has donated to the organization will be used to teach 100 children to sail.

Szadis said he was always interested in sailing, a hobby he picked up in 1971, recalling the first time fondly.

“I said to my wife, ‘I’ve been here before,'” he said. “When I’m sailing, I can feel the boat, I can feel everything. I have my pilot’s license, but I don’t feel it flying.”

Szadis said he rarely sails now, and most of his time is spent repairing dinghies, kayaks and other small sailboats. He rarely makes a profit on the boats, often selling them for a 10th of their retail value.

Online forums and Craigslist have been invaluable resources for Szadis, who had no experience repairing or building boats when he began fixing them. He has also benefitted from a strong sailing and boatbuilding community online.

“I picked it (my first boat) and I went online and said, ‘Anybody want to talk me through restoring a boat?'” Szadis said. “A guy from a boatyard down in Massachusetts emailed me and said: ‘I’ll help you on one condition. You have to do it right.'”

Those repairs include rebuilding floors, sanding and repainting exteriors and repairing fiberglass. He said he has learned most of the craft as he goes along, along with help from friends and acquaintances.

George Szadis, 78, explains Saturday how he restored a 17-foot sailboat, on a trailer at his house in Winthrop Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

Over the years, Szadis has gotten calls from people asking to offload their boats to him. He said he repairs the boats at his yard or in his basement, which is currently occupied by a massive assortment of tools and a dinghy.

Szadis said his boat repair hobby helps people enter the sometimes-expensive world of sailing, which, on top of the purchase price, often includes the costs of launching and mooring the boat. Some of the boats he repairs might be valued at about $10,000, but he will sell them for $1,000 — enough to cover the cost of materials, he said.

“I’m not one of those guys that rules out anything,” he said of damaged boats he encounters.

Agnew of Sailing Ships Maine, the nonprofit that offers sailing programs to Maine students, said Szadis has donated an O’Day 17 Day Sailer to the organization, which will be used to teach students to sail at Camp Hines in Raymond.

“We can take it out and teach 100 kids to sail on Camp Hines, and then those kids, if they like it, we can say there are lots of jobs: You can go to Maine Maritime. You can work in boatyards or shipyards,” Agnew said. “There’s just a million ways your interest in the water can take you career-wise. All those kids get that message.”

Agnew said the boat retails for about $35,000, but could be bought secondhand for $3,500.

“George is a very generous soul,” Agnew said, “and I think his donations will have a big impact on a lot of people’s lives. He is quite a character.”

Szadis said he is unlikely to tackle more “big boat” restorations, unless he can find someone to help with such projects.

Joe Derico of Appleton said Szadis agreed to hand off a 14-foot boat to him and his wife in exchange for a donation to the Good Shepherd Food Bank.

“I don’t think it needs a whole lot of work,” Derico said. “He’s a good man to know.”

This summer, Szadis plans to hit the seas again, checking an item off of his bucket list: Sailing in the ocean.

Through his online presence, Szadis has been offered a mooring at Georgetown’s Harmon Harbor, which will allow him to keep his personal boat in what he called “God’s country.”

“If God had a boat,” Szadis said, “that’s where he would keep it.”

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