The Lighthouse Keeper-Upper: David Nazaroff


By Will Bleakley
Photographed by Benjamin Magro

Construction remains among our top ten despite the downturn, responsible in 2011 for 27,856 jobs, most of which involve building up and tearing down, including carpenters, welders, electricians, and other handymen and women.

David Nazaroff reaches into his office closet and pulls out a large poster of Matinicus Rock Light, a lighthouse on an uninhabited rocky island eighteen miles offshore in outer Penobscot Bay. “Right there is the 2,500 pound compressor unit we had to haul onto the island,” he says pointing to a safe-like contraption. “Over there I saw a boat get taken by a wave and come crashing down on the rocks without its motor.”

As he illuminates details in the photograph, it becomes clear that it isn’t just another mass-produced glamour shot of a Maine lighthouse. It’s an enlarged and matted snapshot of his Rockport-based construction firm, the Penobscot Company, at work on what’s become their specialty — the repair and restoration of some of Maine’s most inaccessible lighthouses.

Nazaroff has flown cargo nets of equipment by helicopter out to Libby Island Lighthouse off Machiasport, and he has chartered tugboats to push a barge carrying a generator to Matinicus Rock. His workers have even rappelled down Corea’s Petit Manan Lighthouse to make repairs to the tower. This is what he came to Maine for, after all — adventure.

At age sixteen, he went to work as a winter mountaineering instructor on Hurricane Island for Outward Bound. He led dog sled trips, ice-climbing excursions, and built a connection to the state that would lead him and his business back in 1986 following a twenty-two year stint in the navy.

“I have a penchant for adventure,” he says, ”but my business has grown to a point where I don’t get the same opportunities.” As president of the Associated General Contractors of Maine, Nazaroff knows that the state’s construction industry can often be a low-reward, competitive field made unpredictable by the long winter. That’s why he’s always looking for a challenging, and uniquely Maine, project to keep him entertained.

“If someone gave me a contract to build fifteen houses in some development, I’d get bored after the first two or three,” he says. “But if someone calls me and says, ‘Do you want to go this island and repair a lighthouse?’ I’m in.”

From our March 2013 issue, read more unexpected ways that Mainers are making a living in the Pine Tree State.