Aboard the Sunbeam, Mission programs often take center stage. Yet crew members always have fascinating stories and interesting reflections to share. This month, we plumbed the minds of Captain Mike Johnson and Steward Jillian for some of their ruminations on life and work aboard our beloved Sunbeam.
From the pilothousewith Captain Mike Johnson
In extreme weather, the Sunbeam is occasionally asked to break sea ice in protected harbors. This can be as simple as helping a single lobster boat out of an icebound shipyard, or as major as freeing the Isle au Haut Thoroughfare to allow the ferry to continue her runs. The Maine Seacoast Mission has a long history of this service. Beginning with Sunbeam III in 1939, the design of the hull was adapted to include sheathing to protect the wooden hull from ice damage. The decision to switch to a steel hull on Sunbeam IV and V was undoubtably influenced by the need to operate in ice.
I came into my position on the Sunbeam as an experienced warmer weather captain, and I give full credit to former captain David Allen for teaching me the artistry of controlling a vessel in these conditions. First of all it is LOUD! – disconcertingly loud. Furthermore, the boat has limits with ice depth, and serious changes in maneuverability that are sometimes only apparent after the fact. Do I charge full steam ahead to punch through the eight inches, or do I subtly let the bow rise onto the ice sheet to allow the weight of the vessel to sink down? It is a nervous moment when I choose the latter and it takes thirty seconds for the bow to crunch down through. Drama aside, there is no threat to the safety of the boat or crew, only a loss of pride if we were to get stuck and eat Jillian’s cookies until the Coast Guard breaks us out!
Hopefully good weather is right around the corner and we can share these stories together on a nice summer trip to Frenchboro.
From the galley with Jillian
Although familiar with cookie baking, I had little experience of being on water and using nautical terminology when I applied. I prepared for my job interview with Captain Mike by studying a simple illustration of a ship’s anatomy. Starting at the basics—port, starboard, bow, stern. I said these words along with a handful of others to myself while driving to the beloved Sunbeam for the first time. Bathrooms on a boat are called heads and a kitchen aboard is a galley, it was all new to me. And after eight years it is still new. It has been fun hearing and learning the language of mariners, the words and expressions said in proximity to water.
For example, I just love the word fo’c’s’le. The fo’c’s’le on the Sunbeam is my pantry. It is forward of the galley beyond Sharon’s office. It has great shelving to keep groceries and cookware stable in rough seas. Fo’c’s’le, I’ve never known a word with three apostrophes before. Fo’c’s’le is even fun to say, the way it moves around the mouth. The apostrophes reflect sailors’ pronunciation of the word. It is short for forecastle and describes the structure at the front of a vessel, used as a shelter for stores or as quarters for sailors.
The term dates back to the 1300s, when in the early days of ship warfare, ships were built with castles on the front and back. The forecastle and aftcastle initially would house archers protecting the ship. Although the use of the castles changed over time “castling” remained a significant feature on ships for hundreds of years. The Mayflower, a ship most of us can see in our mind’s eye is a good example of a historic ship with prominent castles.
Incidentally, although we still say fo’c’s’le, the term aftcastle has morphed simply to aft to describe the rear of the boat.
CHERRYFIELD, ME – My name is Jillian. I am the Steward on the Maine Seacoast Mission’s beloved Sunbeam, a job I love. To steward is a pleasing verb meaning to look after. I am proud of the title. As steward, I am responsible for stocking the boat with food and provisions for our trips to islands. Besides making meals for my mateys and guests, and welcoming visitors, I keep things tidy, and bake a lot of cookies.
There are so many Maine spots so close to me I cherish. The many hiking and skiing trails on our road endlessly entertain us. There’s the neighborhood swimming hole on balmy summer days. Behind our house we love to explore the Narraguagus River in canoes and kayaks in summer; on foot, skates, skis and snowshoes when the river is frozen.
My favorite place in Maine is central to all these options: our house. When we aren’t out playing in nature, I especially love being home, making art in my studio, growing vegetables in the dooryard, homestead chores, feeding the wood stove, puttering with Steve, and playing with our pets, Banana and Clarence.
I call our house my recycled castle because my partner, Steve, built it with reclaimed materials. It is a timber framed salt box, a work in progress since 2003.
For beams and lumber Steve dismantled the historic old Cherryfield Grange. He started that project in the fall, with instructions to have the big building gone before April.
While dismantling, Steve found an 1823 coin under the threshold, an old construction dating custom. Some Grange timbers were even older and had notches from earlier use. Reusing these big old beautiful timbers Steve and our friend, Tim, put up the post-and-beam frame in the fall of 2004. We moved in the summer of 2005, racing to hang insulation before winter set in.
That first year we didn’t have staircases between the floors, and we hauled water from the neighbor’s hand pump well.
Steve still has a keen eye for building supplies he can glean and utilize for our house. He turned old hand carved doors and pressed tin into paneling. Over the years we’ve scored parquet flooring for our grand foyer, (aka wood stove room), old light fixtures, railings from a church, ceramic tiles, and glass doors. Our bay window was a floor model at a store. Steve turned a bowling alley lane into our kitchen counter.
Creating our space as we go, and as building fodder presents itself, is fun and gratifying. I don’t think Steve will ever call our house finished. He is now working on a screened-in porch using lumber made out of trees felled on our land, planed at our friend Sam’s mill. For the screening he will use panels from someone’s old gazebo. Steve jokes that it is time to remodel. I say, “Honey, I love our cozy nest. Our recycled castle is already done enough for me.”
But, boy, it sure will be nice to have a screened-in porch. It can get ridiculously buggy here tucked in the woods!
Edith P. Drury was a Maine Seacoast Mission staffer for 20 years. The Mission archives include some of Ms. Drury’s “God’s Tugboat” newspaper columns written over many decades for Maine Coast Fisherman and National Fisherman. Through her columns, Edith left us her first-hand account of the Mission’s work (circa 1950-1960) among people and places on the mainland, along the coast, and on islands.
“When the Sunbeam starts out on a trip tomorrow to deliver Christmas gifts, we will be thankful for the gallant little oil burner, pushing heat into the radiators, warming the cabins and offering a chance to thaw icy mittens,” wrote Drury in January 1959. We don’t know precisely when Edith started and stopped writing her “God’s Tugboat” columns. The earliest date we have is 1954. She may have started writing sooner.
Drury writes of the work dangers of fishermen within the island communities. In January ’59 she tells of “the funeral of Llewellyn Lunt who died suddenly while alone in his small fishing boat.” Seven months later she shares news of an Islesford committal service “for the two lobster fishermen…lost in their boat during a March blizzard.”
There are also the hazards she and the Sunbeam III crew encountered. On a September 1960 boat trip to Monhegan Island, “The sun was out, but the sea was in turmoil, and our Sunbeam at times seemed like a cockle shell on the great, rough deep. At Monhegan, we tied up at the wharf, where the surge was so strong that jumping ashore was a gymnastic feat,” Edith said. In October 1960 there was “that day we had more than nine hours of cruising, in dense fog,” with the Sunbeam III arriving home thanks to the boat radar and the Captain’s seamanship.
Not all Edith’s columns are of hard times. She has many stories of good times. We have Edith’s 1959 description of Miss Elizabeth Rich of Isle au Haut. Miss Rich runs the local post office, takes “care of two cats and a dog,” and makes evening visits to neighbors. She also “made most of a large crochet bedspread, six batches of soap (using 36 pounds of fat), 16 baby bibs, 37 dish towels, 50 aprons, and more than 30 pairs of mittens in all sizes and colors,” writes Edith. Her column documented the ways islanders passed the time as well as everyday occurrences in their lives.
She tells us of visits to lighthouse keepers’ families and US Coast Guard station keepers’ families. These families literally kept the home lights burning to help ensure safe travels and havens to sailors, fishermen, and other water travelers. Since Drury’s days with the Mission some of these lights were automated or decommissioned. In 1960, Edith spent time with Ralph and Edith Marie Sunderlin who were living at Seguin Island Light Station with “their puppy Coastie, and their week-old baby gull.” Coastie was feeling ill, so Edith provided worm capsules. “The baby gull’s appetite was excellent,” she writes, “and we saw it gulp down a great quantity of dog food and then contentedly take a bath in the kitchen sink.” In another instance, the Harold Cummings family had three children under three years old and were keepers at Ram Island Light where “things are easier now that the station is electrified.” Edith also visited with the Cliff Meadows family, including “the new baby girl, two months old,” at Cuckolds Light Station. “Anyone who thinks that light keepers don’t have much to keep them busy had better take a paintbrush, paddle out to Cuckolds and stay a while!” she writes.
Ms. Drury was dedicated to all areas of the Mission’s work. A 1987 Mission Resolution honoring her said, in part, “For over twenty years, Edith shared her faith with the people of Down East Maine. She visited over fifty mainland schools and twenty island schools, working with the children, devising contests, recreational activities, and reading programs. She distributed garden seeds and plants in the schools and encouraged the children to plant gardens.”
“Her enthusiasm for the work could be felt when reading the God’s Tugboat column…. Edith’s name and the memory of her caring ministry have been the subject of many conversations in the little homes of coastal Maine and will continue so for some time to come.”
That is still true in 2022.
The Mission boat and its crew is still active today, now aboard the Sunbeam V.Learn moreabout their work and our iconic boat.
Postscript – March 9, 2022
Following the publication of this piece in our monthly eNewsletter, Gary DeLong wrote to us about Edith. Gary served as Maine Seacoast Mission president from 1999 to 2010 and grew up along Maine’s rocky shores in the Downeast region. The stories he tells provide another small window into Edith’s life. His words share how she impacted the Mission as well as the people around her. As for any organization who has existed as long as the Mission has, history shapes identity. The Mission’s work, people, and communities it takes part in—from 1905 to now—inform the organization’s heritage as well as its spirit. Please enjoy Gary DeLong’s recollections.
I write just to pass on a couple of tidbits Edith Drury. I enjoyed the recent newsletter which even included a photo of Edith. It was fun and appropriate to see Edith being remembered. In her role at the Mission she came to the school on Beals—where I grew up—talking about the importance of fresh vegetables. She handed out seeds and advice about starting a garden all of which made a big impression on kids. I can’t recall her visiting when I was in the eighth grade, which was my first year on the island although my friends remember her and her ruddy complexion. She was the daughter of a highly regarded headmaster at the legendary Prep School, St. Paul’s in Concord, N.H. Samuel Drury. He was an Episcopalian rector who had been offered some even more prestigious positions but turned them down to spend his career at St. Paul’s.
One of the Mission’s great fans and benefactors was Patricia “Trishy” Schull who lived along the Somes Sound Road and was a close friend and supporter of Edith. When we were trying to recast the role and profile of the Mission, Trishy hosted a couple of cocktail parties and invited all her friends. I mention Trishy because she loved hanging out with Edith on the Sunbeam. The two of them as young women would dive off the cabin of the boat. Trishy’s husband, David, was a businessman and entrepreneur. In support of the Mission’s downeast presence, he started two companies in Jonesport: one was a restaurant and the other sardine factory. They both employed a number of people for several years. It’s fun to recall people like that. Looking at the Mission’s website they would not believe the scope of the Mission today but they need to be remembered because people like Edith and her friend Trishy paved the way.
NORTHEAST HARBOR, ME – One remarkable outcome of Island Health Director Sharon Daley’s work among Maine islands is the dedicated, ongoing network of eldercare workers from ten unbridged islands. The group meets virtually throughout the year via Zoom or conference calls to share on-the-job information, answer questions, and offer professional camaraderie.
Each year the Mission hosts an ElderCare Conference at which the network eldercare health workers meet for two days to talk shop, learn from guest speakers, and to socialize in-person.
This year’s ElderCare Conference, originally planned for January at Nebo Lodge, an island inn and restaurant on North Haven island, is being rescheduled. The new itinerary will be announced though the Mission’s social media as soon as possible. The original itinerary included plenty of time for ElderCare workers to relax and recharge.
“One of the really important things we do,” Sharon Daley said of the network, is meeting frequently with Maine State government administrators about regulations affecting island ElderCare Homes. Designed to provide island elderly a way to spend their final years on the islands, near family and friends, these homes “don’t fit in the box the State has kind of made,” said Sharon.
The conference is “a chance for the home administrators to work with the State people on helping regulations make sense,” she said.
Other guest speakers on tap for the 2022 ElderCare Conference are:
Tammy Usher – Provider Relations Specialist at State of Maine.
Susan Wehry, MD – Chief of Geriatrics at the UNE College of Osteopathic Medicine and the Director of AgingME, Maine’s Geriatric Workforce Enhancement Program.
Anand Viswanathan, MD, PhD – Associate Professor of Neurology, Harvard Medical School, and Associate Director, Mass General Brigham Telestroke Program.
In addition, said Sharon, in the wake of a very challenging Covid-19 year, “We hope to have an occupational or massage therapist and do yoga. We’re going to spend time on self-care; kind of spoil the people who have been doing the [island elderly] care.”
NORTHEAST HARBOR, ME – On November 10, the Wednesday Spinners traveled aboard the Sunbeam to share their passion for spinning with an island community. It was their second island trip in three years. For almost a half-century, the Spinners use old-fashioned wooden spinning wheels, to turn the woolly covering of sheep—called fleece—into yarn.
Some group members gift or sell their handspun yarn. Others make clothing to sell. But the six Spinners who joined with the Sunbeam gave residents of Matinicus an opportunity to observe spinning and to interact with the group. Set up at Matinicus Island School, original member Cynthia Thayer recalled, “We taught and later enjoyed an evening with people who came with their knitting. They talked about the island and told us stories. A couple of people came with their wheels and we helped to get those operational.”
The next day—a holiday—children visited and were introduced to the craft. “We get together because we love spinning. If we find people who are really interested in it, we share it,” Cynthia continued. The trip was planned by Island Outreach Director, Douglas Cornman, MA, BC-DMT. He and the Sunbeam crew brought the Spinners to Isle Au Haut in 2019. He shared, “They spin and weave magic. They are kind, they are wise, they are generous. They are grateful. People gravitate to them and enjoy watching what they do, even if they have no particular interest in spinning, weaving, or knitting. There’s something intriguing and entrancing about
their work. It was wonderful to see islanders get excited about a craft that they may not typically engage with or be aware of. It was a positive experience all around and that is why the Mission puts so much effort into these outreach trips.”
For the Matinicus visit, the Spinners were once again excited to see life on an island, talk to people, and witness the day-to-day. “It’s very special to see the Mission’s guests get as much out of the trip as the islanders. I sat there and felt the energy generated in the room between island residents and the Spinners. It is hard to articulate how powerful that energy is, and it is that energy that helps me realize—that reminds me—that there is something in this universe beyond ourselves. I think the islanders felt it.”
During the trip, a Spinner said Wednesday is their spiritual home. It is a time they come together as a community. One particular Matinicus student, age 9, became captivated by their craft. He parted his own wool and the Spinners helped him spin it into yarn. In less than 24 hours, he had turned raw wool into yarn. “You could see him indulge in the process,” remarked Douglas.
“The Sunbeam crew was just fantastic,” said Cynthia, “Of course Jillian is amazing with the food she puts out. She’s always so cheery and happy. The whole experience was extremely positive. I hope we’ll go out again soon.”
At the beginning of the pandemic, Covid-19 precautions moved the Wednesday Spinners away from their regular mid-week meetings in each other’s homes. “These days,” explains Cynthia, “we’re spinning down at Hammond Hall in Winter Harbor. It’s a big hall and we can spread out.” The group’s sessions have a specific purpose. “What we don’t do is have people come to our group, so they can learn how to spin. We’re there to spin our own work. Many of us teach for pay. Once a person knows how to spin, we see if we have room in the group and ask them to come,” she said.
Visit the Wednesday Spinners, their work, or to get in touch about a lesson via their Facebook page. Want to learn more about Island Outreach? Explore the News or visit the program.
NORTHEAST HARBOR, ME — Island Health Services Director Sharon Daley, RN no sooner completed a multi-island run aboard the Sunbeam administering flu shots, when the Mission received a CDC green light to administer Covid vaccination boosters among certain island communities.
Sharon and fellow Sunbeam crew member, Director of Island Outreach & Chaplain Douglas Cornman, are members of the Mission Covid Vaccination Team. In three months, starting in February 2021, that team Covid vaccinated 343 people on seven islands.
On November 1, Douglas said, “Last week, in less than 48-hours, Sharon, Administrative Assistant Margaret Snell, and I, scheduled Covid booster shot trips to seven islands. We secured vaccine. We put fliers together announcing the vaccine booster is available, and posted them on the islands,” Douglas said.
The response from island communities was instantaneous.
“Over the weekend we had over 50 people contact me requesting their booster. In two weeks we’ll be doing boosters on those seven islands. We will have given everyone their booster before their Thanksgiving holiday,” said Douglas.