Starting in 1971, Captain David Allen made thousands of trips to islands along the Maine coast, first aboard the Mission’s Sunbeam IV and later Sunbeam V. David and his wife Betty, who joined him aboard Sunbeam as the steward in 1978, were the personification of the Mission for many islanders. David captained the boat until his retirement in 2007. David passed away on October 3, 2022, with his family by his side.
Sunbeam’s current Captain, Mike Johnson, who started at the Mission as David’s engineer, shares his reflections on his time with David.
Michael Johnson, Captain Sunbeam V:
“I recently unrolled an old paper chart from the Sunbeam and noticed course lines and dead reckoning plots written in Captain David Allen’s handwriting. I realized that when Dave began his career for the Maine Seacoast Mission in 1971 that the only piece of electronic equipment on the Sunbeam was a basic radar. During Dave’s remarkable thirty-five years as captain, he had seen the biggest jump in marine navigational technology in human history.
When I was his first mate, I was in awe of his ability to both understand the past and embrace the present. If there was a new piece of equipment available, he researched it and learned to use it. It was not unusual for him to have a full course plotted on the computer, but still stop in the fog to listen for a particular bell buoy. He was the perfect blend of old and new. He was also unflappable when he encountered difficult weather. He rarely showed any outward sign of stress and could often maintain a lighthearted conversation with others in the pilothouse.
Dave knew being a crewmember on the Sunbeam meant much more than the job at hand. He made deep friendships in the island communities and was always available in the salon to share a laugh or a fishing story. Of particular significance to Dave were funerals. He was aware of the Sunbeam’s importance in this role both symbolically and practically, and he was proud to transport mainland residents back to their islands to pay their respects. Another quality of Dave’s and one that resonated greatly with me, was his ability to understand the prominence of the Sunbeam. When we were in small harbors, he knew that we could be in somebody’s way. We frequently moved to allow lobstermen to hoist traps or for the mailboat to unload passengers. At sea, he never insisted on his right-of-way be it with a yacht in the summer or a scallop dragger in the winter. He would always open the pilothouse door to give an enthusiastic wave. “Keeping it friendly” was forever his motto.
I consider it an honor to have served with Dave for seven years. This was a period of growth for me as I transitioned to a larger year-round vessel, and Dave could not have been a better mentor. He was not always academic in his teaching but would let me know in a respectful manner if I was making a mistake. I sometimes wish he were still standing next to me so I could ask his advice about a particular docking situation or rough offshore passage. One of Dave’s complaints was that many of his good friends that he made during his career were passing away and making him sad. I hear you, Captain. This is clearly happening to me as well.”
His full obituary can be seen here. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in David’s name to the Mission. The Sunbeam will be taking his ashes to sea, for a final resting place, in early spring.