Aboard the Sunbeam

Aboard the Sunbeam

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 pilothouse with 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.

Want more about the Sunbeam and its crew? Explore the Sunbeam web page and learn more about our Island Health and Island Outreach programs.

‘Moonbeam’ Voted by Maine Island Schoolkids as ‘Sunbeam V’ Interim Replacement

‘Moonbeam’ Voted by Maine Island Schoolkids as ‘Sunbeam V’ Interim Replacement

Introducing Moonbeam. Named by a majority vote of Maine island schoolkids, Moonbeam is the Sunbeam V’s replacement during its refitting.

BAR HARBOR, ME — With the Maine Seacoast Mission’s Sunbeam V coming out of the water for a major refit later this Spring, the Mission had to find a way for the Sunbeam crew to continue traveling from island to island providing social, health, education, and spiritual services in the Sunbeam’s absence.

Sunbeam Engineer Storey King did a fabulous job researching, locating, and inspecting several possible boats to fill in for the Sunbeam. He located the 34-foot wooden Downeast Cruiser shown here to serve this role.

Now the big question: What to call the Sunbeam’s interim replacement?

Island Outreach Director Douglas Cornman solicited possible names from Mission staff and crew and asked island schoolkids to vote for their favorite name on the list.

Director Douglas Cornman said, “End of day Friday, March 8, was the voting deadline. The majority of island schoolkids selected Moonbeam, with Hope in second and Promineo in third.”

Moonbeam was suggested as a complimentary name to Sunbeam V, Hope was the name given to the Mission’s first vessel launched in 1905. Promineo is the Latin word meaning “to reach out.” Holistic outreach is the crew’s focus with outer island communities.

“So, the Sunbeam crew will be traveling around on a Moonbeam this Summer and Fall while our beloved Sunbeam is enjoying its much needed refit,” said Douglas.

Stay tuned for details on the official Moonbeam christening.

Learn more about the Sunbeam V and the crew’s work among Maine unbridged islands:

We’re Getting a Pretty Good Snow Squall. How Is It Where You Are?

We’re Getting a Pretty Good Snow Squall. How Is It Where You Are?

Bar Harbor, ME — Sunbeam V Engineer Storey King sent this photo “from Matinicus this morning” on Wednesday, 3/22. In a separate email that day, Mission President Scott Planting emailed Sunbeam V Captain Michael Johnson:

Mike — we’re getting a pretty good snow squall this afternoon.  How is it where you are?

To which Capt. Johnson replied:

Good, Scott. Due to heavy wind we are spending a second night on Matinicus and leaving for Isle au Haut in the morning. It snowed here, but only a little.

The crew just had a CPR class by Eva Murray that took most of the morning.

Sharon and Douglas are out doing rounds, Storey is working on the hull, and I am doing some work on my computer. We had a pretty good crowd for dinner last night, and Douglas showed a movie after dinner with was fun.

Thanks for checking in,


A New Presence to the Mission’s Past

The Maine Seacoast Mission has been a trusted friend along the Maine coast for more than 100 years, always committed to our work for the long haul. Island and coastal residents know they can rely on us. While our presence is steady, we are responsive to the needs of individuals and communities, and our programs adapt to meet changing conditions.

Now through the internet and digital communications, the Mission can bring a new presence to our past. For example, these two reports from the 1930s concerning the Mission boat at the time, the Sunbeam III.

First up is a three-minute segment from a radio broadcast featuring Alice M. Peasley, and other Mission staff.

Second, this remarkable film from the Maine Sea Coast Mission Collection at the Northeast Historic Film web site showing a U.S. Coast Guard cutter breaking through ice to enable passage of the Sunbeam III. Today, the Sunbeam V often serves as an icebreaker to enable islanders to move their boats in-and-out of harbor.

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