MOUNT DESERT — Following an absence of nearly 18 months for repairs and renovations, Sunbeam returned to its Northeast Harbor home last Friday and will be back in action within a few weeks.
The Maine Seacoast Mission uses Sunbeam to deliver health care and other services to islands and coastal Downeast communities.
It was taken to Front Street Shipyard in Belfast in May 2019 because rust was starting to eat away at the inside of the steel hull. The furnace and two generators needed to be replaced, and the crew’s very small and rather spartan living quarters needed to be reconfigured and spruced up. The galley needed new appliances, and the floor in the salon area needed to be ripped up and replaced because of rust.
To pay for the refurbishment, the Mission launched a campaign in April 2018 to raise $1.5 million.
“All steel boats rust from the inside, and it’s hard to access because it’s all below deck,” Sunbeam’s captain, Mike Johnson, said. “That means the staterooms and everything else below the water line had to be torn out. Unless you rip out the entire downstairs area, you’re going to miss something, and that’s going to haunt you for years.”
He said it likely would have been several years before the rust made the vessel unsafe.
“But once it gets a foothold, you’ve got to get on it,” he said.
Sunbeam serves a trio of functions.
“We take the nurse around, we take the chaplain around and we are also like a floating coffee house,” Johnson said. “When we show up on Isle au Haut, for example, people come aboard to get coffee and play cribbage and mingle with their neighbors.”
Sharon Daley, the registered nurse on Sunbeam, sees patients on board and even makes house calls on the islands. She can arrange for patients to be seen by a physician or mental health professional in real time via Sunbeam’s telemedicine system.
Sunbeam and its five-member crew serve islands off the Maine coast from the Cranberry Isles to Monhegan. Visited most frequently are Frenchboro, Isle au Haut and Matinicus.
Scott Fish, the Mission’s director of communications and marketing, said that although the repairs have been made and Sunbeam is back in Northeast Harbor, it still needs some finishing touches.
“We want to make sure everything is ship shape, no pun intended,” Fish said.
“Then we want to open up the inside of Sunbeam for people to come in and look around and take pictures. So, give us a couple of weeks or maybe a month; then we would love to have people come aboard.”
John Gilbert, who heads a naval architecture firm in Massachusetts, designed the 74-foot Sunbeam for the Mission; it was launched in 1995. Gilbert drew up the specifications for the recent refurbishment.
While Sunbeam was out of commission, the Mission used a smaller boat, Moonbeam, to carry on some of its work.