The Maine Seacoast Mission’s Sunbeam recently was hauled for maintenance at Billings Diesel and Marine in Stonington. A new bow thruster, below, will make it easier to maneuver the boat into island harbors and docks. PHOTO COURTESY OF MAINE SEACOAST MISSION

Sunbeam V takes break in dry dock

STONINGTON — The Maine Seacoast Mission’s 74-foot steel-hulled Sunbeam V and crew are continuing a 100-year-old tradition of offering services and medical care to 90 percent of all residents on the offshore islands they serve.

But for several weeks this fall, Sunbeam was in dry dock at Billings Diesel and Marine in Stonington.

“When you’re standing underneath the Sunbeam when she’s up on the railway, you realize she’s a fairly significant boat,” said Capt. Michael “Mike” Johnson. “Seeing the whole boat, including the below water line areas, you realize we’re maintaining a large boat approaching 22 years old, and it’s a lot of work to keep a year-round watercraft going.”

According to Johnson, Sunbeam is hauled once a year to keep ahead of the structural integrity and cosmetic concerns. “This year, the Sunbeam is getting a new coat of anti-fouling bottom paint – the red paint that resists the growth of weeds and barnacles on the hull. The top sides get a fresh coat of paint.

“If you paint a steel boat once a year, it stays ahead of the rust,” Johnson said.

With an older boat, the aging mechanical systems also need repair. “This year, we’re overhauling the anchor mechanism and the crane mechanism,” Johnson said. “The crane launches the skiff from the stern deck when we go to the islands with no dock.” Crews also are replacing the 21-year-old bow thruster with a new, more powerful model that will improve Sunbeam’s maneuverability in tight quarters.

Sunbeam is a single-screw watercraft with one main engine, one propeller shaft and one propeller.

“The bow thruster is a small hydraulic motor in the bow that provides sideward thrust,” Johnson said. “In tight quarters, with a bow as high as the Sunbeam’s, the single engine can’t maneuver the boat appropriately at the dock at Matinicus, for example.

“Imagine driving a large SUV in the city. You’re limited with what you can do with parking it,” Johnson said.

The bow thruster provides a sideward push for the bow. It can provide a simple directional thrust in a turn.

“Our new thruster will give us 40 horsepower, essentially doubling our thrust,” Johnson said.

“That also helps us in windy conditions. We’ll be able to get into Matinicus in somewhat more challenging conditions. It should increase our dependability in the tighter harbors, especially in winter,” Johnson added.

Engineer Storey King is focused on boat interior projects where existing finishes have to be ripped apart.

“It is an ideal opportunity to grind down metal and paint some areas,” Johnson said.

Johnson said Sunbeam Steward Jillian is the least involved in the dry dock project. “Jillian’s job can be very demanding physically, and dry docking affords Jillian a little chance to recharge her batteries before we get into the winter season,” he said.

Director of Island Outreach Douglas Cornman and Director of Island Health Services Sharon Daley both are going to islands by different means: ferry, airplane and other methods. “I think they’re probably looking forward to having their boat back,” said Johnson.

Sunbeam V, built by Washburn and Doughty in East Boothbay, was launched in 1995. It often serves as an ice breaker, helping to clear harbors and protect the boats moored there from ice damage. The boat is equipped with state-of-the-art telemedicine equipment and has a salon that serves as a meeting place for fellowship, meals and meetings.

Take a virtual tour of Sunbeam at

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