Front Street Shipyard refits Sunbeam V

A floating health clinic with a mission
By Fran Gonzalez | Jun 03, 2019
Photo by: Fran Gonzalez Sunbeam V, a telemedicine missionary vessel with Maine Seacoast Mission, is docked at Front Street Shipyard May 24 where she is undergoing her first major refit.

Belfast — The first thing you notice when looking at the Sunbeam V, a black and white 74-foot steel boat docked at Front Street Shipyard, is the large cross painted on the bow.

According to Graham Fitch, shipyard project manager, the vessel is a telemedicine missionary vessel with the Maine Seacoast Mission, which serves remote islands east of Boothbay Harbor where health care access and mainland resources are limited.

The mission's website says the large cross dates from the late 1930s, when the international situation made it necessary to designate the vessel a mercy ship.

Built by Washburn and Doughty in East Boothbay, Sunbeam V was launched in 1995. A 250-horsepower single-screw diesel engine powers the vessel, which cruises at 10 knots. With its steel hull, the ship also has been called on to serve as an icebreaker, clearing harbors and protecting moored boats from damage.

The Mount Desert Islander reported that John Gilbert designed the vessel for Maine Seacoast Mission (it’s the organization’s fifth Sunbeam). Gilbert also drew up specifications for the refit, which will address rust on the steel hull.

Sunbeam V's captain, Michael Johnson, will supervise the refit at the shipyard, with work scheduled to wrap up by the end of the year. “The boat’s fundamentally sound and serves us well,” Johnson said in a YouTube video. The refitting “is the best choice going forward to get another 15, 20 to 25 years out of the Sunbeam,” he said.

A Front Street Shipyard press release said this is Sunbeam's first major maintenance period in 24 years and that the ship will undergo extensive hull maintenance, cosmetic updates and equipment upgrades.

During the refit, accommodations will be removed to reach all areas below deck. Crews will inspect and sandblast the steel hull, and will add a barrier coat to ensure the steel stands up against rust in the years to come.

Technicians will update mechanical and electrical systems as needed. The Seacoast Mission is also taking advantage of the refit in requesting cosmetic upgrades and interior redesigns in the wheelhouse, bunk houses, galley and salon.

Johnson said in all, 33 windows will be replaced and new heated windows for the steering room will prevent spray from freezing on the glass panes. Also being replaced are two generators, the furnace and a black water tank system.

Sunbeam V is part of Maine Seacoast Mission's island services, which take health care, education, basic necessities, and spiritual support to offshore island communities. While the ship makes regular biweekly telemedicine visits to Frenchboro, Isle au Haut and Matinicus, the mission's outreach programs are operated through churches on Vinalhaven, North Haven, Swan’s Island and Islesboro.

Maine Seacoast Mission has been around since 1905, and according to its website, has always had a boat to serve the islands. Sunbeam V is equipped with state-of-the-art telemedicine equipment and staffed by a registered nurse who connects residents with medical and behavioral health care professionals. There is also a salon that serves as a meeting place for fellowship, meals and meetings.

Sharon Daley said she loves her job of 17 years as the registered nurse aboard the Sunbeam V, and she also loves the communities she serves. Much of her job, she said, is just listening to people and helping them find the right resources.

"I do whatever I can to help," she said, remembering one time helping an elderly islander apply for a financial benefit.

A large flat-screen TV in her clinic helps connect patients with primary care doctors on the mainland. Using something similar to Skype, but HIPAA-compliant, Daley facilitates doctors in extracting information and taking vital signs. A special headset allows doctors on land to hear her stethoscope, and with a hand-held camera, doctors can see down a patient's throat.

Daley conducts flu shot clinics and hosts speakers to talk on subjects such as stress relief and dealing with back pain. She also hosts marriage counseling sessions. She said she sees many hypertension and diabetes-related cases, as well as upper respiratory infections and general injuries.

Parents bring their kids onboard to get a cookie, Daley said, and she sometimes hears parents say they would come as children to get cookies on the ship.

While the ship is being refitted, engineer Storey King will captain the mission’s interim boat, a 34-foot wooden Downeast Cruiser, so the Sunbeam V's crew can continue its work.

Island Outreach Director Douglas Cornman came up with three possible names for the interim vessel, and asked island schoolchildren to vote for their favorite. On May 23 at 12:30 p.m., the Sunbeam V crew, mission staff and others gathered at Billings Boat Yard in Stonington to christen the new mission boat, Moonbeam.

“It’s really important for the Seacoast Mission to maintain our presence on the islands," said mission President John Zavodny. "The Moonbeam is more than just a way of getting our crew to the islands; it’s our way of living our commitment to the health and well-being of these vital communities, as we have been doing for over 100 years.”

Front Street Shipyard President JB Turner said, “Sunbeam V has had a critical role in the health and well-being of Maine island communities for almost a quarter-century, and we’re honored to contribute to that ongoing mission through this refit. Having the opportunity to update and upgrade the capabilities of Sunbeam V will have a direct benefit to our fellow Mainers, which makes Front Street Shipyard’s entire crew proud.”

School kids, on a Sunbeam V journey, leave their gear in a multipurpose area in the bow. (Courtesy of: Maine Seacoast Mission)
Island Health Director Sharon Daley checks a patient in her Sunbeam V telemedicine office. (Courtesy of: Maine Seacoast Mission)
Navigation instruments in the Sunbeam V pilot house. (Courtesy of: Maine Seacoast Mission)
Island Outreach Director Douglas Cornman stands in the Sunbeam V salon. Behind him is the ship's galley. (Courtesy of: Maine Seacoast Mission)
Island Health Director Sharon Daley in her Sunbeam V telemedicine office. (Courtesy of: Maine Seacoast Mission)
Island Health Director Sharon Daley connects a patient in her Sunbeam V telemedicine office with a medical doctor on the mainland. (Courtesy of: Maine Seacoast Mission)
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