Nov 12

‘A labor of love for the Lord’ — Ship inspired by man’s faith in God finally sets sail

By Abigail Curtis, BDN Staff – Nov. 11, 2013

Maine Boat 101

The schooner Beacon Won at the Front Street Shipyard in Belfast. The vessel that was built in Addison will travel to the Bahamas to be used as a charter boat this winter. It will make the voyage under engine power and will eventually be outfitted with two masts.

BELFAST, Maine — The stout, unfinished white boat, still without its mast and sails, looked a little out of place this week, moored as it was next to the multimillion-dollar superyachts of Front Street Shipyard.  The boat — named the Beacon Won — was a hub of activity Monday morning during a stability trial. It also looked like it might have a pretty good story to tell, and it does.

“When we bought the boat, it was really in a dilapidated condition,” Capt. Bruce Dunham said Monday. “We looked at the boat for five minutes, and said ‘no way.’ We did not need a project. We needed a boat. But we came back. We looked at the boat again, and we could not stand to see the boat die.”  At that point, the Beacon Won was nothing more than the hackmatack wooden skeleton, or ribs, of a 65-foot two-masted schooner, and a dream that seemed put on hold by the death of the man who had first dreamed of it.

Dino Fonda heard a message from God to build a ship back in 1986 when he and his wife, Cathy, were living in Venice, Fla. The couple traveled along the New England coast, searching for the right spot to build the boat, and they found it in the Addison Shipyard. They purchased the yard, and although Dino was not a trained boatbuilder, he had an engineering and building background and used books to help him with the tricky parts. He worked on the boat by hand for years while Cathy taught Spanish at Sumner Memorial High School.  “It was a labor of love for the Lord,” Cathy Fonda, now 70, said Monday.

When Dino died in 2003, his ship was not much more than a hull and a deck, and although it changed hands in 2005, for eight years it remained unfinished in Cathy’s dooryard. That changed in 2010, when Dunham and his wife, Sheila Young, read an ad in a marine industry magazine for a partially built schooner. They were in the market for a boat to use in their charter business in the Bahamas, which includes bringing kids on board for sailing adventures and Christian mission work.

Maine Boat 102

Boat owner and Capt. Bruce Dunham in the engine room of the schooner Beacon Won. They will motor to the Bahamas, making more stops along the way to finish the interior of the vessel. The plan is to put the two masts in place sometime next year, after the winter charter season.

The couple may not have needed a project, but they took one on, and still were smiling three years later as the ship neared completion. Volunteers from all over did much of the work to finish the Beacon Won, including carpenters from the Amish community of Lancaster County, Pa., who built the ship’s galley. One man who came to Maine to work on the boat had lost both his daughters in the 2006 Amish schoolhouse shooting.  “This boat has been built by a huge cluster of good people,” Dunham said. “We are very humbled by the communities of Belfast, Jonesport and Addison.”  He said that so far, finishing the Beacon Won has required an investment of about $550,000 in addition to the years of work. The 61-ton ship has been built to be stout and very solid, with 4,200 sheets of marine plywood, epoxy and fiberglass. Even though Dino Fonda was not trained as a boatbuilder, Dunham said that he built the hull strongly and well.

“He was a genius,” the captain said. “It had to be ordained, because he did everything himself.”  David Wyman, an independent naval architect and marine surveyor from Castine, directed clusters of people around the boat Monday morning, shifting weight from one side to another to make sure that it would be sufficiently stable.  “It’s been a fun project to be involved in,” he said. “She’s a great boat.”  Dunham, Young and their crew plan to leave Maine this weekend, after finishing sea trials this week. They will meander down the Atlantic coastline, stopping in communities along the way so schoolchildren can visit the Beacon Won. They’ll be in the Caribbean by January to start the winter charter season there.

Cathy Fonda, who is spry and cheerful, with a faith as solid as the boat her husband envisioned, has become part of the Beacon Won’s family. She said that while she’s delighted that the boat is out of her yard and on its way to doing important mission work, she’ll be sad to see it — and the people aboard — leave the state.  “I’m not going to like it, having to go [away] to get a hug,” she said after receiving a bone-cracking embrace from the ebullient Dunham.  “It’s just exciting,” Fonda said. “I’ve said all along, I think Dino’s watching us, and jumping up and down. At least, I pray he is.”

Volunteers finishing ship inspired by man’s faith in God

By Sharon Kiley Mack, BDN Staff – Oct. 09, 2011

ADDISON, Maine — There are times in everyone’s life when patterns emerge, or coincidences become too frequent, or disparate series of events are inexplicably linked. Some raise their eyebrows and call it chance, while others credit divine intervention.  Such is the story of a 65-foot two-masted wooden schooner being built in Addison by a band of volunteers who believe it was destiny that brought them together and their belief in God that will launch their vessel.

On a tiny patch of land at Pleasant River Bay, where the high tide threatens to float the ship even before it is ready, carpenters from Pennsylvania, Florida, Maine, Texas, Tennessee and the Bahamas are racing to finish The Beacon Won before winter. Capt. Bruce Dunham and his partner, Sheila Young, then plan to sail the schooner south, resting in Maryland and South Carolina, before continuing on to Nassau in the Caribbean.  The ship will become a Christian mission ship — replacing two smaller ships the couple have been using for 19 years — and will take teenagers and church groups on week-long excursions, able to accommodate 30 passengers and a crew of six.

The story of The Beacon Won actually began 25 years ago, in 1986, when Dino Fonda and his wife, Cathy, were living in Venice, Fla.  “For a year before we left Florida, Dino kept hearing the message [from God] to build a ship,” Cathy Fonda said Thursday. A devout Christian, Fonda said she never once questioned her husband’s belief. “So we left Florida looking for a place to build a ship. Little did we know then that we were going to build it for Bruce and Sheila.”

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Capt. Bruce Dunham shows off a blueprint of the 65-foot, two-masted wooden schooner being built in Addison by him and other spirited volunteers, including Don Locke (background) of Highland Village, Texas.

The Fondas traveled in a tiny 25-foot travel trailer along the New England coast, searching for just the right spot. Eventually they came to Jonesport, Maine, and Fonda said her husband knew it was the place to stop. One day, shortly after that, the Fondas drove through Addison.  “Dino said he was told [by God] to take a left and look to the left,” Cathy Fonda said. “There at the end of the dike was a building with a sign — ‘Addison Shipyard’ — and a ‘for sale’ sign out front.” The couple bought the shipyard in 1988, moved their travel trailer to the site, and Dino began building his boat.  “I taught school at Sumner High School [in Sullivan] for 15 years,” Cathy said. “I made the money. He built the boat.”

Dino Fonda worked on the boat for years, by hand, by himself, using books to help him with the engineering. He worked every good weather day, sometimes all the way into December. He bought six truckloads of hackmatack, set up a portable sawmill and cut the wood for the boat’s skeleton — the foot-thick ribs, the braces, the decking. Destiny kept throwing him both challenges and inspiration: The detached shop burned down one year but somehow the ship and its blueprints survived the blaze; another year Dino was working in a metal building alongside the construction site when a windstorm blew the roof off the building and the sides collapsed. He was left standing inside, unhurt.

But Dino couldn’t overcome cancer and died in 2003, leaving his beloved ship, which he had named Moriah, incomplete — not much more than a hull and a deck. “People here were so sad when Dino couldn’t finish the boat,” Cathy said. It sat, abandoned, for two years. Cathy sold the boat in 2005 to Steve Pagels of Bar Harbor. He kept the boat at the Addison Shipyard, but after a brief attempt to finish it, Pagels also put it on the market.  For eight years, Cathy looked out her kitchen window every day at her husband’s unfinished dream.

A year ago, and 1,455 miles away in the Bahamas, Dunham and Young read a small advertisement in a marine industry magazine. “Partially built schooner. $80,000. Call,” was all that it said, Young recalled.  “We arrived here last October, looked at it for five minutes and ran away,” Dunham said. “There was so much work left to do.”

But as they were leaving Maine they said some power larger than themselves brought them back to Addison and they decided they needed to buy the boat.  Over the winter, Dunham reached out to his friend Paul Risk, an 89-year-old retired carpenter from Pennsylvania who had never even worked on a boat before, much less built one. Risk knew Dunham and Young through their work with Christian youth groups.

Risk landed in Addison this past July and immediately constructed a greenhouse-style structure to cover the unfinished ship.  “I’ve been in construction all my life and I am overwhelmed at the work that Dino did. I don’t know how he did this all by himself,” Risk said.  He began installing slabs of plywood, four sheets thick, over the ship’s ribs, which had been protected for more than 20 years by melted tar. As word of the project spread through the East Coast’s Christian communities, other volunteers began to arrive and youth groups became involved. Inquiries about helping out came from Tennessee, from Texas, from Maryland.

A bunkhouse was built above the workshop, recreational camper homes began arriving, Fonda opened her home for meals and Risk’s wife, Shirley, began cooking for everyone. Slowly, a wheelhouse was constructed. Fiberglass was installed on the deck. A retired U.S. Navy engineer arrived from Florida to line up the propeller shafts. Engines were installed.  Local workers fabricated fuel tanks, lifted engines, planed the hackmatack. Once Dunham and Young finished their summer mission season in the Bahamas, they came back to Maine on Sept. 21 to join the workers.  “As soon as we get her closed in, we’ll sail her out to warmer waters,” Young said.  “And I’ll be right on board,” Fonda said, adding that she might stay on the ship for a bit of an adventure.

Launching the ship after more than 25 years of dreaming will be bittersweet for Fonda. “But we will have come full circle, from Dino’s dream of a mission to a mission group. I swear Dino’s jumping up and down in heaven. God just keeps bringing people and skills and expertise together.”  “Not any one of us could do any of this,” Risk said. “But when you put us all together, it is amazing. It’s an awesome spirit of unity.”

Dunham, as captain, said working to complete the ship has been a “very humbling experience. It truly is a miracle.” While he works, Dunham wears Dino’s old ball cap and Dino’s work gloves remain hanging in the workshop. “In honor of him,” Dunham said.  Dunham and Young welcome all volunteers, regardless of skill level. For information, call Fonda at 483-4655.

About The Beacon Won

The Beacon Won is a 65-foot gaff-rigged schooner, double masted, with two 3208 Caterpillar naturally aspirated diesel engines.  It has five below-deck compartments separated by watertight walls and has a 5 to 6 foot draft. It has two passenger compartments below deck and an enclosed galley and dining/lounging area on deck.

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