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.”
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.