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.
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.”