The Working Waterfront

Remembering Capt. David Allen

Long-time Sunbeam captain honored by successor

By Mike Johnson
Posted 2023-03-14
Last Modified 2023-03-14

Starting in 1971, Capt. David Allen made thousands of trips visiting islands along the Maine coast, first aboard the Maine Seacoast Mission’s Sunbeam IV and later the Sunbeam V. David and his wife Betty, who joined him aboard the Sunbeam as the steward in 1978, were the personification of the Mission for many islanders.

David, who captained the Sunbeam until his retirement in 2007, passed away on Oct. 3 with his family by his side. The Sunbeam V’s current captain, Mike Johnson, who started on the Sunbeam as Allen’s engineer shares his reflections on his time with David.

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“I recently unrolled an old paper chart from the Sunbeam and noticed course lines and dead reckoning plots written in Capt. David Allen’s handwriting. I realized that when Dave began his career for the Maine Seacoast Mission in 1971 that the only piece of electronic equipment on the Sunbeam was a basic radar.

“During Dave’s remarkable 35 years as captain, he had seen the biggest jump in marine navigational technology in human history. When I was his first mate, I was in awe of his ability to both understand the past and embrace the present. If there was a new piece of equipment available, he researched it and learned to use it. It was not unusual for him to have a full course plotted on the computer, but still stop in the fog to listen for a particular bell buoy.

“He was the perfect blend of old and new. He was also unflappable when he encountered difficult weather. He rarely showed any outward sign of stress and could often maintain a lighthearted conversation with others in the pilothouse.

“During Dave’s remarkable 35 years as captain, he had seen the biggest jump in marine navigational technology in human history.”

“Dave knew being a crewmember on the Sunbeam meant much more than the job at hand. He made deep friendships in the island communities and was always available in the salon to share a laugh or a fishing story. Of particular significance to Dave were funerals. He was aware of the Sunbeam’s importance in this role both symbolically and practically, and he was proud to transport mainland residents back to their islands to pay their respects.

“Another quality of Dave’s, and one that resonated greatly with me, was his ability to understand the prominence of the Sunbeam. When we were in small harbors, he knew that we could be in somebody’s way. We frequently moved to allow lobstermen to hoist traps or for the mailboat to unload passengers.

“At sea, he never insisted on his right-of-way, be it with a yacht in the summer or a scallop dragger in the winter. He would always open the pilothouse door to give an enthusiastic wave. ‘Keeping it friendly’ was forever his motto.

“I consider it an honor to have served with Dave for seven years. This was a period of growth for me as I transitioned to a larger year-round vessel, and Dave could not have been a better mentor. He was not always academic in his teaching but would let me know in a respectful manner if I was making a mistake.

“I sometimes wish he were still standing next to me so I could ask his advice about a particular docking situation or rough offshore passage. One of Dave’s complaints was that many of his good friends that he made during his career were passing away and making him sad. I hear you, Captain. This is clearly happening to me as well.”

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Allen’s full obituary can be seen by searching the Mount Desert Islander website for obituaries and David Thurston Allen. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in Allen’s name to the Mission. The Sunbeam will be taking his ashes to sea, for a final resting place, in early spring.

Capt. Dave Allen
Capt. Dave Allen