Wood hull and wood heat: Former Army transport keeps Maine islanders supplied and warm

“It would be safe to say that this boat is the lifeline for islanders during the winter,” said Carson Schnell, warming near the little wood stove in the wheelhouse of Laura B. “We have boats and skilled captains on the island, but they are out lobstering at this time of year.”
The 65-foot Laura B, one of two remaining wooden U.S. Army T boats in the United States, plies the 10 miles of Atlantic water between Port Clyde and Monhegan Island, Maine, year round.
Built in 1943, the boat saw action in the Philippines. After the war, it operated as a lobster smack. In 1952 it was acquired by Capt. Earl Fields, then owner of Monhegan Boat Line, which was established in 1914. Jim Barstow bought the company in 1976 and gave Laura B a complete makeover in 1982.

Capt. Jeffrey Delaney operates the fixed-leg boom crane from the wheelhouse. Each sling contains about a half cord of firewood. [Brian Gauvin photos]
Today Laura B fulfills a three-day per week mail contract, as well as carrying passengers and freight in the winter. In the summer the company’s newer boat, Elizabeth Ann, takes over the passenger load.
A small group of Schnell’s fellow islanders were hunkered around the wood stove in the aft passenger cabin, against the cold bite of a long March. Capt. Jeffrey Delaney was at the wheel and deck hand Kylea Odone stoked the fire.
Immediately in front of the wheelhouse is a fixed-leg boom crane, then the hatch. Pallets of groceries were stowed below. On top of the hatch was a sling of 12-foot-long panels of sheetrock and a pallet of lumber. Stacked on the foredeck were a number of totes and coolers, personal packs and four nets of split firewood, each holding half a cord.
Laura B has carried sheep, cows, horses, appliances and the odd truck, as well as all manner of equipment. It also brings back from the island the unwanted trappings of civilization, such as old appliances. Islanders and crew load and offload the manageable cargo by hand. Delaney operates the crane, while Odone positions the hook for the wood and heavier freight.
Laura B is well maintained and scheduled for new oak decking this spring. Barstow maintains that the trick is to stay ahead of the problems, “Do it before you have to,” he said. Each year Laura B is hauled out for

Delaney checks his position on a route complicated by rocks, small islands, and frequent fog. [Brian Gauvin photos]

repairs and replacement work, as well as any preventive treatments that seem practical.

Barstow’s son Andy, a graduate of Maine Maritime Academy, is the company engineer. He mimics his dad’s philosophy when maintaining the mechanical aspects of the vessel, including the pristine 420-hp Volvo-Penta main engine installed in the 1982 refit.
In summer Laura B also conducts private dinner, sightseeing and puffin cruises.

“She’s a nice boat and she’s got some history,” said Delaney. •

By Professional Mariner Staff