At age 70, the Laura B is not even remotely close to retirement even though since 1955 she’s been a workhorse, regularly transporting passengers, freight and mail from Port Clyde to Monhegan Island. In fact, over the past two winters she’s received a new lease on life at the hands of a devoted band of experienced boat builders—Jim Parker, Jeff Delaney, Jeff Sparks, Nick Thompson and Andy Barstow.
“We’re lucky to have had these skilled craftsmen,” says Amy Barstow, who with husband Andy now runs Monhegan Boat Line. “Renovating and maintaining a wooden vessel like this requires a lot of specialized work.”
The Laura B, an Army T-boat (T-57), was built in Solomons, Maryland, in 1943 for service as a war-time troop carrier and supply vessel. She reportedly served in the Pacific. Approximately 150 T-boats were built during World War II, some with steel hulls. Barstow says only the Laura B and one other of the wooden craft are still active.
After the war Clyde Bickford bought the boat and named her for his wife. He used her for transporting lobsters from Vinalhaven to New York City. Earl Field bought her in 1955 and began what is now the Monhegan Boat Line. Jim Barstow took over the business in 1978. He sold the boat line to son Andy in 2010.
Both Field and the elder Barstow performed their own upgrades of the Laura B to improve her mechanical performance and serviceability. In addition, the remarkable longevity of the vessel has been the result of a rigorous daily and seasonal maintenance ritual aimed at preventing rot, a procedure admiringly detailed by Twain Braden in the July/August 2000 issue of Wooden Boat magazine.
At the end of 2010, the Laura B sailed to Rockland and was hauled out at North End Shipyard, where the Coast Guard inspected her hull and fastenings. “We had to remove planking for the inspection anyway, so we decided we might as well do all we could to make sure all the wood and fastenings were sound,” explains Barstow. A sign of how well the vessel had been maintained was that only about 36 planks needed replacing. On March 23, 2011, the Laura B was ready to sail back to Port Clyde.
This past winter, the boatbuilders focused on repairs and renovations to the rest of the Laura B, removing the wheelhouse and then enclosing the vessel within a plastic shell so that work on decking and other features could proceed in relative comfort at dockside. “The silhouette is different because we extended the back cabin,” Barstow points out, noting that two new toilets (heads) were installed in the process.
This summer, the refurbished Laura B will again be making the daily 7am freight run to Monhegan. Her afternoons will be spent cruising in search of puffins, lighthouses and local landmarks, to the delight of appreciative passengers. Occasionally, as in the past, she’ll be chartered for a funeral or a party. For many residents and visitors, life in Port Clyde and on Monhegan wouldn’t be the same without the Laura B, so news that she will be back in service is welcome.
“People love the Laura B,” acknowledges Barstow. “She’s a classic.” —JW