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New career for Maine motor lifeboat

Coast Guard 36-footer was rebuilt over a 14-year period and now serves as a charter boat

It’s been a long haul and an active life for Marlin Spike Peabody, the 14-year-old English Labrador retriever.

Spike has a 'doghouse' that would make most canines drool with envy.

He’s followed his longtime shipmate, Capt. Ron Peabody, from station to station during the latter’s 20-year career in the Coast Guard as a coxswain and bosun’s mate, Peabody’s assignments taking him to lighthouses, search-and-rescue stations and aboard boats from Canada to Virginia.

Capt. Ron Peabody

Now, the gray-muzzled, four-legged salt is looking forward to a peaceful retirement, taking in the world from the comforts of a doghouse (with a brass name plaque) that would be the envy of any canine worth his sea legs — the lazarette of a fully restored 36-foot U.S. Coast Guard lifeboat home-ported on the mid-coast of Maine.

Capt. Peabody, a Beal’s Island, Maine, native with an 18-ton license, acquired both the dog and the surf boat in the mid-1990s. “Spike” has witnessed the 14 years of on-again, off-again rebuilding, refurbishing and restoration work his shipmate has put into the historic vessel.

With the project now completed, Capt. Peabody is offering custom charter day trips around the Boothbay region on the motor lifeboat he calls MLB Surf Runner. (It was officially Coast Guard vessel No. 36460, built in Curtis Bay, Md.)

Capt. Ron’s Cruises — based out of Bristol, Maine — offers what Peabody calls “private pleasure cruises,” allowing guests to set the itinerary and get picked up at a time and location of their choosing. Trips can include lighthouse visits, seal and puffin watches and stops at islands, beaches, coves and harbors. He also offers sunset and fall foliage cruises. Also popular with clients is a trip to local waterfront restaurants — everything from fine dining to summertime lobster shack food. “That’s pretty popular,” he says.

Ron Peabody and his fully restored Coast Guard motor lifeboat have a new mission - transporting passengers around the Boothbay, Maine, area.

The 36 MLB was really the workhorse of the Coast Guard throughout the mid-1900s, says Peabody. The heavily built wooden vessels were intended for inshore surf and bar rescue in the worst conditions. “It’s self-righting, self-bailing and can carry up to 20 survivors,” he says.

There’s a “survivor’s cabin” forward with V-berth seats, so guests can get out of the weather, if need be. The single-engine surf boat cruises at 8 knots, running at around 1,500 RPM.

“That’s a comfortable speed for what we do,” says Peabody. “If you’re looking for a fast boat, there are ones you can charter. If you want to go nice and easy, just be out on the water and see things, then this is the boat for you.” The 103-hp Detroit diesel (vintage 1954) was rebuilt from the bare block on up and has barely 100 hours on it.

Peabody offers the history of lifesaving and his service in the Coast Guard as features of his cruises. There’s even a former active lifeboat station, now privately owned, where a similar 36-footer was stationed. Peabody’s personal experience includes serving as a coxswain and two stints at the famous National Small Lifeboat School in Washington, where students take on the notorious Columbia River bar as part of their training.

Capt. Ron Peabody not only has 20 years of service in the Coast Guard, but a saltwater upbringing and 200 years of sea-going ancestors to look back on, too.

Capt. Peabody’s earliest memories conjure up the lobster and fishing boats of the Maine coast. His first craft was an 11-foot Maine-built skiff that he used to “tool around the harbor, a 3-hp outboard sitting on the back,” he says.

Peabody family roots stem from Beal’s Island, Maine, the longtime home of many Maine fishing and boatbuilding families. “Ninety percent of my relatives are from Beal’s and Jonesport,” says Peabody. His great-great-grandfather skippered the lobster smack Sylvina W. Beal.

History was what inspired Capt. Peabody to buy the lifeboat in the first place. While in the Coast Guard, he heard the story of the Pendleton disaster: the grounding of a freighter off Cape Cod in the 1950s, in which the 36 MLB played a crucial lifesaving role. Restoration of that vessel gave Peabody an idea.

“I was inspired to buy one of my own, a boat with its own story,” says Peabody. In 1995, he found one in East Boston and bought it for $8,000.

The long restoration odyssey had begun. Peabody did as did as much work as he could on the 36 MLB, taking the boat down the bare wood everywhere, including the bilges and engine room and repainting and refurbishing everything else, from the wiring to the deck hardware. The major expense came in engine and transmission work. “I realized along the way, I’d have to put the boat to work to help pay for the restoration, and I got the idea for chartering along the mid-coast of Maine,” he says.

Peabody even sold his prized Ford Mustang to pay for mechanical work.

But that’s all been followed by the good feeling he gets walking down the dock, now. “I’ve restored a piece of Coast Guard history, and I’m offering this to the public, the chance to get out on the water and experience what it was like to be on these boats,” he says.

And that’s just what Spike intends to do — get out on the water with his shipmate. From his station just abaft the helm, the vessel’s mascot can watch the weather, gaze at the guests and enjoy the sights; a long time coming, but worth the wait for an old sea dog and his shipmate.

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This article originally appeared in the New England Home Waters Section of the September 2009 issue.