After lying idle for a short period, the BATTLEFORD was being fitted out at Kingston (Ontario) drydock to run under her own power. At first, as I understood it at the time, her new owner, a Mr. Nevill Roberts of the Bahamas Package Carriers Ltd., had arranged to buy the tug TRIDENT STAR which was also under refit in Kingston to tow the BATTLEFORD down to Nassau, her new port of registry. But the tug was not bought by Mr. Roberts for some reason and the decision was made to sail BATTLEFORD south under her own steam.
None of my sea time was logged under C.S.L. colours and I first learned of the BATTLEFORD's impending voyage south from Capt. Lyle Dougan, owner of the boat service which carried pilots from Kingston to Wolfe Island. I was a Lake Ontario pilot at the time. I will be forever indebted to Lyle Dougan for his part in arranging the opportunity for my first command. It had always rankled me that I had been in a condition: "ready, willing and able" since the age of 24 in 1958 to use my Master Inland certificates, but there were just no ships available or no opportunities of being in the right place at the right time.
The First Mate, Vince Cartwright, Second Mate whose name I've forgotten, and six Bahamian crewmen were flown up to Kingston sometime in the second half of November 1966. I see from my discharge book that we all signed on board on November 24th and I remember that the shipping master was Mr. Martyn who still holds the post in Kingston.
A quantity of crushed stone, 1200 tons, was loaded and flattened out by bulldozer to form excellent ballast. In the 'tween decks we carried 35 pieces of dust collecting equipment, the type one would see in the loft of a grain elevator. Also in the 'tween deck were two artillery pieces, World War II cannon, destined to decorate the owner's front lawn in Nassau, I think. I had the wild thought of placing one cannon on the forecastle head and the second on the poop and challenging the Royal Navy in Nassau Harbour.
The engine room crew were all Canadian, and though the Chief didn't have a marine ticket, he worked long hours to keep the old girl from falling apart as far as Halifax where he requested relief. We sailed from Kingston the 28th or 29th of November and headed for Clayton, N.Y., for 700 tons of bunker coal, 200 tons in the coal bunker and the remainder in the 'tween deck forward where a bin was built of old hatch covers. The coal, our final dead weight, made our departure draught 13 feet, trimmed a foot by the stern. At this point in the voyage it was the opinion of some optimists ashore that we would make Nassau non-stop on one bunker of coal. This estimate was based on a fictitious rate of fuel consumption and allowed no stops for repairs. Our first unscheduled stop became necessary before Iroquois Lock as the v.h.f. radiotelephone quit, so I slid BATTLEFORD in behind the Prescott elevator and made fast to the C.S.L. dock. A Marconi technician came up from Montreal in the forenoon to correct this fault.
At this point, may I say that for two years prior to this voyage I had been piloting foreign ships in and out of Toronto, Hamilton, and all the Lake Ontario harbours. As a pilot, one stands out on the wing of the bridge and issues helm and engine orders in a rather impersonal way. Conning a vintage coal-burning, triple expansion canaller, turning your own wheel and grinding your own telegraph, with a wheelhouse just the right size to allow you two or three steps and you're at the sidelight looking aft to observe as the old girl skids gently alongside on a full back-up, is an altogether different and satisfying feeling.
Our second stop was at Montreal for engine repairs with the help of some shore labour, to hire three additional firemen at the Chief's request, and to obtain some charts and sea stores. A letter of caution was given to me before we sailed by Mr. G. L. Hayes, our underwriters' representative. I signed off two Kingston Shipyards hands that we had borrowed to assist with canal work. Our agent was Canada Steamship Lines Ltd. who were very cooperative.
The weather during this first part of the voyage had been quite nice so it was noticeable when temperatures dropped to about ten above for two days rounding the Gaspe, freezing our deck lines. During the daylight hours steaming tranquilly down through the Northumberland Strait, however, the temperature rose to the forties and didn't dip much into the frost range thereafter. We made a late night passage through the Canso Lock in continuing fair weather with most of our navigation gear in working order. That must have been the 4th or 5th of December. I can remember coasting down the Eastern shore between Canso and Halifax in fog and snow, running from one sea buoy to the next until east of Egg Island when we were in range of Camperdown shore radar who verified our position, as our radar had "packed it in."
At Halifax there was no coal available so our agent arranged for the use of a rented mobile clam to scoop some 200 tons of coal from our 'tween decks, dump it on the dock and, with the ship moved forward, load it in the bunker. Even though it was our coal, I think the cost of the transfer amounted to quite a few dollars per ton. More repairs to the engines, replacement of two "performing" Bahamian crewmen by two good Maritimers, and a new and very competent Chief Engineer and Second Engineer were arranged.
I can remember telling someone that it took nine days to Halifax and nine days to Nassau, so we'll say that we sailed from Halifax about the 8th or 9th of December, coasting until the southern tip of Nova Scotia, then across to Nantucket Light, the weather rolling us uncomfortably in a beam sea. We didn't see Nantucket Light, but got a reasonable departure by D.F. (direction finder) which had been calibrated in Bedford Basin at Halifax. From Nantucket I shaped a course across to Cape Hatteras.
About a day out of Halifax, the Chief Engineer informed me that he had discovered the reason or the cause of contamination of our fresh water supply for the boilers, which was stored in the double bottom tanks. Chief called me down to the engine room to have a look at the inside of the condenser, from which he had removed the end plate. About ten percent of the tube ends were plugged with wooden plugs fashioned from broomstick handles to stop them from mixing the cooling sea water with the fresh water condensed from steam. After a brief discussion, the Chief agreed that he could keep the ship going, using brackish water in the boilers, provided that he could "blow down" the boilers daily entailing a half-hour or so running at dead slow speed. This we did for the remainder of the voyage.
I had a used chart of "Halifax to Hispaniola" which I mounted on the dining saloon bulkhead and showed our daily noon position to the engineers and to anyone else interested. The morale of the crew was good. We all seemed to be working toward the same end, that of getting the ship delivered to her owner within a reasonable time. The boys were cheerful, especially after the weather slowly improved south of Cape Hatteras as we steered straight for the Bahamas via the North East Providence Channel. It was indeed comforting and reassuring to see the U. S. Coast Guard daily in the form of a ship or aircraft.
After sighting the big, candy-stripe lighthouse, on Great Abaco Island, we were home free. None too soon either. We arrived at Clifton, New Providence, with a very empty coal bunker. Clifton was the owners' port of operation, located on the western tip of New Providence Island. Their port captain came out to meet us in a launch. He offered to take the BATTLEFORD alongside, but I politely declined. The final docking was a text book job, a joy. Nevill Roberts was at the foot of the ladder to greet me with a handshake and "Welcome to the Bahamas."
The Chief blew down one boiler immediately, Soon after her arrival, BATTLEFORD was to be converted to on oil burner. She was going on the Miami to Nassau run, carrying stone, sand and cement for construction. The Canadian engineers and crew were asked to stay on if they wished. I am very curious to know how many stayed and would enjoy very much talking to anyone who knows anything about them or the BATTLEFORD.
Reproduced for the Web with the permission of the Toronto Marine Historical Society.