In Volume IV, Number 2, the issue of November, 1971, we featured as our Ship of the Month the motortanker CREEK TRANSPORT (72), (a) SASKATOON (I) (27), (b) ROSEMOUNT (II) (40) , (c) WILLOWBRANCH (I) (45), (d) EMPIRE TADPOLE (47), (e) BASINGCREEK (50), (f) COASTAL CREEK (68), (h) ILE DE MONTREAL. This was a particularly interesting vessel, built in 1910 at Sunderland, which served many owners and which closed out her active career on the North Traverse dredging project on the St. Lawrence in the mid-1970s.
In our history of this canaller, we mentioned that she had grounded near Portneuf in the St. Lawrence River on July 24, 1914, but we gave little detail on the accident because we did not have the information at hand. We have since obtained a description of the enquiry into the circumstances of the accident as reported in the September, 1914, issue of "Canadian Railway and Marine World". The report is so humourous that we thought it appropriate to share it with our readers.
"An enquiry into the causes of the stranding of the Merchants Mutual Line (she was actually then owned by Canada Steamship Lines Ltd.) steamer SASKATOON in the St. Lawrence River, off Portneuf Light, July 24, was held recently at Montreal by Capt. L. A. Demers, Dominion Wreck Commissioner, assisted by Captains F. Nash and J. W. Westcott as nautical assessors.
"The vessel was bound to Thorold, Ontario, from Anticosti Island, with pulpwood, and was proceeding at about 9 1/2 miles an hour, drawing 11 ft. 11 ins. forward and 15 ft. aft. The pilot, Barthelmi Arcand, boarded the vessel at Quebec, and as soon as the vessel got on her course, left the bridge for breakfast, and when he returned was given charge of the bridge. The captain remained only a few minutes, leaving with the pilot a man who was signed as second mate, but who held no certificate and who was unfamiliar with the navigation of the river, having made only three trips. The captain did not return to the bridge until the vessel had grounded, although he admits having had sufficient rest.
"When she struck, she was heading west by three-quarters south, and after sounding it was found that she was in 12 feet of water, and about 600 feet on the starboard side, a little on the forward side, was the black gas buoy 51-Q. The vessel remained aground from 11:30 a.m. on July 24, to 10:30 a.m., July 27.
"The second mate stated that the vessel steered well and the pilot's orders were accurately carried out. Just prior to the grounding, he told the pilot that the vessel was going in the wrong direction, as there was a rock on the port side and the vessel was on the wrong side of the black gas buoy 51-Q. The second mate did not know the meaning of an ebb tide. The wheelsman stated that he had heard the second mate tell the pilot of the rock, and the pilot answered that it was a piece of wood with a gull on it.
"The pilot stated that he boarded the vessel without direct orders from the pilotage office, and although it was unusual, he left the bridge for breakfast shortly after. The usual courses were steered until the buoy 51-Q was neared, which, having taken for the red buoy 52, he passed about 50 or 60 feet to the north of. (The grammar is that of the reporter.) The error, he (the pilot) claimed, was due to a sore eye.
"In view of the evidence adduced and the antecedents of the pilot, Barthelmi Arcand, who stated that the accidents which happened to vessels which he piloted were so numerous that he did not remember the number, the Court felt bound, in the interest of all concerned, to cancel his license, and his license is hereby cancelled. The Court also felt it its duty to severely criticize the captain of the SASKATOON, William Honsberger, for the apparent lack on interest shown by him with regard to his responsibilities. As soon as the pilot took charge of the vessel, he left the bridge, placing in charge with the pilot a man who signed on as second mate, but who does not possess a certificate, and who is therefore rendered irresponsible, and whose ignorance is so flagrant that he admitted that he did not know the meaning of ebb and flood tide.
"The captain admitted that he was a stranger in the river, but was supposed to familiarize himself with the local conditions, yet he chose, on a fine day, having had sufficient rest, to go to his room, leaving his responsibilities as a master to rest on the pilot, whom he had never seen before, and on one who could not be considered responsible. Moreover, when the vessel grounded, he did not, apparently, think it of sufficient importance to take bearings of objects such as lighthouses or buoys in order to ascertain the position of his vessel. Therefore, the Court felt it incumbent upon it to suspend his certificate for one month, in order that he may be made to realize the importance and responsibility of his position as a master.
"The pilot claimed that the master used strong and insulting epithets toward him. Whilst the Court does not countenance such language, it thinks that, under the circumstances, no weight can be attached to the statement. The Court also unanimously agreed that the displacing of the buoy 51-Q by the tug VIRGINIA and tow had nothing to do with the grounding of the SASKATOON, as the displacement occurred after the accident. The buoy was placed in its former position on the following day."
Wreck Commissioner Demers was well known for his acerbic nature and for his heavy hand in dealing out retribution to those who committed serious errors of navigation or of judgment. We can well imagine some of the comments he might have made during the court proceedings, considering the nature of the evidence presented! Capt. William Honsberger went on to command other ships and was the last master of the Mathews steamer BROOKTON before she was laid up during the Depression. He last served as master of the Toronto Island ferry TRILLIUM and, in fact, passed away aboard her. Of the pilot with the sore eye, Barthelmi Arcand, and of the unnamed "second mate", nothing further is known (perhaps fortunately).
Reproduced for the Web with the permission of the Toronto Marine Historical Society.