In the March and May issues, we mentioned a collision between MARISKA and the auxiliary schooner GERALDINE WOLVIN which occurred on December 27, 1919, at Nantes, France. As it develops, we were not off base when we suggested that there might have been a connection between GERALDINE WOLVIN and Roy M. Wolvin, one of the founders of Canada Steamship Lines, despite the fact that our guess was made without benefit of any knowledge of the ship except a certainty that she had never sailed on the Great Lakes. We sincerely thank Kevin Griffin of Montreal for sending us a copy of an article by Ruth Greene Bailey, entitled "Twelve MABEL BROWN Type Five-Masted Wooden Auxiliary Schooners, Built in 1917", which appeared in the Marine Notebook section of the December, 1978, issue of Vancouver's "Harbour and Shipping" magazine. It sheds much light not only on GERALDINE WOLVIN but also on the management of the Canadian West Coast Navigation Company, her first owner.
After the passing of the Aid to Shipping Act by the federal government in 1916, British Columbia shipyards enjoyed a business boom prompted by a need for tonnage to haul B.C. lumber abroad, a shortage of hulls due to wartime losses, and the high cost of building ships in European yards. Of some 135 vessels so constructed, twelve were auxiliary schooners of the MABEL BROWN type, designed by J. H. Price, launched in 1917, and built at a cost of approximately $150,000 each. Wallace Shipyards Ltd., North Vancouver, built MABEL BROWN, GERALDINE WOLVIN, JESSIE NORCROSS, JANET CARRUTHERS, MABEL STEWART and MARIE BARNARD, while Cameron-Genoa Mills Shipbuilders Ltd. of Victoria constructed MARGARET HANEY, JEAN STEEDMAN, LAUREL WHALEN, ESQUIMALT, MALAHAT and BEATRICE CASTLE. The ESQUIMALT and CASTLE were soon sold to French interests, leaving ten of the schooners in Canadian service.
If the names of some of these boats sound familiar, it is not surprising, for many of them were named for the wives of prominent Canadian vessel men, most of them connected in some way with Canada Steamship Lines. Among these were the Canadian West Coast Navigation Company's president, James Carruthers, its vice-president, Capt. J. W. Norcross, and others who held an interest in C.S.L. including Roy M. Wolvin, J.F.M. Stewart, M. J. Haney, J. P. Steedman and James Whalen. Also involved was Sir Trevor Dawson.
The ten schooners which remained under the Canadian flag were 240 x 44 x 19, approximately 1470 tons, and their twin screws were driven by Bolinder diesel engines. These were good engines but could be troublesome if not operated by competent engineers who were familiar with them. The boats were well built, possessed extremely fine lines, and made excellent speed in light to moderate winds with engines going and the sails drawing well.
"Capt. Peter John Riber Mathieson became master of GERALDINE WOLVIN in May, 1917. and joined her for the first time when she was loading 1,528,000 feet of Oregon pine at Hastings Mill in Vancouver. Nearly one-third of the lumber was carried on deck. He described her as 'a fine-looking vessel with dumpy spars, solidly built, painted lead colour'. Her ten sails had a spread of 11,200 square feet. Later he remarked: 'Never had I been in a vessel with a deckload as high as ours; it was 15 feet, two feet higher than our poop deck. The freight was very good, $28.00 a thousand feet.'
"She sailed from Vancouver on May 23, and arrived at Sydney, Australia, a voyage of 7,130 miles, in 48 days. Tragically, a man was lost overboard during the voyage. This ship had the honour of making the first successful crossing of the Pacific for the Canadian West Coast Navigation Company. Capt. Mathieson was delighted to receive a raise, which he had not requested, bringing his salary up to $185.00 per month.
"On the homeward voyage, the cargo was copra and a deckload of hardwood for San Francisco. GERALDINE WOLVIN's topsides were caulked at a shipyard in Oakland Creek. United States Shipping Board men were making excellent wages and Capt. Mathieson said, 'I later learned that the more men the shipyard owners engaged, the more money they made out of the government, which was paying them 10% above payroll'.
"Cargo aboard the second voyage across the Pacific from San Francisco to Australia was general freight, including crated motor cars. On the return voyage to the United States from Sydney, they loaded sacked wheat, a small deckload of ironbark, horns packed in huge sacks - all kinds of horns: rams, bullocks, cows; crooked, straight and curved - and rabbit skins. The homeward voyage was rather unpleasant with short steep seas; the ship rolled badly. There was engine trouble off Hawaii and they nearly grounded on Vancouver Island in a dense fog.
"Before sailing with Douglas fir for Shanghai on his third voyage across the Pacific, Capt. Mathieson watched the Chemainus Indian tribe, located near Genoa Bay, load his ship. Her fifteen-foot deckload was secured with heavy chain lashings and they took every precaution to see that it was secure. He observed that the stevedores there were the most expert men in handling and stowing timber he had ever encountered on the west coast.
"GERALDINE WOLVIN left Victoria on October 9, 1918. About three weeks after passing Hawaii, the sails were doing practically all the work. The barometer was falling steadily, for there was a typhoon to westward. At night, the weather worsened, the wind increasing to a howling gale. The vessel 'staggered, laboured and plunged'. The barometer was still falling on November 17 and the ship started to leak. The crew were thankful for 'our new and wonderful pump' which Capt. Mathieson had ordered fitted to replace a smaller one. As long as engine number one was driving the pump there was a chance of keeping the bilges dry. Extra gaskets (bonds or cords on the yards of the ship to tie the sails) were ordered. The boom tackles were hauled taut and the chain deck lashings tightened. From the deckload, lifelines were stretched.
"The ship 'did not head up as well as expected' and lay broadside on the wind and seas, heeling over from the force of the wind. She 'strained and twisted visibly as she laboured, rolled and pitched' in the trough. There was some danger of drifting onto the Volcano Islands. Leaking increased but the pump worked ceaselessly. Throughout the night, the storm continued unabated. The barometer ceased falling at midnight. On the 18th, daylight showed a wild scene. The captain secured himself to the spanker shroud with a cord round his waist. The typhoon was in full force and the vessel heeled away over and almost hove herself to with her starboard quarter to the wind. There was fear for the deckload in the event the chain lashings broke, as the whole fabric was moving with a definite snake-like motion.
"Suddenly, the captain's lashings snapped and he was flung against the spanker mast. For a moment, he thought his end had come, but he managed to grab the spanker halyards and hang on. The vessel was shaking as if in a calculated effort to rid herself of countless tons of water. She seemed to be opening up all over; water poured into the hold and cabins, gradually gaining on the pump. It rose in the engineroom and flowed over the hot cylinders, sending up clouds of steam.
"Capt. Mathieson ordered the engineers to pump oil overboard and soon the spindrift tasted of oil. Once again he lashed himself to the spanker stay, with a double gasket this time. Then the tiller broke and it took two hours to mend it. But, gradually, the barometer rose; better weather was ahead. When the weather cleared, they looked at GERALDINE WOLVIN and the sight was heartbreaking. The schooner was smothered in oil. (Just recently, the mate had finished painting the poop and forecastle and the chief engineer had painted the engineroom white!) The deckload was sagging to port and had shifted two feet aft.
"They passed Tokum Shimo Island and at the Yangtse Lightship the pilot came aboard. Surveyors from the customs house in Shanghai noted all the damage and the matter was put into Lloyds agent's hands. Repairs were costly, but JESSIE NORCROSS had an even larger repair bill, for she had suffered an engineroom fire and her crew had been rescued in sampans. She was sunk and, with the fire extinguished, raised. Her hull was surface-charred only.
"This was not a good voyage for WOLVIN. En route to Hong Kong, there was an engineroom fire. It was extinguished but repairs were required. At Saigon, she loaded general cargo for Marseilles, France, which consisted of rice, fish oil in kerosene tins, silk, pepper, alcohol, egg whites in barrels, rubber, and a deckload of teakwood squares. The freight was valued at some $40,000.
"Before she reached France via Suez, GERALDINE WOLVIN had to feel her way through four minefields, one east of Singapore, one at the Port Said entrance to the canal, a third at the Strait of Messina, and a fourth at the entrance to Marseilles. She anchored outside Marseilles harbour on April 7, 1919, 64 days out from Saigon, having been delayed nine days in ports en route. Capt. Mathieson resigned his command and GERALDINE WOLVIN, JESSIE NORCROSS and MABEL STEWART all went up for sale to foreign owners."
We assume that WOLVIN was bought by French interests and operated in local trades without rename. This would account for her presence at Nantes on December 27, 1919, the day of her encounter with our laker, MARISKA. We realize that we have travelled far away from the lakes with this narrative, but we hope that readers have found this item interesting, particularly in view of the connection between GERALDINE WOLVIN and the Wolvins of Great Lakes fame.
(Ed. Note: In the acknowledgements following her article, R. G. Bailey credited "Master of the Moving Sea", the life of Capt. P.J.R. Mathieson, by Gladys M.O. Howlland. We have edited from the quotes much of the author's florid description of the typhoon.)
Reproduced for the Web with the permission of the Toronto Marine Historical Society.