Mailboats Article 4 for Tribune Spring/Summer 2016: Eleuthera
Although the Dart is given credit as the first mailboat to serve North Eleuthera from Nassau, it would appear that her predecessor the Mary Jane has earned that distinction. The Mary Jane was a 41-ton schooner built of wood in 1853. Rather than a government-subsidized mail route, however, the Mary Jane was financed by a joint stock company, with half the funds raised in Nassau and the other half in Harbour Island. According to Anne and Jim Lawlor’s “The Harbour Island Story,” in 1868 such a “company was set up and the Harbour Island packet schooner Mary Jane carried the mail and passengers from Dunmore Town and Spanish Wells to Nassau.” She held the mail, cargo and passenger route to Harbour Island, with stops in Spanish Wells, until 1870 when the Dart replaced her. Owned by a Harbour Islander named John Cleare and named after his daughter, she would have an active career of 47 years until broken up in Nassau in 1900.
The sailing schooner Dart was built around 1867 and was 35 feet long on deck, though enlarged twice during her career, which lasted until she was lost in a hurricane before 1930. Her owner was John Saunders Harris of Harbour Island. According to a placard hanging in the lobby of The Mail Boat Company in Nassau, “The Dart was the first scheduled mail boat from Nassau to Harbour Island. Originally a pilot boat of about 35 feet in length, she should sail from Harbour Island to Nassau in the record time of eight hours. She lived up to her name and won many regattas in Nassau, until she disappeared during a Bahama hurricane. Twice she was lengthened by adding to her amidships.”
The Lawlors go on to say that “”Captain, William G. Harris, a veteran sailors, had captained both previous Harbor Island mailboats, the Dart and the Endion.” This suggests that the Dart was the first Harbour Island mailboat. Another of the boat’s skippers was William James Harris, born 1848 in Harbour Island. It appears to have been a family endeavor. The Dart was said to have been able to accomplish the voyage to Harbour Island in eight hours, an impressive time for sailing vessel. In “The Land of the Pink Pearl” by L. D. Powles in 1888, the author points out that the cabin was for “whites only.” By 1922 the Dart was replaced by the Endion, having served for roughly 50 years.
The Endion was 90.8 feet long, 14.1 feet wide, and 8.6 feet deep. Weighing 61 gross tons, she was propelled by a Fairbanks Morse crude-burning engine, and could accommodate 17 passengers in two staterooms (the passages after all were quite short). Originally built in Boston in 1898 as a private yacht of that name and in May 1917 was purchased by the US Navy as a section patrol boat during World War I. She served as USS Endion (SP-707) until stricken from the Navy List in October 1919 and sold. Her Bahamas owners were the Harbour Island Steamship Company Limited which purchased her at public auction. The Lawlors write that “In October, 1921 the sailing ship Endion was bought in New York, refitted and converted and converted to a power vessel, in Harbour Island, to accommodate passengers.” From the same source we learn that Captain Albert Sweeting took delivery of her and was the vessel’s master for the next 17 years. Her first voyage with the mail contract was on 17 January 1922. According to an advertisement in the Nassau Guardian, “”In October, 1921 the sailing ship Endion was bought in New York, refitted and converted and converted to a power vessel, in Harbour Island, to accommodate passengers.” Endion plied the route until 1939 until replaced by the Lady Dundas – her final fate is unknown.
Built in the spring of 1939, the Lady Dundas was designed by Harbour Island resident and American ship designer Lawrence Huntington and built by Messrs. Berlin T. and Harry Albury of wood in Harbour Island. Lady Dundas was 92 feet long, 19.5 feet wide and 9.3 feet deep. Rigged as a schooner, she was also propelled by a Fairbanks Morse 150 horsepower engine which pushed all 115 tons at 10 knots. Her cargo capacity was 80 tons. She was owned by the same Harbour Island Steamship Company which owned the Endion before her. Two of the vessel’s captains were William G. Harris and Roy William Smith, Esq.. According to the Lawlors, her launching was a special event: “Just a few months before the somber days of the Second World War, flags flew and the Harbour Island town band played as Lady Dundas, the Governor’s wife, broke a bottle of champagne over the bow of the Lady Dundas. This was the first of the inter-insular mail-boats that gained Harbour Island new fame.” Within a year the Dundas’ were pushed out to make room for the Duke and Duchess of Windsor – their new assignment? Kampala, Uganda. The vessel’s end was more ignoble – in 1974 she was arrested in Port-au-Prince Haiti and seized on suspicion of smuggling drugs.
The motor vessel Noel Roberts was built in 1943 by Sir George W. K. Roberts, who was to own eight mailboats in the Bahamas before passing away in the mid-1960’s. The vessel was 115 feet long, 23.3 feet wide and 11.3 feet deep, and weighed 180 gross tons. Her engine was 180 horsepower and she was built of wood. She served North Eleuthera until at least 1957, though carried freight as far afield as Jamaica. All vessels owned by Sir George Roberts, who named this one after his son, a Member of Parliament in his own right, were covered under the “Roberts Dynasty” column of this feature. The same applies to the Air Swift, a former US Navy craft built of wood in 1943 by Thomas Knutson Shipbuilding of Halesite, New York. Sir George Roberts purchased her around 1948, and she served North Eleuthera right up until the Bahamas Daybreak replaced her on the Harbour Island run in the 1970’s. According to Jeff Albury her remains lie in shallow water off Six Shilling Channel, between Rose Island and The Current.
The motor vessel Current Queen was purchased in 1965 by brothers Gurney Elon Pinder and Stephen Pinder to serve Spanish Wells. Built of wood, she was 64 feet long and her original name was Spanish Rose. In 1977 the brothers sold the vessel, which had been running to and from Spanish Wells for 12 years, to interests in The Current settlement in Eleuthera, who renamed her the Current Queen and diverted her to their new home port. Her final fate is unknown. The second Spanish Rose was 75 feet long, also built of wood and a motor vessel. Her owners were also the Pinder brothers Gurney and Stephen. The boat was equipped with refrigeration, enabling them to haul frozen crawfish – an essential commodity – from Spanish Wells to market in Nassau. In 1997, whilst en route between Nassau and Spanish Wells in daytime the vessel sank – the captain and his family members and crew were all rescued. Jerry Hulse, the travel editor for the LA Times wrote in 1985 that “If you’re in no hurry it’s a bargain–only $18 for the five-hour ride, which includes a soft drink and a sandwich and a world of untroubled waters.”
The first Eleuthera Express was built as the Spiekeroog in Wlhelmahaven Germany in 1962. Her other names were Wischhafen and Treasure Trader until 1979 when Captain Junior Pinder purchased her for the run to Rock Sound, Governor’s Harbour, Spanish Wells, and Harbour Island. She was a large motor ship of 250 gross tons and 400 ton cargo capacity. Her tenure was short-lived as in the early 1980s she was sold to “a group in Miami who renamed the vessel” according to a conversation with Captain Pinder. She sank between Haiti and Cuba in the late 1980s. It is possible that as the Treasure Trader (1978-1979) she traded in the Bahamas as well.
The justifiably named Current Pride was built of wood probably in the 1970s and continued to serve Upper and Lower Bogue, The Bluff, Current Island, North Eleuthera, and Gregory Town, James Cistern and Hatchet Bay / Alice Town in South Eleuthera. The vessel weighs 88 gross tons and her master is Captain Patrick Neilly. Richard M. Langworth, bicycled Eleuthera and utilized the Current Pride to get there from Nassau. In 2009 he wrote: “The Current Pride is a microcosm of the old Bahamas, laden with produce (this really is a “banana boat”) and Eleutherans heading for the big city. You can’t pay for the entertainment you get free. One gent spent the entire voyage singing and shucking peas; another trolled part of the way and hooked a giant barracuda which flopped around on the deck and scared some of us passengers. The sturdy, wood-hulled Current Pride shook off high seas and covered 52 miles in four hours—and cost only $30, including coffee, sandwiches and soft drinks.”
The Bahamas Daybreak III has gone by several names, including simply Bahama Daybreak. She is 110 feet long, and can carry 24 passengers in enclosed cabins – more on deck. At latest check the vessel serves South Eleuthera (Governors Harbour, Hatchet Bay) leaving Mondays at 5pm, then North Eleuthera (Bluff, Spanish Wells, Harbour Island) leaving Nassau Wednesdays at 5pm. Her captains include Captain Quincy Sawyer and Captain Ashok – a previous master, Captain Moss, now serves with Bahamas Ferries. According to the Tribune in 2006 her owner is Captain Theophilus Stuart of North Eleuthera. Details of this vessel’s dimensions and pedigree are Spartan, but she is believed to have been serving these routes since around 1985, meaning Bahama Daybreak III has been in service roughly 30 years.
The mailboat Harley & Charley is 91 tons and roughly 100 feet long. Originally proposed for service to Andros, in the late 1980s she was serving Governor’s Harbour and Hatchet Bay. By around 2000 this vessel no longer showed up on ship lists and databases – fate unknown. Another vessel about which very little is known is Captain Fox, which served as a mailboat from Nassau to Governors Harbour and Hatchet Bay in the late 1990s, leaving 1pm on Thursdays, taking six hours and costing $30 each way. By the 2000’s this vessel was also not listed as active, and like the Harley & Charley her final fate is unknown.
The second Eleuthera Express is a modern vessel purpose-built for the Bahama trades in Louisiana in 1996/1997. She is 250 gross tons and capable of carrying 400 tons of cargo. Fitted with a large crane on her foredeck, with wide hatched and a squat, broad wheelhouse, and a square stern, this light green ship has become a fixture in Eleuthera in the intervening decades. Her captain is Junior Pinder, believed to be at least a co-owner. Her route includes Harbour Island, Spanish Wells, Rock Sound, and Governors Harbour.
Although not strictly mail boats – they carry freight and passengers mostly – the Bo Hengy and Bo Hengy II have revolutionized sea travel – nay travel in general – between Nassau and North Eleuthera, providing a fast, efficient and affordable alternative to both conventional mailboats and aircraft. Built as Hull # 5 by Pequot River Ship Works in New London, Connecticut the original Bo Hengy was named “after a Harbour Island shipwright Henry Sawyer, known as “Bro Henry” which then became Bo Hengy, who on top of wooden vessels made fish traps and tools for fishermen and spongers in the 1920s. In 1922, authors Anne and Jim Lawlor write in their book “Harbour Island Story,” “…built the first 5-horsepower motor boat in Harbour Island.” Her impressive specifications include that she is 115 feet long, 27.5′ beam, draft said to be 5′, catamaran hull, 209 gross tons, capable of 177 passengers. Powered by MTU engines, 4,726 horsepower and flagged to the Bahamas (increasingly inter-island boats are flagged to Panama or other countries). Her owners are Bahamas Ferries Limited conveniently situated at Potter’s Cay Docks.
In May 2009 after ten years of service was sold to the Red Funnel Group of Southampton UK for service to Cowes, Isle of Wight, UK. This reverses the usual trend whereby many vessels were acquired second-hand from Europe and sold on to Latin America. The Bo Hengy II was built in 2008 to replace her predecessor. She is 135 feet long, capable of 400 passengers (or harbour cruise, no luggage), and 394 passengers inter-island. Powered by Cummins engines, the vessel is capable of 25 knots. It features cold and dry storage, interior seating for passengers, weatherproof luggage stowage. She is 540 gross tons and capacity for 53 tons of cargo. Leaving by 8am the vessel makes the trip to Harbour Island in a few hours and permits visitors to take a day-trip to picturesque Dunmore Town – something unthinkable in the days of the Mary Jane, Endion and Dart.