Mailboats Article 6 for Tribune Spring/Summer 2016: Southern Islands
SAN SALVADOR AND RUM CAY: These two islands are linked by many of the same mailboats, since Port Nelson Rum Cay is essentially along the way to and from Nassau and Cockburn Town San Salvador. The Brontes served both isles between 1921 and her loss in 1926. The British motor vessel Monarch of Nassau was built in Cheshire, England in 1930 and delivered from there in 19 days. Originally named the Sir Charles Orr after a governor of the colony, she was purchased by the Monarch Line, owned by Sir George Roberts. In 1942 she was serving San Salvador when she rescued 30 officers and men from the Greek ship Cygnet, which had been torpedoed by the Italian submarine Enrico Tazzoli within sight of Dixon Hill Light. Sold in 1951 to Carl Sawyer, she traded bananas and fruit among the West Indies, her 16 passenger cabins presumably broken up.
Sir George Robert’s former US Navy patrol craft the Drake traded to San Salvador as well, between 1956 and 1964. The San Salvador Express, 111 feet long and built in Mississippi in 1953 served under Captain Roy Oral Lockhart from roughly 1972 to 1975, when she was named the Johnette or Jeanette Walker and was under suspicion of collusion in the drug trade. She was sold to Panama as the Pack One, where she still trades. In 1976 the substitute mailboat to Rum Cay was named in one study as the Lady Moore, an 80-foot supply boat sunk off Nichols Town, Andros as an artificial reef.
The Willaurie was built in the Netherlands in 1966 as the Willmary and traded extensively in the UK early in her career. Between 1980 and 1988 she serviced San Salvador and Cat Island, as well as Rum Cay. Her owners were listed as W. B. Hart of Nassau. Her loss was nearly as exciting as her career. In August 1980 her passengers were rescued by the Royal Bahamas Defense Force and she was laid up and foundered in 1988. She was raised and while being towed washed ashore near Clifton Pier. The day after Christmas 1988 Stuart Cove and colleagues towed her to near Goldings Cay and scuttled the ship, and she is now a dive attraction.
The 32-ton Treasure Lady was built in 1981 as the Tar Heel in Morgan City, Louisiana and between 1997 and 2012 served San Salvador and Rum Cay as a mailboat. After that point she was sold out of the Bahamas presumably to Honduras. The 464-ton stern-ramp vessel Lady Emerald was built in Chauvin Louisiana in 2003. Her skipper is Bill Williams and her owners G. M. Patton of Nassau. She presently serves Rum Cay, San Salvador and Cat Island. The aforementioned Lady Frances serves Rum Cay and Salvador as well as Black Point Exuma.
CAT ISLAND: The settlements on the leeward side of Cat Island have been served with mailboats for a century or more, however the first known schooner servicing the island was the Mountain King from the 1920s until she was lost in a hurricane in 1926. She was built by the Reverend James Smith of Port Howe, Cat Island. She was lost off Little San Salvador whilst under Napoleon Rolle and Elliston Bain, who disagreed over seeking shelter from the storm. All except Rolle were lost. The Monarch of Nassau served Cat Island in the 1930s and 40s, and is credited with taking Father Jerome Hawes, the Hermit of Cat Island to his new home. The Church Bay, seen earlier serving Freeport, provided mail and passenger service to the island between 1932 and her loss by fire in 1973.
A vessel named the New Day (ex-Sea Salvor) applied for a license to serve Cat Island from 1973, under ownership of the Freedom Shipping Company of Nassau. The Lady Eula was purchased from Captain Ernest Dean in around 1980 by Cat Island interests, however by 1981 it had been grounded off San Salvador and was a total loss.
The Willaurie served Cat Island as well as San Salvador between 1980 and 1988. The purpose-built North Cat Island Special, roughly 80 feet long and grey-hulled, plied the route to Bennet’s Harbour and other Cat Island ports from the mid-1980s to the 2000s Though her fate is unknown, there is a new vessel named North Cat Island Special II (built 2001) which is believed to have taken over the route.
The 98-foot long Sea Hauler, owned and operated by Captain Allan Russell, Sr. of Cat Island served the island between 1989 and 2011. Around that time it was grounded and abandoned off Long Island. She served Smith’s Bay, Old Bight and New Bight, in south Cat Island. In 2003 this vessel was involved in a fatal collision with the United Star in an event which resulted in four deaths, an amputation and dozens injured. Twelve years later it is still a sensitive issue for survivors and their families. The Mia Dean catered to the needs of Cat Island in the 1990s, as did the Lady Eddina between 1995 and roughly 2000. Built in 1969 in Mississippi she served Bennett’s Harbour, Arthur’s Town, Orange Creek and Dumfries. This ship was owned by the Taylor family and operated by Pirates Well Investments. She was named Stonewall Jackson until 1995 and is no longer trading. The Lady Emerald sailed to Cat Island as well as Rum Cay and San Salvador.
The K.C.T. is 165 feet long and has served northern Cat Island since about. She is a stern-loaded ro/ro vessel owned by Captain Thomas Hanna of The Ro-Ro Company. The trip takes some 26 hours and costs $90 each way. Another of Tom Hanna’s vessels is the VI Nais – which has served north and south Cat Island since it was built in Chauvin Louisiana about 2007. A brand new addition to the Bahamian merchant fleet is the New G., completed in 2015 and delivered in February of this year. Her owners are the Consolidated Marine Group of Soldier Road, Nassau. She is 155 feet long and 486 gross tons, capable of going 10.5 knots. She is believed to be trading in the southern Bahamas.
MAYAGUANA: Since the Taylor family hail from Pirates Wells, Mayaguana and their investment vehicle carries that name, most of their aforementioned ships have served Abraham’s Bay Mayaguana, namely: the Nonesuch (Capt. Fed. Black, 1933 to 1940), Marcella (1969 to 1987), Cape Hatteras (1962 to 1968), Lady Rosalind (1987 to present) and the Lady Mathilda (1998 – present). The Lady Mathilda is 135 feet long (extended from 110 feet), and built in Chauvin, Lousiana. In 2010 a Department of Education test question features distances run by the mailboats Captain Moxey, Lady Mathilda and Emmett & Cephas. Her captain is Nigel Davis and she proceeds as far south as Inagua. There is also a little-known vessel listed in 1975 as that Abastasha but possibly the Lady Tasha which is described in a telegram leaked by WikiLeaks as serving Mayaguana, Crooked Island and Acklins Island.
CROOKED ISLAND, LONG CAY/FORTUNE ISLAND, CROOKED & ACKLINS: Long Cay, also known as Fortune Island, to the south of Crooked Island, has perhaps the longest history of handling mail from Europe and North America, as it was a trans-shipment point for mail and stevedores for vessels entering and leaving the Caribbean via the Windward Passage in the days of sail as well as steam. Particularly British mail vessels and German liners would call there until the First World War and beyond. However we must by necessity jump to the modern era, when the New Day ex Sea Salvor served these islands from roughly 1972 to 1980. In 1975 the Abastasha or Lady Tasha served Crooked and Acklins and in 1989 Jamaican researchers determined that a vessel named the Commonwealth of 96 tons was on the route. By roughly 1995 the Windward Express sailed to the southern Bahamas until about 2000.
Recent service (1996 to 2007) was provided by Captain Hanna’s United Star. At 170 feet long and 417 gross tons, she was built in Chauvin, Louisiana and was the other vessel involved in the collision with the Sea Hauler in 2003 which claimed fatalities. She sailed as far south as Inagua and was sold to Honduran interests and named the AJ Transport or the Coimar Transport. The Taylor-owned Lady Mathilda also sails to Crooked and Acklins as well as Inagua and has done so since 1998. Both the Sea Spirit (ex-United Spirit, since 2008) and the Sea Spirit II (since 2010) have sailed to Crooked and Acklins islands. The Hanna-owned K.C.T. covers the islands since 2000 and the VI Nais sometimes does as well, though her primary route is to Cat Island.
RAGGED ISLAND: This sparsely populated island group centered around Duncan Town boasts a long and distinguished boat building heritage and has produced notable captains (Moxey and Lockhart among them). By way of illustration, in 1956 there were 22 sail cargo vessels built or owned in Ragged Island, out of a total of just over twice that number in the Bahamas. In more recent times the Gleaner Express is listed as serving Ragged Island in 1973 as featured in the shipping column of the Nassau Tribune. Since 1988 the Emmett & Cephas has served the island chain – she was owned by the Munson Shipping Company of Nassau and may have sank in 2001. One-time owner of the vessel Emmett Munroe was awarded the British Empire Medal.
Captain Munroe purchased the Emmett & Cephas along with an uncle, and with his sons later acquired the Sherice M. as well, followed by the Island Link. They also own and operate the Wash Bowl on Ida Street, Nassau. In 1989 the Current Queen was said by Trevor Hamilton & Associates to have been trading to Ragged Island. The Captain C. is also believed to have been on the same route since the late 1980s.
INAGUA: Inagua has been served in the 1930s and 40s by the aforementioned Monarch of Nassau, followed in the 1950s by two cargo vessels named the Inagua Trader (158 feet, 350 gross tons) and Inagua Ranger (same rough dimensions), both of which were owned by the West India Transports, Limited of Matthew Town. It is unknown whether they carried the mails or rather just construction equipment and personnel and possibly salt from the salt industry on the island which was run for many years by Morton Salt.
Between 1948 and 1982 mail service was assumed by the Air Pheasant, which was a former US Navy vessel. Her master was Captain Anton Lockhart, born 1906, of Ragged Island. The boat was launched by Luders Marine in Stamford Connecticut as the USS PC (patrol craft) 1015 on 30 August 1942. In 1945, as the Sub Chaser (USN SC) 1015 she participated in the capture of the German submarine U-858 off Cape May, New Jersey (the submarine had surrendered). She was also the US Coast Guard Cutter Air Pheasant (WAVR 449) until 1948 and thereafter owned by the Morton Salt Company to ferry people and supplies to and from their salt works in Inagua. The vessel was featured in a lengthy article in the Bahamas Handbook entitled “A Passage to Inagua,” by Michael Mardon, along with detailed photographs. In fact a number of mailboats have been featured in the American and European press, usually under the themes of escaping from it all, getting off the beaten path, and seeing the islands from sea level, like a local.
Presently and since 1998 the Lady Mathilda, owned by the Taylors, serves Inagua as well as Mayaguana, Crooked Island and Acklins Island. These communities have all come to rely upon the services of these steel and wooden workhorses of the sea, and though the relationship is not always symbiotic, it can expected to continue so long as it remains economical for people and their parcels to traverse the harsh ocean environment to and from their homes and business from the southern Bahamas some 400 nautical miles to the capital and beyond.