M/V Church Bay, a British designed minesweeper built in Nassau 1942, later mailboat, sister ship to M/V Stede Bonnet

M/V Church Bay ablaze at Potter’s Cay – note fireman jumping overboard in lower left photo.
Photo source: Nassau Tribune, 11 January 1973 – Front Page, http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00084249/03243, c/o George A. Smathers Libraries, University of Florida, Caribbean Newspaper Digital Library

DIMENSIONS: 119′ long, 225 British registered tons, Diesel, 1 propeller, 375 horsepower, 12 knots
YEAR BUILT: launched 12 November, 1942
BUILDER: Symonette Shipyards, Nassau NP and Hog Island (later Paradise Island)
EARLY CAREER: commissioned by the Royal Navy but never formally entered military service
BAHAMAS CAREER: on weekly mail run Nassau to Cat Island, replaced by the Sea Salvor Express, also served Grand Bahama
CAPTAINS: Herbert Stevens, a crew member, told newspaper reporters that at her demise she had “no official Captain”
FATE: destroyed in a spectacular fire dockside at Potter’s Cay Thurs. 11 January, 1973. Rammed by the tug Mako II and sunk after the fire raged out of control and the mailboat drifted from the dock.
OWNERS: Sir Roland T. Symonette in 1942 – must have sold her to Three Bays Corporation of Nassau by 1952, by 1973 she was rumored to be owned by Mr. Oscar Johnson, Member of Parliament (M.P.) for Cat Island, however he emphatically denied ownership.
NOTES: Mrs. Hannah Poitier and her three children were on board at the time but escaped injury.
At the time of her demise the M/V Church Bay had had chronic engine breakdowns:see article below
From “A Salute to Friend and Foe” by Sir Etienne Dupuch – “British Admiralty contracted for two trawlers to be built in Nassau [by Symonette Shipyard] – launched in a ceremony by the Duke of Windsor, wartime governor of the Bahamas. Intended for service in Singapore, which fell to the Japs before they were commissioned and therefore never brought into action. One became the Abaco Mail, M/V Stede Bonnet and another mail, M/V Church Bay.”
The following confirmation is from a member of the Symonette family:

“Yes this is correct they were built on #3 ways and the foreman was Jenkins Roberts the father of Dawson Roberts. We also built a 220 foot freighter Caribbean Queen shortly afterwards.”

During the war either Stede Bonnet or Church Bay was, according to survivors of the ATHELQUEEN, armed with a medium sized deck gun (machine gun?) from the British tanker ATHELQUEEN which was sunk by the Italian sub ENRICO TAZOLLI off Abaco Island, Bahamas in mid March. The men all got away in 3 lifeboats and managed to take a gun with them. It was mounted on a local craft in Nassau but no further history of it.

According to http://www.uboat.net/allies/warships/ship/13899.html

HMS MMS 194 was laid down 18 Aug. 1941 and launched 4 June 1942

Her pennant was J694, she was an MMS I class vessel and was decommissioned in March of 1946


In the law case J. B. Effenson v. Three Bays Corporation [Nassau] in 1956, it appears that by 1952 and for several years the Church Bay was involved in the banana trade from Guatemala and Mexico to the US. Several other Bahamian mailboats, including the Content S., Ena K. and Monarch of Nassau spent the last years of their careers on that route:

“….a charter party executed at Miami, Florida, and dated February 5, 1952, by which the defendant, Three Bays Corporation, Ltd., a Nassau corporation, appellee here, chartered the M/V “Church Bay” to the plaintiff, J. B. Effenson Company, a Florida corporation, appellant here, for two voyages between Puerto Barrios, Guatemala, and Miami. Diversion for one trip to a Mexican port was sought by the plaintiff and permitted by the defendant. The plaintiff requested and the defendant granted an indefinite extension of the charter party. The vessel was used in the banana trade.”

Source: https://bulk.resource.org/courts.gov/c/F2/238/238.F2d.611.16200_1.html 238 F.2d 611

In 1964 she was spotted by a memoirist loaded for Grand Bahama:

“The Church Bay is bound north for Grand Bahama”

Source: Benedict Thielen “The Bahamas-Golden Archipelago”, Holiday December 1964, pp. 62- 73, 135-140, http://www.jabezcorner.com/grand_bahama/golden1.htm, from Bits and Fragments from the History of the Bahamas.

Source: Nassau Tribune, 11 January 1973 – Front Page, http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00084249/03243, c/o George A. Smathers Libraries, University of Florida, Caribbean Newspaper Digital Library

Either Church Bay or Stede Bonnet, its sister ship in Nassau Harbor, south Prince George Wharf,

Photo source: Bob Davies, theRumelier.com collection, http://www.oldbahamas.com/id53.html