Tag Archives: Elizabeth

Northumberland Strait Yacht Racing Continued into Wartime


Yacht Racing in Shediac harbour ca. 1939 (Mac Irwin album)

While Canada found itself at war in 1939 many activities continued relatively unchanged in the early years of the conflict. Such was the case with yacht racing. The Yacht Racing Association of Northumberland Strait (YRANS), which had been founded in 1936 had a very successful annual regatta in 1939 before the outbreak of war and in 1940 staged the event in Shediac.

There was a large contingent from the Charlottetown Yacht Club who headed out for the races in the first weekend in August. First away was Mac Irwin in his cruiser Roamer. He and his crew of Fred Small and Doug Carver had Mac’s class three boat Zenith in tow. The following day the CGS Brant departed with three Snipes, one international class yacht and the class 3 boat Jeep aboard. Included in the Brant party were Mr. & Mrs. Charles Bentley, Dorothy Bentley, Art Howard, Joe MacPhee, Jack King, Don Martin, Bill Porter, Dr. MacMillan of Boston who summered at Orwell and others.

Another group left with Commodore Fred Morris on his cruiser Elizabeth and with Hal Bourke on the Restless. Four Summerside Yachts made the trip; the Goldfinch, Capt James Stright, Woodpecker, Ray Tanton, Zepher, Lorne MacFarlane and Eva K. Harry Allen. The Lindsay Brothers, summering in Orwell took their boat to Shediac on a trailer.

The only acknowledgment that this was wartime came with the YRANS business meeting held during the regatta. The Association committed to the purchase of  $50 War Bond to be held until the end of the hostilities.

The racing took place over two days with a banquet and dance at the Shediac Yacht Club bring the event to a close. Shediac Commodore F.W. Storey made the presentations to the winners. Among the race officials were Charles Bentley and K.M. Martin who assisted the starter.

Island yachts did very well the first day of the two-day event but in lighter winds on Saturday Shediac sailors had more success.  Nominingue (Class 2) owned by Ern Ross of Shediac took the trophy for aggregate points with Siren (Class 3), also from Shediac, in second place.  Shediac also took the award for the club with the most points.


Racing in Shediac harbour ca. 1939. (Mac Irwin Album)

The Islanders were back for the event in 1941 which was also held in Shediac but were there in reduced numbers.  The event was shortened owing to the cancellation of some of Saturday’s races because of heavy rains.  The regatta attracted boats from Shediac Bay Yacht Club, Charlottetown, Summerside, Amherst and Borden. Shediac was the winner of the overall points followed by Charlottetown, Summerside and Amherst. The highlight for the Charlottetown club was in the Snipe Class where Scout, helmed by Billie Bourke took the cup, Bill Porter’s Joke was second and another Charlottetown boat, Four Bells, was tied for third.

By 1942  things overseas and on the home front had changed. While club races continued YRANS decided to postpone the regional regatta and it was not until 1946 that Northumberland Strait began again with the first post-war regatta held once again in Shediac.

Red rocks – Black Gold pt. 2


Governors Island rig seen from the deck of the service launch 1944. PARO photo #3466.78.95.7

[The search for oil at Governors Island …continued from previous posting]

Hugh MacKay, the Oklahoma-based geologist who first led the Cities Service corporation to the rocks beneath Governors Island believed in the existence of oil at that location. In 1936 he renewed his 10-year prospecting rights stating “We got just a few smells of oil when we drilled in 1926 but there is little doubt that petroleum wells exist somewhere beneath Northumberland Strait. We know that marine rock formations favouring the presence of oil lie beneath Prince Edward Island coast from geological studies, but 10 years ago we did not know how far down they lay”.

The outbreak of World War II forced a greater emphasis on oil resources closer to the North America markets. Cities Service had done more seismic testing on the Island in 1941 and 1942 and they decided to have another look at Governors Island. They were joined as partners by the Socony Vacuum Oil Company in the exploration. They formed a new corporation, the Island Development Company, and in 1943 the companies took the decision to drill a deep well to test the oil bearing potential of the anticline.

Scow Foundation Mersey which was used in building the oil rig and cribs

Scow Foundation Mersey which was used in building the oil rig and cribs

The new well site was to be at the crest of the anticline, some 7200 feet south-west of the 1926 well. This placed the wellsite off-shore on the Governors reef in a low tide depth of sixteen feet of water and necessitated the construction of a rock-filled log crib with concrete foundations for the drilling rig. At the outset it was acknowledged that the well might have to go down more than two miles. The conditions to be faced were, up to that time, unique in the history of drilling with difficult conditions of open water, ice, tide and wave action to be faced.


PARO accession # 2608/8a

The crib and base for the rig was constructed by the Foundation Maritimes Company and Loffland Brothers of Tulsa were contracted to do the drilling.  Cores of bedrock were obtained by boring through the ice in February 1943 and construction of the crib took from May till September 1943. The cribs were built up to a height of 22 feet at the Railway Wharf and then towed to location where they were filled with rock and sunk in place. Eight more feet were added to the height once on site.  There were three sections of crib, the largest of which was the footing for the derrick and was 56 feet square. The total deck area of the platform was 9000 square feet and used 11 miles of logs held together by 7 miles of bolts and spikes. A waterline ran from Governors Island to the well site and a telephone cable ran underwater from the rig to Seatrout Point.


Looking up the derrick 1944. PARO photo #3466.78.95.5

The derrick itself was erected by Loffland Bros. in late 1943. It reached 146 feet above the concrete and 179 feet above the rock of the reef with a weight of 38 tons. The draw-works which hoisted and lowered the drill pipe in the hole had a load capacity of 300 tons.  Power for the drilling rig was supplied by two eight-cylinder diesel engines, each with 350 horsepower.  An additional 100 horsepower diesel and a oil-fired steam boiler supplied further power for general purpose pumping and heating.  14,000 feet of drill-pipe weighing 126 tons was racked on the pipe crib.  The rig required a total of 20 fully loaded railway freight cars to move the equipment from Louisiana and Texas the 2,550 miles to Charlottetown. The equipment also included a 40 ton steel service vessel called the Socony used to carry supplies to the well site, and a motor launch called the Elizabeth. [This may have been the cruiser later owned by Commodore Morris]. In addition a 44 foot scow was constructed in Charlottetown to hold tanks and pipe.

The official start of drilling took place on 11 October 1943 and included the same ceremonial activities as the first well seventeen years earlier. This time it was Lieutenant Governor B.W. LePage who turned the wheels but as in 1925 the drill platform was littered with provincial and civic worthies and local business leaders.


Pumping machinery. PARO photo #3466.78.95.6

By mid December the drill bit had reached 3,500 feet but as winter set in a number of problems developed. The waterline running from Governors Island to the drilling platform had frozen up forcing the use of salt water in the drilling operations which was unsatisfactory. As well the boats carrying crews the seven miles to Charlottetown were encountering lolly ice which made travel difficult. Early in 1944 a “capes” ice boat was pressed into service to get men to the rig and as more of the bay froze a small half-track vehicle with skis on the front was used. However, the colder weather also revealed a greater problem. Drift ice moved by the wind and tide was causing damage to the cribs and drilling was temporarily discontinued. In addition a fire had damaged one of the electric motors which could not be replaced until navigation opened up.  Although in March ice remained in place between Tea Hill and Governors Island the mile from the Island to the rig was broken up and difficult to cross. Drilling did not start again until the navigation season re-opened in April and the Socony once more resumed her trips. A generator burn-out in August halted drilling at 7,878 feet until the unit could be trucked to Montreal and repaired.

In July 1945 the well had reached a depth of 13,000 feet, more than twice the depth on the 1927 attempt but problems were encountered as the drill passed through a layer of gypsum which threatened to set like plaster of Paris and the hole had become “sticky.”   By August the 14,000 foot mark had been passed with the bit moving quickly through a salt layer several hundred feet thick which allowed an increase of 350 feet in one week alone. Earlier  company officials had said that they would stop at 14,000 feet but they continued in order to obtain a rock sample from the layer below the salt. Finally early in September the drill was stopped at 14,696 feet. It was a dry hole.

At the time the Governors Island hole was the deepest ever drilled in the British Empire. A Texas well had reached over 16,000 feet but it was drilled on land and so the 1945 Island well was likely the deepest off-shore well drilled anywhere in the world up to that date. The uniqueness was heightened by the fact that the drilling platform was located in tidal and ice conditions.

Dismantling and removal of the rig took most of the month of September 1945 and the equipment was moved to the next site. Left behind was an artificial island 60 by 150 feet which was already battered by two winters of ice and tides.  In 1946 the Province paid a dollar for what was left.Tthe remains included a quantity of sheet steel piling which it was hoped could be used as a retaining sea wall across three of the City’s crumbling wharves and backfilled to create a new waterfront. Dismantling had to wait for ice to thicken enough to bear the weight of salvage machinery. Minister of Public Works George Barbour stated that the province hoped to salvage 50,000 feet of large dimension timber, most of which was douglas fir. The wood was to be used for construction and reinforcement of Island bridges. Another of the province’s dollars purchased the scow used at the operation.


Chart showing the rig site in relation to Governors Island. The oil island was located at the edge of deeper water about 1/2 mile from the end of the exposed reef. [click on image for a larger view]

What the salvagers left behind the ice and tides took care of and soon nothing remained above the surface of the water. Today the site appears as a hazard on navigation charts and is marked by a yellow can buoy.  I first visited the spot on an extraordinarily calm day some fifty years ago while out in my family’s aluminum skiff. Knowing nothing of the story I was drawn to the buoy by curiosity and gazing down through the flat waters was amazed to see that the bottom was littered with timbers and pilings and what appeared to be steel pipe. Clearly something big had once sat on this spot!

Postscript: In 1971 I was working in the Pembina Oil Field offices of Cities Service Canada in Alberta. With little to do at lunch time I often thumbed through Oilweek Magazine which carried a regular old photo contest. One week the photo was of a Cities Service rig on Prince Edward island. I contacted Bill Mooney who was then president of the Canadian operations and he dug out the old file on the rig and sent it to the PEI archives. The file is now accession 2608 and includes background geological information, sample well logs, photos and newspaper clippings. Some of that material has been used in this blog entry

Commodore Morris Goes to Shediac

In the mid and late 1930’s Fred Morris was perhaps the Charlottetown Yacht Club’s biggest booster. He had been very much involved with breathing life back into the club which had been somewhat dormant in the first half of the decade and he was elected Commodore of the revived organization.  But his interests did not end at the mouth of the harbour and he, along with CYC secretary Mac Irwin, was also interested in ensuring the success of the Yacht Racing Association of Northumberland Strait.  In August 1936 the first of the YRANS regattas took place in Shediac and Morris took the Elizabeth up the Strait to the event. On his return from the New Brunswick port Morris shared his experiences with the readers of the Guardian.


Elizabeth, owned by Commodore Morris, preparing to tow the Mic

The Trip Up the Strait

I have been asked to tell of our trip to Shediac so here goes. The Cruiser Elizabeth with her crew of three and the Commodore aboard left Charlottetown Wednesday at about 4 a.m. As passengers we carried Capt.Ken MacDonald, the Charlie Chaplin of the waterfront, Mr. Simon Paoli, skipper of the Mic, Mr, Gordon Coffin, skipper of the Onawa, Mr. Coffin Sr. a yachting enthusiast, and we had the two boats, the Mic and Onawa in tow. Fair weather greeted us for a while but after the bit the weatherman got somewhat fractious and decided we had had enough petting for a while. He therefore started up a good lively sea and the boats commenced to dance.

Off Crapaud the Onawa took to drinking more water than was good for her and commenced to settle down in the fluid. Gordon thinking to bail her out (not out of jail), started across the Mic to board her. We slowed down for the operation with the result she gently laid her mast on the water, then under the water and finally started to sink stern first. when she was through this operation all we could see of her was her nose above water. Things did not look too good. Her owner decided we’d better cut her adrift, as she was liable to damage the other boat. but our skipper says no, we will try a little speed on her. Soon we started going up faster and faster, and soon her mast began to rise and she rose till she was on an even keel. A breath of relief was given by all. We hot-footed it into Crapaud where when we slowed up at the wharf the Onawa promptly sunk again. But she was taken up to the wharf, her mast removed and then hauled to shallow water, bailed out, the pulled up high and dry and repaired as well as out limited shipyard equipment would admit.  Having got her in seaworthy shape again with the mast bound down along her decks, we started out from Crapaud in a much reduced sea, and drew into Tormentine about 7 p.m.  Here we greeted our friend Commodore McKeigan of the Pictou Yacht Club who had arrived with four boats from Pictou, having lost one on the way, the big Cantly Yawl, which, after breaking the tow rope two or three times elected to make her way to Shediac under sail. Commodore McKeigan reported quite a mix up down somewhere Wood Islands but he is too good an old salt to get into something he cannot finish.

Chasing a Deer

We pulled out of Tormentine at 3 a.m. and found a beautiful morning ahead of us. While off Cape Bauld we saw a familiar looking cruiser going round and round in circles close to land , and through our binoculars we recognized Jim Currie’s boat and decided he needed some supervision. So we moved in to see why the circles. It looked like steering trouble to us.  As we drew alongside we inquired just what was happening and were told that they were chasing a deer.  Well anyone telling you they were chasing a deer in Northumberland Straits you’re apt to look at with a certain degree of curiosity, and thinking I had got a clue to the situation I asked what sort of liquor he had on board. This insinuation was indignantly repudiated and the members of his crew loudly declared that there was a deer there all right and they all but got a noose over his head when their engine took pity on the deer and stopped. Well, we kind of believed them by this time, though we didn’t see any deer and told then to throw their anchors and wait for us until we left our tow in Shediac and we would come back for them which we did. Coming pout of Shediac Harbor on our errand of mercy the first thing we saw was the Mac sailing along under Skipper King and making for Shediac Harbor. The watchful secretary of the C.Y.C. [Mac Irwin] had spotted the Deerslayer and cast his tow, the Mac, adrift to shift for himself while he put on the larger tow line necessary for the bigger catch. Well, we took the deerslayer over and started back arriving all safely. And such a scene! Five or six big Charlottetown cruisers all anchored in a bunch shouting greetings of various sorts to each other, two Montague yachts, two Charlottetown yachts, innumerable motor boats, yachts etc. from Summerside, also yachts hailing from Borden and Tormentine presenting a scene long to be remembered.  

Shediac Hospitality

The hospitality of the Shediac Club was unlimited.  Its members laboured so that we might have everything we desired Their fine clubhouse was thrown open to us all and the whole affair was a gigantic success. Amazement was expressed by old salts by the sight of 42 boats racing on the harbour at once and the whole meet passed without the raising of a protest flag. Not a protest or dispute of any kind slowed the spirit that prevailed among these men, and I might add, women for the boat sailed by the Sumner sisters and Miss Wood aroused such excitement and admiration through their very apparent seamanship that a storm of applause echoed through the clubhouse on their receiving a lovely cup for just this quality.

Well, we were sorry it was over, but all good times must come to an end, so we proposed to sail at 12 o’clock Saturday night for home. But a few feet of tow rope in our propeller made us change our minds, and not before Jack Hearn played diver, mind you with his wrist-watch on, which later he dove into a cup of oil, not till then, did we get away. A glorious run right through to Charlottetown followed and the others came along as the spirit moved them, all to sit on the stringers of Pownal wharf and go mover it again, and when your memory slipped Charlie Chaplin would tell you all about it and slip no cogs. All we hope is that someday in the near future we can give Charlottetown the thrill that Shediac must have had over this regatta. and when we get this aggregation over here the citizens generally will help us to give them a real Island welcome.