The Audrey B – A Rum Runner With An Arctic Heritage

by George Duddy 2014

Audrey B

The Audrey B. at Tuktoyaktuk 1939 Departing the Arctic – note the characteristic ‘swordfish’ bow (Photo from Hudson’s Bay Company Archives, Archives of Manitoba Audrey B. [ship] HBCA 1987/363–A33/1))

Canadian registered vessel #154793, the Audrey B. began life in the rum running trade in 1928. Her demise in the early 1980s probably resulted from a different but similar illicit vocation. Throughout her working life, continuing until the early 1960s, she did valuable work for various owners in all of Canada’s major oceans. In retirement, after her voyaging days were over, she provided a nurturing home for a family in North Vancouver. It was the vessel’s remarkable success in the Arctic, in an environment apparently unsuitable to her design and construction, that drew the author’s attention to this storied vessel. Particularly it was her achievement in forwarding supplies in a very difficult ice year that allowed Captain Scotty Gall to complete the first ever navigation of Bellot Strait of the Northwest Passage in 1937.

Early in the research of the history of the vessel, the author was delighted to learn of a abandoned hulk lying in the Deas Island Slough alongside the Fraser River that was purported to be the Audrey B. There is an interpretive sign in the Deas Island Regional Park that identifies the hulk from shore as this vessel. Although the hulk with the sign would be a perfect physical monument to this famous vessel, the identification at the time of the establishment of the park was based only on limited hearsay evidence. The facts as presented in this article and further developed in other documents prove that the hulk must be the remains of some other vessel.

The Audrey B (#154793) was a vessel designed specifically for the rum running trade. A book by Geoff and Dorothy Robinson, It Came by the Boat Load, first published in 1984, reported she was designed by James S Gardner and built in Liverpool, Nova Scotia side–by–side with her identical sister the Eleonor Joan (#154792). Both vessels were named after the daughters of the vessels' agent, W.A.Shaw of Halifax, Nova Scotia. They were about 109.5 ft x 20.5 ft x and 8.5 ft. Each was powered by two 180hp Fairbanks–Morse diesel engines which gave a speed capacity of over 12 knots. The design was similar to that of a World War One submarine chaser.

About 100 of these purpose–built vessels were constructed in Nova Scotia. They were fast and their low profile made them difficult to detect. As reported by the Robinsons, Audrey B and nearly a dozen other Nova Scotia registered vessels were thought to be part a shadowy, American criminal–controlled organization based in Newark, New Jersey, that was referred to as the "Banana Fleet" (an allusion to the shape of their hulls). The organization was well financed, provided bonuses for successful landings and provided legal help, bail and bond money for seized crews and vessels. The organization was also reputed to have been adept at arranging pay–offs for officials who could aid its operations.

The vessels had Canadian registrations and were based in Liverpool, Nova Scotia for maintenance and repair but ran their liquor from the French Islands of St. Pierre et Miquelon in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence into the northern United States. W.A. Shaw arranged for recruiting and paying of crews from Liverpool NS.

An article in the New York Times of December 27, 1930 reported that the Audrey B was seized by the US Coast Guard off Long Island while landing liquor. Her steering gear was damaged as a result of shells fired into her stern by a pursuing cutter. This action enabled the Coast Guard to take the vessel, 2,800 cases of liquor and her 10 man Nova Scotia crew under Captain Robert J. Mosher into custody. The article stated the vessel was of British registry and owned by Water Transports Ltd. of Halifax, Nova Scotia. It further valued the vessel at $100,000. Subsequent to her seizure, Transport Canada records indicate she was owned by the Nova Scotia firm Yarmouth Shipping Company Ltd.

It is noted that seized vessels were often auctioned off and put back to work in the liquor trade, In the case of the Audrey B she was released after posting a bond. Correspondence between Canada’s Charge d’Affaires in Washington and Canada’s Secretary of State in Ottawa (obtained from Archives Canada files) indicates that the vessel was released after posting a $6,250 bond and the crew released on bail. Subsequently in May 1931, Captain Robert Mosher and the Chief Engineer Joseph Pierce each received a 45 day jail sentence and four others of the crew $200 fines for being in possession of liquor. Simultaneously with the crew sentencing, an order was filed decreeing the forfeiture of the liquor and the vessel.

It was reported that the liquor was going to be destroyed. Because the vessel had already been released and presumably had left the jurisdiction, judgement was rendered against the bond and thus Audrey B was able to keep her British Registry. The incongruity between the previously reported $100,000 value of the vessel and the $6,250 bond is noted. An article in The New York Times of June 6, 1931 describes a similar forfeiture of a $14,000 bond on June 5, 1931 against the seizure of the Eleonor Joan. This vessel was seized in the same location as the Audrey B on December 27, 1930. The article indicates that the bond was "posted to insure the presence in the jurisdiction" so it appears that the owners of both vessels managed to get off fairly lightly in the court system.

Geoff and Dorothy Robinson, in their book, relate an anecdote about Joe Pierce the Engineer. He had volunteered to be one of two individuals who had to serve jail sentences in connection with the seizure. In addition to receiving full pay while being on bail awaiting trial, he received eleven hundred dollars for serving the sentence before retiring from rum running. Presumably this treatment must have also applied to Captain Mosher, so apprehended or not, crime seems to have paid well in this instance.

Before the author learned about the book by Geoff and Dorothy Robinson, it was not clear how the Audrey B was delivered to the Pacific Coast in 1931."The Panama Record" (the annual listing of vessels transiting the Panama Canal) in the collection of the University of Florida Digital Collections shows no record of a Canal passage. The Audrey B would have probably been seen as an outlaw vessel by the American operated waterway which was subject to US jurisdiction and the specific prohibitions of the Volstead Act. Short of a full circumnavigation of South America, the only other option seems to be transportation through the canal as deck cargo on a freighter. The Robinsons reported that the Audrey B. went through the Canal with a new crew under a Captain Westhaver with a cargo of liquor loaded at Bermuda destined for the West Coast trade before any of the hearings and trials had commenced. The mystery changes from how the transit was made to how it was arranged!

Research on of US immigration records indicates that a Captain Dennis Westhaver had a previous rum running history and had been captured as a master of a rum runner off of New York and deported. For the remaining prohibition years the Audrey B operated on the Pacific Coast. Canada Transport records indicate, that although she operated out of Vancouver, her registry remained with the Yarmouth Shipping Company, based in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia.

Ruth Greene’s 1969 book Personality Ships of British Columbia lists the Audrey B as "one of the smaller rum-runners". Fraser Miles published a history of rum running on the West Coast Slow Boat on Rum Row which provides details of how the rum running industry operated on the West Coast and of the vessels involved. The necessary insight provided by his personal experience and records finally broke through the rum runners self imposed veil of silence embodied in the rum runners motto "Don’t never tell nothin’ to nobody nohow". His book includes a photo of the Audrey B., her specifications and indicates that she was one of the last vessels to return to port in January 1934 after prohibition had been repealed.

At work

Audrey B at work in 1933 (Photo from from page 222 of Slow Boat on Rum Runner by Fraser Miles published by Harbour Publishing Company in 1992 (reproduced with the permission of the publisher to the author).)

Records of the Canada Department of Marine and Fisheries, Mercantile Marine Shipping Office, Vancouver B.C, held in the British Columbia Archives in Victoria, state that the Audrey B operated on the west coast and made voyages toward "rum row" (waters off Ensenada, Mexico) in 1931, 1932 and 1933. It is interesting to note the size of crews used for rum running for later comparison with those used for arctic navigation. The Mercantile records of Audrey B’s first voyage from Vancouver leaving on October 7, 1931 indicated a 7 man crew under her Master D. Forrest of Cardiff, Wales. The crew consisted in addition to the Master, a mate, a chief engineer, a second engineer, two able seamen and a cook. It is evident from these records that most of the crew had served on other rum runners. For example Forrest, the mate and chief engineer previously served on the Chief Skugaid. The Chief Skugaid is claimed to be the oldest local rum runner still afloat.

The Audrey B’s arctic operations began in 1935 with a voyage from Vancouver through the Bering Straits and around Alaska to Coppermine, NT. She was employed in the Arctic Ocean as far east as Perry River (east of Cambridge Bay) from 1935 to 1938 and made a return voyage to Vancouver in 1939.

In 1935 the vessel’s registration was changed to Vancouver owned by William Storr, Coppermine, NT. It was Storr together with his trapping partners Slim Purcell and Arthur Watson who operated the vessel as an arctic freighting and fur trading vessel. Little detail about the voyage from Vancouver to the Arctic in 1935 is known. It is assumed that Storr who is reported to have some navigation experience in the Royal Navy was part of the initial voyage, but this is not recorded. What is known is based on interviews of Purcell and Watson by Vancouver newspapers and Harbour and Shipping Magazine after the vessel returned to Vancouver in 1939. Articles based on these interviews revealed that the vessel departed from Vancouver on July 23, 1935 and arrived at Coppermine on September 5, that she carried 5,000 gallons of fuel (sufficient for both the initial and the return journey) and that there was no difficulty with ice at Point Barrow.

Masters of self–effacement and understatement, the partners provided little scope for the writers to further expose the details of the balance of their adventure. They spoke of their arctic experience in terms such as "Nothing much to tell you" (Vancouver Sun September 25 1939) and "We traded and trapped, drove our dog teams here and there, but had no experiences worthy of note" (Vancouver Province September 25, 1939). Perhaps having endured World War One trenches there was nothing else that could impress this pair (It is reported they served together in the Battle of the Argonne). They did offer the following description of the construction of the vessel and its engines to Harbour and Shipping which was reported in their October 1939 issue.

"She is planked with oak below the waterline and fir above, over steam bent oak frames, with an occasional sawn frame for extra stiffening: while the power plant consists of twin 180 h.p. 6–cylinder Fairbanks Morse–Diesel engines, which Watson says proved satisfactory, having no major overhaul for four years." They also stated they never used their non–ice strengthened vessel to butt through ice but learned to take advantage of her speed to nip through leads opening in ice flows.

Fortunately on the return journey the partners carried as a ‘passenger’ a French adventurer, the Vicomte Gontran de Montage de Poncins, who recognized and described the partners’ achievements. De Poncins was described in the March 1940 issue of The Beaver Magazine as "an adventurous young Frenchman whose home is a chateau in the Loire country, and who specializes in photography and ethnology". A far better idea of the difficulties faced in the arctic voyages than those provided to the newspaper reporters is found in the description of the return voyage in 1939 in de Poncins’ book The Ghost Voyage Out of Eskimo Land published by Doubleday and Company Inc. in 1954. Judging by this book, both voyages must have been truly remarkable achievements given the comparatively frail design of the ship, the general difficulties in navigation in a very remote region and the hazardous ice conditions faced on the long path around Alaska that often stopped, hindered and often crushed much stouter vessels. A reported lack of training of the partners in navigation and marine engineering and their propensity for under-crewing added to the difficulties that had to be overcome.

The Partners were well known in the Coronation Gulf area of the Western Arctic as trappers and traders and operators of small trading schooners before they purchased the Audrey B. A picture of the remains of the small schooner the Eagle once owned by Storr can be found on a Google search for images for Cambridge Bay. Purcell and Watson’s vessel the Sea Wolf was apparently basically worn out when they purchased the Audrey B.

Watson’s wife was known only to de Poncins as Mrs. Watson or by her nickname "Tiny". The Robinsons related in their book that they had interviewed the Watson’s daughter Muriel Breber. Presumably from this interview, they learned Mrs. Watson lived in a small house in Coppermine while raising their several children, running the trading business on the ship when her husband was trapping and providing medical help to the community residents. Headlines were created in Winnipeg in 1934 when two of their sons were sent to St. John’s Anglican College for their education. Muriel travelled with them in the Audrey B in 1939. It is not known what happened to Watson and Purcell after their return to Vancouver in 1939. They indicated to reporters at that time that they had thoughts of rejoining the military.

According to on–line ancestral records (accessed on public family trees), Storr was born in Yorkshire in 1903 and died in Aklavik in 1969. His Inuit wife Lucy trapped with him during the winters. He worked briefly in the mining exploration boom in the Coppermine area in 1929 and 1930 that came to an abrupt halt at onset of the great depression. He remained in the Arctic after the Audrey B. returned south and appears to have descendents still living there. One of his later jobs was running a small patrol schooner on the Mackenzie River for the RCMP, the Aklavik II.

In the entry for the Audrey B of the Vessel Database, John MacFarlane refers to an interview he conducted with former Hudson’s Bay Company manager Jack Wood and arctic navigator Sven Johansson. Wood noted that the partners " ... established a fur trading post at Stypelton (sic) Bay and operated a trap line there as well as running the ship as a mobile trading post ... " and then goes on relating about the Audrey B " ... operating out of Tuktoyaktuk as a trader she proved unsuccessful".

The following photograph shows the Partners in front of the Hudson's Bay post at Read Island about 1936. Storr is second from the left, Purcell is standing in the doorway and Watson is in the coveralls second from the right. All the others are unidentified except George Porter who is on the extreme right. Porter was the Canalaska Trading Company’s manager at King William Land and sometimes visited their post on Read Island in their trading schooner Nigalik.

At work

Read Island (Photo from the Glenbow Archives NA–1261–9 (with permission to the author.)

Although the Audrey B.’s reported use as a mobile trading post may not have been successful as maintained by Wood, her timely arrival and success as a replacement freighting vessel must have been a godsend not only to the Hudson’s Bay Company but to the whole Western Arctic. Very difficult ice conditions occurred in 1936 and 1937 and the Company experienced damage and losses to its vessels. The presence of the Audrey B may have prevented the recurrence of hardship such as was endured in 1924 when the supply ship Lady Kindersley was lost in the ice near Barrow, Alaska. In that year there was such an extreme shortage of supplies and fuel that the post at Cambridge Bay had to be shut down.

Prior to 1934 the company supplied most of their arctic posts from Vancouver by ocean going vessels operating around Alaska. Their last major attempt using this route was a failed voyage by the chartered the vessel Anyox in 1933. In 1934 with the extension of river navigation through the Mackenzie Delta and the establishment of the new port of Tuktoyaktuk east of the Delta, the Company switched its supply route for their Western Arctic posts almost exclusively to the Mackenzie River route. To provide capacity for forwarding supplies eastward and to local posts from the new port, which the larger ocean going vessels such as the Lady Kindersley (1919–1923), the Baychimo (1925–1931) and the chartered vessel Karise (1932) had previously provided, the Company needed vessels for local delivery.

In 1934 the Company transferred its large motor schooner the Fort James from eastern Canada to the Western Arctic. The Fort James sailed from St. John’s on April 24, 1934 and arrived at Tuktoyaktuk on August 29, 1934 completing a 12,000 mile voyage. She then went on to deliver supplies to Cambridge Bay and returned to a winter berth at Bernard Harbour. The voyage reaching Cambridge Bay combined with a 1928–1930 trip from St. John’s Newfoundland to King William Island was only 200 miles short of a complete circumnavigation of North America. The Company also acquired a smaller fish packer type vessel the Margaret A to assist in the deliveries.

In 1934 and 1935 the Fort James, supplemented by the Margaret A, Aklavik and other Company vessels, was able to complete all deliveries, even with the loss of assistance from Margaret A in 1935 when she was damaged in the spring breakup and had to be returned up river to Fort Smith for repairs.

In the spring of 1936 it was discovered that the hull of the Fort James had been severely damaged by ice pressure while at her winter berth in Tuktoyaktuk. Careening her and repairs took up much of the available navigation season. As a result, the Company found it necessary to engage the partners to use the Audrey B to forward supplies that had been accumulating at Tuktoyaktuk. During this season the Audrey B made one trip from Tuktoyaktuk to Cambridge Bay delivering Company supplies and trade goods before returning to her base at Coppermine. After repairs, the Fort James made one trip to the East and returned to Read Island where she went into winter quarters. The reconditioned Margaret A made one trip to the eastward but could only reach the Inman River. Here she met and transferred her cargo to the RCMP St. Roch for forwarding to Coppermine. An article from the June 1944 Beaver "Over the Sea by Tractor" describes one of the consequence of the difficult 1936 delivery season and contains a photo (probably taken in 1938) of the Audrey B leaving the Perry River Post.

In 1937 ice conditions at the start of the navigation season were even more difficult than in 1936. The situation became desperate for the Company when the Fort James was crushed in the ice flows and quickly sank in Dolphin and Union Strait on her way from winter quarters at Read Island to Tuktoyaktuk. The crew was all rescued by the RCMP St. Roch which was nearby but several bales of fur and business records carried by the Fort James were lost. The manager of the Western Arctic District, Dudley Copland, was in Tuktoyaktuk when news of the loss reached him. He realized that there was only one sure way to have his freight delivered that summer. He quickly wired Art Watson at Coppermine to come to Tuktoyaktuk to discuss a freighting contract for the Audrey B.

The Audrey B. arrived at Tuktoyaktuk on August 7,1937 a few days after Copland’s wire. Copland stated "The first to come ashore was Art Watson. Art had trained his face to look neutral after the best part of a life dickering. It gave nothing away. But his first words went right to the heart of things, and bit deep into the tender quick of my fur–trader’s soul. "Well Copland", he began, "I guess we have you over a barrel?" This I must have acknowledged with a sickly grin, since our only other vessel, the Margaret A, was not fit for the kind of years we were having. It did not take long for the partners to convince me that only one hundred dollars per ton for all classes of cargo, and some slight concessions on fuel, was all that they wanted. They would take one hundred tons on each trip, and would make two trips each season if required and ice conditions would permit. Written contracts were not required and the owners started to load without further delay."

The St. Roch in spite of sustaining damage early in the season helped mitigate the 1937 transport problem by carrying 100 tons of supplies from Tuktoyaktuk to Coppermine before retiring from the Arctic to Vancouver for repairs. The Audrey B making three eastward trips from Tuktoyaktuk managed to deliver over 300 tons before ending the season on Oct 6, 1937 at Coppermine, equaling or exceeding the Fort James 1935 record.

In a 1949 article in the Arctic Magazine The Voyage of the Snowbird II concerning transportation of fuel and supplies for arctic operations, Flight Lieutenant S.E. Alexander RCAF addressed the Audrey B.’s Arctic exploits, particularly the ones in 1937. He said, "Audrey B. not only arrived at her destination safely but broke all records for speedy trips along the arctic coast. In 1937 she survived one of the worst ice years, while the Hudson Bay Company’s ship Fort James was crushed in the pack and lost in Dolphin and Union Strait, near Cape Bexley, and the R.C.M.P. vessel St Roch was so severely strained by ice pressure that she had to be taken to Vancouver for repairs."

The Audrey B’s first 1937 Tuktoyaktuk departure is historically significant. She had been tasked to carry the supplies for the Aklavik and the trade outfit for the King William Post for the voyage that would establish the first commercial use of the Northwest Passage. The Audrey B was able to complete the first leg of this historic journey through the difficult ice conditions to Cambridge Bay sufficiently early to allow the balance of the voyage to be completed by the Aklavik under Scotty Gall and his crew. Dudley Copland who was sponsor of this enterprise travelled with the Audrey B to Cambridge Bay.

Read Island

The Audrey B leaving Tuktoyaktuk 1937. One of the two figures on the deck of the Audrey B is probably Copland and the other may be Inspector George Curleigh of the RCMP who travelled with the vessel to Cambridge Bay. The vessel shown immediately on her bow is the North Star then owned by Jim Wolki and Fred Carpenter. This vessel was later purchased by Sven Johansson who renamed her as the North Star of Herschel Island. Johansson took her south and lived in her in Victoria Harbour before selling her to her current owner Bruce Macdonald. (Photo from NT Archives/Charles Rowan Fonds/N–1991–068: 0267 ("Andy B (sic) at Tuktuk"))

The story of the Aklavik’s historic voyage, the loss of Scotty Gall’s wife Anna, the Aklavik’s historic meeting with the RMS Nascopie, and the establishment of Fort Ross including the Audrey B’s involvement is told in Richard Finnie’s article Trading into the Northwest Passage in the December 1937 edition of The Beaver.

The Audrey B’s final year carrying freight for the Hudson’s Bay Company was 1938. Before the start of the navigation season her rudder was damaged at Coppermine. To ensure she would be available at the start of the season, the Company arranged for the supply of a replacement rudder and for replacement timing gears for one of the engines to be flown from Edmonton to Coppermine. This action reflected the importance of the vessel to the Company’s transportation needs at that time. The vessel completed one eastward trip sharing the delivery of supplies in 1938 with the Company’s new vessel the Fort Ross, the replacement vessel for the Fort James. The Fort Ross was constructed in Nova Scotia and arrived in the Arctic in late summer via the Panama Canal and the West Coast carrying a full load of supplies from Vancouver. That year the Company also acquired the Nigalik when it took over rival trading company Canalaska Trading Company. The Nigalik spent the summer under overhaul at Tuktoyatuk in preparation for her use the following summer as a back-up vessel for the Fort Ross.

In 1939 with further prospects for freighting dim and a collapsing fur trade, the three members decided to break-up their partnership. It was determined that Purcell and Watson would return the vessel to Vancouver with Mrs. Watson and the Watson’s daughter Muriel while Storr would stay in the Arctic with his family.

As the returning pair needed help to crew the vessel, it was fortunate that they were able to recruit French traveller, ethnographer and adventurer Gontran de Poncins to work passage from the Arctic to Vancouver. De Poncins had spent sixteen months living and travelling among the Eskimos of the Western and Central Arctic. His experiences with them and fur traders later became the subject of the book Kabloona published in 1942 that was also a Book of the Month Club selection. The voyage from the Arctic became the subject of his second book The Ghost Voyage out of Eskimo Land.

One of the draws of the voyage for de Poncins was the opportunity of rounding the Northwest corner of the North American Continent around Point Barrow and transiting the Bering Strait. De Poncins’ perception was that Point Barrow was the most northern point on continental North American. In fact it is the Boothia Peninsula opposite the King William Island post, where he spent the winter with Hudson’s Bay Chief Trader Paddy Gibson, holds this distinction. His anticipation of a triumphal Cape Horn type rounding experience seems to have given way to one of frustration brought on by fatigue and his sense of loneliness and his inability to communicate, share fellowship and his utter failure to comprehend his fellow travellers.

The book, minus dust cover illustrations and a distorted hand-drawn trip map by de Poncins contained within the covers of the hard copy is in the "Internet Archive". Besides the factual details of the trip, he includes an introspective musing about his life, life among the Inuit, arctic wildlife, former experiences, prominent arctic personalities and his philosophizing about human behaviour in remote locations. It is an account of a remarkable, perhaps even foolhardy, 57 day journey from Coppermine NT to Vancouver BC.

The trip was made against terrific difficulties and uncertainty which included: fumbling navigation, an inadequate sized crew, the impediment and danger of drifting ice, crew fatigue and a need to navigate for days in fog in hazardous waters. They also experienced a grounding, engine difficulties and failure, an on–board fire and loss of an anchor and distance measuring log. In Dutch Harbour they took on a second passenger, George Merodes a Greek trapper and fisherman to assist in the leg of the journey across the Pacific. Instead of following close to the coast line as recommended by officials in Dutch Harbour, Purcell and Watson elected a course across the Gulf of Alaska directly to Canada’s West Coast across two huge atmospheric depressions. Debilitating and prolonged sea-sickness affected all on board except de Poncin and Watson’s young daughter Muriel. It was fortunate that de Poncin did not suffer from this malady. It was reported that in one instance he fought the wheel for sixteen hours without relief. The only navigational equipment on the ship were a pair of disagreeing compasses, a speed measuring log, a sounding line and some crude charts and out–dated sailing instructions.

R.H.G Bonnycastle, the Hudson’s Bay Company manager (and later founder of Harlequin Books) provides an independent view of the partners, de Poncins and their interactions in his book review published in the August 1955 of The Beaver magazine.


The crew – de Poncins is not shown as he had already left the vessel within minutes of docking to a hotel with a hot bath. (Photo courtesy of the Vancouver Sun (copyright) September 25, 1939)

An interesting anecdote about the voyage was that the vessel, apparently sighted nearing the West Coast of Canada about September 10, 1939, was falsely identified as an enemy submarine. Her low profile and the heavy seas at the time undoubtedly contributed to this error. The sighting gave rise to an announcement by President Roosevelt and interesting headlines appearing in newspapers such as the Oakland Tribune of September 26, 1939: "Phantom Sub of Alaska May be Old Rum Runner".

Following her return to Vancouver. The Audrey B was sold to Nelson Brother Fisheries and after modifications she was employed as a fish packer. The necessary repairs and modifications were apparently made at Burrard Shipyard & Engineering Works Ltd. in Vancouver. Her deck house was enlarged and the pilot house was moved to second deck level. She was employed by Nelson Brothers both during and after World War Two up to 1962 when she was sold to West Coast Salvage and Construction Company. A Vancouver Province article of June 1962 reported that the Audrey B was offered up as part payment by Nelson Brothers for the 130 ft. coastal freighter Chenega which they were acquiring from West Coast Salvage. The Chenega had formerly been operated by Union Steamships Ltd.

One of the author’s university friends, Stephen Oura, recalled an incident which may relate to the Audrey B’s last voyages as a fish packer in the early 1960s. Oura hitched a ride in the Audrey B. from the Nelson Brothers Cannery at Port Edward near Prince Rupert, to his home in Steveston BC. His main recollection was of a hard docking, followed by an abusive reprimand from the deckhand to the skipper about the incompetent landing. He thinks the incident occurred at the old cannery site of Namu. Oura indicates that Nelson Brothers had been using the Audrey B to transport nets for their gill netter fleet between its northern and southern operations. Replacement nets of varying colors and mesh sizes are required to meat specific conditions. The smaller fishing vessels did not have the capacity to carry all of the net types required.

Two photographs included to show the Audrey B configuration that illustrates the modifications made to her deck house and rigging for her employment as a fish packer.

Prince Rupert

Herring Fleet at Fish Dock 1945 the Audrey B is outermost vessel with other packers and vessels of the herring fleet. (Photo with permission from Prince Rupert City & Regional Archives, Negative #JRW1506A))

Audrey B

The Audrey B in a remote fish camp in a coastal inlet. (Photo with permission from the University of British Columbia Digital Collections Fisherman publishing Society Collection. Image Number B1532/458/1)

In June 1963 the Audrey B was purchased by Harold Tarris, his wife and son Jeffery for use as a private yacht and renamed as Tarfran. The name Tarfran is an amalgamation of the family name Tarris and of Harold Tarris’s wife’s given name of Frances. David Tarris recollects that the vessel was towed to her new home at the Deep Cove Marina from the North Vancouver Osbourne Shipyard in June 1963. The vendor as shown on the Bill of Sale of June 3, 1963 as recorded in Transport Canada Records was West Coast Salvage & Contracting Co. Ltd. of 1199 west 6th Avenue, Vancouver B.C.

The Tarris family including children Jeffery, Lea, David, Donald and Pauline lived on the Tarfran at the Deep Cove Marina in North Vancouver from 1963 until 1975. In this time they made extensive renovations and improvements to make the vessel into a comfortable floating home. Harold and Frances Tarris became friends with the Robinsons after visiting them in Eastern Canada before the final printing of the Robinsons’ book. The following statement appears in the Robinsons’ book about the Tarris’ transformations: "Husband and wife were extraordinarily talented, and converted the vessel themselves into a palatial houseboat, which they tied up at Deep Cove, North Vancouver. We have seen photographs after the work was completed, which amply demonstrate how successful they were."

Tarfran Rear View

Tarfran at Deep Cove Marina mid 1970s showing the transformed Audrey B into a palatial house boat. ((Photo from Pauline Pilkington collection (with permission to the author).)

The author has been in contact with the Tarris’ son Jeff and the daughter Pauline Pilkington who spent more time living on the vessel than Jeff, living on the vessel throughout her school years. Jeff Tarris was already a young working adult when he returned home in 1963 to find the family had moved from their house in North Vancouver to live on the vessel. He indicated, although the old "punk–started" engines were still operable, the only voyages he can remember the vessel made was one to have her bottom cleaned and painted at the Osbourne Shipyard in North Vancouver and another brief test one in Indian Arm. The first involved a passage under the Second Narrows railway lift bridge. With Keith Hutton (son of the marina owners Betty and Art George) at the helm assisted by Jeff and Harold (Terry) manipulating the engines, they followed a tug through the opening. Without a radio they nearly came to grief because they could not communicate with the bridge operator. Anxious moments punctuated by loud bursts from their air horn finally caught the operator’s attention who had already begun to lower the span. Tarris did not participate in the second voyage but stated that "dad discovered the Audrey B to be less responsive in turning in one direction over the other due to the rotation of the screw propellers".

Now there is only hearsay evidence of how Audrey B met her final fate and ended up as a wreck in the Fraser River. The family has photos of the fire wracked wreckage lying along the shore at the east end of Tilbury Island on the Fraser river. Her destruction by explosion and fire is thought to have occurred in the early 1980s.

This is the collective family remembrance of the final fate of the vessel as passed on by a family member to the author: "The Audrey B was in Deep Cove until 1975 at least. That summer was when the Audrey B. was sold to a young couple who lived on her at the marina who changed her name back to Audrey B. Later she was sold to someone involved in the start up of a helicopter company who intended to refurbish her to her original configuration. They stripped her of the wheel, compass, anchor, etc. but the vessel still had the heavy wood doors with brass trim, the brass portholes. They sold it – the rumor that circulated at that time was that it used by a group for an illegal meth lab on the Fraser River and that it blew up, caught fire and sank."

Audrey B. Wreck

The remains of waht many people say is the Audrey B. in the Fraser River at the north end of Tilbury Island after an explosion. This has been determined by the author to be almost certainly inaccurate. But then, what vessel is this? Image taken July 1983 (Photo from the Pauline Pilkington collection (with permission to the author))

The author has checked archived copies of the Delta weekly newspaper The Optimist from January 1979 until June 1983 to try to determine the timing and circumstances of the explosion and sinking but nothing appears to have been reported. The author was also able to identify and visit the wreck site near the present site of the Imperial Paving plant on River Road in Delta BC. Nothing now appears visible in the river. Perhaps her final remains were removed when a nearby saw mill (present at the date of Pauline’s photographs) was demolished.

An internet search for the Audrey B lists her as a luxury yacht for charter by private charter group. As her name was listed as the Audrey B ex–Tarfran, the listing must have been created by an owner after the conversion of the vessel by the Tarris family. The information in the listing is obsolete. When contacted, the firm could not supply any additional information about it. It is not known whether the vessel was ever used for chartering purposes.

On March 16, 1977, Transport Order No. 74 was granted to change the name of the vessel Tarfran back to Audrey B.. According to the Canada List of Shipping the vessel’s last owners, the start of ownership year and names are: 1976, Harold Trussler; 1979, Joseph Cadham; and 1980, Allan Banner her last registered owner. Her registration, #154793, was closed on May 28, 2010.

References and Acknowledgments:

The writer used the archived Beaver Magazine which is available on line extensively for information about the Audrey B’s Arctic exploits. The quotations attributed to Dudley Copland are from his book Coplalook, Chief Trader, Hudson’s Bay Company 1923–39 published by Watson & Dwyer in 1985.

The following entities graciously supplied access and assistance to the copyrighted material used in the article illustrations: Archives of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Sjoeke Hunter; Harbour Publishing, Madeira Park, BC, Howard White; Glenbow Archives, Calgary, Alberta, Susan M. Kooyman; Prince of Wales NT Archives, Yellowknife NT, Robin Weber; the Pacific Newspaper Group (Vancouver Sun), Vancouver, BC, Sandra Boutilier; Prince Rupert City & Regional Archives, Jean Eiers–Page, Prince Rupert, BC; and Fisherman’s Publishing Society, New Westminster, Sean Griffin. Pauline Pilkington supplied the final photographs from her personal collection.

Assistance and materials were also supplied by: Catherine McPherson and Lea Edgar of Delta Museum and Archives, Delta, BC; Lori Bartley of Metro Vancouver Parks, Burnaby, BC; Lisa Glandt of the Vancouver Maritime Museum, Vancouver, BC; Judy Root of BC Archives, Victoria BC; Kathy Sullivan of La Have Islands Museum Society, LaHave, Nova Scotia; S.C. Heal marine writer, Vancouver BC; Chelsea Somerville of CharterWorld. com; Devin Soper of the University of British Columbia; Paul Sandhu at the Ship Registry, Transport Canada; and Susanne Sulzberger, Reference Archivist, Library and Archives Canada, Burnaby BC. Research at Archives Canada, Ottawa, was undertaken by independent consultant Ken McLeod.

The author is especially indebted to Steve Oura and to Jeff and David Tarris and their sister Pauline Pilkington who provided personal recollections pertaining to the Audrey B story. Pauline’s direction to the Robinson’s book It Came by the Boat Load was particularly helpful. Thanks also to the Nauticapedia team, and to my partner Helen O’Neill for helping in final review and publication.

To quote from this article please cite:

Duddy, George (2014) The Audrey B – A Rum Runner With An Arctic Heritage. 2014.


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