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Peter S. Cox – Master Mariner, Naval Officer and Shipwright
by John M. MacFarlane 2011
Peter Cox Stands at the Boat Shed as his vessel Alioth Nears Completion
In 1932 when Peter Cox joined the Rainbow Sea Cadet Corps he knew he was on track for a lifetime’s association with the sea. Although his family were not mariners he says he cannot remember a time when he was not fascinated by ships and the life at sea. Sea Cadets gave him a solid grounding in boat handling, knots and ropes, seamanship and the discipline to cope with any situation that came his way.
By the time he was a teenager he had built his first sailing yacht – a 16 foot sloop called the Nancy C. (named for his mother). "Money was scarce." he says, "so I scrounged as much of the material as I could. I used old oak bed frames for the stem and stern and any other place that hardwood was needed. I used a fir pole for the mast and boom. But the cedar had to be purchased. It was edge–grain cut clear stock and cost me $70 per thousand board feet – a princely sum at the time although of course I used much less than the thousand board feet. We sailed that boat all around Victoria as far as Pedder Bay on some occasions." Cox lost track of the vessel in 1938. It would be several years before he had the conditions necessary to build another vessel – his next was the 25’ v–sloop Maon built in the back yard of his house on Agnes Street in Victoria about 1959. Her whereabouts after 1964 is unknown when he sold her – he was again without a boat.
He joined the RCN as a Boy Seaman on April 4th, 1938 (aged 17). While he was a Chief Petty Officer RCN he was selected by a Squadron Board to attend the first course of the RCN Preparatory School in 1949. This was followed by the year–long Royal Navy Boatswain’s Qualifying Course after which he was commissioned as a Boatswain RCN. Over the years he served in HMC Ships Comox, Antigonish, Cape Breton and then in Fortune as First Lieutenant.
He was given command of HMCS Oriole, the famous navy sail training vessel. "It was the best job I ever had," he says with a real twinkle in his eye. "I had a lot of freedom to define the training program and to determine when and where we took the ship." He says that the trainees were often officer cadets from the three Canadian service colleges although he recalls taking out a crew consisting of all naval padres on one voyage. "We usually went for two to three weeks at a time but we also took longer deep sea passages to California and Hawaii. Sailing the Oriole was pretty much like sailing a personal yacht – it was just that everything was much much bigger and the vessel responded more slowly. Otherwise my experience sailing could be applied directly to the Oriole" he said."
After his retirement career in the navy he was asked to join the Canadian Naval Auxiliary Service (this consisted of civilian mariners operating small yard craft and auxiliary vessels such as tugs.) He went back to school to become qualified as a Mate and served for a year in the CNAV Clifton, a tug operating out of Esquimalt Harbour. A year later he qualified as a Master Mariner (Home Trade) and took over as Master of the Clifton. Soon afterwards he served in the the big (100 feet) tug Glendyne which was equipped with twin nozzles. "That tug was really manoeuvrable," he says, "but with the nozzles hanging below the bottom she required a lot of water. We did a lot of harbour duties such as berthing but also did longer tows to US navy bases in Bremerton and at the submarine base at Bremerton Washington. We also towed targets for live firing exercises in the Strait of Juan de Fuca."
All through his naval career he was dreaming of building and sailing the perfect wooden yacht. He was (and still is) a voracious reader of the experiences of famous bluewater yachtsmen to benefit from their observations and experiences. As time went on decided to build the yacht of his dreams - the Alioth - from an Atkins design. She was a double–ended, wooden–hulled vessel about 40 feet between perpendiculars.
Alioth at the beginning of the construction process.
He began the work by building a boat shed behind his house large enough to contain the vessel and to work around it – the structure was a large one including all the overhead clearances. He poured a cement support to carry the weight of the keel. He had to order the clear edge grain cedar from a specialized mill on the mainland, and selected each piece for maximum quality and integrity - which was an expensive component of the overall cost. Part way through the process he retired from the Naval Auxiliary Service so he could devote himself to completing the work – which took seven years in all. Her mast was a Sitka spruce box – which required sanding and varnishing every year.
When he started the project he built the stem, stern and keel – and ribs – which were planked with the vessel upside down for better access. When he was finished planking the hull it was rotated in place so that it sat right-side-up on its keel. Then the vessel could be finished ready for transport to the salt water. The finished hull then had to be moved – which required the roof of the shop to be removed. A temporary road was built through the property of understanding neighbours so that a low-bed trailer could be backed in to the end of the shed. Huge timbers bridged the gap and Alioth was moved onto the trailer. At the salt water a crane was required to lift her off and into the water at Canoe Cove. The whole process was nerve-wracking but went as planned.
Alioth in the cradle ready to be removed to the low bed vehicle
Alioth Official Number 371666 Registered 1976. 35’ x 10.5’ x 5’ 10gt 9rt Powered by a Perkins 4–cylinder diesel engine. "The keel," Cox says, "was was cast iron with a weight of 7000 pounds and was worked into the shed and placed on blocks with alot of sweat and cussing."
Alioth being removed by a low bed vehicle
It helps to be on good terms with your neighbours when you have to build a road through their back yard to move your boat out to the water.
When she was finished and rigged, Cox had several years of pleasurable cruising up the British Columbia coast and into Puget Sound. She was a beautiful sight, and kept absolutely immaculate at all times. Her maintenance program consumed time when cruising was not practical – and as owners of wooden boats know well it took a lot of effort. Eventually the time came when the difficult decision to sell Alioth had to be made. She has changed hands several times over the years but is still afloat. I saw her at anchor in Horton Bay (Mayne Island BC) in 2009 but she was dropped from the Register of Shipping in 2008. Peter Cox’s memories of the four-masted barque Moshulu have been chronicled elsewhere in the Nauticapedia. His memory of nearly 80 years of seafaring remains keen – and it is clear that he desired no other life. As he considers the various phases of his career he obviously remembers Alioth with special pride - and a notable twinkle in his eye.
Alioth – a vision of loveliness afloat!
To quote from this article please cite:
MacFarlane, John M. (2011) Peter S. Cox – Master Mariner, Naval Officer and Shipwright. Nauticapedia.ca 2012. http://nauticapedia.ca/Gallery/Cox_Peter.php
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