The Final Days of the Schooner Robertson II

by Drew Clarke 2017

Robertson II

The Robertson II in Better Days with the Spirit of Chemainus near Mayne Island. (Photo from the Alec Spiller collection.)

The Robertson II was built in 1940 at Shelburne NS. 28.9m x 6.8m x 3.1m (94.9’ x 22.2’ x 10.3’) wooden hull 98gt 81rt and powered by a 180hp engine.

In 1958–1967 she was owned by Robertson II Ltd., Shelburne NS. In 1970–1972 she was owned by Pierce and Malloy Vessels Ltd., Lockeport NS. In 1973–1974 she was owned by T.G. Malloy Vessels Ltd., Lockeport NS. In 1975–1983 she was owned by Pilot Programs Company Ltd., Victoria BC. In 1984–1988 she was owned by the Robertson II Sail and Life Training Society, Victoria BC. In 1988–2003 she was owned by S.A.L.T.S. Sail and Life Training Society, Victoria BC. In 2004–2010 she was owned by Atlantic & Pacific Seafoods Ltd. (Roy Boudreau and Tom Nimbly), Victoria BC.

I was home on Saltspring Island on Canada Day, July 1, 2007, when we received news from Saturna Island that seized the day.

The Nova Scotia schooner Robertson II had grounded at 2 am on Minke Reef while trying to enter Winter Cove. She did not call for assistance until 8 am. As the tide fell she fell over on her starboard side. She had run aground on a 10.6’ tide, which would have completely hidden the reef especially during the darkness. Minke Reef is unmarked. It has been said that this was not the first time the Robertson II had tangled with this reef but that story cannot now be substantiated.

Over the next couple of days I waited for news updates as I heard that there was a recovery operation underway. At the time I thought that things were under control and that we would all hear that she had been refloated. News came slowly and I began to wonder. Finally after several weeks of efforts by the owners the news announced that she was to be abandoned, the salvage effort over.

"We now have a marine surveyor´s report ... and the ship is in pretty bad shape," Don Rodden, Coast Guard superintendent for environmental response, said yesterday. "Very generally, the bulk head that is ruptured has sprung the deck. The stress on the vessel is causing separation of planks and joints ... It´s not one specific area; it´s throughout the length of the vessel. The planking is separated, damaged, sprung and broken."

I got out my phone book and began calling every salvage company, dive outfits, tugboats, barges etc. asking for help to put a volunteer effort together to save the Robertson II. Most did not respond or sent polite but firm "No", which I understood.

I called Andrew Korek owner of Phoenix Marine in the Fraser Valley. I sensed after a conversation, that he might be persuaded even though he had said "No". I called him again and persisted and finally he agreed to take a weekend to come help. Without Captain Korek’s efforts no further help for the vessel would have been possible. Then others also agreed to help including: Grant Hobbs, Captain Steve, Captain Bob, Wes Ritter, Mike from Marine Assist, Garth, Ron, Shawn, Ian, Brian. Help came from from Saturna Island, Pender Island and Saltspring Island including the Rental Stop for pumps, Slegg lumber, Mouats store, Saltspring Fire, Western Rentals Vancouver Island, Parks Canada, the RCMP Marine Unit, the Canadian Coast Guard Ganges and many others. Andrew Killawee from Nova Scotia’s Arcadia Entertainment sent his cameraman John Rosborough out to film our efforts. Bill Henderson wrote a great song too. We were especially grateful for the repeated timely arrival of donations of sandwiches and cookies from Thrifty Foods Ganges and Amarah Gabriel and her friends for delivering them ... we thought you were the Coast Guard coming to bust us! Captain Greg Bellevance and his landing craft Moving Experience took me to the site to do initial reconnaissance. Randy and Alison Hamilton made numerous supply runs in their Lifetimer late at night.

We mustered at Port Browning: two tugs one barge, gear and personnel,trucks and a dive trailer from Phoenix Marine. It was decided by the dive team that they would run out to the ship and dive on her before the tugs and gear would move in. After the divers returned Andrew Korek was upset and angry with what they had found. The Robertson II’s keel had been snapped just forward of the stern post and again twenty feet further forward. Her mainmast was missing (and never was found). She had been forced upright by using her mainmast as a lever while her keel was locked in the rocks. The keel had snapped and twisted to the port side nearly perpendicular to her hull. At the same time it had pulled her keel bolts down through her ballast and snapped her keelson. Her heavy fir decking was broken in two parts from amidships to her starboard rail directly above her forward engine room bulkhead. It was awful – her back had broken and she was in very serious trouble. The divers announced that they would not try to save her as she was finished thanks to the well intended previous efforts. We all went home feeling awful. I called Andrew Korek again a few days later and he said they would not help the owner after seeing the damage that had been done. I called the owner and got his verbal agreement to sign the Robertson II over to us if we could salvage her.

Twice more I got the team the team to try to save the Robertson II. We fought poor weather, cold nights, no sleep, no money, and little hope. Captain Korek, a Royal Navy underwater demolitions expert, spent 15 hours underwater that first day. We roped and attached air bags to the hull. We pumped the bags with the maximum amount of air that they could take. We removed her remaining foremast to help her come back up level. We used all Phoenix Marine's air bags and many others brought by Mike and Murray. It was not enough. She came up level with her decks dry but she would not float free. In spite of our best efforts we could not free her.

On the last day we had her level at full tide and we wiggled and jiggled her but she would only pivot. When the tide changed and we were in trouble. The tug Keluk was stationed on the wreck’s portside on the stern quarter. When the tide changed we almost lost the Keluk as she went over at a 45° angle. It was only quick action that saved her. All nine pumps had to be removed from the deck to keep them from being lost. Another 10.6’ tide could not raise the hull in spite of so many air bags attached.

We were defeated and had no more resources to throw at the problem. To say that we were all in tears as we left her would be an understatement. We almost succeeded. Who knows? Perhaps with more help and equipment we might have. In the end she was left "sitting on the rock in the bay. The winter storms had their way with her and she broke up, reduced to pieces.

Map of Mink Reef

Mink Reef – location of the stranding and wreck (Photo from the Drew Clarke collection.)

The Robertson II was lost at Saturna Island on Minke Reef, near Winter Cove, Saturna Island very early in the morning on Sunday July 1st 2007. In 2010 she was still listed in the Canada Register of Shipping.

Robertson II

The Robertson II starting to break up on Minke Reef. (Photo from the Drew Clarke collection.)

She was set on the reef on a high tide, and was soon hard aground. As the tide turned and the water fell she rolled over into deeper water and was flooded. In the following couple of days she lost her main mast and broke her back.

Robertson II

The Robertson II starting to break up on Minke Reef. (Photo from the Drew Clarke collection.)

Robertson II

Grant Hobbs up the Mast of the Robertson II as we remove it with the Tug Keluk( Prior to Attaching the Air Bags. (Photo from the Drew Clarke collection.)

By July the 9th the name board on the stern, the ship’s wheel and other equipment had been removed from the hulk.

Robertson II

The Robertson II with Captain Bob’s Barge with the Phoenix Dive Team Aboard (Photo from the Drew Clarke collection.)

Robertson II

The Robertson II Starting to Level Out Thanks to Captain Korek’s Efforts (Photo from the Drew Clarke collection.)

Robertson II

The Robertson II (Photo from the Drew Clarke collection.)

Robertson II

The Robertson II As We Left Her (Photo from the Drew Clarke collection.)

To quote from this article please cite:

Clarke, Drew (2017) The Final Days of the Schooner Robertson II. 2017.


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