Stadacona – Yacht, Rum Runner and Naval Vessel

by Robert Harvey Q.C. 2013


Stadacona (Photo from the John Henderson collection.)

In 2003, Captain Hugh Stanley McLellan Jr. handed me his father’s notebook with dried four–leaf clovers scattered among the pages and a photo of the large white steam yacht – S.S. Moonlight Maid – backing out from a wharf in Vancouver harbour under an overcast sky. He asked me to write the story of his father’s rum running voyage down the coast to Mexico before Christmas in 1928.

She was sold to the new Canadian Navy’s as H.M.C.S. Stadacona in 1916 on the East Coast of Canada. At some point in the 1920s she steamed to the Pacific Coast and soon sold here to become a rich man’s yacht again, this time, named the Moonlight Maid.

The Canada List of Shipping (The Blue Book of Ship Registrations) for 1929 shows her registered owner to have been Willis P. Dewees of Vancouver, but others may have been owners with him to send the vessel on a six–month bare–boat charter to a certain Central American Shipping Company with offices in the financial district in the Credit Foncier Building at 510 West Hastings Street in Vancouver BC.

The senior McLellan had jumped ship in Vancouver in 1910 with his Second Mate’s ticket in Sail to build a 50–year career in British Columbia coastal shipping that began with Grand Trunk Pacific Steamships recognizing his experience at sea. Six years later found him in log towing tugs and Captain B.D.L. Johnson.

His most recent command may have begun earlier, but on November 21, 1928 McLellan Sr. stood in the wheelhouse of the prettiest steamer he had ever seen, the Moonlight Maid, with a crew he had chosen for a six–month bare boat charter, sailing in the West Coast waters he had come to know so well. He called for C. H. Cates tugs to come to move his ship from her berth tied with mooring lines alongside the then-named Burrard Terminals Grain Elevator in North Vancouver to Wallace’s Shipyard to undergo Steamship Inspection and to load supplies to be ready for sea.

Three days later on November 24th at 5:45 p.m. he shifted the ship out to Home Oil Barge to take on fuel.

On reporting readiness to sail, the man behind the desk in downtown Vancouver told him to sail to meet S.S. Arwyco in International Waters off Ensenada, Mexico for further directions, but to be on guard for U.S. Coast Guard interest to prevent shipment of liquor ashore from smaller motor vessels loitering in the vicinity.

With fueling complete at 11:15 a.m. on November 25th, and back at her temporary berth at Coal Harbour, he rushed to take a taxi to the Federal Government Shipping Office on West Hastings Street to fill out papers to ‘clear’ the ship for the coast-wise voyage from Vancouver to Ensenada, Mexico.

He returned to his vessel lying nearby with steam up to give the order to cast off lines at 11:50 a.m on November 25 1928. Under a dark overcast sky, he sounded three blasts of her whistle and backed out into the harbour and turned like a swan to pass through First Narrows on his way out to sea.

Her owners renamed his new command with the unlikely name of the S.S. Kuyakuzmt. Her measurements: 168’ x 30’ x 15.7’. She had been built in Philadelphia in 1893 as an ocean–going steam yacht with a beautifully shaped clipper ship bow, and had fine lines kept painted a shining white. With the ballast he had put aboard and two masts standing high, he could tell that the vessel would have an easy roll in seas on the run down to Mexico, and he and his small crew would revel in palatial quarters aboard.

By midnight with the patent log showing 117 miles steamed from Vancouver, he logged passing Tatoosh Island Light at Cape Flattery in a choppy sea. On compass courses of South x 2.5 East; and finally SE off Southern California, the ship made an uneventful voyage, often in fog with patent log streaming to record 1,375 miles steamed to arrive off Ensenada, Mexico on December 1st 1928.

Captain McLellan’s notebook shows that on arrival in the waters off Ensenada (Spanish for a cove or harbour opening for shelter), he stopped at the vessel Arwyco, which lay plainly in sight at sea. He makes no explanation for the stop in the notebook. The display of the engine room blowing tubes out of boiler after she approached Arwyco and ‘lay to’, as Captain McLellan expressed it, may have been code for the operation to begin.

Articles on the Internet refer to a small steamer by that name being run in Central America with ON 1100795, registered at Liverpool, UK: The Arwyco appears by the account to have been in place as a mother ship for the operation – see below for December 6th and 7th. Here follow notes in book:

On December 2nd loading cargo from L’Aquilla.

On December 3rd loading cargo 6,000 cases 18 men in all lifting.

(author’s note: The notation ‘c/s’ probably refers to cases of liquor)

On December 4th departed Ensenada with the U.S.C.G. Cutter Tuscaroora cruising with them. (author’s note: that name rings a bell with my memory: in 1935 Amelia Earhart was to have homed in on her radio beacon near Howlland Island in the South Pacific))

On December 5th met the Chief Skugaid and gave her 2,400 c/s

(author’s note: Four or five years later and before Harold Elworthy hired Captain Fred MacFarlane as Master of the S.S. Salvage Queen, Captain Fred MacFarlane chartered the M.V. Chief Skugaid a fish packer on his own account to operate a freight service from Vancouver Harbour to the West Coast of Vancouver Island in opposition to the route of the CPR Princess Maquinna.

Same day, December 5th:

130–miles offshore Cutter alongside checking and taking photos.

On December 6th Cutter left us to follow the Chief Skugaid. After dark opens up, I will speed for the Arwyco’s position to discharge.

Met Arwyco, discharging all day 2,500 cases various

On December 7th discharging all day (author’s note: all remaining cargo)

1:40 p.m. streamed the patent log at zero for the return north from the Arwyco at Latitude 32 03 N Long 120 02 W by observation.

Despite possibility of sighting the Swiftsure Lightship, Captain McLellan had been using the patent log readings from Ensenada as an aid to knowing distance run to avoid running aground in poor visibility on the coast of Vancouver Island. (Use of a patent log had been a lesson learned from the wreck of the Valencia near Pachena in 1906).

On December 8th fine, clear and calm with light NW 367 miles on log

On December 9th observed noon Lat 39.06 N Long 125.01 W with light variable winds. Log 634.5 miles at midnight

On December 10th observed noon Lat 43.07 N Long 125 43 W with a heavy sea and strong westerly blowing Force 5. Log showed 862 miles at midnight

On December 11th SW wind Force 8 Rough Sea. Noon log showed 1,103 miles steamed since leaving Arwyco’s position in International Waters.

4 p.m. lay to, heading back into a SE gale on the port tack with wind attaining a velocity of 80 miles an hour at times. At midnight, no change in weather, but all hands on deck to secure life boat broken loose with no damage.

On December 12th Weather moderated, considerably heavy seas still running. 4 a.m. hauled up course to N x E for Tatoosh Is Light distant. At Noon we picked up sight of Umatilla Lightship to starboard, distant.

(author’s note: off Ozette River and Cape Alava about 10 miles south of Cape Flattery, soon replaced by Umatilla Light offshore in the sea to warn of Umatilla reef.

Poor visibility and having stayed closer in to the Washington coastline may explain no mention of the Swiftsure Lightship located more to the NW from Cape Flattery’s Tatoosh Island light. (The U.S. Government forcibly moved the Umatilla band of native Indians to an inland reservation on the south bank of the Columbia River east of the Dalles).)

At 1:30 p.m. made for the Strait. Had lost the patent log rotator during night (author’s note: so no mileage since previous reading to record)

7:30 p.m. in William Head. Cleared Quarantine at 7:56 p.m, bound for Vancouver.

On December 13th 8:00 a.m. arrive in Vancouver; and to learn his ship to be tied up.

3:00 enter arrival at Shipping Office with no cargo to declare.

After Christmas he went down to Coyle Tug Company wharf to say he now open to hire again.

For most of the Depression, Coyle tugs called McLellan Sr. back in their large tugs the S.S. Cape Scott and Pacific Monarch when engaged in towing Davis Rafts and hog fuel as well as former sailing ship barge hulks on the West Coast. That work continued for long enough for him to see the advent of diesel engines in log towing tugs and for him to go to other employers.

His long career on the boats finally led to him being a relief skipper with Horie & Latimer towing from Seymour Inlet and Smith Inlet in their chartered 96–foot Charlotte Straits in winter towing season when Straits had the vessel tied up. The offshore NE winds in winter quelled the ocean swells that made for bad log towing weather along the shoreline of Queen Charlotte Sound on the way down to the Jungle. Old age finally sent him with his ticket to running a small passenger ferry on Lake Okanagan at Naramata.

In the prime of his life, Captain Hugh Stanley McLellan Sr. looked back on this voyage with great pleasure. The Examiner who passed him for his Master’s Certificate in 1911 handed him a letter to certify he had found McLellan’s supporting papers and credentials to be exceptionally satisfactory. For the detail of his life at sea in Sail see West Coast Mariner magazine December 1992 at page 9.


Stadacona being burned on the beach. (Photo from unknown source.)

Editor’s Note: She was originally owned by J. Harvey Ladew a New York executive of the Singer Sewing Machine Company. In 1915 she was sold to Aemilius Jarvis for use by the Royal Canadian Navy as an armed yacht. In 1915 she was commissioned and renamed as H.M.C.S. Stadaconna (a Canadian Naval Launch, Motor, Depot Ship) under the command of Lieutenant H.G. Jarvis RCN. In 1916 she patrolled the Gulf of St. Lawrence, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland coasts. In 1919 she was transferred to the west coast via the Panama Canal and lost a rudder off the Oregon coast. In 1919 she was used for seamanship training for Cadets of the Royal Naval College of Canada. In 1920 she was paid off to the Minister of Fisheries and Marine as a fisheries protection vessel. In 1924 she was owned by Central America Shipping Company, Vancouver BC. In 1924 she was owned by Ocean Salvage Co., Vancouver BC (Joseph W. Hobbs) and converted to a yacht and rum runner mother ship. Rebuilt as a yacht. In 1929 she was owned by W. P. Dewees, Vancouver BC. In 1931 she was owned by Willis P. Dewees, Vancouver BC. She was owned by Armour Salvage and Towing Company, Prince Rupert BC. In 1941 she was owned by Foss tugboat company, Seattle WA. In 1942 she was owned by US Government as tug supplying the US Army in Alaska.

To quote from this article please cite:

Harvey, Robert (2013) Stadacona – Yacht, Rum Runner and Naval Vessel. 2013.

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