Duffy, Joseph

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Chatham Man Joseph Duffy Recalls Life Aboard Avon Queen

By R. Duplain


Joseph Duffy of Chatham was one of many Miramichiers who worked or travelled aboard the Avon Queen. The four masted schooner was owned and captained by R. A. McLean of Chatham.

The vessel was built in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia in 1918. It was registered for 958 tons and was 252 feet long in overall length and 202 feet long along the keel. The ship had 132 feet between the water line and the tip of its masts.

In 1937, the Avon Queen was lost at sea off the United States coast. It was bound from Turks Island in the West Indies to Saint John with a cargo of salt. Some of the salt got into the pumps and the ship started to flounder. The crew was taken off safely by a U. S. Navy destroyer. The destroyer later sank the vessel.

Crew of eight

The Avon Queen carried a crew of eight. It consisted of the captain, first mate, bosun or second mate, four sailors and a cook.

For a number of years it sailed regularly from Chatham to Boston and New York. It had a cargo of lathes. The vessel also sailed between Campbellton and New York and Boston, the south shore of Nova Scotia and Saint John and the West Indies and Saint John. It spent one summer along the Gaspe coast.

Joe Duffy was a member of the federal department of Fisheries inspection team at Chatham at the time of the Avon Queens sinking. His last voyage was the one immediately before the ill-fated trip.

On one occasion the craft took 19 days for a trip that would normally take eight or ten days. In the first of March the ship was caught in a storm off Nova Scotia. The ship lost all her sails during the height of the storm. Temporary canvas had to be rigged.

A Nova Scotia newspaper reported this account of the incident: “Tossed for days as her crippled crew fought against the elements, the Nova Scotian four-master Avon Queen yesterday crept into sheltered Shelbourne harbour with four of her crew injured, two suffering frost bite in their battle. With provisions shot and seas entering the drinking water tank, they had been short rationed for days.

Reduced Rations

“To make matters worse, the craft rolled so badly that the cook could not keep a fire going, salt water became mixed in the drinking water, and provisions ran short, the men, in addition to their exposure and injuries were forced to subsist on reduced rations and a minimum of drinking water.

As the vessel limped into the outer harbour, motor boats took her in tow, while another small boat took the second mate to shore, where he was treated by Dr. Churchill. It is likely the schooner will be repaired here.

The Avon Queen had yet another scrape with the elements. It occurred in June of 1935. The ship was damaged when it went aground in fog off the Yarmouth, Nova Scotia coast.

With her hold almost half filled with water and with a list of from 15 to 18 degrees, the Nova Scotia built four masted schooner Avon Queen put into Halifax, her keel believed to have been badly damaged when she struck at Mud Island off the Yarmouth coast. Held a prisoner for several hours, the big schooner, one of the few remaining four masters playing to and from Nova Scotia ports and said to have been one of the last and largest vessels of her type to have been built in Nova Scotia was floated the same night.

Besides Captain McLean, crew members of the Avon Queen included: Edward Martin of Baie Ste. Anne, Fred Russell of Escuminac, Fidele Arseneau of Chatham, Laurie McLean, the Captain’s son of Chatham, George Williston of Newcastle, Patrick Lumsden of Bartibogue, Ernest Doucett of Chatham, Baxter McFarlane of Chatham, K. Knowles of Chatham, Francis Jimmo of Escuminac, Hugh Wood of Newcastle, William Harris of Chatham and Mr. Duffy of Chatham.

Good Wages

Mrs. Duffy said wages were good in those days. Although it was the hungry 30’s, crew members were paid the going rate. The crew was paid by the month. Mr. Duffy received a wage of $20 as cabin boy. The cook was paid $70 while the captain received $60 per month.

One of the biggest disadvantages of sailing on a schooner was with the food that was served. Mr. Duffy explained that since there was no refrigeration or electricity, only a certain type of food could be served. He said the main food stuffs on board consisted of salt corned beef and , salt cod, salt herring, flour, bread, prunes and other items that would keep without refrigeration. There was always lots of food he said. The captain once told me, “he said that if I ever owned my own ship, to always feed the crew well. There is no work in a hungry man, he said.”

The crew members worked four hours on and four hours off. Mr. Duffy explained that two men worked with the mate and two men worked with the second mate. They did not work at the same time. Each had, as previously stated, four hour shifts. Daytime duties consisted of two hours of each shift steering the vessel while the other two hours was spent working on the deck. Deck work consisted of repairing rigging and other manual tasks. Night duty was again two hours at the wheel and two hours as lookout.

Dog Watch

Mr. Duffy explained there was a 4 p.m. break each day. The purpose of this was to make sure the crew members would not work the same shift every day. The crew would return to work at 6 p.m. This was called the dog watch. In the event the crew had to tack ship, the usual work shift could not handle the job. The men who were off duty then had to be called on. “You rarely got your four hours off.” Mr Duffy said.

Joseph Duffy, now retired from the sea, remembers one dramatic experience on the Avon Queen. “On one trip in 1931 we struck the Brooklyn Bridge. We broke three top masts. The first mast cleared the bridge, but the second, third and fourth masts were broken. It was neither the captain’s or the crew’s fault. Mr Duffy said a tug boat was supposed to tow the schooner under the bridge at low water. The tug was late and when it did tow the vessel, it was high tide and there was no clearance. The ship was repaired after the next voyage at Perth Anboy in New Jersey.

After the Avon Queen went down, Captain McLean purchased another vessel. It was a four mast schooner from Portland, Maine. That ship, the Rene Marie Stewart, made only a couple of trips before she foundered off Yarmouth, Nova Scotia.

Buried at Sea

Mr. McLean returned home after that. Within a year about 1939, he made a trip from Saint John to the Barbados. On the return trip, Captain McLean became sick, died and was buried at sea. Speaking of his captain, Mr Duffy said he was a rough man. “He really drove those ships. When there was a breeze, he put up every piece of canvas there was aboard. He didn’t spare the canvas. The captain did lose some ships. It was no fault of his. We had no navigational equipment compared to what is available today. All we had was a sexton, compass and a chronometer. Now there are many more instruments. Captain McLean was very stern. He was a good seafarer,” Mr Duffy said, “he fed us good. And he also got a day’s work out of you.”

Joseph Duffy said he misses the four master. “I enjoyed my time at sea. What I had intended to do I had accomplished. That was the acquisition of my apprenticeship. After that I went to navigation school in Halifax. Mr. Duffy then served in the department of Fisheries, marine division for two years before joining the Royal Canadian Navy. He spent four and one half years there as a commissioned officer before returning to Fisheries. Mr. Duffy retired in 1975.

In his own words, Mr. Duffy said, “I still love the water. I left the sea because I had little home life. I still attend ship dockings in the area.” About the sea Mr. Duffy said, “I haven’t forgotten about it at all-not by a long shot.”

Diary of a Sea-Going Man

While making his voyages, Joe Duffy kept a log. One such log covers 15 days. It was a voyage from Chatham, N. B. to New York in 1931

Monday – 7:10 p.m. Arose at 3 a.m. and set sail at 4 a.m. with Ace Walls, pilot. Left the pilot at Escuminac at 8:15 a.m. Wind turned but we still made good headway. Went to bed at 1:30 p.m. and got up at 5:15 p.m. Supper served at 5:30 p.m. Good old salt horse for supper. Went forward and helped steward. 7:15 p.m. a few drops of rain but it did not amount to anything. Quite a number of drifters in the Bay. P. E. I. is pulling near. Will pass it at 4:30 p.m. Radio was going full sway from Summerside. Piece now playing is Home, Sweet Home, then Barnacle Bill the Sailor. Now sailing NE.

Tuesday – 6:15p.m. Government boat came out of Summerside about 5:30 a.m. Wind not very strong. Slow sailing. Laurie at the helm from 10 to 12, goes on again for dog watch. Radio going nearly all day from Moncton, Charlottetown and Summerside. 4 p.m., saw a boat coming from P. E. I. Heading NE now. Passed Pictou at 5:30 p.m. in Nova Scotia in sight. Expect to pass the gut of Canso at about 12 a.m. if all goes well. Captain is having a little snooze. He goes back on deck at 4 p.m. The wind is now turning ahead. That’s our hard luck. (Slow time) Another steamer is in sight.

Wednesday Arose at 7:30 a.m. and found we were in the same spot as last night. Beyond Pictou Island, a schooner went aground but it got off easily. Laurie on watch. Hockelaga passed us on the way to Charlottetown. There is heavy fog this morning. Heard the fog horn blowing. Rained hard all night ‘till about 8 p.m. Steamer passed us this afternoon on way inland, could not get the name. Getting some wind now and making fairly good time. Passed Cape George at 7 p.m. and are sailing due east. Played the captain three games of cards. I beat him in one of them. Will pass Cape Jack about 9 p.m. and Malberry at 9:40 p.m. Then we will be on the Atlantic Ocean.

Thursday – 6:30 Arose the same hour. Boat was anchored all night. Very heavy fog. Hauled anchor at about 10 a.m. and started again. Passed two boats coming through the gut of Canso. Passed Malberry at 2 p.m. Saw the car ferry. Passed Guysboro at 3:20 p.m. Tacted all day coming through the gut, wind is good. We are now off Canso and in about an hour we will be on the Atlantic Ocean. There is a big whistling buoy off Canso. It blows like a whistle on a steamer. Passed a lovely pleasure boat at 8 p.m.

Friday – 6:15 Very near Cape Sable. Very good wind. A coal boat bound for Halifax passed us. Laurie had a bad accident at the wheel last night. It almost got him down. Hiorel, the mate and I spliced a bumper for the boat. It certainly dipped all day and night. Captain turned radio on and first piece we heard was “Nearer My God To Thee.” Radio is now coming from Cape Sable. We will now shoot over to the American waters.

Saturday Remember nothing, was very seasick.

Sunday Still sick. Passed Halifax at 12 p.m. Saw two Canadian Navy boats.

Monday Saw the boat Roseland which carries passengers from Halifax to Boston. Passed Lunenburg that evening.

Tuesday Awoke at 5 Cookhouse caught on fire. Very narrow escape as engine room is next door. Overcame my sea-sickness. We are now heading for American waters put our clocks back 20 minutes.

Wednesday Travelled at a good rate. In the evening we saw about seven fish trawlers off the Georgian banks.

Thursday Layed still nearly all day. Not much wind and very warm. Fished for a spell but got nothing. In the evening we saw three rumrunners.

Friday Travelled along very good today. Passed Nantucket lights at 9 p.m. Later on we were hit by a lighting storm, it was very bad.

Saturday We had to turn out to sea for fear of going aground. Didn’t move an inch all day. At 7 p.m. got a little breeze. We passed Martha’s Vineyard at 8 p.m. Now heading for Brock’s Island.

Sunday At 7 a.m. an airplane and a government coastguard passed us. At 8 a.m. we could hear the church bells ring. We then saw steamers, 10 yachts and two airplanes. We passed Churchill at 2 p.m. Later on we saw passenger boat General Lee. It sails between Boston and New York. We will pass Gull Island at 7 p.m. There are summer cottages all along the shore. Got a sudden scare at about 8 p.m. A submarine came to the surface about 70 feet from us. Passed New London today.

Monday Travelling up the Sound. It is about as wide is the Miramichi. Saw Stanford at 8:30 p.m.

Source: North Shore Leader – July 12, 1978




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