City of Alberni
Many thanks to Andrea Andraczyk-Frost for this beautiful photo which was taken 22 June 1940.
City of Alberni was a
1,600-ton five-masted topmast schooner built by the
George F. Matthews
boatyard in Hoquiam
, Washington, in 1920. Constructed
mainly of Douglas fir, she was
241 feet long with towering mast heights of 170 feet.
She was christened
Vigilant by her first owner, the
E.K. Wood Lumber Company, and she was put her to work
transporting lumber, a job for which she had been specifically
designed. Unlike many other sailing ships,
or sailers, of her time,
Vigilant managed to survive the next two decades in spite of
competition from steamships and
downturns in the economy.
She was fitted out with
new masts in 1936 and after being laid up from 1938 to
1940, she was sold to the
Canadian Transport Company,
part of the
H.R. MacMillan Export Company
British Columbia. Her new owner
City of Alberni
in honour of the
community on the west coast of Vancouver
Island which was a centre of
the lumber industry.
(Click for Map) By that
time, World War Two had started, and with the majority of steam-
powered merchant ships serving on the North Atlantic convoy routes,
sailing ships like City of Alberni
were pressed into service elsewhere.
CAPTAIN JOHN D. VOSPER
In early 1940, the schooner made her first voyage for the Canadian
Transport Company, carrying B.C. lumber to
Australia, and returning with sugar from
Fiji, under the
command of Captain John D. Vosper.
Captain Vosper was a well-known and respected master, who had
been given the nick-name "Honest John D" by his crews.
This picture shows
Captain Vosper and the ship's cat on
board City of Alberni. The photo beside the Captain
is of his two daughters.
Captain Vosper liked to tell the story of his "rum
running" days during the Prohibition era of the 1920's.
He would sail his schooner, Malahat,
with her cargo of liquor, down to California, where
heave-to -- face the ship's bow into the wind
and drift with the sails aback --
three miles off the coast. Even if the revenue
men suspected what Malahat was up to, their cutter couldn't
investigate her because she was in International
Once it was dark, Captain Vosper would put a light out on a
the revenue men, seeing the light, would assume it was
Instead, the ship would be off
selling her cargo elsewhere, returning in time to be innocently
the buoy again when the sun rose!
Photo Source: "City of Alberni -- Wartime Windjammer",
by Captain H.D. Halkett.
THE 1941 VOYAGE
In April 1941, Captain Vosper and
City of Alberni were needed to take
another load of B.C. lumber to Sydney, Australia.
Among the seventeen men on board
the schooner for the voyage were four young
Douglas Nutter, and
Arthur Smith --
Hugh D. Halkett, a
Quartermaster in his regular job,
who had signed on City of Alberni as an
Hugh had been working
on board the Canadian Pacific
passenger ship, Princess
under essential service rules,
job had been "frozen" for the duration of the war.
He had been fortunate
to be granted a leave of absence
in order to
gain deep-sea experience under sail.
Glen's job as the Wireless Operator or
was quite varied and interesting.
knew Morse Code,
but, due to wartime
restrictions he couldn't transmit on his radio unless there
was an emergency.
So when he
wasn't listening for other messages, Glen kept busy
doing the Captain's paperwork,
and helping the other seamen on deck.
Glen Eastman (3rd from the left) and mates.
On the April morning that
City of Alberni
was to depart Vancouver
harbour, the weather was
rainy and miserable.
Hugh Halkett always
remembered how everyone aboard the ship was cheered
when the head of the
Canadian Transport Company,
Mr. H.R. MacMillan,
came to wish them them a safe journey.
Mr. MacMillan was, in Hugh's words,
a "fine gentleman who loved his
sailing ship" and his gesture of caring was greatly appreciated.
Large deep-sea sailers like City of Alberni
found navigation close to shore very hazardous, and
it had been the custom on the coast for powerful tugboats
to help them to and from the open sea.
So when all was ready,
the steam tug
C.P. Foster took
City of Alberni in tow for
the deep-water harbour adjacent to the city of
Alberni, where the schooner was
to load her lumber.
After their arrival at Port Alberni,
C.P. Foster patiently waited while
two million board feet of lumber were carefully stowed
in City of Alberni's huge holds and on her
long, flat deck.
Then the tug towed the schooner down the inlet
to a safe anchorage where the two ships
were forced to wait a few more days for a favourable offshore wind.
Finally, C.P. Foster
towed the schooner thirty miles off
Island, and cast her free to
begin her voyage to Australia.
Throughout City of
crossing, her crew kept a lookout
for disguised German
which were known to be in the
Pacific. Fortunately, none were encountered, and
arrived safely off the
Sydney Heads in 82 days.
At that point,
had their first opportunity to see Glen in action with his Morse
Code skills when he used an
Aldis signalling lamp to request
An elderly steam tug then came out and towed
of Alberni to
her mooring in
Snail Bay, Sydney Harbour.
The photo on the left shows
the breathtaking view at sea
from high up on the
end of the
yardarm on the
The delightful photo on the right
was taken by a Sydney newspaper
while the schooner was discharging
her cargo in Snail Bay.
Left to right the seamen
are: Roland Geddes,
Hugh Halkett (in front),
and Arthur Smith.
Source: These photos and the one above of Glen Eastman
are from the collection of Captain Halkett.
While the schooner was unloading her lumber at Sydney, Captain
Vosper had to make the decision of what cargo to carry back
Luckily, he passed up a charter to
sail to Singapore for rubber, opting
instead to load
(now Western Samoa).
This decision saved City of Alberni and her crew
from falling into Japanese hands after Japanese forces attacked
Pearl Harbour on December 7th, 1941, and began their
through the South Pacific.
When City of Alberni arrived at Apia,
she was greeted by happy, singing Polynesians who were intrigued
at the sight of a five-masted
sailing ship anchored in their lagoon.
Once a German colony, the western part of Samoa had became a
after World War One, and when City of Alberni
visited there, her crew found that it was still a typical South Sea
Island paradise, complete with a Governor's Residence.
Samoa was also famous for being the home of the great Scottish
writer, Robert Louis Stevenson
(1850-1894). Stevenson and his family had lived about 3 miles from
Apia in a beautiful house which he named
his six years on the island, the writer
became very close to his Samoan neighbours. They called him
"Teller of Tales", and when he died, sixty of them
cut a path to the top of the mountain to bury him.
While City of Alberni was at Apia,
everyone aboard made the trek
up the mountain to see the grave of the celebrated author.
Robert Louis Stevenson had been plagued with
sickness all his life and he had moved to Samoa for his health.
Before he died at the age of 46, he wrote his own
epitaph, the beautiful Requiem.
The Tomb of
Robert Louis Stevenson in 1941
Under the wide and starry sky
Dig the grave and let me lie.
Glad did I live and gladly die,
And I laid me down with a will.
This be the verse you grave for me;
Here he lies where he longed to be;
Home is the sailor, home from the sea,
And the hunter home from the hill.
Stevenson is best remembered today for works such
as A Child's Garden of Verses,
Treasure Island, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,
and Kidnapped. In one of his essays, El Dorado,
he penned the famous line
"...to travel hopefully is a better
thing than to arrive...."
Even nearly half a century after his death,
Robert Louis Stevenson was still so highly thought of by the
Samoan people, that when the men from City
of Alberni made the pilgrimage to his grave, they found that
the path was still being kept clear of foliage by
After her pleasant and memorable stopover in Samoa,
City of Alberni
returned safely across the Pacific, managing
once again to avoid both the surface raiders and the
Japanese submarines. She arrived
Washington, sixty-seven days after
leaving Apia. There she was taken in tow by the
Anyox, which brought
the schooner the rest of the way to Vancouver.
This photo shows Hugh Halkett
at the wheel of City of Alberni.
After this 1941 voyage, Hugh gained his
Mate's Certificate and went on to spend the rest of the war
and later Second
Officer aboard SS Crystal Park
, one of the new 10,000-ton replacement
built in North Vancouver. Crystal Park
was managed for the duration of the war by Canadian Pacific.
She sailed the North Atlantic in convoys to Britain
and to the Mediterranean.
After the war, Hugh managed to stay at sea in spite the sudden
decline of Canada's once splendid merchant fleet. When he
Master's papers in 1947 at the age of 26,
he was thought to be the youngest Captain on the BC coast.
After the CPR Hugh worked for the
Service and for the
Canadian Coast Guard, where he
spent some time ice-breaking in Canada's north.
In his last 18 years before retirement, Hugh
served as a Master with
Photo Source: "Wartime Windjammer", by Captain Hugh D. Halkett.
Captain Hugh Halkett
Upon his retirement in 1985,
Captain Hugh Halkett married, and he and his
made their home far from the sea in St. Albert, Alberta,
where Hugh became a Marriage Commissioner.
Hugh was a member of both the
Company of Master Mariners
of Canada and the
"Cape Horners" or
Amicale Internationale des Capitaines au Long Cours
Cap-Hornier. He was very involved with the
Canadian Merchant Navy
Veterans Association (CMNVA) and worked hard on behalf
of Merchant Navy veterans. Hugh
wrote for a variety of publications and he
was also one
of the contributors to Robert G. Halford's book,
The Unknown Navy: Canada's WWII
Merchant Navy. Sadly, Hugh's health began to
fail in 1999 and in November 2000 he
with bone cancer.
The terrible disease took his life less than a month later
on December 6th. At Hugh's funeral one of the poems
read was his favourite
Robert Louis Stevenson's
City of Alberni
is continued in