Monday, December 24, 2007

FAIRMILE SUBCHASERS

Although not a nature subject, another interest of mine is boats. Recently the Duc D’Orleans cruise ship in Sarnia was hauled out of the water for rebuilding. It was originally a fairmile subchaser that was built in the early 1940’s at Sarnia. After WWII, it was rebuilt as a cruise vessel at Quebec City and spent many years there until the late 1970’s. It was then brought to Sarnia, its original home, for cruises there.
The fairmiles were fast escort vessels built for war service. Various ship-building firms across Canada were contracted to build these 112’ boats at a cost of about $80,000.00 apiece. A total of 80 were built, with most in Ontario, a few in Nova Scotia, and some in British Columbia. They were given specific numbers under the letter Q.
Mac-Craft in Sarnia was contracted to construct eight of these which were Q62, Q63, Q101, Q102, Q103, Q104, Q105, Q115. The Duc-D’Orleans was Q105. Q102 is still known to exist as a luxury cruise yacht on the southern east coast of the United States. Others may still exist, as there are still many around the world still floating.
They were well-built vessels of mahogany and oak, with the bottoms sheathed with “muntz” metal, a combination of copper and zinc. They had twin gasoline engines. The earlier boats had 635 hp motors (giving them a speed up to 20 knots), and the later ones were given 850 hp motors (up to 24 knots). Some were fitted with other motors as well.
Each carried a crew of about 15 men. Ironically, the original captain of Q105 is still living at the age of 88 in British Columbia.
Mac-Craft Inc. has a special place in my heart as it started in Wallaceburg in the late 1930’s building mahogany speedboats. They were top-of-line boats for their time. My father and I restored hull #2 and enjoyed it for many years. Unfortunately it was destroyed by fire when the boathouse went up in flames in March 1992.
Mac-Craft moved to Sarnia in 1941 when they got the contract to build fairmiles. It was a larger facility to do the construction.
Their first one was Q62, as seen in the photograph. The second photo shows Q63 beside it under construction as well.
Q105 (Duc D’Orleans) is shown in the news photo (at top) as it originally appeared complete with guns and depth charges.
Another photo shows the Duc in Wallaceburg on its first cruise there in July 1979. I was on this cruise, and if you look closely, I am leaning on the rail beside the pilot house!
The fairmiles apparently never saw any active service, and none were lost during the war. They were very well-built vessels and many of them survive to this day, mostly as private yachts or cruise ships. Click here for a website that shows some of the vessels that still exist today.


The plans for Q105 are to restore it to its original appearance. The last photo shows how it looks today (taken Dec. 22) at Point Edward. Obviously it will have to be rebuilt from the deck up, and will take huge amounts of money. I think they are relying heavily on volunteers and donations.
Hopefully the restoration will become a reality.

5 comments:

  1. Blake that is so interesting. But it is sad that your passion for restoring the hull was destroyed in a fire.
    Beleive it or not, besides birding I had a thing for a while with WWII planes. I enjoyed reading about them, seeing them at museums and even put together a Supermarine Spitfire model a couple of years back. I still enjoy watching programs on TV about them and my friends wonder how I can name the aircraft wizzing by on the screen before even the narrator of the documentary says anything...lol

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  2. A pleasure having sailed on Toronto's (York) fairmile Reindeer'49'as mess L/S .Going through Rideau canal to Dowes Lake to show the flag was a chore for upper decks.More challenges en-route to Montreal on Ottawa River.
    A much smaller vessel of my 13 in RCN
    Nice group.
    N.Goodwill

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  3. I was raised in Toronto and used to summer on Georgian Bay, a friend of mine and I used to stay at each other's cottages from time to time back in the 70s.

    His family had a restored Mahogany Chris Craft and we would wait for the Penetang Eighty-Eight tour boat to come by and we would race out of their bay making mock torpedo runs at the old Fairmile. Later I even took a cruise on it with my folks.

    How goes the restoration? The website appears down as the domain is expired. I was trying to find out what happened to the 88, and found this as well as your blog.

    Q-088 - Commissioned into RCN: 10 May,1943

    Used as supply and passenger ferry up eastern Georgian Bay shore, Penatanguishene to Wah-Wah-Taysee.
    Sold and register transferred to Kingston 30 May,1974.
    OLYMPIA III ▲ 174989
    Owner: Kingston & The Islands Boat Lines Ltd.,Kingston, ON.(for passengers) Reg'd.: Kingston
    Reportedly burnt. (no records - possibly the ML seen beached and abandoned at Lachine)

    or this possible demise...

    sank in the Gananoque River at Gananoque on March 20, 1975

    Any thoughts, or information?

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  4. Blake, Anonymous - Q 088, the "Eighty Eight" which used to sail the channel daily along SE Georgian Bay, "ended up sunk in Lake Ontario in the late 1960’s near Gananoque, where it was in use as a cadet training vessel at the end of her life", according to http://www.boatinggeorgianbay.com/blog/archives/2011/12/entry_17.html.

    There is a bit more info about her tourist/mail/grocery service of the era in the book "Wind Water Rock and Sky".

    I too sailed on her as a passenger once or twice during childhood summers on the Bay.

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  5. Thanks for your info. Not often that I check old blog posts!
    The restoration of Q105 seems to be a dead issue. I think they finally realized it was cost prohibitive.

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