Robertson II runs aground off Saturna

The Robertson II, a tall ship affectionately known to generations of Victorians as "the Robbie," went down on a reef off of Saturna Island on Saturday.

None of the approximately half a dozen crew members and passengers were injured in the accident, but damage to the ship was fairly significant, according to Darren Morley, Canadian Coast Guard maritime controller.

"It's just the tides [that likely caused the ship to founder]," Morley said. "Last word we got today was salvage attempts did not work."

The schooner served for 20 years as a training vessel for thousands of young people in the Sail and Life Training Society, or SALTS. The Robertson II was one of the best-known vessels on the South Island, since she was anchored for a prolonged period in Victoria's Inner Harbour.

High Hopes....

Hopes high that tall ship can be rescued
Robertson II on its side at reef off Saturna
Sandra McCulloch, Times Colonist
Published: Tuesday, July 03, 2007
If all goes well, the venerable Robertson II will soon be sitting upright on its keel and on its way to a shipyard for repair.

On the other hand, the 29-metre-long schooner, built in 1940, may still be on the rocks and could be refloated during Wednesday night's high tide, the highest of the summer.

The vessel went aground on a reef at 2 a.m. on July 1 as it was preparing to anchor near Winter Cove on Saturna Island.

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The Robertson II, a tall ship formerly used by the Sail and Life Training Society out of Victoria, lists at a near-90 degree angle near the entrance to Saturna Island’s Winter Cove. None of the crew members was injured when the 67-year-old heritage schooner, known affectionately as ‘The Robbie,’ went down on a reef on the weekend.
Toby Snelgrove, Special to the Times Colonist

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Font: ****Owner Roy Boudreau was on Saturna Tuesday and unavailable for comment. Boudreau was busy making plans to get the wooden vessel off the rocks, where it's lying on its starboard side, said Humphrey Killam, a director with the Victoria-based Merchant Marine Sail and Steam Society.

The society has access to the Robertson II for youth-training courses, but the schooner was on a private cruise when it foundered

"They actually didn't hit any rocks, I gather - they just got stuck in the mud," said Killam. "Then when the tide went out, it rolled onto a rock or something."

None of the four to six crew members on board at the time was injured in the mishap.

The area where the reef is located is notorious, said Troy Haddock, marine controller with the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre, adding much smaller boats have difficulty navigating though the rocky passage. "It's a bad area."

The Robertson II wouldn't have had a problem if a vessel had been available to get it off the mud before the tide went out, said Killam.

Fuel from the schooner created a slick around the vessel, said Saturna crab fisherman Bill Douglass, who worries the Robertson II could become derelict. "It's a very large-scale piece of wooden hull that's full of toxic material. It obviously needs to be dealt with."

Douglass visited the vessel by boat on Sunday and saw a fuel-containment boom caught in the schooner's rigging. "It was a joke. I got quite upset when I was out there because there was such an oil spill and the people who were supposed to be tending it were leaving. They'd turned it over to somebody else."

Killam said Boudreau told him by phone Tuesday that the vessel can be repaired.

"He said it wasn't too bad. Well, it's mucky ... but structurally I don't think there's anything that can't be fixed. It is an issue of getting it to stand up straight again."

Killam suspects the area of damaged hull may turn out to be above the water-line, "but when it's lying over on its side it's a problem."

A boater himself, Killam said ocean currents can be "pretty funny" in the area where the Robertson II foundered. "You can be sitting there thinking you're in position and by the time you look up again, you're 100 feet this way."

Killam was unsure if the Robertson II was insured "but it doesn't matter, it'll get fixed. She's a beauty.

"They build those vessels with green lumber. With that one, it got half built and then everybody went away to the war. It sat there for a couple years and the weather cured the wood, so she's really pretty solid underneath there."

The Robertson II become a popular fixture on the West Coast when she was operated by the Sailing and Life Training Society (SALTS). She was sold by SALTS in 2003 and is currently based in Cowichan Bay.

Douglass is anxious to see the schooner removed. "I really expected to see a barge here two days ago with a crane. It's good to hear that somebody is going to be actually responding."

Robertson II owner seeks help to save stricken tall ship

After spending $15,000 - the same amount he paid for the boat - on several failed attempts to get the schooner Robertson II off a reef, the vessel's owner and his helpers are hoping the public will help save the stricken tall ship.

They're looking for about a dozen air bladders and a few scuba divers. Cash would help, too.

"We're going to keep trying and if somebody showed up with some air bags, that would be spectacular," said Humphrey Killam, a friend of Robertson II owner Roy Boudreau. The air bags are inserted in the hull and inflated for buoyancy.

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Font: ****Killam, whose 70-foot ketch Greybeard was anchored near the 67-year-old schooner Friday, is a director with the Merchant Marine Sail and Steam Society, which has access to the historic vessel for youth training courses.

Tentative plans called for a tugboat with experience pulling fragile vessels from rocks to be on site at the 11 p.m. high tide Friday night, but it was unclear if an attempt to refloat the vessel would be made.

The vessel, a former commercial fishing schooner that was used for youth training for two decades until it was retired in 1994, went aground early Sunday morning as it attempted to anchor in an area rife with currents.

Boudreau hired salvage operators that cost thousands of dollars in failed attempts to right the vessel.

A split plank on the starboard side allowed the sea to flood and seep out of the hull with each tide cycle, said Killam.

"A hole on the side is above the water line but it doesn't do you any good until you get her right side up."

A coast guard representative told the Globe and Mail this week that a marine surveyor's report shows the vessel is likely "finished," with a ruptured bulk head that has sprung the deck, and separation of planks and joints throughout the schooner's length.

Boudreau was unavailable for comment Friday afternoon as he and others sealed up cracks in the hull with caulk. Closing up the two-inch hole in the side would have to wait until the boat is upright, said Killam.

"Once we float her and get her off the reef, we'd have to address that hole real quick. It's not going to be an easy one."

Aluminum sheeting or plywood could temporarily close the hole, said Killam, but the damaged area is inaccessible from the interior because of nearby batteries and fuel tanks.

As a result, saving the Robertson II from a watery demise will be difficult.

"It's easy to tow it off the reef," said Killam.

"But if they tow it off the reef they have to have their ducks lined up or she'll sink to the bottom, which is where we don't want to see her.

"Everybody's got optimism on one side of the equation and realism on the other side."

No one on the scene is ready to give up yet, however, he said.

"If you cry uncle, you have to weep for the rest of your life.

"If this was a normal boat, nobody would care. But it's not a normal boat and she needs to be helped."

Transport Canada said this week that Boudreau must remove the ship from the reef.

If Boudreau is unable or unwilling to remove the vessel, the government will dismantle it and remove it before it breaks up and creates a hazard to other boaters.

Victoria's Sail and Life Training Society sold the Robertson II in 2003 to Boudreau's company, Atlantic and Pacific Fisheries, for $15,000.

The non-profit society said the low price was due to the schooner's need for "extensive restoration work."

SALTS now uses a Robertson II replica called the Pacific Grace.

Anyone with air bladders or salvage equipment to spare can reach Killam at (250) 216-2940.