There’s a new kid on the block (or dock as the case may be) at the Vancouver Maritime Museum. Built in 1935, Arctic-sailing ship North Star of Herschel Island (NSHI) recently sailed into the museum’s Heritage Harbour and is settling in with its neighbours. It is a contemporary of RCMP St. Roch (on display in the Vancouver Maritime Museum) and the two ships were often working in the Beaufort Sea at the same time.
Its first captain, Fred Carpenter, was a good friend with St. Roch’s Captain, Henry Larson. North Star of Herschel Island is the last of the sailing Arctic cargo ships. It is the only fully rigged ship in Canada, meaning that it crosses squares on each of its three masts. Sails can be handled from on deck and it is possible for the ship to be sailed single-handedly. NSHI was built in 1935 in San Francisco at the Geo. W. Kneass shipyard and shipped to the Arctic aboard the 600-tonne trading ship Patterson. It had originally been built for two Inuit fox trappers. It was used from 1936 to 1961 for transport of the winter’s catch of fur to market in early August and for transportation of supplies from Aklavik and Tuktoyaktuk to Sachs Harbour on Banks Island in late August and early September – when ice conditions permitted sea navigation. Except for three winters frozen in the ice, each fall NSHI was hauled onto the beach and launched the following spring using three purchase tackle and hand winched by the whole village over skids of freshly killed seals.
NSHI was left on the beach in 1961 when cargo flights took over the transportation and remained on the beach until 1968. It was purchased by its second owner in 1967 and refit for navigation in the Beaufort Sea. From 1968 until 1973, it was used for scientific investigations in the Arctic Ocean. Subsequent voyages included surveying the British Columbia Alaska boundary, ecological adventures, sail training and searching for mermaids. North Star of Herschel Island is the home of its present owners, Bruce and Sheila MacDonald, and is no longer a commercial ship but is now a private vessel.
For more information about North Star of Herschel Island visit www.northstarofherschelisland.com or visit by the Vancouver Maritime Museum’s Heritage Harbour.