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‘They should just go ahead and let her die’

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Then and now: Retired captain of the Canima Roy Kenneth Todd holds a photo of himself at the helm on her last college cruise. (Photo by Mark Tatem)

For Captain Roy Kenneth Todd, news of the once-legendary Bermudian tender Canima now rusting at port in Canada is an occasion for a wealth of memories.Mr Todd, who retired five years ago after a life on the water for Marine and Ports, spent ten years as relief captain of the vessel, then seven years more as full time captain until the Canima’s career ended in November, 1988.“She was my favourite ship,” Mr Todd said. “It’s sad to see her now, and I was sorry to see her go back in 1988, but she was ageing by then. The electrics were bad, the deck had problems, and she was just too slow.”Once Bermuda’s favourite for carousing, the old passenger ferry has languished for years by New Brunswick’s Miramichi Bay.Its present owners hope to secure investments to refurbish it. Mr Todd expressed doubt that it could happen.“That thing’s 50 years old,” he said. “I don’t think anybody’s going to want to invest. The hull will be rusty. I think they should just go ahead and let her die.”According to locals in New Brunswick, many in the area would welcome such an event.Brunswick News reporter Shawn Berry said the now-derelict boat is “reviled”. Since the Canima appeared up north in 2002, its presence has been a local mystery.“Who knows?” Mr Todd said. “Maybe they’ll revitalise her. People with a lot of money can do crazy things.”The Southampton resident was 21 in 1971, when he first captained the Canima, taking her by night back to Dockyard on the Marine and Ports annual cruise.“It was nervous work, to be out at night, but knowing the channels as I did, it was no big thing. She was big, that Canima, but it was a wonderful challenge.”The vessel was iconic of a high point in Bermuda tourism, when US college students on spring break swarmed to the Island for College Weeks.Remembered Mr Todd: “They’d sneak liquor on board, and want to jump overboard when they shouldn’t. Sometimes there were fights. The police got called a couple times. It’s normal when you get a bunch of young people together for a party; it was all part of the job.”Asked about the strangest antics he saw on board, Mr Todd just laughed. “You can’t print that stuff,” he said.So popular were the parties on board that boats would take grave risks to join in.“We’d steam down the channel and sometimes power boats, big boats, would sneak alongside to tie, to get aboard and pick up girls, food, booze, whatever,” he said. “It was very dangerous, of course, but it happened.”The boat had another close call one night near Two Rock Passage, when an amorous couple left their boat’s lights turned off to enjoy themselves on deck.“They scrambled when our searchlight came on,” Mr Todd recalled.Some of his best memories are the quiet times.“It would be very picturesque on the water, especially at 5, 6am heading into Hamilton when it was tranquil, passing fishing boats all the time.”As a black pilot in an recently-desegregated Bermuda, Mr Todd occasionally had to deal with impolite passengers.One night, after turning a ferry back to Albuoy’s Point for a black couple to board, he said: “There were a lot of white people up on the wheel house deck, and one white guy who observed that they were black, started up on me saying, ‘If that were me, you wouldn’t have gone back.’ But he didn’t know the history, because we didn’t look at race. We would go back for anybody. I guess he just had a few drinks in him.”On another occasion, the Canima had a narrow brush with disaster as she left St George’s.“The anchor hadn’t been secured,” Mr Todd recalled. “And suddenly it dropped. Right away I told the quartermaster to put her to starboard. That was scary. We could have been damaged or had a major collision. Women were screaming; it was crazy. After that, I went down and made sure personally that it was secured.”When it came to local cruises for parties, he said, “That boat was the one. We had the most fabulous cruises with bands. Now and then we’d get some of the big bands that would play around the hotels, but usually it was more groups like the Sharks and the Strollers.“She was cruising as soon as she came here. The Canima used to run back and forth to St George’s, and she was the best boat like that we ever had.”Mr Todd was 18 years old in 1965, when the Canima sailed to Bermuda to replace the Chauncey M Depew. She was the last vessel to carry the on-board telegraph system and, along with her Irish-built sister ship the Cill Airne, she was said to be Europe’s last rivet-built ship.While the vessel sits in the water in New Brunswick, New Brunswick reporter Kris McDavid said the Cill Airne has a found new career on Dublin’s River Liffey, as a restaurant.Mr Todd regrets being away on vacation when the Canima headed north for Canada. “I knew it was being sold because they’d advertised it,” he said. “Right at the end of ‘88 she went. It was sad.”The vessel’s direct drive engines which Mr Todd said would shut down completely when the boat stopped were reportedly torn out by one of its succession of Canadian owners, and the brass fixtures sold off.After US investor Del Schultz purchased it by Internet auction, vandals also made off with the boat’s original wheel when the Canima ended up in New Brunswick.Mr Todd said he had no idea what had become of his old favourite until its story appeared this week in The Royal Gazette.However, one special fixture of the Canima lives on in Bermuda, he said.“Seniors in Bermuda will be glad to hear that the old ferry boat we had, a steam vessel called the Corona, had its steam whistle taken off when it was decommissioned,” he said.“At some point in the 1980s, they put that whistle on the Canima. As far as I know, that whistle went to the Maritime Museum. The Canima had her own regular horn, but with that whistle she sounded like a train.”

Captain Roy Todd in 1971, when at age 24 he became Bermuda?s youngest-ever tugboat captain.
Retired Captain Roy Kenneth Todd was 12 years old in 1959 when this snapshot was taken at the wheel of the tugboat ?Bermudian?
The tender ?Canima? at its prime.
The ferry and ?party boat? Canima cruises off St David?s in 1984.
Captain Roy Todd at the wheel of the Canima during its last year in Bermuda waters - and the last college cruise - in March, 1988.