"Bahama Star" - From Invasion Beaches to Breakwater

Bahama Star and the Regan Family

One of the pleasures of researching material that provides authenticity, colour and background to my writing, is coming across historical events, places and objects that make a personal connection with my own life.

Such was the case when, for my novel Oriental Vagabonds, I was researching the standard design cargo steamers built by the Allies during World War 1 to replace the horrendous losses to U-boats. Among those designs was the oddity of the wooden-hulled steamers built in the United States for the Emergency Fleet Corporation. With timber plentiful and steel in shorter supply, several hundred such ships were built the best known being the Ferris ships, named after their designer Theodore E Ferris, which were 270 feet long with a deadweight of 3,500 tons. Although they undoubtedly made a significant contribution to the Allied victory, they were not a commercial success after the war. Their lives were short, their owners soon discovering what their predecessors had learned at the transition from sail to steam, that wooden hulls are insufficiently robust to withstand the weight of heavy propulsion machinery.

The wooden steamers were not the only ships designed by Ferris, though. One that enjoyed a long and eventful career was the Bahama Star on which, in 1961 as an eight-year-old passenger, I made my first trip to sea.
Not impressed by my first ship, apparently!

Originally named Borinquen, she was already 30 years old when I boarded her in Nassau for a weekend round trip to Miami. Built in 1931 by Bethlehem Shipbuilding for the New York and Puerto Rico line, she peacefully operated a scheduled service between New York and San Juan until, following the entry of the US into World War 2 in December 1941, she was pressed into service by the War Shipping Administration for use as a troopship. In that role, she was outfitted to carry 1300 troops and 400 medical patients and was destined to play a major part in the war.

Commencing in January 1942 she undertook numerous Atlantic crossings to Iceland, Scotland and West Africa, including one to Cape Town that extended into the Indian Ocean as far as Aden and Suez. Then, in November 1942, she took part in Operation Torch, ferrying US troops from Belfast and Liverpool to the landings in Oran, Casablanca and Algiers. She followed that up by taking part in Operation Husky and landing troops in Sicily in July 1943. Not satisfied with her contribution to those campaigns, she then departed Swansea on 5 June 1944 and carried US troops to the Normandy landings, thus serving in all three major amphibious operations of the European theatre. I expect she was not the only ship that earned that distinction, but she is the only one I have sailed in.

Demobbed after the war she returned to passenger service with the Arosa Line ferrying immigrants from Europe to Canada and the US, before being purchased by Eastern Steamship Lines in 1959. Renamed Bahama Star she ran a scheduled service between Miami and Nassau for ten years, in which I had the pleasure of sailing in her in 1961.

Fools and first trippers!

Her adventures were not over, however, and in 1965 she was involved in the rescue of passengers and crew from the Yarmouth Castle which caught fire and sank 60 miles northwest of Nassau. Bahama Star rescued 240 passengers and 139 crew, although, sadly, 87 people went down with the ship and three died later in hospital. Yarmouth Castle had previously been named Evangaline, and had operated in tandem with Bahama Star in the Nassau to Miami run. I saw them both regularly in Nassau harbour.

Ironically, the loss of the Yarmouth Castle tolled the death knell for the Bahama Star as it led to a change in the fire safety regulations, with which she could not comply.

Sold in 1969, she was sailed to California and anchored off Port Hueneme, north of Los Angeles. The following year she dragged anchor in a gale and was wrecked on Silver Strand, north of the port entrance. Salvage proved impossible and eventually she was filled with rocks to form part of a new breakwater for the port. But she is not entirely forgotten. Part of her hull and deck plating are still visible and the rest of the submerged wreck can be seen underwater. Having well served her country in time of war, she continues to serve the community where she finally came to rest.

Evening Departure

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