December 19 & 20, 2016 marked 1,000 voyages for Captain Michael Bethel and the ‘Duke of Topsail.’ Bethel journeyed to West Palm Beach on December 19 and returned from Florida the following day to Marsh Harbour.
According to Captain Michael “Mike” Bethel, his close to 20 years at the helm of the Duke of Topsail, one of the main cargo ships bringing merchandise to Abaco and Nassau from Florida, were smooth sailing, aside from a couple of trips. Averaging 50 voyages a year, Captain Mike explained that in the past, time was lost when the ship had to be in dry docks for maintenance or during hurricanes when the ship was anchored idling in the sea of Abaco to ride out the storm.
The 237-foot vessel, boasting a 46-foot beam, had an interesting history before being purchased by United Abaco Shipping in 1997.
The ship was built in 1972 in Makkum, Netherland, for the founder of a ferry operating company. The ship was bought by Unilever in 1973 and later renamed ‘Norfolk Line’ in 1974. Norfolk Line, a shipping company with two ships, the ‘Duke of Holland’ and the ‘Duke of Norfolk,’ was based in Great Yarmouth, England.
In 1985, Norfolk Line was bought by Maerst, a company registered in London, UK. Called the ‘Duke of Norfolk,’ the vessel then shipped out of London until 1987, at which time it was sold to Topsail Shipping Co., a Canadian company based in Newfoundland. Her name was then changed to ‘Duke of Topsail,’ possibly for the small village named Topsail located on the island.
At the helm of the Duke of Topsail was Captain Lloyd Bugden, who offered ferry and cargo service out of Lewisporte, Labrador to the isolated Northern settlements of the province during the summer months. The extreme cold weather prevented sailing any other time of the year.
Following Captain Bugden’s death in 1996, the ship was sold. In May 1997, United Abaco Shipping acquired the vessel. It has since then been operated by Captain Bethel who, he says, learned his sea-going skills from his father, thus putting behind him thirty nine years of sea-faring experience.
While at dock in Marsh Harbour, the ship has been a training site for the local Maritime Cadets. Captain Bethel mentioned that a young Bahamian is presently the first mate, one he said will most likely replace him when he retires, “but not quite yet,” he added jokingly.
United Abaco Shipping will celebrate twenty years of ownership in 2017.