Over the Waves: SS Ahern Trader

Shipwrecks litter the shores and banks of any coastal area. Sometimes they lie just below the surface, or as washed up wreckage on the shore. Occasionally the rusted out skeletons remain above the surface, serving as reminders of time past. Previously I've covered the SS CharcotSS Florizel, SS KyleHMS Calypso and the SS Ethie, all wrecks that are visible from land. This week, we look at the wreck of a cargo ship on the shores of Gander Bay, the SS Ahern Trader.

Ship Stats

  • Nationality: British/Canadian

  • Length: 61 metres

  • Weight: 744 tonnes

  • Year: 1922

Built in a Scottish shipyard in 1922, the steamship Lurcher started her career as a coastal vessel in Britain before being sold to the Ahern Trading Company and being renamed SS Ahern Trader. For the next few years, the ship sailed as a cargo vessel between Newfoundland and Montreal under Blue Peter's Steamships from St. John's.

SS Ahern Trader. Image from wrecksite.eu

On January 9, 1960 she arrived in port at Frederickton, Newfoundland under the command of Captain Davis. The plan was for her to offload her delivery of hay in Frederickton and continue on to Victoria Cove with another load of hay. While she was in harbour the weather started to turn and the winds began to gust upwards of 35-40 knots. As the storm became serious, the harbour official and crew of the Trader became concerned that the steel hull of the ship would damage the dock. Captain Davis decided that the best idea would be to cast off and anchor the ship in the harbour.

Unfortunately (as is usually the case with these) it wasn't that easy. The wind and snow made visibility almost non-existent. The crew struggled using only their radar to navigate away from the dockside. When they finally dropped anchor, the chain broke and left the ship helpless against the waves. Shortly thereafter, she was thrown against the sharp rocks 46m from shore.

The crew immediately raced into action. Whistles and flares rang out across the harbour, bringing community members out from an evening church service and onto the shoreline. Everyone was evacuated from the ship and given a place to stay in the town. Over the next few weeks the crew members slowly travelled home with only the Captain, First Mate and Chief Engineer remaining behind to make sure the ship was protected.

The Ahern Trader wreck on the shore of Gander Bay. Photo by Frankverro.

The ship's owners spent $70,000 and days trying to refloat the ship, hiring men from the community and chartering an ocean tug to assist in the salvage efforts. The ocean tug Irving Birch made four unsuccessful attempts to pull her from the shore between January and April  before the owners gave up and declared her a total loss. Later, the men from the community who had been hired to help were charged with claiming unemployment but not declaring the earnings they made during the salvage.

Her final resting position. From the Gander Beacon, January 4, 2011.

The Ahern Trader had stood upright on the shores of Gander Bay since her accident in 1960. In 2011, after being exposed to the elements for over 50 years, she finally tilted to port and now rests on her side on the shore. Another rusting relic of a bygone era.