Tilikum’s story: Epic journey in dugout canoe remembered

Workers pose in front of the Tilikum in New Plymouth

Workers pose in front of the Tilikum in New Plymouth

The Maritime Museum of B.C. is marking 110 years since two men shoved off from Turkey Head

It started with a dare between men – Norman Luxton challenged Capt. John Voss to sail around the world, in a canoe no less.

At 6 a.m., 110 years ago today (May 20), the dugout canoe Tilikum was launched near the current Oak Bay Marina for a tumultuous journey that would lead to the death of a friendship and the death of a man.

“It was never proved one way or another, but it was always held up they had a fight. By all accounts, Voss was very hard to get along with,” recounted Mike Spence, an 11-year volunteer at the Maritime Museum of B.C., where Tilikum now rests. “Luxton never had anything good to say about Voss.”

Luxton was 25 when they set off on their journey and had no sailing experience, but the 43-year-old Voss had plenty.

Both men wrote books about their time aboard the Tilikum. Voss’ book, The Venturesome Voyages of Captain Voss, gives but scant hints to the rocky relationship between the two original crewmates.

Not so for Luxton, who only lasted five months on board, disembarking for good in Fiji.

Upon leaving Oak Bay, Tilikum navigated the Pacific, stopping at several islands. According to Luxton’s book, Luxton’s Pacific Crossing, a fight erupted between the two mates en route to Samoa and Voss threatened to throw Luxton overboard. Consequently, Luxton took up a .22 calibre target pistol and locked the captain in the cabin until Tilikum docked in Apia, Samoa.

Not long after, Tilikum came under attack in the South Pacific. Voss fired a cannon from on board the dugout, which launched the vessel into a reef, where she was shipwrecked. Luxton was thrown overboard and, he wrote in his book, left for dead. Nonetheless, he was eventually hauled back aboard, but disembarked at Suva, Fiji and never reboarded.

In Suva, Voss met a young man named Walter Begent, who would become Voss’ second mate aboard the Tilikum. But before she reached Australia, Begent died by going overboard.

By Voss’ account, Begent fell and drowned, but Luxton’s writings suggest otherwise – he accused his former captain of throwing the young man into the sea.

The mission to sail around the world was never truly accomplished. After a stopover in New Zealand, Voss sailed Tilikum across the Indian Ocean to Cape Horn, then on to Brazil before arriving in London. She was shipwrecked many times along the way and repaired.

Voss left her in London in 1904, but the dugout eventually made its way home to Victoria without him, arriving by freighter in 1929. She was once again repaired and exhibited around the city before finding her way into the hands of the Maritime Museum of B.C. in Bastion Square, where she still rests.

To celebrate Tilikum‘s precedent-setting voyage, the museum is having a birthday party 110 years and one day after Voss and Luxton shoved off from Oak Bay. People can hear the story of the famous canoe’s journey and enjoy a piece of cake between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. on Saturday (May 21).

For more information, call 250-385-4222, ext. 113. Regular museum admission applies for the special event – $12 for adults, $10 for students and seniors, $5 for kids age 6 to 12 or $30 for a family of four. The museum is at 28 Bastion Sq.

ecardone@vicnews.com

Did you know?

• Tilikum was purchased for $80 in silver from a Nuu-chah-nulth man.

• She measured 38 feet (11.5 metres) in length, but had to be reinforced so she wouldn’t take on water. Capt. Voss and Luxton also outfitted her with sails.

Tilikum has just one bunk on board. The other mate had to sleep in a chair.