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Friday, August 23, 2013

The Story of the Cubahama

My father and I were doing a lot of work on the Gulf Coast back in the 80s and were contracted to raise and salvage an old freighter of a ship that was sunk near Port Bienville Mississippi. We had an old 80 ft. Model Bow Tug that Dad had raised in Galveston Bay and had brought to Slidell Louisana where we had a Salvage yard. I had rebuilt her there and she was a good old boat. We had contracted out to the DEA to bring all their seized vessels to Port Bienville. We ranged from Pensacola Florida to Morgan City Louisana. She had 398 Cats and Twin Disc Transmissions pushing a couple of 60 inch wheels we had her down along side the Cubahama and I was looking around figuring out what it was going to take to get her up. The Wooden Name Plates on the sides of the old freighter were painted white and lettered in black the name Wanda Jean. The Name Plates were about 6 ft long 14 inches wide and I took my pocket knife out and scratched one and found they were made of Mahogany so I took them down to save. When I got the first one down I turned it over and on the inside was carved Cubahama. I kept them and the oars of one of the old rotted lifeboats the oars were approximately 16 ft long and light as a feather. I also salvaged some of the built in cabinetry from the Captains Quarters all of which I have today. One of the Cubahama Placks hangs in our home and there is a pic below. We stopped her leaks, pumped her up and had her towed to Galveston where she was scrapped. I never new much of anything about her till one day out of curiosity I Googled her name and you can read the info below. She was a fine vessel even in her dilapidated condition and I would have loved to have seen her in her heyday. She had been hauling Bananas from Central America and had come to Port with a load of Grass hidden in her hold where she was found out and seized by the DEA. She had lain up at Bienville for many years but was mostly forgotten. A Hurricane had blew up and the Port had had her towed up a little back water and she was scuttled to hold her down as they were afraid she would be blown around by the Hurricane and do damage to other vessels or the Port. So here are some pics and History of this fantastic old forgotten Ship that served our Country.
My Thanks to Ron over at the Loftsman Blog for all the work he does to document and share the wonderful pictures and info from Leith Shipyard and others. http://www.leithshipyards.com/. All the info provided below these two pics came from Ron.


Ship No 262

She was a twin screw motor cargo vessel, of 932 tons ordered by Bahama Line U.S.A.

With a length overall of 250 feet and a beam of 38 feet.

She was launched from the Leith shipyard of Henry Robb on 28th June 1938 and was to go on to have a very interesting history which included her time as a U.S. Navy ship of the Kaula Class and the new name of U.S.S. Kaula.

From the book Leith Built Ships on War Service, printed sometime in 1946 by the Shipbuilders Henry Robb Ltd of Leith, Scotland. (See Picture above)

M.V. “Cubahama” The building and delivering of this fine 15-knot ship to her United States owners in 1938 caused a mild furore in british Shipbuilding circles. Built specially for the West Indies banana trade, this ship was requisitioned by the air branch of the U.S. Navy and eventually purchased outright and re-named U.S. “Kaula.” Whilst attached to the Naval Air Arm, the ship rendered very useful service in the Pacific campaigns and took part in some epoch-making battles.

'USS Kaula (AG-33) was built in 1938 by Henry Robb Ltd, in Leith, Scotland. She was acquired by the U.S. Navy as Cubahama 3 January 1941 from her owner, Balboa Shipping Company of New York and renamed Kaula 15 January then commissioned at Baltimore, Maryland 22 January with Lieutenant Commander W. L. Ware in command.

(Courtesy of Navsource Project General Manager, Manager, Auxiliaries, Amphibious and Yard and District Craft Archives)

Kaula Class Miscellaneous Auxiliary: 

• Built in 1938 by Henry Robb, Ltd., Leith, Scotland 

• Acquired as MV Cubahama, 3 January 1941, from her owner, Balboa Shipping Co., N.Y. 

• Commissioned USS Kaula (AG-33), 22 January 1941 at Baltimore. MD., LCDR. W. L. Ware in command 

• During World War II USS Kaula was assigned to the Asiatic-Pacific Theater 

• Decommissioned, 14 January 1946 

• Struck from the Naval Register, 12 March 1946 

• Transferred to the Maritime Commission, 15 July 1946 for sale to her former owners 

• Final Disposition, (See more below)


Displacement 2,100 t.(lt) 2,250 t.(fl) 

Length 269' 9" 

Beam 38' 3" 

Draft 13' 5" (lim) 

Speed 15.1 kts (trial) 


Officers 7 

Enlisted 63 

Largest Boom Capacity 3 t. 


one single 4"/50 cal gun mount 

two single 3"/50 cal dual purpose gun mounts 

four .50 cal. machine guns 

Fuel Capacity Diesel 1,120 Bbls 


two Atlas Diesel engines 

Ship's Service Generators 

two Diesel-drive 60Kw 240V D.C. 

two Diesel-drive 40Kw 240V D.C. 

two propellers, 2,240shp 

Class Notes:

FY: None (acquired with funds appropriated for "Maintenance Bureau of Ships"). On 23 November 1940 CNO directed the acquisition of this ship for use as a miscellaneous auxiliary (AG). She was needed to carry cargo to outlying bases in the 14th (Hawaiian) Naval District, particularly Johnston and Palmyra Islands, and was accordingly named after an island in the Hawaiian group. (Early Navy correspondence misrepresented her Navy name as Kaulahe, and this erroneous name was actually welded on her stern in raised letters.) She was taken over from the Balboa Shipping Co., a subsidiary of the United Fruit Co., and given a limited conversion by Bethlehem SB Co., Key Highway Plant, Baltimore, Md. No guns were mounted during this conversion--they were added in 1942 at Pearl Harbor. Much of the cargo carried was ammunition and other explosives, and sprinklers were added to some of her holds in 1942 to give her some protection against fire. She served as an inter-island supply ship in the Hawaii area until May 1945 and was then reassigned to Alaska. In 1946 she was resold to her former owner through the MC (WSA).                                         (Taken from U.S. Naval Sources.)

Broadside view of USS Kaula (AG-33) underway in Puget Sound, 26 July 1945. Naval Air Station, Seattle photo # 19-N-89167, a Bureau of Ships photo now in the collections of the US National Archives RG-19-LCM.

(Below is from the U.S. Coastguard Files, courtesy of -Archivist

Naval History & Heritage Command http://www.history.navy.mil/)

Kaula, 1941



A small, rocky, 550-foot high islet in the Hawaiian Islands, nearly 20 miles westsouthwest

of Niihau Island.

Builder: Henry Robb, Ltd., Leith, Scotland

Commissioned: 1938 (private); 3 January 1941

Decommissioned: 14 January 1946

Length: 267'

Beam: 38' 3"


Displacement: 2,100 tons



Max: 12 knots


Deck Gear:

Complement: 70

Armament: 1 x 4"; 2 x 3"; 4 x .50 cal MG



Kaula (AG-33) was built in 1938 by Henry Robb, Ltd., Leith, Scotland; acquired as

Cubahama 3 January 1941 from her owner, Balboa Shipping Co., New York. She

was renamed Kaula on 15 January and commissioned at Baltimore 22 January,

Lt. Comdr. W. L. Ware in command.

Sailing to Hampton Roads, Virginia, 25 January, Kaula departed 4 February for

Hawaii, via the Panama Canal and the West Coast, reaching Pearl Harbor 17

March. Prior to the outbreak of war in the Pacific, she carried cargo from Pearl

Harbor and Honolulu to various islands in the Hawaiian chain and to Johnston

and Palmyra Islands. During the Japanese raid on Pearl Harbor 7 December, she

was en route to Palmyra Island.

Throughout the struggle with the Japanese Empire, Kaula operated out of Pearl

Harbor and Honolulu to principal Hawaiian Islands and to outlying islands west to

Midway and south to Palmyra. Usually sailing in convoy, she ranged the Hawaiian

Sea frontier carrying military equipment, ammunition, and contingents of Seabees

until she sailed for the United States 18 May 1945, arriving Seattle 26 May.

Following 2 months of overhaul Kaula departed Seattle 31 July on the first of

several voyages to Alaska where she transported materials for the construction of

Coast Guard LORAN stations in the Alaska area. Assigned to the 13th Naval

District, she steamed for the U.S. Coast Guard to Ketchikan, Juneau, Seward,

Kodiak, and Dutch Harbor before returning to Seattle 18 September. She

operated in Puget Sound and the Strait of Juan de Fuca before steaming to Blake

Island Anchorage, Wash., 6 December and decommissioning 14 January 1946.

Struck from the Naval Register 12 March, Kaula was transferred to the Maritime

Commission 15 July for sale to her former owner.


Cutter History File. USCG Historian's Office, USCG HQ, Washington, D.C.

Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. Washington, DC: USGPO.

She was still called CUBAHAMA 1947, and then renamed WANDAJEAN 1976. Deleted 1993. So this fine vessel seems to have disappeared from records around 1993. This would complete a near 55 year service history and tribute to the Shipbuilders of Henry Robb

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I’m a Southern Boy, just 56 last November, I get around here and there, Central America, Africa, Red Bay. I’m a Father, Grandfather, Husband, Artist and general flunky of sorts. Live in a little historic town in an old building I remodeled. Just wanted to hear myself think I guess, talk about the need of simplification, show some art, express an interest or two, brag on my dogs and see where it goes. That’s it!, That’s the deal, Thanks