A Tour of “Bluenose II”

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My friend Wilson is the project manager of the “rebuild” of the Bluenose II, nearing completion in Lunenburg just a few minutes away from our base camp here in Nova Scotia. He was kind enough to give me a tour today.

I have the word “rebuild” in inverted commas, because the result of this project is really a new vessel that inherited the spars and some deck kit from the replica built in the sixties of the original Bluenose that is on Canadian dimes and is an important part of Nova Scotia’s heritage.

For those of you who don’t know the story, there were some races between the original Bluenose and several other fishing schooners out of Gloucester, Massachusetts that took place over 17 years, back before World War II. Who won, you ask?  Let’s just say that most of those races did not end well for our friends south of the border. No offence you understand, I’m just sayin’.

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The first thing that strikes you as you approach Bluenose II on the slip is the sheer size of her. That’s Wilson leaning against the prop to give you some scale. This is a boat where the keel bolts are over six feet long to hold together the immense sandwich of multiple baulks of timber that make up the keel and keelson, all put together by the craftsmen at Snyders Shipyard who built the hull.

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That’s Wilson, on the right, discussing one of the bazillion details that go into a project like this with Kevin, a manager at Lunenburg Foundry, one of the three companies that banded together to rebuild Bluenose II.

Wilson’s job is to coordinate everything and liaise with the owners, designers and engineers, which goes to prove what frequent readers of this site already know: Wilson is crazy and likes pain.

He’s a fine seaman though and, I suspect, an equally good project manager, particularly for this build since he built his own wooden plank-on-frame boat—see, I told you he’s crazy.

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Bluenose II is a traditional salt-banker schooner on deck, but below she is a complex commercial grade ship.

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This shot shows her massive laminated ribs, built by Covey Island Boatworks—who also did the interior fit-0ut—that are then covered with a structural ceiling to add further stiffness and avoid the problem of hogging (drooping ends) that plagued both her predecessors and most big schooners of their time.

Looks like they got the structure right, since when she was re-hauled for equipment installation, after her ceremonial launching, the hull deflected less than an inch, bow to stern—pretty impressive for a vessel built of wood that is 150 feet long and just 26 feet in the beam.

When the project was first started I did suggest to a couple of people that the province could save a bunch of money by just building her 80-feet long and that the tourists would never notice. I quickly learned what I should have known: new arrivals should not make stupid suggestions about local legends!

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Building a traditional vessel like Bluenose II to commercial class is not without its challenges. The American Bureau of Shipping, the classing authority, were not comfortable with the comparatively light wooden rudder that served both her predecessors and so this super-strong steel rudder weighing several tons was designed and built. Which begs the question, how do you line up four massive pintals to dead-nuts accuracy? The answer is with two lasers and the skills of alignment specialist Corrie, shown explaining progress to Wilson.

That, and the lunch filled with wide ranging technical discussion I had with Wilson and two of the engineers on the project, reminded me once again that we in the yachty community, and the yards that support us, can and should learn a lot from the commercial world.

For example, I had no idea that a stainless steel assembly that has been welded should then be treated with heat very carefully over a period of hours to relax the stresses that the welding process has added. That might explain several of the failures I have seen over the years, since I have never seen heat treating after welding done in a yacht yard.

The re-building of Bluenose II has not been without controversy, particularly given the financial challenges that this province, like most every government, have faced since the “Great Recession”. And yes, she is overdue and over budget. A situation that, as a Nova Scotia taxpayer, is of personal concern to me.

But she is beautiful and to my mind, a project that is worth doing in so many ways and a tribute to the Nova Scotia craftsmen that built her. I look forward to seeing her sailing, or better still, getting out on her.

If you come to Lunenburg, you will be able to get out for a sail too, since Bluenose II will take paying-passengers for day-sails.

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Meet the Author

John

John was born and brought up in Bermuda and started sailing as a child, racing locally and offshore before turning to cruising. He has sailed over 100,000 miles, most of it on his McCurdy & Rhodes 56, Morgan's Cloud, including eight ocean races to Bermuda, culminating in winning his class twice in the Newport Bermuda Race. He has skippered a series of voyages in the North Atlantic, the majority of which have been to the high latitudes. John has been helping others go voyaging by sharing his experience for twenty years, first in yachting magazines and, for the last 12 years, as co-editor/publisher of AAC.

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15 comments … add one
  • Doug Bruce May 9, 2013, 10:11 am

    A lovely tribute to what has to be one of THE most magnificent sailing boats ever built. Looking forward to seeing her and you this summer.
    D&D

  • Marc Dacey May 9, 2013, 11:03 am

    Thanks for the backgrounder on Bluenose, John. You’ve provided your readers with the sort of interesting details a fluffy media piece does not often provide.

    EDIT: Nice new “second look” editing feature, too. It works for me, which is more than I can say for most blog-type functions.

  • Ben Rusi May 9, 2013, 2:55 pm

    John, nice article but I feel that you did not disclosed, what ever reason, all the details regarding this new built? She’s not built to the original plans, new rudder is too heavy for the mechanism on the boat, waterline is way out of “whack”, and all the usual government expensive bureaucracy that has been
    going on and on!
    And what about the original sail plan …….. with her new added weight, beam and length, she won’t be winning any races out there!
    Just wondering how did they ever managed to built the original vessel in shorter time, less than 15 to 18 million dollars, and lounch her without any scuba divers in the water and taking hours to do it? BR

    • John May 9, 2013, 4:03 pm

      Hi Ben,

      The reason that I did not get into any of that has nothing to do with lack of disclosure and everything to do with the fact that I’m no expert on the Bluenose II rebuild, or, for that matter, on boats of that size and type, and I certainly would not set myself up to judge the boat based on one three hour visit.

      I can answer a couple of your questions though. It is not reasonable to compare costs and time to build with the hull that was built in the 1960s out of soft green wood with this one that was built from tropical hardwoods and modern laminating techniques and that is designed for a service life of at least 50 years, without major rebuild. Heck, we might even save money in the long run because we won’t be faced with the running battle against rot that was always a problem with the old hull.

      The reason for the steel rudder and much of the added expense, is, as I said in the post, because the new boat is built to ABS class, and that means ABS and not the builder or owner, make these decisions.

      If she were not built to class, Transport Canada would not have licenced her to take passengers, and that would have been very sad. (The old hull was, as I understand it, grandfathered in by TC, but, again as I understand it, they were not willing to extend that dispensation to the new hull.)

      Not sure what you mean about the “waterline being out of whack”. The scum line is about 18″ below the DWL, which, although I’m no expert, would seem about right for the boat without all the machinery installed.

      As to the divers and time to launch. As a shareholder in the boat (I’m a Nova Scotia tax payer) I assure you that I’m very happy that they are being careful with my asset!

  • David VENNING May 9, 2013, 4:27 pm

    For more on the subject of welding stainless steel you might be interested to read the following….http://www.smh.com.au/news/National/Yacht-disaster-a-tragedy-waiting-to-happen/2005/03/25/1111692630753.html Regards DV

    • John May 10, 2013, 8:14 am

      Hi David,

      Wow, what a tragic and scary story. To me, the takeaway, once again, is that if we want to have a safe offshore boat we have to be extremely careful of high-tech engineering and only attempt it in very controlled environments with really good supervision and plenty of money.

    • Marc Dacey May 10, 2013, 11:39 am

      Sobering indeed. And today has brought news of another fatality rooted, at least provisionally, in a less-than-complete understanding of the materials from which the boat is constructed:

      http://www.wired.com/autopia/2013/05/americas-cup-crash/

  • Eric Klem May 9, 2013, 7:15 pm

    I am jealous that you got such a good tour of such a neat boat. When I worked aboard the American Eagle it was always amazing to have her sail alongside and realize that her mainsail alone had as much sail area as we had total and we were 122′ LOA. The last few years before this rebuild, the amount of hog in her was starting to become alarming, even for a boat of her shape. I remember seeing a picture of her from early in her career in probably 40+ knots with all 4 lowers up, it was extremely impressive.

    If only someone could convince them to race again. At least they show up to the Gloucester schooner festival most years and spectate as others race which is very nice.

    • John May 10, 2013, 8:06 am

      Hi Eric,

      Good point, it was the hogging, together with the running battle with rot, that eventually forced the rebuild of B2.

      Yes, wouldn’t it be incredible to see B2 race the replica of “Columbia” that is being built. Although I doubt that the present crews would, quite rightly, exhibit the disregard for spars, sails, life and limb exhibited by Angus Walters and Ben Pine, and their crews, in driving their boats!

  • Dick Stevenson May 10, 2013, 3:27 am

    Dear John,
    It seems a shame that wonderful projects are not more accessible in everyday life. How can people develop a sense of wonder about (construction, engineering –just fill in the gap) without being able to see it in action? For decades we would always stop at Gannon & Benjamin’s to see what was going on (wooden boat builders) when sailing through. The best visit had Nat giving the OK to wandering around Juno in its final stages (60+ foot wooden schooner). I do not think he had any idea we would poke around 3 hours, but he was fine with our doing so. Ginger & I had a great time and were very excited about all the creative ways problems were solved. And this with no guide and us likely not even noticing the really creative stuff. I also think of the Turkish habit of doing all their work outside on their shp’s apron. Their “industrial” area was like a classroom for every hands-on profession done in a country where repair trumps disposable item. For me, it was walking around Disneyland. Finally, I am reminded of a sign that greeted us at what became our favourite boatyard. It said (roughly from memory): “Our insurance company said NO to our customers observing the work in this yard. So we fired that company. Please feel free to walk around and see our craftspeople doing their jobs.” I knew I had found a good place (Zimmerman Marine).
    This could be (and is) a rant, but I also think that if we could open the doors to the excitement of hands-on problem solving, we would have a lot more talented folk going the direction of engineering and all its related disciplines.
    Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

    • John May 10, 2013, 7:59 am

      Hi Dick,
      So true, there is a huge amount of learning and enjoyment to be derived from wandering around a boatyard. I have learnt an immense amount from my friends at Billings doing that over the years.

      On the B2 rebuild, they actually did a great job of involving the public with tours available through much of the construction, as well as webcams that became very popular.

  • Bob Apr 5, 2016, 4:08 am

    Mind wanderings.

    I want to eventually aquire a 23-25 meter boat for our “LIBS” program. All of my life I have coveted schooner Gaff rigged cutters (SgRC), but I want a modern(ish) underbody. Now, could an SgRC rigging, using modern sail handling gear, be added to an existing boat? I sail mostly with rank newbies on our 50′ boat and so far it has worked great and going forward I would be sailing with one other experienced crewmember and the clients would be sailing the boat. Myself and the crew are acting as “SME’s” (subject matter experts) and as such our job is to keep everyone safe and keep the boat off the rocks.

    I am thinking of a boat with a modified full keel (perhaps CB) and spade rudder. SgCR with carbon masts and gaffs, modern sail handeling gear including roller furling where appropriate. Modern winches, the Pongos look cool, and all modern deck gear.

    Am I nuts (no, you can’t ask my wife to answer) or would this work?

    Bob

    • John Apr 5, 2016, 7:44 am

      Hi Bob,

      No, I don’t think your nuts. In the super yacht world, what you are talking about is called “Spirit of Tradition” a name for building a new boat with a modern hull form but a traditional rig. The one caveat I can think of is that I fear deep pockets may be required.

      If you want to get such a boat designed Gerald Dykstra or Nigel Irens would be good people to talk to.

      Or, if you don’t want to go that high tech, Michael Kasten might be your man.

    • Eric Klem Apr 5, 2016, 11:36 am

      Hi Bob,

      What you are talking about is certainly possible. Retrofitting an existing hull with a new rig can be tricky and should involve a naval architect so that you don’t end up with a boat that sails poorly due to things like weather helm. It can also be challenging to put in proper mast steps, chainplates, etc that are up to the load. If you want to build from scratch there are a few yards that specialize in the type of thing you are talking about. Around here, Brooklyn Boatyard and Rockport Marine are both yards that do this sort of work (spirit of tradition as John says) although I believe that they specialize in cold molding not CF.

      Since you are looking at something a bit bigger than a normal schooner yacht, a few boats that you might consider for inspiration are:
      Meteor. This is a modern schooner yacht but with a somewhat more traditional rig. It blew by me one time when we were doing 13 knots so it must be fast.
      Spirit of Bermuda. While not gaff rigged, this is a fairly recently built boat that is an excellent performer and a good example of modern construction with traditional looks.
      Columbia. While this has a traditional underbody, it shows the potential of an old but good design in somewhat more modern materials as it is a seriously fast boat. I believe that Eastern Shipbuilding was building a second hull on speculation which you may be able to get cheap and finish although it is significantly bigger than you are looking for.
      America. The replica built a while ago of this famous schooner looks like the real thing but is actually quite modern and impressively fast.
      Adirondack. This is not my cup of tea but it looks traditional while being a very modern fast boat.

      As someone with strong ties into the traditional working sailboat world, one thing that pains me is the amount of new construction of old designs. Note, I am not talking about spirit of tradition boats here as they are new designs or changing out a rig. The reason the new construction pains me is that there are so many old but still good boats that are sitting disused which then fall apart. Many of these boats are held by non-profits which seem to be fairly successful at raising the money for a newbuild but really struggle to sustain the fundraising/revenue to cover ongoing maintenance. It just seems like a waste to build a replica when there is the real thing sitting a few docks away rotting. I believe that this comment probably applies to more commercial looking vessels than you would be interested in but if the point is sail training, there may already be a great boat out there looking for an owner.

      Eric

      • Bob Apr 6, 2016, 4:12 am

        John and Eric
        Thanks for the reply and it is as I thought. I really don’t think I will ever be able to commission a new boat, I am a poor business man with a marginally successful business. But hey, next week I will start my 9th week of sailing this year, it is tough work but someone has to it!

        As to the used boat market, there are plenty of boats available that could work with refitting but… I know John, I know. But this is probably how I will have to proceed and I have a semi-volunteer labor force available. So my plan for now is to buy (in 5 years or so) a boat out of the market, do a minimal refit to get it sailing and then plan on “refitting on the wing” during the off season, which for me is June July and August.
        After a few years I will do a rig R&R&R (redesign, remove and re-rig) to get the boat I want.

        Bob

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