From what I am told, my grandfathers built boats. Their fathers and grandfathers also built boats. It was an essential skill and a tradition sixty or a hundred years ago in Port Morien and New Waterford. I am sad to say that I never got to know my grandfathers. If I had, I might have learned a thing or two about boat building. It seems like such a Nova Scotian thing to know about. We’ve been building boats for generations. The instructions should be written into our DNA.
Since I don’t know about boat building, I won’t rant about the Bluenose II. I won’t rant about the $21-million cost and how that money could have been better spent on education, healthcare, social services, or economic development. Instead of ranting, I will just tell you what I learned.
The original Bluenose was built in 1921 with a wooden hull and wooden rudder, and as we all know, it worked really well until it hit a reef in 1946. The Oland brewing company built the Bluenose II in 1963 to promote Schooner beer. The province bought it in 1971. It too had a reliable wooden hull and a wooden rudder. This replica operated until 2010 when it was dry-docked for a complete reconstruction. The newly rebuilt Bluenose II (which should really be called the Bluenose III) was also intended to have a wooden rudder. That is, until the Texas-based American Bureau of Shipping had their say.
After hundreds of years of constructing ships with wooden rudders, the Lunenburg builders were told by the American Bureau of Shipping that wood was not acceptable. For the iconic Nova Scotia schooner to receive “class certification” it needed a steel rudder. I imagine the conversation went something like this: “Yes, we know schooners have always been made of wood, but super tankers and oil rigs are made of steel, so we’re afraid your wooden schooner will need a steel rudder.” The modification delayed the launch of the Bluenose II by a year and put the project even further over budget.
Another reconstructed schooner, the Columbia, is sailing in maritime waters this summer. It was built in Massachusetts around the same time the Bluenose II was being reconstructed in Lunenburg. A couple of weeks ago, in late August, the Columbia and the Bluenose II had a chance to sail side by side. To me, because I don’t know anything about ships, they look almost the same. Below the water, however, there is at least one critical difference: the Columbia has a wooden rudder. According to a report by the Auditor General of Nova Scotia, the new Bluenose II likely could have kept its wooden rudder too, if Bluenose II project managers had simply appealed to the American Bureau of Shipping.
I can’t help but wonder what my grandfathers would have said if a bureaucrat from Texas tried to tell them how to build a wooden boat?