July 6, 2012

If it’s being “rebuilt” to a different design, with different materials, it’s not the same Bluenose

Filed under: Cancon, History, Technology, Woodworking — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 10:43

Wooden sailing ships are subject to far more wear and tear than modern vessels: they’re like the old tale of the farmer’s axe (even though everything’s been replaced over time, it’s still the same axe). This means that heritage sailing ships need lots of careful maintenance throughout their lives, and major re-builds at long intervals. In the case of Nova Scotia’s iconic Bluenose II, however, it’s sometimes more than a “rebuild”:

She is a celebrity, immortalized on the back of our dime and presently parked beneath a big white tent in the Lunenburg Shipyard, awaiting finishing touches and the order to set sail.

Built in 1963, Bluenose II was effectively scrapped in the fall of 2010. A small percentage of the old boat, including the sails and masts and some of the mahogany and walnut from the hull, were saved for use in the rebuild. The bow-to-stern reconstruction had the legend at points looking more like a whale skeleton beached on the Lunenburg wharf, with her ribs exposed for all to see.

Some purists, including Ms. Roué, a great-granddaughter of William J. Roué — the naval architect responsible for designing the original Bluenose, which launched in 1921 and achieved lasting fame by hauling in massive catches on the Grand Banks and beating American schooners in ocean races — view the “restoration” tag as a semantic stretch.

They see it as a sham concealing the fact the boat being built and expected to launch this summer under the Bluenose II banner was not built according to Mr. Roué’s original designs. It is not the Bluenose II but a new boat altogether.

You could make the case that this is merely a look-alike, rather than a replica. In fact you’d pretty much have to say that:

The original Bluenose was made from Nova Scotia oak, while its second incarnation blended local and South American oaks.

The latest edition consists of laminated angelique, a bulletproof teak from South America. Meanwhile the engine bed, stern frame, floors and fasteners holding the whole shebang together are steel, where once they were wood.

Any boat, especially a boat named Bluenose, is more than the materials it is made of or the sum of its designs. It is a piece of living history and its identity derives from the stories attached to it and in the recollections of those that sailed aboard her, some accounted for, others lost at sea.

So, just to sum up: she’s being built to a different design (even though outward appearance is much the same), using different materials. In what way can you call her the same ship? The point made in the article, that the masts and sails were some of the “originals” being re-used is odd: those are among the parts that need replacing more often. And the mahogany and walnut saved from the last boat are almost certainly decorative elements, not structural ones.

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