The Bluenose II, the "namesake daughter" of the legendary vessel that gave Canada a sports rivalry with the Americans long before Olympic hockey, was in dire need of repair.
"She lost her shape," said John Steele, president of Covey Island Boatworks, one of the three boat builders partnered in the Lunenburg Shipyard Alliance, which is undertaking the restoration. The bow and stern had fallen, which boat builders call hogging.
The success of the original Bluenose, which won races for 17 years straight against competitors from Gloucester, Mass., ensured its place in Canadian history, on stamps and on the dime, in story and in song, not to mention in National Film Board vignettes.
The repair started in 2010. Work on the hull is complete and the shipwrights' efforts are now focused on laying the top deck of Douglas fir and building the cabins and rooms inside the ship. The two diesel engines and the steering mechanism are yet to be installed. Plumbing and electrical systems must be finished before it is put back in the water this summer.
The replica had sailed continually since its launch in 1963, from Lunenburg, like its famed predecessor. It was not supposed to be kept at sea for 47 years; most boats of that generation were replaced after half that time. But Bluenose II, built as a private yacht and then taken over by the government of Nova Scotia, became an ambassador for the province and the country. Mr. Steele said it is often given the credit for starting what has become the celebration of tall ships.
The goal for the work, which is more to build it again than to rebuild it, is longevity. Structurally, it will be brand new, although 20 tonnes of ballast have been kept and, when feasible, some of its original wood will be used in joinery and other facets so that each cabin of the new ship will include at least one piece of its predecessor.
But keeping its ends up is what matters. A boat's middle, where the keel runs, is supported by water. The bow and stern are cantilevered into place.
The first Bluenose II hogged, Mr. Steele suggested, because of the length of the wood used. "A great deal of that problem was because she was built with short pieces of wood."
It means the wood for the new Bluenose II is not local timber, but big, dense and durable hardwoods like angelique, brownheart and iroko from South America and Africa. Finding logs of similar size locally would have been difficult, Mr. Steele said.
The imported woods are rot-resistant, and their resins are toxic to marine borers, small bugs that can eat away at the hulls of wooden boats, which makes them perfect for the planking, or exterior of the ship.
The bow and stern will be further supported by four layers of laminated wood that make up the inside panelling.
While the builders are working to maintain the lines of the historic Bluenose, the ship must also must meet contemporary standards. Transport Canada does not have regulations for a wooden vessel, so it gave the regulatory oversight to the American Bureau of Shipping.
Meeting the ABS requirements has added $1-million to the original budget of $14.9-million. Nova Scotia will pay $11-million, and $4.9-million will come from the government of Canada, which covered the cost of building the ship's hull.
Although the reconstruction is taking place during a period of government austerity, the intent of the province is to ensure the ship is meant to last for decades and not years, while reducing the ongoing maintenance, according to Michael Noonan, director of communications for Department of Communities, Culture and Heritage of Nova Scotia.
Although Bluenose II is expected back in the water this summer, there will be plenty of work left, including finishing the interior, erecting the masts, rigging the boat, and sea trials to test new systems.
The finishing touch to the ship composer Stan Rogers called the "namesake daughter" of the Bluenose will be the crew's mess table. Yet to be assembled, it will be made of a piece of wood donated from each province and territory, save for Nunavut, which, having no forests, sent rock that will be inlaid in the centre.