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The last chapter in the sad story of the end of Canada's finest sailing vessel lies somewhere on the ocean floor near a reef off the coast of Haiti.

This week Ontario sailor Bruce Leeming will make his fifth attempt to locate and authenticate the location of Bluenose, the renowned schooner that sank during a squall in January of 1946.

It is still a sore point in Lunenburg, N.S., the birthplace of the two-masted fishing schooner that trounced her American challengers for two decades, that Bluenose was sold to a West Indies freight company and went to a watery grave after delivering bananas.

When the schooner, which was undefeated in the International Fisherman's Trophy races against U.S. vessels, went down, newspapers denounced its Nova Scotia owners and the Canadian government for not saving the vessel.

The Globe and Mail said: "The lithe, graceful Queen of the Grand Banks who once danced the waves on slippered feet died plodding a weary path . . . that she fell from glory to the ignoble job of her last three years was no credit to Canada."

The Halifax Chronicle-Herald lamented her passing: ". . . the ignominy of her death a national shame."

But until Mr. Leeming and his fellow divers began searching the dangerously sharp and twisted reefs off Haiti for Bluenose two years ago, no one had seriously mounted an attempt to seek the vessel that has been immortalized on the Canadian dime, on stamps and in a replica schooner that carries her name in Nova Scotia.

Now it may be too late. The wreckage may have been so badly shredded by hurricanes that it will never be positively identified as that of Bluenose.

Ralph Getson, education curator of the Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic in Lunenburg, wonders what will be left after 54 years of storms and saltwater.

"What is going to be left there?" Mr. Getson, whose museum has the largest display of Bluenose memorabilia, said in an interview.

"Perhaps if the money had been available in the 1950s they might have been able to bring the vessel back, but a wreck on a reef is not like a ship sinking on a sandy bottom. A coral reef is the same as a planing mill. With the currents down there it wouldn't take long to chowder it up."

Undeterred, Mr. Leeming and his friends have financed their own search. Using a small research vessel, they have scanned the reefs for more than 300 hours trying to sort the remains of Bluenose from those of several ships that went to watery graves off the treacherous reef.

Mr. Leeming acknowledged in an interview that he hasn't received financial support from museums or the Canadian government because so far he can't prove that anchors and a windlass that have been located where he believes Bluenose sank are part of the famed schooner.

He's been chasing Bluenose leads all over North America and the Caribbean. Once he sailed to a village in Haiti to check a report that a flag from Bluenose was kept as a good-luck charm. But he found that the flag was in the tomb of the daughter of a village elder who used the banner at voodoo ceremonies.

Mr. Leeming insists that his goal of either preserving the remains of the schooner or establishing a marine park around it is better than leaving the once-proud vessel to treasure hunters.

"Bluenose is going to be found, whether it is found by us or someone else, and sports divers always take their trophies home," he said. "There are pieces of Bluenose scattered all over the world right now, and it's going to get worse and I don't think that's right," Mr. Leeming said.

"This is supposed to be a national icon, a national treasure, something we hold sacred, and I don't think part of it should be in somebody's shed in Michigan."

Mr. Leeming believes that, after poring over charts and descriptions of the sinking of Bluenose, he can pinpoint where she went down, near Les Cayes, Haiti on the Recif de la Folle. That reef is known as the southern equivalent of Sable Island, with razor-sharp corals that have ripped apart hundreds of ships and drowned hundreds of sailors.

Bluenose, which was in poor condition with her planks spread by heavy loads before the storm, apparently broke in half shortly after the accident. Her Lunenburg captain, Wilson Berringer, wrote that he didn't know what caused the sinking except that it was "just meant to be."

So far the key pieces of evidence are three anchors lying off the reef in water about eight metres deep. None carries any markings linking it to Bluenose, but they resemble British-Admiralty-patterned kedge anchors that appear in photos of Bluenose in the 1930s.

On his coming trip Mr. Leeming is going to pull up one to measure it and analyze it. Then he's going to dump it back in the water.

He's confident that the ongoing search will turn up parts of the schooner and possibly some of the 19,000 kilograms of concrete ballast from Bluenose.

His hope is that any wreckage may yield clues about how the schooner was built in Lunenburg in 1921 and what made her so fast.

The Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic has provided him with information about the vessel, particularly its anchors.

Mr. Getson said the museum has a lot of Bluenose artifacts already, including two wheels, flags and even the racing number the famed schooner used. In one case he found a heavy swivel from the schooner being used to tether cows on a farm near the former home of Bluenose's first skipper, Captain Angus Walters. The swivel is now in the museum.

So far Mr. Leeming hasn't even been able to raise the $8,000 needed to buy a magnetometer to scan the area for metal that might be Bluenose.

"I just don't understand it. They keep promoting the image and they keep coming up with new models and new licence plates but they're not interested in finding the real McCoy," he said. "Everybody loves it, but when you say that we're trying to find it and we think we've found it, then they say 'Well, we wish you luck.' "

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