Onlookers clapped, small boats sounded their horns, and a light drizzle gave way to a Nova Scotia sunrise as the newly restored Bluenose II made its historic relaunch early Saturday morning.
Thousands of Nova Scotians and visitors from across Canada donned rain gear and clutched coffees as the 43-metre vessel made its slow descent into the Lunenburg harbour.
The event marked the famed schooner's official return to the water after an extensive two-year, $15.9-million restoration. Ottawa covered $4.9-million of the cost and the province paid the rest. The schooner's entire hull and much of its deck made of Douglas fir have been replaced.
Premier Darrell Dexter was among the crowd that gathered along the waterfront, the same spot where the original Bluenose was launched more than 90 years ago.
"The excitement and anticipation leading up to today speaks of our love of the ocean and our ability to thrive by it," Mr. Dexter said, as the vessel made its way down the slipway and into the ocean.
"Future generations of Nova Scotians will now know what it means to have the same pride as their parents, their grandparents and their great-grandparents before them."
More than 100 boats — from canoes to yachts — bobbed in the waters surrounding the Bluenose II as divers disappeared beneath the surface to detach the supports and chains holding the vessel to a transfer carriage. The schooner towered over the others, even without its two masts, canvas sails and rigging, which will be installed in the coming months.
Among the thousands of onlookers was Charles Tanner, who was a crew member on the original Bluenose. Tanner was 19-years-old when he worked aboard the acclaimed ship and recalled fishing along the Grand Banks.
Mr. Tanner, 92, said the latest incarnation of the Nova Scotia's sailing ambassador is much different from the first version, built in 1963 by the Oland family of Halifax to promote sales of Schooner beer. This time, shipbuilders were able to step back as they worked on the vessel along Lunenburg's waterfront, and Mr. Tanner said that makes all the difference.
"The other Bluenose II was built in a building, but you can't stand and look at it and see what she looks like," the Lunenburg native said.
But Mr. Tanner was modest about her return to the water, noting it's something that he's witnessed hundreds of times.
"It's nice to see this happening," he said, sporting a Bluenose ball cap. "I don't how many I've towed down here and put on the slip and took them back off again day in and day out. It doesn't mean so much to me, but for the younger people, it's really something to look at."
The Bluenose II is a replica of the original Bluenose, a fishing and race schooner designed by William J. Roue that won worldwide acclaim for its graceful lines and flat-out speed.
The restoration was carried out by the Lunenburg Shipyard Alliance, Lunenburg Industrial Foundry and Engineering, and Covey Island Boatworks, a news release said.