June 25, 2014 9:14 pm
Updated: June 26, 2014 8:41 am

Planned Bluenose II fix could endanger lives, says veteran shipbuilder


HALIFAX – The latest plan to fix the Bluenose II’s handling might actually threaten passenger safety by making the ship more prone to capsizing, according to a veteran schooner captain.

Robert Louis Boudreau has built, managed and sailed schooners similar to the Bluenose II for nearly four decades. He served as a deckhand on the original Bluenose II, and has watched the recent reconstruction closely. He says the current project should stop immediately and a thorough review should be launched.

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“What’s done today could put people’s lives at risk,” Boudreau said.

Yesterday, officials announced plans to attach hydraulic steering and a buoyancy device to the ship’s 3000 kg steel rudder.  David Darrow, appointed by the Premier to oversee the project, said the Bluenose II has passed every sea trials except for steering.

Darrow explained the current rudder replaced a wooden version that was much lighter and posed no known steering problems. The ship’s classification agency, the American Bureau of Shipping, mandated the change.

The new steel rudder’s weight and hydraulic system both worry Boudreau.

“The rudder doesn’t have the ability to naturally let the schooner round up. It’s going to just keep her going straight,” he said. “It’s a dangerous rudder.”

Boudreau explained that most schooners react to sudden gusts by tipping with the wind and turning toward it. He said it’s a safety mechanism built into most hull and rudder designs.

The Bluenose II’s heavy and hydraulically-controlled rudder, Boudreau said, won’t naturally turn up into the wind. Instead, the ship will continue rolling away from the wind, bringing the masts closer to the water.

Compounding this problem, is the Bluenose II’s alleged stability issues.

“A qualified naval architect visited the vessel recently,” Boudreau said. “He flagged stability.”

Most sailing ships push harder against the wind, the further the mast tips toward the water. This allows ships to right themselves, even from a fully horizontal position.

Boudreau said the Bluenose II’s weight distribution could make the ship unstable, unable to right itself and prone to capsizing. He listed a number of shipwrecks that he said were caused by stability problems; many resulted in the loss of life.

“There could be a tragedy,” Boudreau said.

He recommends halting work on the Bluenose II rebuild immediately to do a full assessment.

“I would say stop and reassess it. Have it surveyed. Have it looked at by an independent marine surveyor, not somebody who’s in the government,” he said.

“She’s our schooner. We need a good one. We need a safe vessel, something we can all be proud of. And we haven’t got it.”


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