Nova Scotia

Bluenose II problems part of normal 'shakedown period,' says consultant

Nova Scotia's sailing ambassador is having a trouble-free sailing season in 2016, after an inaugural season plagued by power outages, steering problems and a mysterious leak.

2015 emails suggest schooner crew frustrated by frequent steering, generator problems

The Bluenose II sails into Lunenburg Harbour. The consultant hired by the province to oversee the project says early problems with the schooner have been rectified. (CBC)

Nova Scotia's sailing ambassador, the Bluenose II, is having a trouble-free sailing season this year.

According to Wilson Fitt, the consultant hired by the province to oversee the project, that's proof the much-delayed and over-budget schooner rebuild has delivered a good vessel.

Emails obtained by CBC News through an access to information request detailed the myriad of problems faced by the crew last year during the schooner's first sailing season.

'Start-up issues'

The crew noted generators inexplicably stalling, steering problems, electronic glitches, unresponsive engine control and at least one major leak of steering fluid.

Maintenance on a big wooden boat or any big boat is ongoing and a fairly complex undertaking- Wilson Fitt

Fitt calls those routine "start-up issues" that you would have with any other "complex project.

"There's a lot of similar boats that have had not the same problems but a similar class of issues," said Fitt.

"There's always a shakedown period with any new, custom-built undertaking and it takes typically about a year to get all these things sorted out and running smoothly," he said. 

Loss of power

The loss of power seemed to be the most serious issue facing the crew. Without power, the crew no longer had the use of the specially designed hydraulic steering system installed to turn the schooner's extra heavy steel rudder.

In an email from the crew dated Aug. 24, 2015, to Wayne Walters, the Bluenose II director of operations, the writer noted, "Twice the helmsman (two different) reported that they lost steering.… I shut down the system and rebooted and all was ok again."

Although the incident didn't result in serious harm to the vessel or anyone on board, there were tense moments.

According to the email, both times the steering cut out the vessel was in the midst of tricky manoeuvres. The first time, the schooner was heading into the wind to raise its sails; the second, it was heading towards a rocky, shallow ocean ledge to lower its sails.

A sailing vessel the size of the Bluenose II normally needs the help of its engines and proper steering to keep it into the wind when it is working its sails.

Generators working this season

According to Fitt, the problem with the generators was easy to fix.

"The problem with the generators was a fuel problem," he said. "The fuel filters were being clogged at an unacceptably high rate or quick rate. The solution was basically a maintenance solution in the short term, which was to replace the fuel filters much more frequently."

He's not sure why the diesel fuel seemed to be dirtier than normal, but he said the generators have been working fine this season.

Steering issues

As for the steering, there were issues with the rudder that were resolved by replacing one valve by another.

The leaks of steering fluid was the result of a loose fitting in a hard-to-reach area of the rudder assembly. All it took was someone with skinny arms and a wrench to tighten a few bolts, he said.

One of the controls for the port side engine also had to be rewired. According to Fitt, it was improperly installed.

A transformer on the vessel has also been replaced because the original was incompatible with the transformer on shore. The two are connected to provide power to the schooner when it is tied up at its dock in its home port in Lunenburg, N.S.

'A fairly complex undertaking'

Fitt said, "Maintenance on a big wooden boat or any big boat is ongoing and a fairly complex undertaking but we haven't had any troubles this year."

The province plans to replace the schooner's complicated hydraulic steering mechanism with a more traditional setup when it removes the Bluenose II steel rudder with one made of either wood or a lighter composite material. That's expected to happen once the vessel is out of the water at the end of this sailing season.


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