Bluenose Revisited – 50 Years On




Bluenose Revisited

Five decades ago, in 1969, as I stood at her helm sailing her across the blue Caribbean, I recall with great clarity each moment.

Today, in 2018, gazing out over the ocean from the shores of Mahone Bay, I take a deep breath. A low fog bank hovers just beyond the islands, a tangible, if not impenetrable barrier between the land and the blue sea beyond. There is magic here and sometimes on days like this as I look out over the bay I imagine the ghost of a tall Atlantic schooner racing across the ocean.

I see her topmasts bending under a press of sail and hear the whistle of the wind in her top sails. Her huge white bow wave rolls gracefully away to leeward and I can almost hear the creak of block and tackle.

But it is no dream or fancy of my imagination, it is a memory. Looking over to the mantelpiece where the wooden ship model sits it all comes back to me. The three foot reproduction of the great schooner Bluenose is a link to my past and she stirs powerful yearnings in my heart. I built the model over a period of years, carefully, and without haste, a labour of love. The recollection is warm and comfortable, the hours sitting at my desk in the study pinning small basswood planks to their frames, rigging a backstay aft and a jib halyard forward.  Building her from scratch, with only my memory as a guide, the hull had emerged from the hundreds of small wood strips as if by magic, my big hands almost instinctively knowing how to shape her. Perhaps this was because I knew her so well, but it had not always been so.

There was a time all those years ago when it had truly been only a dream.  I was but a youth when I went to sea in her, a young man following his heart to sail across the oceans in search of adventure. It had been a time of great awakenings, when like an open ledger, the pages of my mind were filled and what was written then has had much to do with what has since come to pass.

It was a time of wonder and one of great sadness. The berth my father managed to secure for me was that of another crew member, who like me, carried a wanderlust for the sea in his heart. Sadly, he was washed overboard from the Bluenose’s decks in a storm and I got his berth.

Standing on the Nova Scotia shore, I close my eyes and the result is inevitable. As a tear comes to my eye, the years roll back and I am standing on her deck again.  I am struggling to hold the big schooner to her northerly course and my hands are beginning to cramp. The pressure of the big wheel’s thick spokes have moulded my palms into two almost paralytic claws and even though I’ve only been on the helm for forty minutes of my scheduled two hour wheel watch, it seems like an eternity. We are on the starboard tack under storm trysail foresail and headsails beneath an ever darkening sky and, as another of the strengthening gusts hit us, the big wooden schooner’s hull heels over until her varnished cap rail disappears under the white water rushing down her lee side. The big brass compass port that we polished so religiously over the past months is now green streaked and coated with north Atlantic salt, and looking inside, I catch the lubber line moving almost imperceptibly to the west.  Handing a couple of spokes to port, I haul her down again.  The skipper is standing as he always does just to windward and forward of the helm position, legs spread with feet planted firmly on the deck to brace against the roll. He pursues his lips slightly; am I handling her right?

And now the circle is complete. By some lucky twist of fate, my son Jason and daughter Hannah sailed briefly on this same schooner where I began my career some fifty years ago. The Canadian Navy Sea Cadets arranged for a group to go out for a two hour sail on September 12. They stood on the deck and saw the same four lowers raised even as I did all those years ago. They were thrilled as the schooner healed to the breeze and showed her sailing qualities to all.

It is not often in life that one finds a magic moment such as this. I spent 35 years at sea and was master of some fine sailing ships, but as I look back the Bluenose was my first true love, and know that my son and daughter felt the same magic as I did standing on her decks in Lunenburg.

And so my choice of title for this story Bluenose Revisited. The father and his children span the decades to sail on a great schooner again fifty years apart.

Fair winds,

Capt. Lou Boudreau

Song: Bluenose by James Devine

Video: Jason and Hannah sailing on the Bluenose II fifty years after their Father, Lou Boudreau, sailed on her. Video courtesy of Jason Boudreau

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