06/24/2014 10:37 EDT | Updated 08/24/2014 05:59 EDT

Problems turning Bluenose II rudder means it's unlikely to sail this summer

LUNENBURG, N.S. - Nova Scotia's historic sailing schooner the Bluenose II needs a modern hydraulic system to turn its 3,200-kilogram rudder and make it seaworthy, says the senior government official overseeing the vessel's restoration.

David Darrow, the premier's deputy minister, said Tuesday the work means the Bluenose II — known as the province's roving sailing ambassador — likely won't be setting sail this summer.

Experts will be hired to design the hydraulic system and to investigate a backup system where buoyancy is added to the rudder to help it move, he said, adding that the solution will also have to be certified by regulators and tested at sea.

"We're doing our best to grease the skids so that ... these activities can happen within the shortest possible time frame," Darrow told a news conference at a fisheries museum in Lunenburg after the vessel underwent a sea trial on Tuesday.

"That said, I must tell you I'm not optimistic we will be able to salvage much, if any, of this year's sailing season."

Darrow, who was handed the file by Premier Stephen McNeil after a series of cost overruns and delays, said he recently made a personal visit to the vessel.

He said he leaned on the wheel with all his force and could barely budge it.

Experts say the wheel of the vessel should be turned with about 30 pounds of force, Darrow said, but it currently requires more than three times that pressure.

The four-hour test off the coast of Lunenburg was otherwise successful, but Darrow said it confirmed the rudder is just too difficult for most people to operate.

The Bluenose II has been undergoing a multi-year restoration that's been plagued by budget overruns and repeated delays, with the steering problems just the latest.

Kelliann Dean, the deputy minister of Communities, Culture and Heritage, told the province's public accounts committee last week that the cost of restoring the vessel has risen to $19 million.

Darrow said it's too early to say exactly what installing a hydraulic system will add to that cost, but he promised to update the public.

Eddie Orrell, a Conservative member of the legislature, said he isn't fully confident with the latest ideas for a solution.

"We've just heard there's a vessel that's two years overdue that's overdue again," he said.

"The people of Nova Scotia expect the vessel is going to be there as a tourist icon and now we know it isn't going to be there."

The Bluenose II, launched in 1963, is a replica of the original Bluenose, a Grand Banks fishing schooner that won worldwide acclaim for its graceful lines and speed.

The province has already revealed there were seven redesigns of the rudder and steering system amid debates over changes to the rudder that date back to 2010.

The project team for the restoration of the Bluenose II decided it needed a steel rudder rather than the lighter wooden version used in the original vessel. The province has said the idea was to create a steering system that met certification standards while retaining the look of the historic racing schooner.

However, a series of disputes and design changes followed.

Darrow said the stability of the vessel was also reviewed Tuesday, but the most recent figures and tests indicated it met the standards.

"All tests have been completed ... and preliminary results indicate stability is not an issue," he said.

The final results from a review of the stability data still have to come in and Darrow said he will comment further on that issue in the future.

Darrow said he is relying on consultant Wilson Fitt of Costello Fitt Ltd. to help him in the process of fixing the various issues.

He also noted that Nova Scotia's auditor general is continuing to review the restoration and he will have more to say about what went wrong with the project once that report is complete.

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