05/14/2015 12:22 EDT | Updated 05/14/2016 05:59 EDT

Bluenose II on track to sail this summer: transportation minister

HALIFAX - Nova Scotia's transportation minister says the Bluenose II is on track to start sailing early this summer, more than four years after the restoration project was originally scheduled to be complete.

Geoff MacLellan said Thursday crews have finished half of the roughly 25 items on a list that needs to be complete before the replica of the famed racing schooner can sail.

The focus is now on items related to compliance with rules set out by the American Bureau of Shipping, he said.

"Things are going relatively well," MacLellan said following a weekly cabinet meeting. "Obviously for us it's really bated breath until we can get her out on the water and make sure that everything is working as planned."

MacLellan said he'll be in Lunenburg, N.S., next week to meet with the crew of the Bluenose II for the first time.

The cost of the project is still around $20 million, with about $5 million on top of that in dispute, he said.

Earlier this year, the provincial auditor general said the project could cost the province three times the original budget because the Heritage Department failed to follow basic management practices.

Auditor general Michael Pickup said the rebuild was undermined by a lack of planning and poor oversight.

His audit released in January said the department didn't define the responsibilities for contractors, failed to prepare a proper budget and drafted a weak construction contract.

When the restoration was announced in 2009 by the province and Ottawa, the budget was set at $14.4 million, half of which was to come from a federal infrastructure fund. The federal government pitched in only $4 million because the project failed to meet Ottawa's deadlines.

The 300-tonne, 43-metre vessel was launched in Lunenburg in 1963. It is a replica of the original Bluenose, the 1921 Grand Banks fishing schooner that won worldwide acclaim for its graceful lines and speed. The original sank after striking a reef off Haiti in 1946.