HALIFAX — The costly rebuild of Canada's most famous schooner, which even Nova Scotia's premier has called a "boondoggle,'' is expected to hit at least $25 million as technical problems continue to plague the project.
The province announced Thursday it will replace the Bluenose II's troublesome three-tonne rudder and steering system, the latest development in a saga that saw the replica vessel hit the water more than four years late.
"This was terribly managed out of the gate,'' said Nova Scotia Transportation Minister Geoff MacLellan. "Here we are today still dealing with problems.''
The 43-metre vessel — among the province's most enduring symbols — is a replica of the original Grand Banks fishing schooner that won worldwide fame for its design and speed.
Bluenose II sits at berth in Lunenburg, N.S. on Sept. 24, 2014. David Darrow, the senior bureaucrat in charge of the restoration of the vessel, says one of the main problems plaguing the project is that the wrong government department was chosen to oversee the work. (Photo: Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)
But the decision to restore the replica — which replaced so much of the Bluenose II it is almost entirely new construction — has proven expensive and troublesome.
Even before the rudder is replaced, the cost is pegged at $23.8 million — $9.4 million more than the $14.4 million estimated when the restoration project was announced in 2009.
"This was terribly managed out of the gate.''
The installation of the controversial steel rudder — which is more than 10 times heavier than the original's wooden rudder — was singled out in a report last year by the province's auditor general for helping to delay and add significant costs to the project.
Those costs included a $700,000 hydraulic steering system that was needed to deal with the terrific force required to turn the rudder for the 300-tonne ship.
"This is a symptom of the original set of problems identified by the auditor general,'' said MacLellan of the report's recommendation.
A $30,000 report by U.S.-based Langan Design Partners LLC, released Thursday, says that without a replacement the weight of the current rudder would change the shape of the vessel and shorten its life span.
It says the total steering weight had increased "dramatically' from the 400 kilogram weight of the wooden rudder and steering system of the original vessel built in 1921, to the current 4,461.3 kilogram weight.
The consultants recommend replacing it with either a wooden rudder or a composite made of Fiberglas with a carbon stock.
"Subjectively it is the opinion of the authors of this report that the current design is out of place on a vessel built to bring back to life one of the most notable designs of the early 20th century, and whose reputation was built upon exceptional speed.''
MacLellan said Bluenose II would complete the upcoming sailing season, and stressed the change wasn't being made for safety reasons.
Bluenose II, the iconic Canadian schooner, sits at berth on the waterfront in Lunenburg on Oct. 18, 2015. The historic town was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1995 which ensures protection for much of Lunenburg's unique architecture and civic design. (Photo: Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)
"We will look at the two options,'' he said. "Obviously cost, timeline and the impact to the vessel will be the key criteria for looking at which one we go with.''
MacLellan said the new cost figure was the result of settling $5 million worth of work orders that were in dispute. He said the province had already paid $1.2 million of that amount and would now pay the remaining $3.8 million owed to the Lunenburg Shipyard Alliance, the consortium responsible for the restoration.
MacLellan said he was waiting for estimates for the two replacement options, but expected costs would not exceed $1.2 million.
Critics like Lou Boudreau, a consultant and schooner captain in Chester, N.S., had long complained about the steering design and had advocated for a return to a wooden rudder system.
Reached Thursday, Boudreau questioned going to the U.S. for advice, saying he had offered the same recommendations in a meeting with MacLellan last summer.
"Instead we're as usual paying the Americans to tell the government what we just told them for free.''
"There's a whole lot of Lunenburg shipwrights who could have used a few thousand bucks this winter,'' said Boudreau. "Instead we're as usual paying the Americans to tell the government what we just told them for free.''
All three parties wear some blame for the debacle. The restoration project was announced by a Progressive Conservative government prior to the 2009 election, and much of the work was carried out under the watch of the former NDP government before the Liberals took power in 2013.
The original sank off Haiti in 1946 after striking a reef.