SCHOONER: BLUENOSE AND BLUENOSE II
McClelland & Stewart, 1984; ISBN 0-7704-1861-9) (available)
(Updated and reissued as Once Upon a Schooner: An Offshore Voyage in Bluenose II (Formac, 1992; ISBN 0-88780-225-7) (out of print)
Schooner represents a unique approach to writing history. Bluenose is the ship on the Canadian dime, the Nova Scotia fishing schooner which won the international fishermen's races in 1921 -- the year she was launched -- and held the trophy until the races ended in 1938. Bluenose II is "Nova Scotia's sailing ambassador," an exact replica, launched in 1963 and still sailing. In 1983, Silver Donald Cameron signed up as an ordinary seaman and sailed on Bluenose II from Lunenburg to Atlantic City, NJ. The exciting history of the two schooners emerges from his experiences and conversations at sea during that voyage.
Bluenose was built specifically to win races - and she won them all through the 1920s and 1930s. Perhaps her most thrilling race was her final contest off Boston in 1938, when she sailed faster than any other sailing vessel had ever sailed on a fixed course: 14.15 knots over a 40-mile course. Silver Donald Cameron wrote a radio drama, The Last Hook, based on that race. The play is available in the anthology Maritime Lines.
"Silver Donald Cameron at the helm of Bluenose II.
But all the racing schooners had to be working fishermen as well, and Bluenose earned her living for 20 years on the storm-tossed Grand Banks of Newfoundland. Several of her competitors were lost in storms, and Bluenose herself barely survived on at least two occasions. One of her strengths was her tough, dedicated skipper, Angus Walter, who was also part-owner. When the schooners disappeared, replaced by motor-vessels during the 1930s, Angus Walters tried desperately to save her - but in the end she was sold to the Caribbean as a freighter. She was lost off Haiti in 1945.
Nearly 20 years later, Nova Scotians realized what they had lost, and a local brewery commissioned a replica, Bluenose II - built in the same yard from the same plans, and sometimes by the same men who had worked on the original ship. When the brewery was bought up, the owners transferred the ship to the province of Nova Scotia. The next 15 years, says the author, were the ship's "Gilbert and Sullivan period," when she was plagued by mismanagement and mishaps, some hysterically funny, while successive governments struggled to define her role. But she ultimately emerged as a cherished symbol of a great sea-going tradition.
"A people seeking to define a great future must know the most noble achievements of their own past," writes Silver Donald Cameron. "Those who wish to excel will find their inspiration in men and women who sought the very limit of excellence with their finest ideas." Schooner is "the biography of such an idea."