``I gave her the power to carry sail.''
William J. Roue, designer of the Bluenose
The Bluenose was built near where I was born and I was raised on stories of her greatness. "They don't just put any old boat on the Canadian dime."
And they weren't just stories about how great she was, but what she symbolized - about us as a nation of people. There was a story my grandfather liked to tell about her that still gives me a lump in my throat.
She was a fishing boat. She fished the Grand Banks. And when she was done fishing, she went racing. The rules of these international races were that the boat had to be a working fishing boat. The Bluenose, in fact, achieved "high liner of the fleet" status several times in her fishing career and was known as the fleet workhorse. And though boats were built (in America and Britian) and fished in once and then sent to race her, the Bluenose always won, her belly still smelling of cod and sweat and the hard work of men who didn't always come home when they went out. And when she won her races, she went back to the Grand Banks and ... well, "brought 'em home to Lizer" as the song goes, until the next race.
So Cap'n Angus Walters is in the big race for the championship and the American boat lost her top jib and the race seemed destined to be won by Bluenose by "default". But Walters, at full speed and sail, sent a man up the 125 foot mast to take down their own jib and went on to win the race - saying something to the effect that the Bluenose didn't need an advantage, her heart was big enough to beat any odds.
And we believed him. And we believed something about ourselves when we heard that story. And I remember my grandfather saying to me, "That's what it means to be a Bluenoser." Some piece of that story settled in my soul as the ideal of decency: To work hard and play fair.
That was Bluenose I - whose fame increased when she became a rum boat during prohibition and the Halifax paper would have stories of her daily - breaking through the lines of the American Coast Guard who shot thousands of holes into her sides. Apparently she'd pull full sail and just run them down and they never once caught her although, if the stories be true, a few went home with bits of blue paint stuck to their sides.
I don't remember how old I was, but I remember watching this boat, the Bluenose II (I was very young, she was built in 1963, I was born in 1962) sail out from Halifax when she was only a few years old and my grandfather and I stood watching her from the docks with thousands of other cheering Nova Scotians. She is "some sight" as we say back home, under full sail, cutting through the water like it was air. When I looked up he had a tear in his eye and he was holding my hand tight and he said, "There's a big piece of us in that boat, girl."
And so there is.
*Bluenose is a term that the Americans gave us Nova Scotians back in those days - apparently the Nova Scotian fishermen wore mittens made from homespun wool dyed a deep blue. Anyone who has been on a boat at sea knows how their noses got blue :)
To read more: Bluenose I
From this site:
"Even if competitors of her sort could be found, Bluenose II would not be allowed to race. It was decided at the outset that she would never jeopardize the reputation of the original Bluenose. However, ships will occasionally test her speed by assuming the same course when she is seen passing; like her namesake, she moves like the wind."