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Rebuilt, refurbished - but is it still the Bluenose?

Workers line the hull of the schooner Bluenose II during the famed vessels refit in Lunenburg, NS, May 12, 2011.

Paul Darrow/The Globe and Mail

Above the hubbub of excited schoolchildren rises one voice: "Whoa, this is awesome."

The visiting boy and his classmates, each wearing a little hard hat and safety glasses, are awestruck at the wooden behemoth towering over them. Plank by plank, spike by spike, a hand-built new version of the legendary schooner Bluenose is taking shape on the harbourfront of this historic fishing community.

Thousands have come to enjoy the sweet smell of cut wood, revel in the romance of classic boat-building and see history in the making.

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But the project has also raised eyebrows since it became known that much of Bluenose II was scrapped last fall. Some of the old material will be available for souvenirs, but little of it is being incorporated into the new project.

Given that, the decision to retain the name Bluenose II is generating debate about the difference between a restoration, a copy and a next-generation ship. Critics say this is really Bluenose III - or at least, according to wags, Bluenose 2.5.

But the province says that Transport Canada has determined the ship will carry on the name Bluenose II and keep the same hull-registration number.

"There's no question that it is Bluenose II that will be returning to sailing," said Michael Noonan, spokesman for the Nova Scotia's Department of Communities, Culture and Heritage.

The previous versions of this ship occupy a key part of local and national history. The original Bluenose, a working fishing schooner and unbeaten ocean racer featured on the Canadian dime, sank decades ago. Another version was launched in 1963 as a promotion by the beer company Olands and later sold to Nova Scotia.

The aging Bluenose II eventually developed a problem known as hogging - when the bow and stern droop. The provincial and federal governments came together for this $14.8-million project, with most of that being borne by Nova Scotia.

"She's very important to the province," said shipwright Ralph Anderson, who worked on Bluenose II and its latest reincarnation. "I took a lot of pride in the old one and I'll take a lot of pride in this one."

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The new vessel - which is expected to be in the water in 2012 - is built with different woods and more up-to-date engineering techniques. It will be stronger and more durable than its predecessors, and able to meet current safety regulations. The design was created from a melding of the various surviving plans of both previous versions of the Bluenose, said Peter Kinley, president and CEO of Lunenburg Industrial Foundry & Engineering, one of three main partners responsible for the project.

Constantly updated images of the latest Bluenose taking shape are available on the Web and Canadians have offered support from across the country. Typically this comes in the form of a delivery of coffee and snacks from the local Tim Hortons, paid for by someone monitoring the work online.

Last week, the first plank was laid on the ship's exterior. On a subsequent visit, workers were using a mix of modern and decidedly low-tech methods, with one whittling a stick and using it to plug a small hole.

A steaming plank, still warm from the nearby hot-box that allows them to bend the ultra-durable South American wood called Angelique, is carried in. The seven-metre hull piece, 30.5 centimetres wide and 9.5 centimetres thick, is manipulated into place. Workers swinging sledgehammers drive home quarter-pound spikes. Meanwhile, another group shapes the next plank with the delicate touch of artists.

Mr. Kinley, who sailed as crew on the vessel in the 1970s, estimated that the rebuilt vessel will be "90-per-cent-plus new."

"Let's call it an interpretation," he said. "We're trying to build a vessel that is historic in nature."

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Convention among those who work on old boats allows a vessel to be called a restoration if even a scrap of the original is retained. But it can be a contentious point. Discussions among fans of old boats can devolve into a heated debate over the relative merits of using only materials and techniques dating to the time of construction, restoring "in the spirit" of the original and building what is essentially a modern boat that looks old.

"If you have an ignition key fob, left over from the original boat, you can probably get away with calling it a restoration," Paul Riccelli, the head of Florida-based Riccelli Yacht Design & Restoration who has worked on presidential yachts and classic wooden warships, said in an e-mail exchange.

"People like me will get pissed at a judged contest for this sort of thing, because we'll both know it's really an all-new build, but from a technical stand point you can probably keep the title."

There are high-profile examples of ships retaining their names through radical makeovers. The USS Constitution is billed as one of the original frigates of the U.S. Navy, even though the vessel has been heavily remodelled and rebuilt over the centuries.

"The number [in the name]is irrelevant," Mr. Kinley argued. "This is Bluenose."

"They don't care what you call it," he said, gesturing toward the group of visiting schoolchildren. "It's all about the Maritime legacy."

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About the Author

Oliver Moore joined the Globe and Mail's web newsroom in 2000 as an editor and then moved into reporting. A native Torontonian, he served four years as Atlantic Bureau Chief and has worked also in Afghanistan, Grenada, France, Spain and the United States. More

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