The Bluenose II Restoration Project

Introduction

The project to restore the Bluenose II illustrates the difficulties that can beset a high profile, government funded project. Now two years behind schedule and substantially over budget the project is not yet complete. Questions remain over the seaworthiness of the historical vessel that is a Canadian icon – it is depicted on the Canadian ten cent coin.

The original Bluenose was built in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia and launched in 1921. It gained fame as a racing and fishing schooner, winning international racing titles and operating as a working fishing vessel. Financial issues resulted in the Bluenose leaving Nova Scotia and working as a freighter in the Caribbean where it sank after striking a reef in 1946.

In 1963 a replica vessel was built, in Lunenburg, using the original plans. This ship became a popular attraction in Nova Scotia and on its tour to other parts of Canada and the world. By 2010 it was showing its age and the Nova Scotia government, with Canadian federal government support, decided to undertake a “restoration” which has often been described as being more like the construction of a new ship.

The Bluenose II had become a Canadian icon – symbolic of Canadian craftsmanship and representative of the heritage of Canada’s Maritime provinces.

 

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The “Restoration”

The design for the restoration was based on the original vessel but did not use the original designs due to a dispute over the price requested for their use by their owners. The new design also sought to overcome a design weakness in the original vessel known as “hogging”. Hogging occurs as a result of gravitational and water pressure causing the boat to bend in the middle. The bow and stern become lower and the middle of the boat rises over time and this weakens the structure of the boat. The new design, while retaining the original appearance of the Bluenose sought to eliminate this weakness.

By June of 2014 the project was two years behind schedule and at least $5 million over budget. From an original budget of $14.4m costs had risen to over $19m. A number of reasons were cited for the cost increases.

The new design was deemed to require a new metal rudder (the original was wooden) and this rudder required a new hydraulic system to steer it due to its weight. Seven redesigns of the rudder added to the cost. Uncertainty over the new steering system remains today.

A report to the Nova Scotia legislature also noted that there had been issues in the communications between the government, designers and shipbuilders that had cost $4.6m.

Project managers MHPM were hired to manage the project. The original budget for their services was $375,000 and this had risen to $1.3m. The Canadian Taxpayers Federation argued that this should result in their dismissal.

Another issue has been the government decision to use the ABS (American Bureau of Shipping) to determine the seaworthiness and safety of the vessel. The ABS has determined that the “restoration” is a construction of a new vessel and that has increased the work required to achieve their certification, necessary for the vessel to sail.

At the time of writing the project remains uncompleted. Disputes between the shipbuilders and the government are continuing with the latter arguing that they are owed $24m rather than $19m which would increase costs further.

After pressure from the Canadian Taxpayers Federation the government decided to refer the project to the Nova Scotia Auditor General, who is due to report on it in winter 2015. The latest projections are that the Bluenose II Restoration project will be completed in the spring of 2015.

This project is an illustration of the difficulties that can arise in managing projects. The high profile nature of this project also illustrates the scrutiny that projects can attract. Numerous news articles have discussed the project critically and it has been the subject of political debate in the provincial legislature. The Canadian Taxpayers Federation have become interested and are actively seeking to hold the elected officials accountable for the fiasco.

The following video was recorded on November 24th 2014, with Kevin Lacey, Atlantic Canada Director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation and details the role that political pressure groups can play in public projects:

The result of this project may be a weakening of the reputation of an important Canadian icon. The following comment on one of the news articles that appeared on the project highlights this:

“took my bluenose history under sail license plate off my truck no longer proud. But then again who thought the results were going to be any different. Don’t just about all govt projects go over on time and money. “

 

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