King of the salt-bank schooners
Famous vessel in Lunenburg, Halifax and Bedford until the end of September
The mere sight of the grand fishing schooner brought him back to the long ago days of his prime, when he had earned a living off the shores of Lunenburg in such a vessel.
“Our boat didn’t look quite like this one,” said the oldtimer, who Alexander Keith Lapp figured had to be well into his 80s.
The long-since-retired fisherman had shown up at the Halifax waterfront during the height of summer to get a glimpse of Bluenose II, the king of the salt-bank schooners.
By then, Keith Lapp, who was enjoying his first summer as one of 14 vessel deckhands on board, had greeted tens of thousands of visitors at 10 different North American ports. Among them was Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
The encounter with the fisherman would prove to be among his most memorable.
“He had no problem at all getting down the gangway and you could tell by the look on his face as he was shuffling around the boat that so many memories were coming back,” he recalled.
“I was in awe of his stories, that he had worked on a salt-bank schooner out of Lunenburg. He’d been fishing in one of the dories that worked along the mothership and was recalling being out in big seas and getting lost in the fog for hours.”
Keith Lapp, who grew up in Bedford, had been waiting for an encounter such as this during his four-and-a-half month stint aboard the Bluenose II.
It was the change he yearned for after spending more than two years in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., where he was looking after a private,
luxurious sailing yacht.
“You think about the engineering that goes into these boats that fished off the Grand Banks for months,” added Lapp, who’s a graduate of Holland College’s bridge watch rating program.
“All of it is such an important part of our history and who we are.
“They were part of the cod fishery that fed the world. Places like Lunenburg were among some of the ports that caught the most. It’s a Nova Scotia icon and you don’t see a lot of boats, wooden schooners built traditionally. It’s the same set up as back in the 1920s.
“When we toured with the tall ships during Rendez-vous 2017, every other sailor who came on board was just blown away by the construction, the quality, the
miles and miles of rope and the 125 blocks and pulleys in the rigging.”
With the exception of a couple of nights, Keith Lapp spent a full four-and-a-half months aboard Bluenose II. The crew has sailed as far as Boston and Quebec. Lunenburg, Digby, Halifax, Pictou and Sydney are among its local destinations.
“We’ve seen beluga whales, sheer fjord cliffs, dolphins, porpoises, sharks and a southern Pelican in the Gulf of Maine do a full 360 around the boat and fly off in the sunset.”
With his crew of deckhands they worked long hours. Aside from their regular tour guide duties they’re expected to keep the schooner in tip-top shape, sanding and varnishing surfaces regularly.
During his on-deck duties he’s taken the wheel on many occasions.
“There’s nothing like the feeling of that boat when the engines are off, the sails are out and the boat is hiked over. There’s nothing but wind on a giant all-wood machine designed in the ’20s. It’s magic.”
Recently, Keith Lapp took a job as a deckhand on a tug boat, primarily shepherding massive ships into Halifax and Saint John harbours. He has aspirations of being a vessel captain one day.
He’ll miss the mighty schooner. He suggests people should make an attempt to see the Bluenose II before season’s end. It will be available for viewing in Lunenburg, Halifax and Bedford until the end of September.
“Go for a sail. I promise you there’s nothing like it.”
Alexander Keith Lapp served as a deckhand aboard Bluenose II this summer.