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Master Craftsman of Sail–The Bluenose and a Lesson in Christian Work Ethic

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How can the masterful design behind the iconic Bluenose schooner inspire us to greater accomplishments in our own lives?

On the front of every Canadian ten-cent piece is the image of a graceful sailing ship. Most Canadians will recognize it as an image of the Bluenose, a two-mast sailing ship with a forward mast shorter than its main mast. The Bluenose was primarily a fishing vessel, with a hull built to carry a voluminous cargo while still allowing the ship to attain a high speed under sail. The design was in part spurred on by competition between fishing communities, since the first ships to reach good fishing areas had the advantage. Even before the Bluenose, schooners were very popular between 1880 and 1920, especially on the eastern coast of North America. Its design made the schooner work faster than any other ship on the seas.

The most intense rivalry for fishing waters on the southern Grand Banks was between the fishermen from New England (primarily Massachusetts) and those from Nova Scotia. Both areas were strong centres for shipbuilding in the late 1800s, and both were populated by proud sailors who wanted to prove their ships were the fastest and hence the most profitable. The rival areas decided to hold an annual race for international deep-sea fishing schooners, with the winner taking home the “International Fisherman’s Trophy.”

The first of these races took place off the coast of Halifax in October 1920. The result was a decisive win for the Esperanto of Gloucester, Massachusetts, and a humiliating defeat for the Nova Scotia fishermen.

Nova Scotia Makes a Comeback

The spring of 1921 saw a great deal of excitement and anticipation in the Smith and Rhuland shipyards of the south shore town and fishing port of Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, home to the largest deep-sea fishing fleet in the Americas at the time. Smith and Rhuland had launched more than 120 ships from their yards, so why so much excitement about another new boat coming together?

After the defeat of 1920, a committee had approached William Roué, a well-known naval architect in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, about designing a ship that could salvage the damaged pride of the province. William Roué accepted the challenge and went to work.

Born in Halifax in 1879, Mr. Roué was Canada’s first home-grown naval architect. As a boy, he would often be seen near the Halifax Yacht Squadron, spending hours on the water learning every nuance of how a boat handles, until it was said that “he could handle the tiller ‘like a fine violinist handled his bow’” (“William J. Roué (1879–1970),” WJRoue.ca, accessed December 31, 2020). Leaving high school before graduation, he decided to study to become a naval architect.

And so he enrolled in night classes in Halifax’s Victoria School of Art & Design to learn the skills of mechanical drafting. Now 18 he worked as a junior clerk at a wholesale grocery company and from his annual salary of $100 spent his first $10 on a junior membership at the Squadron and another $16 to replace the Dixon-Kemp design manuals at the Squadron he had worn to shreds as he taught himself the science of naval architecture.

The talent of the diligent young man was recognized immediately, and wealthy members of the Squadron asked him to design boats for them. It was his early successes with the design of fast sailboats that brought him to the attention of the committee wanting a new, fast schooner. His seventeenth design was a ship that would be named the Bluenose—a common nickname for anything Nova Scotian.

A Place in History

From the beginning, there was something a bit different about this schooner. Her lines were sleeker, her masts set a tiny bit further back. Changes were subtle, but noticeable, and lifted her bow a bit higher. Her keel was laid with unusual ceremony, as the Duke of Devonshire, then Governor General of Canada, came to drive her first spike, and she launched on March 26, 1921. Captained by the daring and capable Angus Walters, her first season on the fishing grounds was very successful, for Roué’s design was brilliant: Though the Bluenose was built to race, she could carry a huge cargo. That summer, she collected the most profitable catch.

In the fall, the Bluenose set out for Halifax, where she was greeted with a reception suitable for royalty. In only one fishing season, the ship had gained a reputation for speed. The International Fishermen’s Trophy races were held on October 22 and 24, and the Bluenose handily won them against the Gloucester schooner, the Elsie. For twelve years, the Bluenose was undefeated, becoming known as “Queen of the North Atlantic” in the Americas and Europe. In 1935, she sailed to England and received the George Medal.

Of course, even a ship has a lifespan. After her working days as a fishing schooner were done in 1938, the Bluenose was sold to the West Indies Trading Company. Her masts were removed and she worked among the islands until, in 1946, she hit a reef off Haiti and sank.

A replica of this famous ship was built in 1963 in the same shipyard in Lunenburg, and now serves as a reminder of the age of sailing, as well as tribute to the genius of the Bluenose’s architect. William Roué went on to design more than 200 ships, including critical sectional cargo barges and tugs for Britain’s Ministry of War Transport during World War II, which drew high praise even from U.S. General Dwight Eisenhower.

Excelling in Our Work

Roué’s example of diligence and study made him a wealthy man. But much more importantly, he was respected and recognized for contributing to the lives of those around him.

The Bible encourages all of us to strive to emulate these qualities: “Do you see a man who excels in his work? He will stand before kings; he will not stand before unknown men…. Who can find a virtuous wife? For her worth is far above rubies…. She seeks wool and flax, and willingly works with her hands” (Proverbs 22:29; 31:10, 13).

Roué was someone who wanted to learn and was willing to work diligently toward a goal. He not only built the fastest schooner in history, but also brought honor to his country and a sense of accomplishment to his countrymen. Roué maintained a happy marriage and family, and they, too, enjoyed the fruit of his diligence.

Some in our society denigrate what has been called the “work ethic,” yet that ethic brings God-ordained benefits. When people strive for a worthy goal, putting the love of learning and the joy of accomplishment above the momentary pleasures of entertainment, everything falls into proper perspective. Today, too many believe work is a necessary evil and seek excessive diversions. Few indeed praise God for giving us the opportunity to work and contribute to improving not only our own lives but also the lives of those who surround us.

Work provides the opportunity to be productive in our physical lives and make this temporary world a better place for everyone, while simultaneously being productive spiritually, building towards an eternal inheritance. That is an opportunity not to be lost.

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