Schooner Katie Belle arrives in Halifax under full sail

11 06 2016

Hand-built schooner Katie Belle arrives in Halifax under full sail

Hundreds of people gathered on the Halifax waterfront Saturday afternoon to greet the crew of the Katie Belle.

Hundreds of people gathered on the Halifax waterfront Saturday afternoon to greet the crew of the Katie Belle. (Elizabeth McMillan/CBC)

The crew of a wooden schooner hand-built by cousins in Stewiacke, N.S. capped off their first voyage by crossing the Bluenose II under full sail in St. Margarets Bay this weekend.

“The wind was right on our bow … doing eight and a half knots, skipping across the waves,” crew member Chester Gourley said.

“We were all hooting and hollering.”

Homecoming celebration

Hundreds of friends, family members and people from the Colchester County area gathered along the Halifax Harbour Saturday afternoon to greet the Katie Belle as the crew marked their return to Nova Scotia.

Cousins Evan and Nick Densmore spent five years building the 24-metre wooden ship, which they tested along the Eastern Seaboard this winter.

Evan Densmore said, as they approached the dock, he was amazed to see so many familiar faces, including many from his hometown who followed the project over the years.

“It’s like the end of a dream,” he said following a ceremony on the waterfront.

“It’s quite a good feeling when I bring my ship, all in one piece, all the way back home.”

Sea trials along the U.S. coast

The crew departed Saint John bound for South Carolina in March. They spent more than a month in Charleston, installing the jib and main sail and testing the vessel under sail.

Evan Densmore said the boat never failed them, but there were a few grisly moments.

The longest stint at sea was seven days. On the way south with four people on board, they took turns manning the helm 24 hours a day, guiding the ship as it didn’t have autopilot.

“It took us 16 days to get down there, you’re pretty worn out. I lost about 15 pounds on the way down, it was cold too,” he said.

Not always smooth sailing

Gourley says the reality of living on the ship quickly replaced the romance he’d imagined when he set out.

“People were losing their teeth, losing their cell phones, losing their lunch,” he said.

Stewiacke boys

But the journey came with its high points too. At one point, they anchored off Ellis Island in New York in the middle of the night, waking up to a familiar silhouette.

“They woke up in the morning with their tea and there in the fog and there was the Statue of Liberty,” Gourley said.

“There’s Stewiacke boys on a Stewiacke-built boat. If that isn’t what the Ivany report is supposed to do, I don’t know what is.”

cousins on the Katie BelleEvan Densmore, left, and Nick Densmore wave goodbye as their schooner set sail from Parrsboro, N.S., in February. (Tommy Strutz/Facebook)

Proving it’s possible

Gourley says he hopes the Katie Belle continues to be an example of what’s possible in Nova Scotia.

“You wouldn’t believe the amount of people that thought those two men were crazy,” he said.

“I hope government officials, businesses, just the common workers see that this can happen. Just put your head down and do it.”

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