Marco Polo Project Saint John New Brunswick

Members of the Bluenose's crew share a laugh high in the rigging

Barry Ogden looks at one sailing embassy and wonders
once more if and when Saint John's ship will ever come in.

Bluenose Envy

By John Mazerolle
Times Globe staff writer

Barry Ogden and Captain Orval H. Banfield of the Bluenose II stand on the deck of the 161ft. ship    Thinking about the Bluenose II puts wind in the sails of Barry Ogden. And in the same breath, it knocks the wind out of him.

    "I guess in one way it's frustrating, but in another way it's hopeful," the president of the Marco Polo Group said.

    Thoughts of the Bluenose fill him with hope because the Nova Scotian vessel, which visited Saint John this weekend, is an example of what he feels the Port City can accomplish if it uses its history to its advantage. The frustration is born of his belief that Saint John has shown "no vision."

    For 12 years, Mr. Ogden has struggled unsuccessfully for enough money and support to build a replica of the Marco Polo - a storied vessel that could promote, and indeed be synonymous, with the province that laid its keel.

    Sound like the Bluenose II, whose fame won it a place on Canada's dime?

    "That's what the Bluenose does for Nova Scotia," Mr. Ogden said. "It promotes who they are."

    The two-masted fishing schooner floated near Pugsley Park throughout the Labour Day weekend, attracting hordes of curious locals. Because of the tides, the public could board only when the boat rose to the level of the dock.

    Standing a few paces from the 161 foot vessel Saturday morning, Mr. Ogden talked about the Port City's potential to employ its history for tourism. Nova Scotia does a much better job, he feels.

    "There's an example - Fort Howe," he said, pointing across the bow of the ship toward the historic military lookout. "Go to Halifax, you'll see a Citadel. "

    He said Saint John was once the world's fourth-busiest port for building tall ships, and should have something to show for it.

    The Marco Polo Group's latest plan would see a land-locked building shaped like the Marco Polo, its rigging masts reaching 25 feet higher than the Hilton Hotel. It could be the Eiffel Tower, Sydney Opera House or CN Tower of Saint John, Mr. Ogden said.

   The differences between the two replicas would be many. The Bluenose II is a real ship that's been as far afield as Vancouver and Thunder Bay, it has two masts as opposed to three, and it's about one-third the size of the Marco Polo.

    But Mr. Ogden keyed in on one thing that both vessels share: History.

    This type of attraction needs a good story behind it to attract tourists, he feels. And both ships have that.

    The original Bluenose was built in 1921 to compete against New England ships in the International Fisherman's Trophy race. Canada won that first year, and the ship never relinquished the cup during a racing career that lasted almost two decades. It was sold to carry freight in the West Indies in 1942, and foundered on a reef off of Haiti four years later.

    The Marco Polo was launched from the yard of James Smith at Saint John's Marsh Creek in 1851. It combined the underwater body of a clipper with mid-ship sections of a cargo carrier - a design Mr. Ogden describes as 747 meets Concorde. The ship had both speed and carrying ability.

    "People didn't think the design would work but it did," he said.

    The Marco Polo was the first to circumnavigate the globe in less than six months. She ran aground off Cavendish, PEI, in 1883.

   Captain Orval H. Banfield, master of the Bluenose II, said the money to build a replica of the Bluenose was put up by Oland Breweries Ltd. in the 1960s.

    The ship was launched in 1963, and the company used it to promote Schooner beer until 1971.

    The ship is now owned by the people of Nova Scotia and looked after by the volunteer organization and registered charity Bluenose II Preservation Trust.

    The Bluenose II needs about $500,000 poured into it each year, Capt. Banfield said, but the ship pays for itself.

    So far this year, it has attracted about 5,500 people who have taken cruises for $23 and about 60,000 free walk-ons. People who walk on can make a donation, and a store in' Lunenberg is the only one in the world that sells Bluenose-related merchandise.

    Plus, the ship has appeared on the Canadian 10-cent piece since 1937.

    "You can't get much better marketing than that," Capt. Banfield said.

    Mr. Ogden said the Marco Polo group would need crowds comparable to the Bluenose's walk-on numbers to stay afloat.

    Attracting 60,000 to 80,000 people a year is standard for places like King's Landing and the Acadian Village, he added.

    The Marco Polo can attract that many people because of its history and the icon status he feels it would obtain by being a permanent part of Saint John's skyline.

   The Marco Polo has already proved it has appeal, Mr. Ogden said. "All we have to do is develop it."

The article above was published in the Times Globe, Tuesday, September 7/99