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Sailmaker keeps family ties to Bluenose going for four generations

Second Peninsula woman receives contract to make four sails for the Bluenose II

4 min read
caption Michele Stevens behind the 16 panels that will be used to create the Bluenose II's mainsail.
Lucy Harnish

For Michele Stevens, the skill of sailmaking is in her blood. Not only is she a fourth-generation sailmaker, but she is also the fourth family member to have an association with the Bluenose and Bluenose II.

Stevens’ great-grandfather Randolph was a sail trimmer on the Bluenose. Her father, Robert, and her grandfather, Harold, both made sails for the Bluenose II.

“And so then me, being able to make the whole suit, all the lowers, is a true honour for us, and kind of the pinnacle of our career,” says Stevens.

Stevens found out on Nov. 4 that she was awarded the sailmaking contract. Over the next five months, Stevens and her team will be responsible for crafting the mainsail, the fore, the outer jib and jumbo. The mainsail alone is 386 square metres. Each sail will be constructed from Dacron, which is about two times heavier than the cloth used to construct most sails.

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caption Michele Stevens behind one of her industrial sewing machines, Nov. 21.
Lucy Harnish

Stevens says the job will take four to six people.

It’s far more than the mainsail she was hired to make in 2005. This time, it means four times the work for her and her team.

“We’re an independent sail loft, we’re not a franchise, so it will have our Michele Stevens Sailloft label on it and we’re proud to put it on,” says Stevens.

To compete for the contract, Stevens had to figure out how she was going to manufacture all four sails by May, when the Bluenose will begin the 2020 season.

Stevens says that her loft is unique because it still has the “traditional trades” that some companies can’t offer.

“This type of craft is not done everywhere, every day,” says Stevens. “We are truly one of the few actual lofts around that will make a sail from scratch.”

From the loft to the crew

Devyn Kaizer was at the Lunenburg Community Centre last Friday when Stevens laid out all 16 panels of the mainsail so they could be measured and cross-checked. It was the only place big enough for the job.

Kaizer is a deckhand on the Bluenose II. She invested eight years of her life into the research of the Bluenose and the Grand Banks at the Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic. Her research was chronicled in her novel, Bluenose: On Board a Legend. 

caption Devyn Kaizer on the 4 to 8 a.m. watch on the Bluenose II on Lake Michigan, Aug. 1, 2019.
Submitted by Devyn Kaizer

She recognizes the work Stevens is doing in the community.

“We get to see the traditional skills staying in this area and they’re not being forgotten, they’re not lost to newer technologies,” says Kaizer, from Lunenburg. “I think it’s really important because it’s educational, it’s supporting local businesses, so it’s good for the economy and then it teaches a whole new generation these skills.”

Kaizer and Stevens both agree that the Bluenose II is an important part of not only Lunenburg’s history, but of Canada’s history.

“It’s living history, our captain describes it as driving the Statue of Liberty around, which is kind of amazing when you think about it because it is a Canadian icon,” says Kaizer.

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About the author

Lucy Harnish

Lucy is a journalism student at the University of King's College. She hails from Mill Cove, Nova Scotia. Her interest in Russian literature led...

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