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Mahone Bay man planning to salvage, rebuild family’s schooner that sank in Baddeck under ‘mysterious circumstances’

Capt. Walter Boudreau at the helm of The Yankee.
Capt. Walter Boudreau at the helm of The Yankee. - Contributed

The Yankee returns

In the water of a quiet cove near Baddeck, Nova Scotia, a trout silently swims around a muddy hulk. Blanketed in algae, the roughly 100-foot frame of a sunken schooner has sat under the surface of the Bras D’Or for over 60 years.

Recently, a small boat circled the wreck, crewed by a few men who plan to haul up as much as they can. The salvage will be dried out in a kiln and soaked in epoxy. The rebuild of the schooner Yankee will begin.

Built in 1897 by the Dutch government, the white-hulled ship started life as a pilot schooner with a different name: Loodschooner 4. Capt. Irving Johnson, an American, bought the ship in the 1930s, named it Yankee and sailed around the world, making at least three circumnavigations.

Around 1949, Capt. Walter Boudreau bought The Yankee and sailed to Baddeck.

“It went on to more fame as the flagship of Nova Scotia’s first, last and only windjammer cruise business,” says his son, Lou Boudreau, from his home in Mahone Bay.

The Boudreaus took paying passengers on a unique high-seas adventure.

“Nobody was doing this round-the-world cruise business” on a schooner, says Boudreau.

The charter schooner fleet soon grew and Capt. Walter expanded to the West Indies, where they could work all winter. Around 1955, The Yankee was left in Baddeck and “she sank there one winter under very mysterious circumstances,” says Boudreau.

Capt. Walter and his family returned to find the boat underwater, stripped of valuables. Boudreau expects “nobody will ever know for sure” what happened.

The Yankee under sail. Originally built by the Dutch in 1897, it was bought by Capt. Walter Boudreau around 1949 and used as a round-the-world cruise business – the first of its kind.
The Yankee under sail. Originally built by the Dutch in 1897, it was bought by Capt. Walter Boudreau around 1949 and used as a round-the-world cruise business – the first of its kind.

Lou Boudeau went on to become a ship’s captain himself. Now he’s on a mission to resurrect The Yankee.

Pieces are still missing from the wreck. The anchor from the ship sits on a front lawn in Baddeck, says Boudreau, and relics have travelled far and wide.

“If you go down to New York, or Florida, any place in the United States, and you talk about the schooner Yankee, everybody knows. It’s a very, very famous schooner,” he says.

The ship is special to the Boudreaus, too. Capt. Walter’s ashes are sprinkled over the wreck.

Today, the hull remains underwater, but should soon emerge from the Bras D’Or. Boudreau has the original Dutch plans for the ship, and his brother Peter, who became a master designer and shipbuilder, is going to lend his expertise.

Using the original hull means “it’s a rebuild, instead of a new build, and that’s really important,” says Boudreau. He has already planned the entire process of raising, rebuilding and chartering the ship. Some funding is secured and a business plan is developing to start the rebuild in Lunenburg.

“We have launched a program to rebuild that schooner,” says Boudreau, “and put her back in the business that she was originally meant for.”

He is excited to get back in the business his father started almost 70 years ago. He says the Yankee will greatly revitalize tourism in the province.

“On that big schooner somewhere up in the sky, Dad’s lookin’ down here with a smile on his face and saying, ‘go for it.’”

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