#GreatBigLift getting closer

Community COVID-19 Featured

The Pictou waterfront at the Hector Quay has changed its look daily since last week in preparation for the #GreatBigLift.

The Hector, which was launched here on Sept. 16, 2000, is being lifted out of Pictou Harbour and placed on blocks in the quay yard to begin restoration.

Darlene MacDonald, a director of the Ship Hector Society’s board of directors explains, “We obtained a loan from NOBL to begin the project and have been actively seeking funding from all levels of government. Our corporate fundraising has been put on hold during the pandemic situation but we are still spreading the word about our plans.”

Over the past couple of weeks, the iron gates and the wooden sides and gate at the quay’s main entrance were removed as were the large archway, pergola and the longboat. All of this was necessary to accommodate the crane being supplied by A.W. Leil Cranes and Equipment to do the actual lift.

A crew from Partner’s Construction assembled the wooden blocking that will hold the ship, assisted by shipwright Ralph Anderson from Lunenburg, who is no stranger to the Ship Hector.

Late last week, the Hector was turned around — “with just five guys and a Toyota truck,” MacDonald laughs.

A.W. Leil Crane and Equipment brought in and assembled the large crane that will then be used to assemble the 440-tonne crane that will actually lift the vessel; then followed a parade of more than 20 18-wheeler trucks bearing equipment that will be assembled to lift the Hector to its reparation spot.

When the 440-tonne crane is put together it will be boomed up and moved into lift position at the harbour (south) end of the quay. Leil’s will then bring in mats for which the crane will travel back into the quay while moving the ship. Once these mats are placed, King Freight Lines will excavate the courtyard (between the main building, the blacksmith’s shop and carpenter shop) for the movement of the crane and the counterweight behind it.

Laurie MacDonald, president of the Ship Hector Society, says more equipment is coming in from the southern United States and Quebec to complete the job.

“There’s 180 tonnes of counterweight alone in the supertray of the crane,” he says.

Describing the massive size of the crane that will do the lifting work, he notes: “The boom of the crane (will be) probably close to the front of the quay.”

Originally, the SHS expected that the #GreatBigLift would take place in mid-June, but Darlene MacDonald says all of the preparations have been running so smoothly that it will actually take place earlier than that.

“It’s coming together more quickly than we expected,” she says.

Darlene MacDonald is in awe of the speed at which the plans are coming together.

“To watch these guys, they make everything look easy,” she praises the crew.

Laurie MacDonald is equally impressed with the process. “The skill that these Leil employees have at putting this thing together is just so fluid. They hardly have to talk, they are just so professional and skilled at the job — it’s amazing.”

The Ship Hector Society plans to do a live feed of the lift so interested people can watch the process safely and still respect the physical distancing requirements that are in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Work is proceeding so quickly that Darlene MacDonald is hoping the necessary arrangements can be made in time to enable the live feed to take place.

Laurie MacDonald points out, “We have a webcam at shiphector.ca that’s facing the yard, and people can click on the menu and see what’s taking place.”

Once the Hector is out of the water and secured, inspection will take place to determine the extent of the renovations that will need to be done. The wooden ship has not been out of the water for nine years; diving surveys have indicated that the ship is in fair shape below the waterline. “But we won’t know the extent of the repairs until we lift it,” Darlene MacDonald says.

The restoration work will be done over a two-year period so that the tourist attraction could eventually be used for revenue-generating charters. There are also plans to mechanize the vessel and upgrade the interpretive centre on the waterfront, which is more than 20 years old. Current estimated cost for repairs and motorizing of the ship is $1.7 million, just repairs without mechanization would be $1.3 million. Improvements to the interpretive centre are estimated to cost an additional $2.14 million.

The Ship Hector Society Board of Directors has committed to raising $1.5 million for the work and will be reaching out to all levels of government for support. As well, a capital campaign will target the corporate community, individuals and supporters.

It all leads to a big celebration in 2023, the 250th anniversary of the arrival of Scottish settlers to Pictou. The Town of Pictou will celebrate its 150th anniversary the same year.