A replica of a Viking ship managed to weather the often stormy seas of the North Atlantic this spring to triumphantly arrive in North America, but now it’s run into a new storm of financial problems. Project organizers didn’t budget for the cost of needing port pilots in US waters, and are desperately trying to raise the money so they won’t have to leave the Great Lakes.
The Draken Harald Hårfagre, billed as the world’s largest Viking ship, sailed from Haugesund, Norway last spring to the Shetland and Faroe islands, Iceland, Greenland, Newfoundland and into the St Lawrence Seaway. It had been invited to participate in the Tall Ships Challenge in the Great Lakes, and organizers claim they were told the vessel would be exempted from pilotage requirements.
According to a press release issued by organizers Draken Expedition America, the vessel then entered the waters of the St Lawrence and Great Lakes, reportedly with information from the Great Lakes Pilotage Authorities that foreign ships of less than 35 meters in overall length are “not subject to compulsory pilotage in the Great Lakes Region.”
That proved to be incorrect. Instead, the Viking ship Draken Harald Hårfagre is indeed required to have a pilot on board at all times while at sea, with no possibility for a reduction in cost, estimated to be USD 430,000.
“The fees are not within reason for a non-profit sail training vessel,” protested Sigurd Aase, owner and curator of the project and its Draken Harald Hårfagre. which has even been portrayed on a Norwegian stamp with its huge red sail. Aase claimed the pilotage fees can block the opportunity for any foreign tall ship to enter the Great Lakes and visit ports.
“We are a non-profit project with the intention to spread knowledge about the Viking’s seafaring, and to inspire people to pursue dreams and look beyond the horizon, as modern Vikings,” Aase said. He was afraid early last week that the ship would need to leave the Great Lakes and end its expedition.
“We are required to have a pilot on board as soon as we leave the dock, at a cost of USD 400 an hour, the same rate as for a commercial freight ship,” the Viking ship’s captain, Björn Ahlander, said. “It is very disappointing, the people in the harbours around the (Great Lakes) are expecting us and we have been warmly welcomed in every port we have visited. It’s a pity if we can’t pursue this expedition.”
Project officials were careful to note that they were not blaming the pilots themselves. “We are aware of the need for pilots in the Great Lakes,” they stated, adding that it was the cost of the pilotage the project couldn’t bear.
They later decided to press on and at least visit Bay City, Michigan. “There is not room in our budget to go farther west into the Great Lakes, but we cannot let the people in Bay City down,” Ahlander stated.
Norwegian-Americans sailing to the rescue
While Aase claimed that “we are still not able to fund the pilotage,” patriotic Norwegian Americans were sailing to the rescue, to help raise the money needed. The Norwegian Society of Texas, for example, raised USD 205, Norway’s consulate in Minneapolis came up with USD 2,175 and even Bay City Yoga raised USD 281. The large organization Sons of Norway issued a press release of its own late last week, reporting that it had set up an official fundraising site in partnership with the Draken Harald Hårfagre, “to immediately handle a deluge of interest in donating to allow the vessel to continue its voyage as part of the Tall Ships Challenge Great Lakes 2016.”
Eivind Heiberg, chief executive of Sons of Norway, claimed that the Draken’s voyage “has stirred the imagination of so many people around the world and inspired the hearts of those within our organization, too. Its urgent need fits with Sons of Norway’s mission to promote and to preserve the heritage and culture of Norway.” By Monday, the effort had raised a total of USD 44,436, around 10 percent of what’s needed.
Ahlander said the Viking ship’s sailors, crew and supporters were “amazed and grateful” for the support of “numerous communities,” and that “we’re happy that Sons of Norway reached out to us” to help raise funds.
It remained unclear whether the bail-out attempt, called Help the Draken Sail again (external link), would work. Project officials were promising updates as they hoped the money would roll in this week.