Viking Ship Almost Stalled for Lack of Pilot

It’s kind of funny if you have time to stop and think about it, but consider this:

A historic voyage was planned this year on a Viking longship sailing from Norway all the way to the world’s most inland seaport, Duluth, Minn.

The replica Viking ship Draken Harald Hårfagre was scheduled to be part of the Tall Ship Festival that passes through Sturgeon Bay on Aug. 3 before heading to destination Green Bay and then Duluth.

So thank the Sons of Norway if you get a chance to see the Draken Harald next week. The Viking “invaders” appear to have met their match in good old American bureaucracy.

Following a route they say was first taken by pre-Colombian Vikings, a crew set sail from Norway on April 26, bound for the Great Lakes and the Tall Ship Festival, in the 115-foot long, 26-foot-wide replica Viking ship.

The Draken reached North America on June 1 and visited Canadian ports. However, upon entering U.S. waters, it suddenly found itself in a bureaucratic nightmare. The ship’s crew was told it could only continue the journey with a 24-7 Great Lakes pilot, with a $400-or-so hourly fee.

That’s how things are done here in the U.S. of A., the agencies responsible for collecting these fees said over the protestations of the Draken crew and its supporters.

Because the Viking ship is considered a non-recreational foreign-flag vessel, it is required to have a Great Lakes pilot aboard to assist in navigation, at a cost of approximately $400 an hour, or about $400,000 for the entire trip to Duluth, Minn.

The U.S. Coast Guard oversees the pilotage program and said it would take an act of Congress to change the law, no matter how many would like to see the fees waived for the Draken.

The month before this brouhaha about pilot fees, Great Lakes ports, vessel operators and maritime trade groups filed a lawsuit seeking a reduction in the “arbitrary and capricious” pilotage fees recently raised by the Coast Guard, which oversees the program. The Coast Guard raised pilot compensation fees from $235,000 to $326,000 annually.

But that legal challenge could be a long time from resolution. So the charitable foundation of Sons of Norway came to the rescue with a major donation. The foundation money is raised through fundraising events held by Sons of Norway lodges throughout the country, including the H.R. Holand Lodge of the Sons of Norway based in Sturgeon Bay.

“The Sons of Norway Foundation is fabulous,” said Lorraine Selvick, president of the Sturgeon Bay lodge. “All the lodges kick in money from their fundraisers and we give the foundation the discretion on how to spend 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,” said Sons of Norway CEO Eivind Heiberg said on the group’s website. “Its urgent need fits with Sons of Norway’s mission to promote and to preserve the heritage and culture of Norway, and we’re pleased to help facilitate and coordinate sanctioned fundraising efforts to bring the Draken to all those who have worked and planned their summer schedules around her visit.”

The foundation’s website included this statement: “The Draken – the world’s largest modern Viking ship – needs $430,000 to cover unexpected fees for pilots to help the ship navigate the Great Lakes as it sails on the Tall Ships route. Sons of Norway and its members naturally have a keen interest in the historical aspects of the ship and want to help the Draken team accomplish their goals for the Great Lakes voyage, recognizing that over a million people are anticipating its arrival at multiple Great Lakes ports this summer.”

You can continue to help the “Draken Sail Again” by visiting

And if you wish to support the local Sons of Norway, consider attending the Sturgeon Bay lodge’s recently revived Norsk Fest on Saturday, Aug., 6, at Bay View Lutheran Church, Sturgeon Bay. There will be food, crafts, clothing, culture and more.


Article Comments