An open letter in regards to the Draken Harald Hårfagre in the wake of the Great Lakes Pilotage regulations

Illustration by Karin Gavfelin, crew member Draken Harald Hårfagre

Illustration by Karin Gavfelin, crew member Draken Harald Hårfagre

Draken Harald Hårfagre

South Haven, Michigan

25th July 2016


An open letter in regards to the Draken Harald Hårfagre in the wake of the Great Lakes Pilotage regulations:

First of all, I would like to extend a very large thank you to everyone involved in donating in an attempt to help balance our budget, Sons of Norway for kick starting the fundraiser, the pilot associations and Coast Guard for being patient with us, all of the fantastic pilots who have navigated us through the lakes so far and have become our friends, all who visited our little ship, all who wants to visit our little ship, Consuls, Politicians, Tall Ship’s America for all their hard work helping us and inviting us to the Great Lakes, registered and non registered pilots desiring to donate their time, Canadian Pilots for donating their time through the St. Lawrence,  Journalists interested in us, all of you giving us incredible support mentally through this matter, and thank you Sigurd for building our Draken, hiring this crew, and making this expedition a reality.

As many of you already are aware, our Draken is subject by US regulation to carry a registered pilot during her time underway in the international waters of the Great Lakes.  This was a law put into effect during the US presidential administration of Dwight Eisenhower.  Because our transit is over many months and several thousand nautical miles, this fee is amounting to be very large for our little ship.  The precise fee is not the most straightforward to calculate.  While drawing a straight line from city A to city B and calculate for max speed is typical for cargo ships, it is not realistic for us unfortunately.  For example (please bear with me for those of you already familiar with all of this) we have a max fuel capacity which requires us to stop approximately every thirty hours to refuel.  We are a sailing ship designed after traditions dating back to before the year 800 AD and constant vibrations from the engines can be detrimental for our riveted oaken hull.  While motoring ahead full works in calm weather, there lies a risk of damaging Draken if we were to attempt to motor into any significant head seas.  Our crew of around 34 works in the lake’s summer heat and sleeps in a tent with as many as 21 persons, we would like to take 15 minutes a day for a cooling swim, all adding time and dollars to our expedition in the lakes.

If we were to participate in the remaining Tall Ships Great Lakes Challenge® races between the ports, it will increase our distances and hours on the lakes adding days to our journey.  And if we were to continue under sail instead of by engine between the ports we would be subject to the mercy of the winds, tacking to windward through many of the lakes, or becalmed.  We are a crew of professional sailors, and sailing volunteers, desiring to sail our ship as she is designed for, of course with a balance and compromise of using the engine when sail propulsion is unfeasible.  As a crew we have all been sacrificing sailing on the lakes just to deliver our ship to all who have been pleading to us to push forward.  Again, thank you for your support.

We have heard some unfortunate news, since all of this has come to the surface.  We have been informed that the pilot associations have been receiving threats and being harassed by angry individuals.  I hope we can come together and take an approach to this that is with kindness, honesty, and integrity.  We respect pilots and their profession.  The safety of the Great Lakes, and well being of all living near these beautiful bodies of water rely on their tireless skills in navigating these huge ships through difficult waterways in all conditions.  It is not an easy job.  We absolutely always welcome the Great Lakes Pilots onboard, and also prefer they not have to take valuable time out of their already overly busy schedules for our relatively tiny viking ship.

Often stories become confused over time, and facts misconstrued.  What is absolutely certain is that Sons of Norway is raising money only for covering our Pilotage fees that we haven’t budgeted for, and our pilotage fees only.  At the moment of writing, the fundraiser has raised over sixty-nine thousand dollars, which is at the absolute skimming by the skin of our teeth, around a hundred thousand dollars below the lowest assumed fee we have seen cast forward for Pilotage.

Again, we can never thank all of you enough for the gift of generosity, support, and kindness, you have shown us, the Pilots, Pilot Authorities, and Coast Guards.  It is because of you we all, Draken crew and Great Lakes Pilots, still have our and their livelihoods, and can continue to bring this wonderful viking ship to your eyes.




Björn Ahlander – Captain

Dag I Sjovold  – medic and photographer

Einar Gudmundsson – volunteer deckhand

Pelayo Secades – watchleader and professional deckhand

Torben Hildemar – 1st mate

Corey Young – mate

Jonas Adenmark Thoreson – volunteer deckhand

Arild Nilsen – boatbuilder

Susana Vallejos – professional deckhand

Kerstin Kessu Karu – second cook

Anne-laure Pharisien – volunteer deckhand

David Short – Watchleader

Kalle Wannerskog – landcrew

Thomas J. Olsen – volunteer deckhand

Jemima Soutter – volunteer deckhand

Kristian Velle – Engineer and professional deckhand

Luke Snyder – Expedition Coordinator

Karin Gafvelin – watchleader and professional deckhand


Written by Woodrow Wiest – watchleader – Draken Harald Hårfagre