Red tape, bureaucracy and an unexpected $400,000 bill threaten to doom the Draken Harald Hårfagre’s visit to America.
It wasn’t the reception that the world’s largest Viking ship was expecting after leaving Norway in April to cross the Atlantic and head as far west as Duluth, just in time for Tall Ships Duluth 2016, where it’s one of the event’s marquee attractions.
Without $400,000 to pay for a pilot to guide it through the Great Lakes, the Draken will head home to Norway and miss a series of cities eagerly awaiting its visit through the Great Lakes.
With no money left in its budget, the ship’s captain, Björn Ahlander, said in a news release that turning around would be “a great disappointment for us and more importantly to the people we already committed to; it is a pity if we cannot pursue this expedition.”
The news has officials in Duluth, Green Bay and Chicago scrambling to ensure the Draken is able to make its final ports of call. Meanwhile, outraged supporters have started an online petition at Change.org calling for the fees and pilot requirement to be waived. The petition had nearly 7,500 electronic signatures by Tuesday evening.
Tall Ships Duluth executive producer Craig Samborski called the developments disappointing, but said efforts are underway to ensure the Draken arrives in Duluth. They include lobbying the U.S. Coast Guard to grant a waiver and finding more money in the budgets to help cover the cost.
“We are working hard to find a resolution to this,” Samborski said. “There are heroic efforts to save the day, and I believe the Draken will be here in Duluth.”
Calling the Draken “one of the stars of the show with an amazing history to be told,” Samborski said its scheduled appearance has helped drive ticket sales. While he declined to say how many tickets have been sold, “we are about double of 2013,” he said. The goal for 2016 is 300,000.
Ticket prices range from $9 for a one-day pass to $150 that includes a sailing experience onboard one of the tall ships and access to all festival events.
Officials in Duluth were able to secure the appearance of the Viking ship, which was built to re-create the transatlantic crossing made by explorer Leif Eriksson more than a thousand years ago.
For now, the ship will be docked in Bay City, Mich., through Sunday.
The hangup may be largely due to a communication problem, said Robert Lemire, CEO of the Great Lakes Pilotage Authority (GLPA), a Canadian government agency that oversees the country’s waters.
The Draken set sail in April and was under the impression that it would not need a pilot to sail the Great Lakes because it was less than 35 meters long. The Draken is 34.5 meters (115 feet). However, that ruling applied only to its passage through Canadian waters. Once the ship left Snell Lock west of Montreal, it entered international waters, which are under jurisdiction of the U.S. Coast Guard, which requires pilots. That is when the Draken was informed it had to have a pilot, which can cost up to $400 per hour.
A call to the U.S. Coast Guard seeking comment was not returned.
The fees block “the opportunity for any foreign tall ship to enter the Great Lakes and visit the ports,” said Sigurd Aase, owner and curator of the Draken, in a news release. “We are a nonprofit project with the intention to spread knowledge about the Vikings’ seafaring and to inspire people to pursue dreams and look beyond the horizon, as modern Vikings. The fees are just not possible for a project like Draken Harald Hårfagre to pay.”
While the release pointed the finger at the GLPA, Lemire said his agency has no say in the matter. “Our government in Ottawa is not happy. We try to help these people.”
Regardless of who is to blame, petition supporters are asking both the GLPA and the U.S. Coast Guard to “rescind this unjustified requirement to allow the Draken Harald Hårfagre the same latitude that other noncommercial tall ships enjoy and to continue on the port visits for which dozens of Great Lakes communities have publicized, planned and sold admission and entry tickets.”
The ship is named after Harald Fairhair, the king who unified Norway into one kingdom. Construction on the ship began in 2010. Built with techniques from archaeological findings, using old boatbuilding traditions and the legends of Viking ships from the Norse saga, the Draken Harald Hårfagre is believed to be the largest Viking ship built in modern times, according to the ship’s website.
The Draken features an oak hull and a 3,200-square-foot sail. It carries a crew of 32 men and women under the command of Ahlander.
In Duluth, the Draken was to have been one of several tall ships from around the world on display, along with the World’s Largest Rubber Duck. The festival, dubbed “The Greatest Spectacle on Lake Superior,” runs Aug. 18-21.
Besides making an appearance at Tall Ships Duluth, the Draken Harald Hårfagre was scheduled to stop in Quebec City and Toronto; Bay City, Mich., Chicago, Green Bay, New York City and ports in Ohio and Connecticut.