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A Superior Race

Posted by Tall Ships America on August 11, 2013

Sunset riggingAugust 8th, 2013

By Brian Holmen

 We wrapped up the festival in Duluth and got ready for the longest race of the TALL SHIPS CHALLENGE®. The race would start from Duluth and end at the eastern end of Lake Superior, off of Whitefish Point. This leg is known for its great downwind sailing and it will give some of the bigger square-rigged ships a better chance against the smaller schooners.

After these past few weeks onboard Lynx, it was time for me to move on to a new ship. For the race across Lake Superior I would be joining Sørlandet. Sørlandet is a Norwegian full-rigged ship and, at 210 feet, she is an impressive sailing vessel. During the winter she is used by Class Afloat, a high school program for 11th and 12th graders. During the school year they sail around the world using the ship as a floating classroom.    

As we left Duluth the wind and the lake were very calm. These conditions weren’t ideal for any of the ships in the fleet. For about a day and a half we drifted in a northerly direction. Pride of Baltimore II and Niagara were lucky enough to catch a bit of a breeze as they got close to the Apostle Islands. Together with Lynx, Denis Sullivan, and Peacemaker, we slowly made our way northeast to where the wind would be. After a few good tacks Lynx was able to split away from the group. A while later, Denis Sullivan and Sørlandet were able to get far enough north that we could start sailing. As we approached the Apostles, Denis Sullivan made a gamble to sail through the islands while Sørlandet opted to stay north of the islands in an attempt to catch a stronger breeze. The strategy paid off for us and we were able to speed in front of Denis Sullivan. We were finally sailing.

On bow watch

That next morning was an interesting mix of fog with a steady breeze. It was unusual to have fog with even just a little bit of wind, so we made sure to keep a sharp lookout and we used our foghorn every two minutes. The fog lasted throughout most of the day and and everyone was relieved when it lifted since that meant we didn’t have to listen to the horn every two minutes.

By now we were well in front of Denis Sullivan and closing in on Lynx. With the wind coming from our stern we had the advantage. In the previous races this summer,  the schooners did well during upwind legs. This was a downwind leg so Sørlandet could really utilize their square sails.

When we were on watch it seemed like we were always bracing. This was done to make sure the sail trim was just perfect. We wanted to squeeze as much speed as we could out of our sails. I quickly remembered what it was like to be back on a square-rigger again and brace. When I was sailing on Lynx I only needed one person to haul on a brace. On a full rigged ship you need at least four people on a brace.

making bracelets


That next morning we were up trimming the sails again. We also had a chance to go aloft and unfurl the royals on the masts. The royal is the highest square sail on each of the masts. It is always a great feeling to climb aloft and watch the sun as it rises from the east.

By now we had passed the Keweenaw and we were getting the winds that were coming off the point. We were sailing upwards of nine knots, which is quite fast for a large sailing ship. We kept that speed up through the night and were able to catch up to Lynx. Pride of Baltimore II and Niagara were already nearing the finish line, but Lynx was within reach.

By the next day we were able to see Lynx sailing off our starboard side. To add to our luck, the wind had picked up again and the boost helped put space in between Lynx and us.

After three and half days of sailing across Lake Superior, we crossed the finish line behind Pride of Baltimore II and Niagara. We were now on our way out of Lake Superior and on to Chicago. Chicago will be a special event for Sørlandet since the last time Sørlandet was in Chicago was 80 years ago for the Worlds Fair of 1933. Norway had the ship towed through the locks to be used as a pavilion for the Norwegian exhibit. For the remainder of the sail down Lake Michigan, we will be spending our time getting the ship ready for its return to Chicago.


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