Sailing out of your comfort zone on SS Sorlandet

SHARE Sailing out of your comfort zone on SS Sorlandet

Wheezy D. Hoekstra photo


Sunrise to sunset marks the range of passionate sailors on board the historic Norwegian tall ship Sorlandet, which is part of this weekend’s Tall Ships Chicago 2013.

The youngest crew member is 14.

She is trainee Samantha Svendsen of Central Minnesota.

The oldest crew member is 74. He is Logie Donaldson of Port Perry Ontario Canada.

Donaldson is a trainee.

With a kind face and bold white beard, he looks like a member of Peter, Paul and Mary. And there was Donaldson blowing in the wind while video taping the “Sailing With the Stars” talent competition Tuesday night in Lake Michigan a few miles off the Waukegan harbor.

The talent show winner—deemed by me—was the White Watch (there are red, blue and white watch teams that keep eyes out for the captain).

They wrote their own lyrics to the pop song “Little Talks” by the Iceland group “Of Monsters and Men.” “….

Although the lake may vary this ship will carry our bodies safe to shore/there is a 2 ton anchor that’s holding me back…

“Tell her that I miss our little waves/soon it will be over and no bread will be baked…

“We used to play aloft when we were young and full of life and love./Somedays I don’t know starboard from port side

“It’s your lines playing tricks on you my dear….”

Led by the 14-year-old Svendsen, the group spent three days working on their personalized lyrics.

The dozen crew members wore white tee shirts for their acoustic percussive performance. They gathered at the center of the main deck under a modest spotlight. They sang and played guitar with a deep sincerity that could only have been acquired from being together on the journey that began on July 29.

“There is strong emotion right now,” said award winning vocalist/crew member Hugo Lanois of Montreal, Canada said when I bumped into him after the performance. “We are realizing tomorrow is Chicago. “

Lanois—no relation to producer Daniel—owns a communications and marketing company in Montreal. He is 23 years old. “This is a life changing experience,” he said. “ You learn about trust. How to be a leader. Living on a ship you don’t say, ‘I’m not going to help you out.’ You receive back.

“People judge you in the moment.”

Donaldson observed, “The performances were phenomenal. Consider they only had two days to do it and they did it between their watches and all their duties.”

The vessel currently is deployed as a classroom for Class Afloat, a private school in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia.  The run to Chicago had 52 people, 20 of them crew members. She left the cold waters of Lake Superior at Duluth, Minn. on July 29 and arrived in Chicago Aug, 7.

SS Sorlandet  was built in 1927 as a sail training ship. Topping out at 210 feet she is the tallest of the tall ships anchored through Sunday at Navy Pier.

Sorlandet (southland) last appeared in Chicago for the 1933 Century of Progress World’s Fair.

1933 Sorlandet crew

The magnificent fair stretched from the lakefront at the Adler Planetarium to 37th Street.  It was America’s first major event since the Depression began and Prohibition ended (1933.)

Sorlandet is the world’s oldest and best kept full rigged Tall Ship, with 27 sails and 220 lines.  The masts are 100 feet tall.

Donaldson has sailed three Tall Ships this summer. He did a Cleveland-Bay City, Mich. run, then Bay City to Duluth, Minn and finally this Duluth-Chicago trip.

In the 1970s and early 80s he piled up 20,000 miles of ocean sailing on his own 40-foot sailboat Esker (a geological term for rebellious glacial landforms).

“But this five weeks of training has been the most intense learning experience of my whole life,” he said. “And here, I’m 74. The only commonality between a 40-foot pleasure boat and a square rigger (Sorlandet) is the sea, the water and the wind. You have to learn everything else.

“All the lines, all the sails, all the duties. Everything is 10 times bigger. You have to learn it all new again.”

I will never forget Logie Donaldson. He woke me up from my saggy hammock slumber.

“I was on galley duty,” he said in apologetic tones Wednesday morning. “Everybody was sleeping later than they were supposed to. I was told…,”: and he yelled, “WAKE ‘EM UP!”

A good metaphor for living.

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