Viking Ship Cuts Voyage Short Due to Pilotage Fees

Image courtesy Draken Harald H?rfagre

By The Maritime Executive 2016-08-04 20:41:20

The crew of the world's largest Viking ship replica thought that their trans-Atlantic voyage to the Great Lakes might be halted – not by foul weather or a vessel casualty, but by pilotage fees. On Thursday, they said that while they had raised enough to complete most of their planned voyage, they would still have to cut it short.

On their arrival in the U.S., the crew of the 115-foot sailing vessel Draken Harald Hårfagre were surprised to learn that she is just long enough to require a pilot on the St. Lawrence Seaway and Great Lakes. At rates of up to $9,000 per day, her backers expected the pilotage cost to run to $400,000, an amount they had neither anticipated nor budgeted.

The crew worked with the Great Lakes pilots' associations to plan out a shorter, more economical course, and they brought the cost down to $250,000; online fundraising sponsored by the Sons of Norway took in nearly $150,000, enough to take the Hårfagre as far as a festival at Green Bay, Wisconsin, but not further. After the festival she will exit the Great Lakes and head for New York. 

"Even with this significant reduction in cost, we have not been able to raise enough funds to complete our entire expedition," said the Viking Kings, the Hårfagre's parent organization. "So it is with a heavy heart that [we have] come to the decision to make the Tall Ships Festival in Green Bay the last stop in this Tall Ships Challenge."

The organization expressed its thanks to the pilots, the Coast Guard and the donors who took the Hårfagre so far. In a statement, the crew also asked the expedition’s supporters not to blame the pilots' associations for the pilotage requirements, which are contained in a federal statute and cannot be waived. 

"We have been informed that the pilot associations have been receiving threats and being harassed by angry individuals," wrote Woodrow Wiest, watchleader on the Hårfagre. "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."

Some pilots told local media that they were not pleased with the high profile of the Hårfagre episode. "It is the life mission of every pilot to keep out of the headlines," said John Swartout, president of the Western Great Lakes Pilots Association, speaking to the Duluth News Tribune. "We do our best when nobody knows we're there . . . it may not be intentional but the effect [on pilots] was to be villainized."