Norway’s oldest tall ship Sørlandet is among the fleet sailing into the Saginaw River for the Bay City Tall Ship Celebration. This year marks the first time the 205-foot-long ship has taken part in Bay City's signature festival, and the first time in 80 years she has sailed the Great Lakes.
Sørlandet's 2013 journey is recreating its trip to Chicago’s World Fair in 1933. According to its website, Sørlandet is 'the world’s oldest and best kept full rigged ship.'
Constructed in a Norwegian shipyard in 1927, Sørlandet has a storied history. Across the decades, it has served as a training vessel for merchant marines, was the first Norwegian training ship to cross the Atlantic Ocean, was used by Germans during World War II to accompany their submarines and house Russian prisoners of war. It was partially sunk during the conflict.
Today, the ship is owned by a Norway-based nonprofit organization, Stiftelsen Fullriggeren Sørlandet. The ship serves as a training vessel, described as a 'floating classroom' for Class Afloat, a private school based out of Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. The program allows high school juniors and seniors to train aboard the ship and visit ports in North and South America, Africa and Europe.
Although this month marks Sørlandet’s maiden voyage to Bay City, it does have a link to the city. Current Bay City resident Signe Nielsen was born in Kristiansand, Norway, on Jan. 6, 1927, the same day Sørlandet was launched from the same port city. The shipyard the Sørlandet was built in was across the lawn from Nielsen’s childhood home.
Adding another layer to the connection, Nielsen’s father, Bjarne Vilhelmsen, helped build the ship’s motor. Nielsen moved to the U.S. from Norway in 1951.