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102-year-old Norwegian tall ship Statsraad Lehmkuhl arrives in Baltimore

In crisp blue uniforms and heavy-soled black boots, about 30 Norwegian naval cadets climbed the rigging of the Statsraad Lehmkuhl, one of the largest and oldest sailing ships in the world, as it glided into the Inner Harbor on Wednesday morning.

The nearly football-field-length vessel passed the large cargo cranes at Seagirt Marine Terminal and later the grassy tip of Fort McHenry, leaving the Domino Sugars sign in the distance with Baltimore's skyline in full view ahead.

The 102-year-old ship was completing a six-week voyage from Norway to Baltimore, where it will remain for the week.

"Baltimore is perfect for us, to have a ship in the middle of a city," where the public can walk by, said Marcus Seidl, one of the ship's captains.

The public can tour the Statsraad Lehmkuhl for free between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

It's the largest and the last of the tall ships docking in Baltimore this year, closing the Sail Baltimore season. The nonprofit has been bringing tall ships and other vessels to the city since 1976.

Michael McGeady, president of Sail Baltimore, said the vessel is part of the "revolving maritime museum we like to bring to the waterfront for free." That included the Hermione, a replica of an 18th-century frigate, which docked in the same spot in June.

"Particularly what's going on in Baltimore this year, something to bring people to downtown is pretty important," McGeady said, referring to the unrest that followed the death of Freddie Gray in April from injuries sustained in police custody. Many bars, restaurants and attractions reported seeing fewer patrons after images and footage of the riots appeared on national and international news outlets.

Next year, Sail Baltimore will celebrate its 40th anniversary and host the Navy Fleet Week, which is expected to draw more tall ships and the Blue Angels to Baltimore in October. The group will also host the commissioning of the USS Zumwalt, which is still under construction. A date for that event hasn't been determined.

Wednesday's arrival of the Statsraad Lehmkuhl marked the ship's 11th trip to Baltimore.

During the nearly hourlong entry from just past the Key Bridge and through the Inner Harbor, the cadets perched along the masts and others stood in formation on the ship's deck and sang several classic sea chanties, including "Bound for the Rio Grande" in a call-and-response form, with one member of the crew leading the others. Their singing could be heard at the top of Federal Hill Park, and was met with applause from onlookers at Harbor East.

The ship was escorted by the Annabelle Dorothy Moran tugboat and the Pride of Baltimore II, a reproduction 19th-century schooner, along with and a handful of kayakers who tried to keep up before the ship pulled up to the west wall of the Inner Harbor promenade. The ship was greeted by crowds snapping pictures and a least one woman waving a red-white-and-blue Norwegian flag.

The Statsraad Lehmkuhl, built in Germany in 1914, was taken as a prize by England at the end of World War I. Norway bought the ship from England in 1921 and used it as a training vessel until the Germans took it back in 1940. It was returned to Norway in 1944.

The Royal Norwegian Navy continues to use the ship to train cadets.

"We use a sailing ship because it is the instrument that is most foreign to them," Seidl said.

The voyage began Sept. 22, and the crew had not set foot on land since then. Many of the crew, who are in their early 20s, have never been to Baltimore of the United States. The crew slept in hammocks below deck, took turns on shifts keeping watch, all while continuing academic classes, including history and English.

The crew took a southern route through Spain, where the weather was mostly warm and calm. At one point, several crew members, said the heat became so stifling that they stopped in the middle of the ocean and jumped in for a swim.

The return trip through the northern route will be more challenging, Seidl said, because it has the potential for more storms and possibly hurricanes.

Seidl said the ship can handle any unforgiving weather.

"This is the very best sailing ship in the world," he said. "This ship can tackle all of that."

But even the steadiest of ships has its challenges.

"It's the isolation, not being able to speak to those at home, said Christine Borchsenius, a 21-year-old cadet.

Borchsenius said the crew got their first glimpse of land Tuesday after the long voyage, and as the ship approached the dock, she said she was excited to get her feet on dry land — and the United States.

jkanderson@baltsun.com

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