GRAND MARAIS — Matthew Ecklund looked and sounded just like a salty sailing captain should, with his rolled-up watch cap, wooly vest and curly red beard.
“Ahoy there!” Ecklund greeted his six crew members as they scrambled down the dock.
On the North Shore’s most scenic harbor, on a foggy Wednesday morning, Ecklund welcomed six kids aboard the 50-foot Hjordis, the two-masted schooner owned by the North House Folk School. They would be his crew and students for two days of sailing camp.
“All hands?”’ Ecklund said a question to make sure everyone was present and accounted for.
“All hands!”’ the kids reported back.
They were ready to sail.
From left: North House Folk School instructor Matthew Ecklund describes part of the Hjorids to Olya Wright and Clayton Smith in Grand Marais on Wednesday. Tyler Schank / email@example.com
For the past 22 years North House Folk School on the Grand Marais Harbor has been teaching adults various 19th century arts and crafts skills in a world surrounded by 21st century technology. Now, the school is expanding, both it’s harborfront physical presence and its outreach, working to include more to kids, especially local kids.
The folk school has various summer craft camps, and invites local teachers to bring their classes during the school year. Last year North House started offering a summer sailing camp — a two-day course with on-the-water training on the Hjordis (pronounced yordis) — that filled its six openings fast. This summer there was a waiting list. (U.S. Coast Guard rules limit small passenger ships to six customers at a time.)
“Kids who live on Lake Superior should have a relationship with Lake Superior,’’ said Greg Wright, North House executive director, noting that many kids whose parents don’t have boats have never been out on the lake looking back at their hometown. “We’re expanding what we do with local youth. And we’re training, maybe, the next generation of teachers, teachers of these traditional skills. Passing down these skills is important.”
Wright said sailing fits the school’s tradition of “northern crafts,” noting sailing includes a host of old-time skills like navigation, knots and sailmaking.
“There’s a GPS and a radar on board, but the goal is not to have to use it,’’ he noted.
The experience of being in control of a big vessel may sound intimidating to some kids. But these six were eating it up.
“Being a kid and being able to steer a 12-ton, 50-foot boat is pretty empowering,’’ said Matt Nesheim, the folk school’s operations manager and lead captain of the Hjordis.
The youth sailors ranged in age from 11 to 16, and they recited things they learned on just their first trip on the boat, a 45-minute jaunt around the harbor and even out of the breakwall into the big lake, much of it shrouded in a low-hanging fog that blew in during the trip.
“I got to steer it… and blow the horn,’’ said Lucas Thomason, 11, of Lakewood, Wash.
The horn was a hand-held trumpet-like device that sounded a bit like a sick goose. But the kids learned the difference between signals for the boat when it was under sail (one long blast and two short blasts every two minutes) and under engine power (one long blast every two minutes.)
It seemed most of the newbie sailors liked steering the best as they learned the difference between three turns of the helm’s wheel turning just three spokes. And between port and starboard.
Ecklund called a post-cruise meeting of the crew and asked what they had learned. “Working together,” one said, especially while furling the sail and working the halyards. Back at the dock, they worked in teams to secure the bow and stern lines.
“I really like sailing,” said Olya Wright, 13, of Grand Marais. “You really aren’t doing anything (like you are when paddling a kayak) The sails are pulling you. It’s almost like flying across the water. It’s really magical.”
As the kids disembarked the Hjordis to get lunch on shore, Ecklund gave them one last huzzah.
“Well done, sailors! A successful mission in the fog!”
Ecklund, who is a sailing educator on the East Coast when he’s not one in Grand Marais (the crews on the big schooner Roseway which has been in Duluth for previous tall ship festivals) said the North House program is perfect for young kids.
“It’s totally a hands-on experience,’’ Ecklund said. “And they get a chance to feel what it’s like to sail… It’s one of those things they need to do to really appreciate.”
Lucas Thomason (center), 11, of Lakewood, Washington, practices turning the wheel of the Hjorids before setting sail in Grand Marais on Wednesday. Tyler Schank / firstname.lastname@example.org
About the Hjordis
The most striking boat on the Grand Marais waterfront, the story of how the Hjordis became the official symbol of North House Folk School is long and winding.
The two-masted, steel-hulled schooner — weighing 12 tons and 50 feet long including its bowsprit — once sailed the Atlantic, from Florida to Puerto Rico and around the Bahamas until it was brought into Lake Superior and Grand Marais by a local sailor. It somehow ended up on the dock in front of the brand new North House Folk School with a “For Sale” sign on it.
“Our board members at the time were all boat people… and they just decided to buy it on their own, on a whim really,’’ Neshiem said.
Since 1997 the green-hulled ship with the red sails has become a fixture on the Grand Marais waterfront, the North House Folk School’s flatting classroom.
“People visiting in town are asking where they can get on that boat. So they come to North House to take a cruise and then they start asking about the school and what we do here. It’s a great way for us to raise our visibility,’’ Nesheim said. “The boat is a great ambassador for the school.”
The Hjordis will make four, five sometimes even six two-hour tours on busy days in the summer, although it was reserved last Wednesday and Thursday so North House could offer summer sailing camp to kids.
Hjordis is the name of a Norse goddess of war, but it was also the shipbuilder’s mother’s name. Tours depart daily at 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. and cost $50 per person. Special charter cruises are available. The North House two-day kids sailing camp is $100, with a $20 discount for Cook County residents and scholarships available.
About North House Folk School
North House Folk School started in 1997 with a couple of Cook County woodworkers deciding to pass on their traditional skills building timber frame cabins and small wooden boats. The school held classes in an old U.S Forest Service storage garage on the harborfront in Grand Marais next to the municipal campground.
North House quickly caught the front end of the wave of popularity for local food, local art and an increased emphasis on shared and learned experiences rather than imported, factory-built modern conveniences. The school thrives in large part thanks to an eclectic arts and crafts heritage in a community known for its eccentric, skilled artisans long before North House formed.
Now the school has a half-dozen specialized buildings. Last year some 2,500 students participated in 407 different courses — from breadmaking and blacksmithing to wooden boat building and basket weaving — offered by 140 artisan teachers. In all, an estimated 25,000 people visited the growing harborfront campus, including special events like a wooden-boat show and concerts. The school has a $1.5 million-plus budget.
In recent years students have come from 48 different states and 6 foreign countries, although about 70 percent are Minnesotans.
For more information: Go to northhouse.org or call 218-387-9762.