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Tall Ship Tales

Interview with Jarle Flatebo, Captain of the Sorlandet

Tall, white, and beautiful! She has seduced a tall, dark, Norwegian captain.



Fiords, adventure, camaraderie, and treasure islands (well maybe!) all await you when you set sail on the Sorlandet, the oldest functioning full-rigged tall ship in the world, captained by Jarle Flatebo.

Superyachts are awesome but a traditional tall ship is as equally inspiring, evoking images of Christopher Columbus exploring days. A glimpse of the billowing square sails flapping on the three masts of the Sorlandet, a full rigged ship built in 1927, will have your heart pounding for the old days when Russell Crowe Master and Commander types sailed awesome ships and swift clippers through treacherous seas for Royal navies or traded in exotic merchandise from foreign lands.

With the desire nowadays to find more unique charter vacations, a step down the historical lane to the days of true “sails”-manship is a unique and exciting option. Throw in a physical challenge and new friends from around the world, and a tall ship sailing experience on the Norwegian Sorlandet is just what the different-vacation doctor ordered! Whether single or with a young family, this yacht trip with a twist is the ideal way to sail the seas and visit exotic destinations – not to mention learning the ropes and getting plenty of exercise!

I met with Jarle Flatebo, captain of the three-mast full rigged ship the Sorlandet, in Monte Carlo where he is based since 1989. A handsome, bearded man, he has the discreet and somewhat stern air of someone in command. While chatting he explains that as a captain it is important to appear confident to your crew to instill confidence. “If you are nervous the sentiment circulates around the ship and that can be dangerous,” Jarle explains. In the comfort of the lounge of the Monaco Yacht Club in the Mediterranean Principality, he speaks to me of his passion for sailing, particularly for the tall ships and the thrill of being a guest crew on his ship.

He immediately dispels the myth of heavy-drinking sailors by ordering a sparkling water. One golden rule on board his ship is no alcohol is allowed while sailing for the safety of the crew. So don’t expect fun in the form of cocktails, though your entertainment comes in many other ways I discover.

Tall Tales and Sails
The Sorlandet is one of three tall ships (and the oldest) operated by a nonprofit foundation, controlled and partly funded by the Norwegian Department of Culture. It has a colourful history – it was formerly a navy training ship for young cadets. In 1933 it visited the World Fair in Chicago and in 1986 it crossed the Atlantic for the 100th anniversary of the Statue of Liberty in New York. She was damaged during World War II, and was restored and set sail again in 1948. In 1958 she was equipped with engine and propeller. She was engaged in a film shoot in New York and has performed many cruises between Bermuda and Boston and throughout Scandinavia and Europe. She is certified for worldwide travel. The most versatile sailing ship in the world, she is chartered out in the summer and in the winter months she is either harbored in her hometown of Kristiansand on the southern tip of Norway, or she cruises the Caribbean waters.

A Heart of Steel
The ship is a powerful vessel made of solid, heavy steel, which Jarle says never fails to make him feel safe and secure while sailing her. This security does not diminish the close contact with nature’s forces, he explained. The strong tug of the ropes as the wind sprays sea water on your face is an invigorating feeling that people want to experience when they sign up for the trip. “It is a hands-on, traditional sailing experience they want.”

Shipped into Shape
The good thing is that you don’t even need any sailing skills to climb the 35-meter high masts or partake in other duties on board. They will train you and as long as you’re motivated to work hard as part of the crew you will enjoy it. There is no upper age limit, although fit over 70-year olds do need to provide a medical certificate, and you must be at least 15 years old. “We have had one 80-year-old gentleman sailing with us every year for the last 20 years! It’s his annual vacation and he loves it,” Jarle recalls. Old or young though, if you have a health problem it must be signalled on your application accompanied by a statement from your doctor – “the safety of the crew is of utmost importance,” he emphasized. I inquire about what the ship’s galley serves up to keep the crew’s muscles in motion. “Good, solid, nutritional food – international seaman fare,” Jarle smiled in reply. So maybe pack a few chocolate bars! One luxury is air conditioning; otherwise she is in her original condition, ghosts and all! The basic conditions have not deterred the likes of American actor Billy Campbell from enjoying the exhilarating experience. For the last four years he hasn’t missed a single tall ship race and has vowed to forfeit acting work if it interferes with his sailing on the Sorlandet.

More Stories By Paula Farquharson

Paula Farquharson is an editor of The Riviera Times newspaper. Originally
from Ireland, she worked in New York and is now based in Nice, France,
where she learned to sail.

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