Around the world, home, and back
A Norwegian-American family sails the seas to reunite with family and friends
INGRID SLUNGAARD MYKLEBUST
with LORI ANN REINHALL
The Norwegian American
On June 5, the Norwegian-registered 50-foot sailboat S/Y Vilja sailed up the Hudson River and anchored right below the George Washington Bridge on the New Jersey side. On board was a family of three: Ingrid (47), Jon Petter (53), and Karen Marie (5) Slungaard Myklebust. A milestone had been reached: After having completed a three-year circumnavigation around the world, they had finally arrived at Ingrid’s childhood homeport.
The family of sailors had worked hard to get there: first with the 40,000 nautical miles distance they had sailed, then overcoming fear and keeping faith that they could still proceed to New Jersey in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak with its regulations and risk, and finally even riding off gale-force winds out at sea rather than exposing themselves—and, indirectly, an elderly friend—to the risks of the pandemic.
It took a lot of nerve and persistence, but they didn’t give up. “What a joy and relief it was to be able to hug friends and family who welcomed us ‘home!’” said Ingrid.
Ingrid was born in New Jersey in 1973 to Dagrun Slungaard Jonassen and Jørgen Walseth Jonassen, both Norwegian immigrants. Her father had been a widower, so in addition to her sister, Karen, there were three half-siblings from her father’s first marriage: Eric, Christine, and Elizabeth. They all lived together in Bloomfield, N.J.
At age 6, Ingrid moved back to Norway with her mother and sister Karen. They landed in her mother’s hometown in Trøndelag, and Ingrid has lived in Norway ever since. But her father, Jørgen, remained in Bloomfield until he died in 1992, and her ties to the United States have been steadfast over the years.
“We have kept close connections to our American hometown, family, and friends,” said Ingrid, “especially to the family of Finn and Wigdis Raae in Emerson, N.J.” Her father and Finn were colleagues for many years in Det Norske Veritas. Wigdis is now deceased, but Finn is 90 and remains a beloved friend. Finn’s daughter Marilyn is Ingrid’s godmother, while Ingrid is Marilyn’s daughter’s godmother. “We have strong bonds, in other words,” said Ingrid.
The family enthusiastically looked forward to meeting Finn on their way home to Norway. But the coronavirus nearly stopped them. First, they were caught mid-sea when all the borders in the Caribbean closed. They actually considered sailing the 4,500 nautical miles that remained to get back home to Norway.
But luckily, the seafarers were granted permission to restock supplies and refuel in Suriname on humanitarian grounds. They were then permitted to enter the U.S. territory of the Virgin Islands. There, they waited for more than a month, as they monitored the unfolding situation of the coronavirus.
Nearly all the Norwegian sailboats caught in the Caribbean headed back to Norway straight across the Atlantic via the Azores, but with dear friends and family on the U.S. East Coast in New Jersey and Boston, the family decided to wait it out. They wanted to see everyone again and include them on their homebound journey itinerary.
Eventually, the regulations eased up, and the ports of New Jersey opened. Their first stop was to see Finn. Ingrid noted that the 90-year-old is amazingly healthy and strong but still considered to be in the high-risk group for coronavirus because of his age and a heart condition—and this strongly influenced the family’s plans.
They chose to sail nonstop for 14 days across the sea from St. Thomas to New Jersey, thereby guaranteeing that they had been totally quarantined upon arrival. They even decided to ride off gale-force northerly winds out at sea, lying hove to, rather than going to port underway.
Finn picked them up at the docks, and they are now enjoying their long-awaited stop at home with their family and friends in Emerson and Wayne before proceeding north. They drove to Ingrid’s home neighborhood in Bloomfield and met with a 95-year-old neighbor, who had been isolated since the coronavirus outbreak. Since they had been so well quarantined, she was able to warmly welcome them home.
The family had made some changes in their itinerary and is now sailing long stretches and skipping their sightseeing plans. But they did not skip their heart’s calling: Ingrid sailed her boat home to New Jersey.
Their last stop in the United States was in Massachusetts to visit Ingrid’s big brother, Eric, in Hopkinton near Boston. They were also thrilled to see Ingrid’s big sister Christine and family and her now deceased sister Elizabeth’s son Victor after many years apart.
After this long-awaited family reunion, the family set off on their voyage home via Newfoundland, Greenland, then Iceland, and finally across the Atlantic to Norway. Their future homeport will be Svolvær in the Lofoten archipelago in Nordland.
The Norwegian sailing magazine Seilmagasinet (www.seilmagasinet.no) has been following the Slungaard Myklebust family on their journey. They have also created their own website, where you can read more about their journey: www.sailingvilja.no.
This article originally appeared in the June 26, 2020, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.