Norwegian sailboat with storied history stops in Monterey CA

Mike McLeod of Fresno and his daughter, Lyric, 4, walk past the Frithjof Wiese on Fishermans Wharf Thursday in Monterey. (ORVILLE MYERS/The Herald)

Mike McLeod of Fresno and his daughter, Lyric, 4, walk past the Frithjof Wiese on Fishermans Wharf Thursday in Monterey. (ORVILLE MYERS/The Herald)


Norwegian sailing vessel has had storied career

By KEVIN HOWE – The Monterey Herald 

Her bluff, no-nonsense lines and stumpy masts belie the dramatic history of the Norwegian-built sailing ketch Frithjof Wiese.

But this Indiana Jones in an Edith Bunker body of a ship has sailed the seas of high adventure as part of Norway’s ocean rescue fleet, been captured by the invading Nazis during World War II, been recaptured by Norwegian resistance fighters, and used in turn to rescue Jewish refugees from Hitler’s concentration camps.

It has been home to owners George McMullen, 69, and son Forest McMullen, 33, for 23 years. They stopped in Monterey Harbor late Wednesday.

One of seven existing rescue service boats of 52 made by classic wooden sailboat builder and designer Colin Archer, the Frithjof Wiese was launched in 1935 and used for rescues in the North Sea. “Colin Archers,” double-hulled and built to ride out heavy, stormy seas, saved thousands of lives. When Germany invaded Norway in 1940, the rescue boats were seized by the German navy.

The Frithjof Wiese was taken back by the resistance and used to smuggle Jews out of Nazi-occupied Norway past German patrol boats and planes to safety in Britain’s Shetland Islands. There, resistance fighters were trained, armed, equipped and smuggled back into Norway, an operation that came to be known as the “Shetland Bus.”

Forest McMullen said he and his father took the Frithjof Wiese to the 2004 Wooden Boat Festival in Port Townsend, Wash. There they met a man who, as an 8-year-old, fled with his mother from Norway aboard one of the Shetland Bus boats to escape the Gestapo, which was looking for his father.

“One of his most vivid memories,” George McMullen said, “was being strafed by a Messerschmitt that killed three of the crew and put rounds through the hull.” In peacetime, he said, the Frithjof Wiese and its sisters sailed with the Norwegian fishing fleet, serving as “pretty much a life-saving station” in an era when a fisherman in trouble couldn’t radio for a helicopter rescue.

“If you couldn’t get a boat to pull you out,” McMullen said, “you were a goner.” The vessel’s short, thick masts and relatively small spread of sail are meant to serve in storm conditions, he said. “You can be under full sail in pretty heavy seas. There’s a lot of steadiness,” he said.

The 55-foot, 36-ton vessel was purchased from the Norwegian government after World War II by Olie Johansen. He sailed the vessel from Norway to Seattle via the Panama Canal, where it was sold to a family who lived aboard it in Orcas Island, Wash. In 1986, the McMullen family purchased it and spent 18 years restoring it to deep-ocean seaworthiness.

Forest McMullen said he has spent most of his life sailing, operating research vessels, tugboats “and everything in between.” His parents used to operate a fishing vessel in Alaska and a tugboat service in San Francisco.

The McMullens stopped in Monterey Harbor late Wednesday on the first leg of a trip from Santa Cruz to the Panama Canal. From there, they will sail to the Baffin Islands in Canada, spend the winter in Halifax, Nova Scotia, offer charter services off the coasts of Canada and Greenland during summer 2010, and sail back to Norway, McMullen said.

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The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.