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Boreal Community Media

North House Folk School’s Hjørdis Gets Electric Motor

May 25, 2023 08:59AM ● By Content Editor
Photos provided

From the North House Folk School - May 25, 2023

The green hull and burgundy sails of the schooner Hjørdis have been a familiar summertime sight for many on the Grand Marais harbor since North House Folk School purchased it in 1997. After more than 25 years on Lake Superior, the 2023 sailing season is launching with a notable sea change. While the boat’s iconic exterior remains unaltered, the replacement of the diesel engine below deck with a new electric motor means that Hjørdis is getting even greener!

Long-time Cook County resident Bill Hansen has served as the Hjørdis captain since 2021. His history with the boat stretches back to North House’s earliest days, as he was on the board of directors when Hjørdis was purchased. Bill occasionally volunteered and deckhanded before becoming a regular contributor on boat projects after he retired, obtaining his Coast Guard captain’s license in 2020. Bill has been instrumental in making the electric transition possible.

 Bill Hansen - photo provided 

“In my career and as a sailor, I have a lifetime of daily experience operating diesel engines. Although Hjørdis' diesel engine is very reliable, it is noisy, smelly, and is inevitably leaking oil into the bilge,” Bill shared. “An electric motor in place of the backup diesel engine offers a number of advantages. It is nearly silent, has zero emissions, and fits with the North House master plan which calls for North House to switch to green energy,” he continued. When North House installs a solar array on the dock, Hjørdis will be fully powered by the wind and sun. 

Bill also noted that electric motors are more reliable than diesel engines, and that the new lithium-ion battery bank has the capacity to run all day and only use 50% of the available capacity. Charging the battery will be as simple as plugging in at the dock. North House anticipates significant savings in reduced fuel and maintenance costs in the coming years. 

Passengers will enjoy a quieter ride aboard the sailboat, with less vibration and no fumes when the motor is in use. Bill described that the new motor will assist the sails on days with no wind, making the boat motion more comfortable for those aboard. Additionally, the ability to leverage more torque at lower speed than the previous diesel engine will result in more comfort and safety for passengers during dock arrivals and departures. 

“I am very excited for the first season with our new electric motor! Hjørdis is well positioned to continue giving passengers an authentic Lake Superior schooner experience for many years to come,” Bill said.

Grant support from the Carl and Verna Schmidt Foundation, individual donor support, and the generosity of manufacturer Electric Yacht helped to make this project possible. Assistance from Mark and Katya Gordon from Sea Change Expeditions, former Hjørdis captain Matt Nesheim, and other volunteers has also played an integral role. 

Booking for June 2023 sails is now open on the North House website. Sails for July to September will open in stages throughout the summer. 

Boreal Ship Spotter - larger view here