The Story of the Thor Heyerdahl

It´s been now six months. Six months on a journey with 50 people guided by the project Classroom Under Sail. For six months we have been on a traditional sailing vessel, the Thor Heyerdahl. Thor Heyerdahl, a name, that you´ve probably heard very often in previous blogs. But what´s the story behind this ship, on which we slept, worked, laughed and cried and with that we connect so many defining moments?

In the past few days, I spend my time finding answers for exactly this question. On the 11th of April I held an interview with Detlef Soitzek, our captain and founder of the Thor. Now I would like to give you a sneak peak in this Interview.

11.04.2022 09:00

What´s your story with Thor Heyerdahl and how did it lead you to the sailing vessel Thor Heyerdahl?

When I was chief officer, I was able to sail with Thor Heyerdahl as a navigator on his Tigris expedition from 1977 to 1978. It happened by chance. They were looking for a navigator on the merchant marine, who could speak English and sail. So, I was selected.

It took 6 months, just like the CUS-voyage. It started in Irak, across the Indian ocean, to Pakistan and we ended up in Dschibuti in Africa. Our journey stopped there, because we had to burn our ship due to political reasons.

So, when I came back, I ended my studies and got the idea to work with younger people, because I participated in a skiing trip with kids in the black forest for one week, which I liked very much. At that time, I was 26 years old.

With a partner, who was an electrical engineer, I looked for a ship, which we could rig up a sailing vessel and then use to sail with young people. We searched for 2 years, until I got a call, that there was going to be an auction in Hamburg for a ship’s hall called Minno under Panamanian flag. We had seen this ship before in a harbour in Hamburg and because only 5 people were interested in the boat, I was able to buy it for 5700 marks, which is incredibly little money. If you compare it to the dinghy, that belongs to the Thor, it costs 15000 Euros.

This ship had to be removed, because Hamburg wanted to get rid of it, so I had to organize a tugboat and a place to transfer it to. This place was then down the Elbe in Abbenfleth close to Stade. The conditions weren´t so good, because the low and high tides were quite extreme and the ship went up and down for about one year. In this time, we tried to rig it up and repair it, but we saw, that we couldn´t do it alone and not here. Therefore, we went to the dockyard HDW in Kiel (Thyssen Krupp marine system today) and there we got the chance to repair everything and rig this old Minno up. It should take three years and cost maximum 500000 German marks, because we did not have more money.

So how many people were you then?

Actually, we were only two people with a little help of friends and also the dockyard people helped us.

Was it very exhausting?

I would say this were the hardest 4 years (it took one year longer) of my life, because we worked 15 hours a day, even on Christmas and New Year’s. Then 1983 we had finally made it and the ship was ready to go to sea.

Do you think, you would have done this, if you had grown up in a different surrounding? So were you influenced by for example your parents?

Yes, I think my dad influenced me a little bit, because when he was younger, he always wanted to go to sea, get the licence and the training, but at that time his family didn´t have enough money, so he had to become a banker. In the end I suppose I more or less fulfilled his dream and so made sure, that he kind of could live on.

Thank you for this interview.