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Kalmar Nyckel’s golden lion wears face mask for first 2020 sail into Wilmington

Delaware's tall ship, the Kalmar Nyckel
The Kalmar Nyckel sails through the Fourth Street drawbridge on its way to the Wilmington Riverfront. Photo by Betsy Price.
The ship won't be able to give sails to the public this year, but will offer dockside stories on the Saturdays in July.

The Kalmar Nyckel, Delaware’s tall ship, left its winter quarters for the first time Wednesday to head to the Wilmington Riverfront.

It was the ship’s first official sail of 2020, complete with an inspection crew from the U.S. Coast Guard.

The best part: Leo the golden lion figurehead this year is sporting a custom-made face mask over his nose and mouth.

With ship officers calling out orders, volunteers untied ropes on the Kalmar Nyckel Shipyard’s dock about 9:30 a.m. at the 7th Street Peninsula.  The ship seemed to drift into the channel just a bit, and then used its motors to briefly head up the Christina River before nimbly turning 180 degrees to head into the city under the Fourth Street drawbridge.

It’s modeled after the Swedish ship that brought settlers to Wilmington in 1638 to establish Delaware’s first colony.

The Kalmar Nyckel returned to the shipyard, but will repeat that sail every Saturday in July, tying up behind the Iron Hill Brewery to offer dockside programs.

The ship won’t be allowed to offer sails to the public this year.

Instead, it will offer socially distanced Ship Talks from noon to 4 p.m. on the four Saturdays in July. The public will be able to hear tales from Capt. Lauren Morgens and her crew and will be able to ask questions. There is no admission charge.

The ship also will offer a Riverfront Scavenger Hunt that guests can take with them and do at their own pace.

“We’re sorry we can’t get people on the ship in person for tours and sails this summer,” said spokeswoman Jan Ross. “For everyone’s safety, that’s the plan. We hope you can come down to the Riverfront.”Leo, the golden lion figurehead on the Kalmar Nyckel, is sporting a custom-made fask mask this summer. Photo by Betsy Price

Leo, the golden lion figurehead on the Kalmar Nyckel, is sporting a custom-made fask mask this summer. Photo by Betsy Price

The ship plans to stay in Wilmington this summer, Ross said. It would like to go to Historic New Castle, but Ross can only say now that it will definitely go there in the fall. It no longer goes to Lewes because of silt in the channel there. The ship has to have 13 feet of water and there are only 5 feet there now.

“Our goal is to inspire citizens of the Delaware Valley to celebrate our community’s cultural treasures and discover an authentic part of its history and origins,” said Cathy Parsells, executive director of the Kalmar Nyckel Foundation.

Normally the ship would have had education sails and other programs for schoolchildren in April and May but schools closing because of the COVID-19 pandemic put paid to that this year. It also closed the Copeland Maritime Center to the public.

However, the foundation continues to offer some education programs to small groups, as well as adult tours by reservation.

“We’re not completely shut down,” Ross said. “We’re just closed to the general public.”

The original Kalmar Nyckel was built by the Dutch.

Today’s ship was built at the Kalmar Nyckel Foundation’s shipyard and launched in 1997, becoming a sea-faring ambassador for the state.

Most years, the ship will clock more than 3,000 nautical miles each year. It’s served by a crew of 300 active volunteers, captain, relief captain, first mate and second mate/lead educator. The crew also maintains the ship.

For more information, go to or call (302) 429-7447.

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