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By the Way: The young woman and the sea


She is a woman in love with the sea. Her enchantment began when she was only 8 years old, conquering wind and waves in a dinghy.

Last Friday, the slender, dark-haired Capt. Lauren Morgens docked the Kalmar Nyckel, the Tall Ship of Delaware, at the Bristol Wharf.

Only 10% of tall ship captains are women, but Morgens seems to take the enormous responsibility in stride, leading her volunteer crew with the help of two officers.

It was the beginning of a three-day visit to the historic town featuring river cruises and deck tours that coincided with the Bristol Lions Italian Day Festival the following day.

The Kalmar Nyckel, constructed in the 1990s, is a modern re-creation of the original ship, built in Amsterdam in 1627. It is not a replica because it has been outfitted with modern conveniences and safety equipment. Her sail power is supplemented by diesel engines.

The original Kalmar Nyckel, bought from the Dutch by Sweden, carried the Swedes who established Fort Christina in Delaware, the first permanent European settlement in the Delaware Valley, in 1638.

This was the brigantine’s third year to dock at Bristol, and Morgens said, “We’ve had a wonderful response here. The river cruises were sold out and the dockside tours were busy.”

She said Bristol’s deep-water dock, built in 2017, made the visits possible.

“We’re displacing 300 tons of water,” she said. “We need a dock large enough and with heavy enough hardware. It’s pretty neat. They left the possibility open for larger vessels.”

Morgens has captained the 141-foot-long tall ship since 2006. She sails with a crew of 24, composed of some of the 200 volunteers who work with the Kalmar Nyckel Foundation, a Wilmington nonprofit, the ship’s owner, and visits East Coast ports from April through October. Her husband, Matt Sarver, sometimes sails with her as deck chief.

Lauren said the Kalmar Nyckel is a complex ship that basically requires a community to operate. It is an educational vessel, a floating classroom, that reaches about 30,000 people a year.

Designed by naval architects Thomas C. Gilmer and Ivor Franzen, and built under the supervision of Master Shipwright Allen C. Rawl, in a shipyard near the 1638 settlers’ landing, the ship was launched in September 1997.

Morgens’ credentials are impeccable. A 2002 graduate of Cornell University, she taught Laser (dinghy) sailing classes there. It was in her sophomore year, though, when she began oceanography, nautical science and maritime studies aboard a brigantine through Cornell’s Sea Education Association (SEA) Semester.

While some students study in France or Germany or Japan during semesters abroad, she said her destination was simply “the ocean.” While other women took the course, she said, “It was more highly attended by men.”

Morgens said she had sailed on a lot of tall ships, but the reason she has stayed with the Kalmar Nyckel is “its sheer complexity. There’s no manual. All we have are a couple of paintings and some sketchy descriptions. We had to figure out how to sail her and that’s been fun as a mental puzzle.

It’s obvious it’s a physical pleasure, too, as we watched her jump to the railing and help pull on the ropes as the ship pulled into the dock and our voyage ended.

Kathryn Finegan Clark is a freelance writer who lives in Durham Township. She can be reached at

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