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Sea Trek in Canaries — but for how long?

SHARE Sea Trek in Canaries — but for how long?

LAS PALMAS, Canary Islands — Three tall ships sailed into the harbor in Las Palmas Thursday to the sounds of traditional Canarian music and dancing.

The Sea Trek voyagers were greeted by more than 100 well-wishers who came to the docks, some several hours early, to see the ships.

The Canary Islands had originally been planned as only an eight-hour refueling stop on this trip retracing the 19th century voyage of European converts to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

"The mission president and missionaries have taken the leadership role here," said Bill Sadleir, president of the Sea Trek Foundation. "They begged us to come. The consul general of the United States hosted us in March, and we met the mayor then. They all asked us to please stay."

Since that initial meeting, the stay in the Canaries grew to three days.

In recent days, some passengers have worried that their stay in the Canaries might be even longer. Owners of the two Norwegian ships leased for the voyage, the Statsraad Lehmkul and Christian Radlich, have threatened to turn back unless they are paid. The third ship, the Europa, is already paid in full and is scheduled to depart for Bermuda Saturday.

Thursday, Sadleir said some of the Sea Trek Foundation's funds are tied up in an expected refund for taxes paid at European ports. Until that money becomes available, he is trying to make up a $550,000 shortfall through donations. He said talk of aborting the voyage was premature, and he was still negotiating with the Norwegian ship owners.

Friday, he scheduled an 8:30 p.m. (1:30 p.m. MDT) press conference in Las Palmas, after the Deseret News press deadlines, to announce to voyage's fate.

However, it appeared Friday morning that the voyage would continue. Sadleir said he thinks all of the passengers will sail to New York, although he didn't know at that time on which ships.

Per Ronnevig, the representative of the Christian Radich, also issued Friday an apology to the Deseret News and other news media for statements he made to the Norwegian media saying that he would sue the LDS Church because of the problems with Sea Trek.

Ronnevig called his statements "temporary misunderstandings." He acknowledged that the church wasn't affiliated with Sea Trek and also said the Christian Radich Sailing Foundation intends to honor its agreement to sail as part of the historic voyage.

Despite its purpose and the participation of church members, Sea Trek is a private venture and is not sponsored by the LDS Church.

Thursday's arrival of the tall ships commemorated an important moment in sailing history. On Sept. 6, 1492, Christopher Columbus sailed out of the Canaries on his voyage to discover the Americas.

"Because the ships came in on Sept. 6, we were able to tie it in with the Columbus aspect," said President Carl Morrison of the Las Palmas Mission of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Sadleir and President Morrison attended a short commemoration ceremony held at a statue of Columbus.

Sadleir was one of the key speakers, and he paid homage to Columbus for discovering the Americas, a land where the church could be restored, President Morrison said. He then placed a wreath at the foot of the statue.

According to Sadleir, the city of Las Palmas has been very excited about having the ships come in and has made special efforts to make sure the participants and visitors feel welcome.

"The community has really stepped in," Sadleir said. "The fireworks display was put on by the city of Las Palmas."

The events haven't been as grand as those in Hull, England, or other ports, but they have been well-received. More than 15 different groups have performed on the main stage; many are volunteer groups who called the mission president to ask if they could participate.

Each performing group has been unique. In the Canary Islands, each individual island has its own style of dress and dance. With the performing groups representing many of these communities, there is a diversity in dress, music and dance.

The media in the Canaries, and even from the Spanish mainland, have picked up on the Sea Trek story. The ships have been on the front page of almost every newspaper, even those in Madrid, 2 1/2 hours away.

President Morrison said the work that has been done over the past few months has been a great shot in the arm for the church and its members. Having the performers, participants and visitors come to participate in the activities has shed a new light on the church and put it, and its members, in higher standing with the people and the government in the Canaries, he said.


Tawny Archibald's trip is being underwritten by the Sea Trek Foundation and independent private donations.