Late in the 19th century, 18-year-old Thorvald Eastvedt boarded a ship in his native Norway and crossed the Atlantic Ocean to immigrate to the United States, where he took a train from New York to Minneapolis and made his way to Fort Dodge to begin a new life.
Well over a century later, as part of a sailing excursion around the globe, his grandson, Frank Larsen, landed his 53-foot sailboat Sweet Dream in Brevik, Norway, to meet family members and tour the farm where his grandfather once lived.
“When we went in and anchored where granddad was born, it was so neat,” said Larsen, a third-generation Fort Dodge native who was accompanied on the 2016 journey by his now-wife Laura Larsen. “We were embraced by our relatives. They were so amazed that we had sailed from America. No USA-flagged sailing boat had ever visited there before.”
Added Laura: “Frank’s brother, David Larsen, flew in and joined us for the discovery of the ancestral farm, and the wonderful local folks connected us with a third cousin of Frank and Dave’s who chauffeured us all over the countryside showing us the farm Thorvald had grown up on, the bay where he had swum as a boy, and the church and graveyard in Eidanger where many relatives were resting.”
The Larsen family had come full circle – thanks to the adventurous spirit of Frank “Lars” Larsen, who emerged from the sadness of the death of his first wife Cathy to sell his businesses in Utah and begin a quest to sail around the world. Together, Frank and Laura have sailed 84,000 miles, the equivalent of circling the globe almost four times.
The story of how the family settled in Fort Dodge began back on a farm where his grandfather grew up near Kien, Norway, on a hill on the east side of the Oslo Fjord – a location assigned the family by the king.
His grandfather’s family was poor, and he was the second son, and the farm could not support him, so he left home at 14 to attend pharmacy school at Moss, Norway. He immigrated to the United States in 1891. His name in Norway was Thorvald Eastvedt, but upon arriving in New York, his name was changed to Thorvald Larsen. (His father’s first name was Lars, hence Larsen.) Arriving before Ellis Island was the clearinghouse for immigrants, he traveled to Minneapolis where at a job fair for immigrants, he held up a sign saying he wanted to be a pharmacist. The owner of Oleson Drug Co. of Fort Dodge, Olaf Oleson, also a native of Norway, spotted the sign, offered him a job and Larsen moved to Fort Dodge. After a couple years, Thorvald sent for his wife in Norway, named May. They had six children, five boys – Carl, Rolf, Bob, Harold and Frank – and a girl, Helen, who died of pneumonia at the age of 6.
Four of the five boys (with the exception of Carl) settled in Fort Dodge. Bob owned a lumberyard, Rolf worked as a pharmacist and became owner of Oleson Drug Co. (at Central Avenue and Eighth Street), and Harold and Frank became physicians – both Iowa medical school graduates who started a family practice after Navy service in World War II in the South Pacific.
When the war ended, Larsen’s father disembarked in Long Beach, California, in 1945 and met Dorothy Spencer, a California native, at an officers’ club dance. Two weeks later, they were married – and drove to Fort Dodge to begin a new life.
The Larsens had five children – Joyce, Frank, Dave, Nancy and Laura. Joyce Foss lives in Ripon, Wisconsin.; Dave in Nevis, Minnesota.; Nancy Kainz in Austin, Texas, and Laura Eimers in Spring Branch, Texas. Laura lived in Fort Dodge until three years ago.
Frank Larsen graduated from Fort Dodge Senior High School in 1969. He took part in wrestling, track and football and is lifelong friends with two from his class, Bruce Edmondson and Terry Goodman, and with Bruce Jochims, who was a year older.
After two years at Cornell College, he transferred to the University of Iowa and in 1973 earned a bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering. Before his senior year, he married Cathy Kinney of Hinsdale, Illinois., whom he met at Cornell. He later earned a master’s at Iowa State University.
Frank and Cathy moved to Cedar Rapids when he was hired in early 1974 by Collins Radio (which soon became Rockwell Collins). A highlight of his early career was a one-year assignment to Yugoslavia to help develop the ARC 159 airborne transceiver that years later was used in the original “Top Gun” movie starring Tom Cruise.
There were five with the first name of Frank in his and Cathy’s families, and as a result, to keep them straight, he became “Lars” – a nickname he is known by to this day.
Frank and Cathy had two children – Mike and Katie. Mike lives in Houston with wife Jennifer and daughter Emily and works in real estate development. Katie lives in Evanston, Wyoming, with husband Jerod Dent and they have four children: Damien, Kiersten, Tristen and Collin. Katie works in food service for the school system.
Larsen was transferred to Salt Lake City to become manager of the engineering department. The facility closed and he was offered a position in Atlanta, but Cathy was undergoing a kidney transplant at the time – she had had infant diabetes since childhood – and they didn’t want to leave Salt Lake City. He resigned and started a business, Tunex – an auto repair company that soon grew to five locations.
“I sold it when she died of kidney disease in 2012,” he said. “When Cathy passed away, after 39 years of marriage, I was lost. I just had to do something different that was all-encompassing After I went to work, I was consumed by my job, raising family. They were my life. For me, that dream was buying a boat. I went on the internet and shopped around and found a boat I liked in Seattle.”
Larsen’s first experience with sailing had been on a boat owned by Bob Merryman on Lake Okoboji; Merryman was the general manager of The Messenger.
“He had a 35-foot day sailer that could really move. I was hooked,” said Larsen, who also in his youth had a hobby of building and sailing model sailboats.
Larsen moved to Washington State, bought the boat, a 45-foot Morgan which he named Sail La Vie – a play on the French term c’est la vie, or “that’s life” – and that became his home at a marina in Bremerton, Washington. When he met Laura Crowell, she was living on her own boat in the same marina and working at a local hospital as an X-Ray technician. They were introduced by a mutual friend and nine months later, in 2013, he made Laura an offer he hoped she could not refuse.
“Lars told me he had bought this boat to go sailing around the world,” Laura said, “and that he thought I’d be a very good crew and asked, would you come with me? My answer to that, I have a job, a boat, and my friends and family are here. His answer to that – A, quit your job; B, sell your boat; C, your friends and family can come visit us in exotic places. It took two months for me to consider this incredible offer before I said yes.”
Laura has three children: Rachel Crowell lives in Seattle with boyfriend Brad Nissen; Nathan Crowell lives in Waxhaw, North Carolina, with wife Anna Crowell and their daughter Ivy, 4 weeks old; and Paul Crowell lives in Troutman, North Carolina.
Before embarking on their journey around the world, Frank and Laura got a first taste of ocean sailing in June 2014 with a trip to Canada, circumventing Vancouver, Washington, and sailing the north Pacific Ocean.
“We decided once we survived that, hey, OK, let’s go around the world,” Laura said.
After installing water makers and solar panels on their boat, they took off in the fall of 2014 down the western U.S. coast, to Mexico, Costa Rica, then to the west side of Panama – embarking from Panama City on a 4,200-mile sail across the South Pacific to the Marquesas Islands, a group of volcanic islands in French Polynesia. The trip took 37 days.
“We sailed the boat 24 hours a day, we never stopped,” Larsen said. “Three hours on, three hours off – we took turns doing that, 24 hours a day. It takes about 56 hours to get in the rhythm.”
Then they were off again and when they reached the Fiji Islands, they had a Larsen family reunion “in a very primitive part of the world,” Larsen said. They sailed on to New Zealand and when they hit a bad storm, they decided that a 45-foot sailboat was too small for the task. They spent six months in New Zealand.
He sold Sail La Vie and flew to Spain where he bought a 53-foot sailboat named Sweet Dream in Denia, Spain, and then sailed the Mediterranean, the Baltic and landed in Brevik, Norway, where Larsen’s brother, Dave, flew to join them at their grandfather’s birthplace.
In all, Frank and Laura have sailed to 115 different Islands in 45 separate countries and nine U.S. states. Their Top 12 favorites: the Gal’pagos Islands; Tangier, Morocco; Moorea, French Polynesia; Musket Cove, Fiji; Magnetic Island, Australia; Whangarie, New Zealand; Cocos Keeling (island in Indian Ocean); Capetown, South Africa; Oslo, Norway; Saint Barthes (in the Caribbean); Calle Volpe, Sardinia, and Ibizia, Spain.
“The perils of life on a boat are not like it seems,” Larsen said. “We had a SAT system so mid-day I’d download weather files, making course corrections as needed. Remember, we’re sailing, so wind is a good thing. We did run into some nasty situations, but the key was reducing sail in response to conditions.
“The technical nature of sailing I find quite stimulating. With trimming sails, navigation, weather, making water and keeping the boat ship shape, life is never boring. An added benefit is the beautiful places we were able to visit.
“Water is critical, your most important commodity. We ran the water maker every other day for two hours. We ate fish at least four days a week. Catching fish in the open ocean isn’t a problem, the issue is size. We used a smaller cedar plug that yielded about the right size fish.”
The Larsens have since sailed the Atlantic Ocean three times and lived on a boat from 2014 until 2020, when they left Seattle to buy a home in Punta Gorda, Florida. They sailed 65,000 miles on Sweet Dream before selling the boat in January 2022.
After Larsen had a stroke a year ago, they came up with a new plan and last December he bought a 50-foot trawler, the Freyja, a Norseman 480 semi-displacement boat which has a 10-foot sailing dinghy, named Laura, tied to her back. Their plan is to one day purchase a 30-foot day sailing boat.
“Sailors’ plans are written in sand at low tide.” Larsen said. “Up to 10 months ago, I’d have said something different than I would today. The stroke didn’t affect my motor skills. It was a very small one and I’m still in the recovery stage. I plan on boating, but I also need to see how I recover.”
“This March, we start the Great American Loop,” Larsen said, “up the East Coast, through the lock system to the Great Lakes, cruise the Great Lakes in the summer, then on the Illinois River in the fall, head into the Mississippi River into Tennessee, cut over across Tennessee and Alabama, and then down the west coast of Florida. Home by Thanksgiving. In all, 5,500 miles.”
Said Laura, who married Larsen in March 2021 on the dinner cruise boat Marco Island Princess: “I used to tell my patients – Lars got a second chance, and I am very blessed that he asked me to crew for him.”
Larsen’s lifelong friend and classmate Terry Goodman, a stage and screen actor who lives in Utah, believes his friend’s story could make a movie script: “I think this is a story of dealing with grief that so many people experience and finding love again … that it’s out there and that if you want it, it’s possible. Theirs is a lovely story.”