Commercial shipping remains heavily reliant on river traffic and powerful barges to move goods, but are sailing barges still a viable means of transportation? The Vermont Sail Freight Project aims to prove the viability of this powerless, carbon-neutral shipping method that will move farmers market goods from Vermont to New York City.
Volunteers built the 39-foot long barge, named Ceres, on a very tiny budget with the aim to prove that this carbon-neutral method of shipping is viable for local goods. With no on-board power, that means no engine and no refrigerator on on the Ceres, meaning a limit to what goods the barge can carry.
The 300-mile trip from Lake Champlain, in northern Vermont, down the Hudson River to New York City is estimated to take about 10 days. The Ceres will mostly be carrying dry grains, beans preserves, onions, squash, potatoes and the like to avoid food spoilage, and will use text messages to let customers know when their orders have arrived.
10 days to make such a short trip does not make for a great business model, and the lack of refrigeration really limits what goods can be transported. There is also the issue of getting back to Vermont,
which will require either a transport truck or some kind of outboard motor to fight the Hudson’s current, which is possible thanks to the Hudson’s tidal current, though it will still be slow-going.
But the idea has merit. In Maine the Dragonfly Sail Transport Company delivers goods to shore communities up and down the coast. On a larger scale, the 105-foot Tres Hombres sails between Europe and the Caribbean Islands, carrying rum, chocolate, and other goods ye olde school style. Pollution from massive container ships has been blamed for death and disease on almost every continent, and high fuel prices have even the largest shipping companies looking to wind or solar power to offset costs.
For goods and customers in no rush, and willing to pay a premium price for a clean conscience, a “Shipped By Sail Power” label could be just as important as Certified Fair Trade or Organic.