Carbon neutral shipping on the Hudson

The clouds swirled, the wind roared, and the waves pounded the hull of the schooner Apollonia, but the ship stayed on course on the Huds...


The clouds swirled, the wind roared, and the waves pounded the hull of the schooner Apollonia, but the ship stayed on course on the Hudson River in New York. Commanded by Sam Merrett, it carried Ayurvedic condiments from Catskill; spelled flour, hemp ointments and Hudson’s malted barley; woolen yarn from Ghent; and other local produce for the hundred mile trip south of New York City.

“It’s a case of bootstrap syndrome, the question of saying yes to everything and seeing what sticks,” said Mr Merrett, 38, on the phone from somewhere near Peekskill, the winds of the storm diminishing. tropical roaring Henri in the background. “In this case, he was delivering 3,600 pounds of malted barley to a port in Poughkeepsie in the pouring rain.”

At the age of shame theft, car shame and even shame of meat, conscientious consumers with disposable income are increasingly aware of their carbon footprint and interested in buying locally. The producers are experiment with cleaner and greener packaging and delivery methods.

With his new “clean shipping” business, Mr. Merrett hopes to help them all.

In 2015, he and two business partners purchased the Apollonia, a workhorse from a 64-foot steel hull sailboat, on Craigslist for $ 15,000. Built in the 1940s, she had been out of the water for 30 years before the crew sailed her from Boston to their new home in Hudson. They then spent three years rebuilding the rigging and adding comfort items, like a composting toilet and bunks, some of which are 20 inches wide.

The refurbished ship made her maiden voyage in May 2020, and by 2021 will have sailed nearly every month from late spring to fall, forming an eco-friendly supply chain to connect the valley to the ‘Hudson and New York Harbor. Carbon neutrality is built into every aspect of its operations, right down to its last mile delivery plan, which involves solar-powered electric bikes and sometimes – thanks to partners at Brooklyn’s Prospect Park stable – horse-drawn carriages.

For centuries, wind-powered boats have transported goods along this same route, and while there is some old-fashioned romance in the business plan, Mr Merrett says the company does not it is not a game of nostalgia.

“It’s not that I wish it was 1823 again,” he said, after helping hoist an 1890s tabletop printing press into the cargo hold. “I think there were ways we used to do things that were really good, and we can learn from those. But today’s version will be different. And it should be different.

As in the past, the products carried in the vessel’s 20,000 pound hold are limited (nothing that requires refrigeration, nothing too perishable), and the logistics unpredictable (they are subject to factors as changeable as the breeze and as difficult to handle). navigate that the port policy of renting municipal slips in small waterfront communities in upstate New York). But Mr. Merrett and his partners hope to provide a model for the future.

“We provide a counter-narrative to this dominant narrative of ‘more, better, faster’,” said one of the partners, Ben Ezinga, 42. He previously worked with Mr. Merrett to convert car engines to run on vegetable oil in Oberlin, Ohio. “Some things have to be stopped overnight; most things don’t. There is an incredible carbon footprint at this speed. We give people a way to think about it.

Consumers may feel virtuous in buying products that haven’t been overnight, but some producers say it’s just good business. Dennis Nesel, a 61-year-old maltster from the town of Hudson, said he was “very serious” about this method of shipping his local malt to area beer makers.

“Shipping today, after Covid, is a nightmare,” he said. “With tractor-trailers picking up our freight, sometimes things that we planned to go to Brooklyn end up in Herkimer or Syracuse, and things that were supposed to go to Syracuse end up in Brooklyn. This does not happen with Apollonia.

Laura Webster, a 35-year-old entrepreneur who makes hot sauce, uses Apollonia to send her fermented pepper and probiotic products downstream from Hudson.

Despite all the efforts her Poor Devil Pepper Company puts into environmentally responsible practices – like sourcing from farms focused on regeneration and making zero waste packaging from recycled pepper pulp – she said the adding wind-powered shipping to its distribution methods “was a no-brainer.”

Likewise, Nika Carlson, the owner of Greenpoint Cidery, described Apollonia as “the opposite of Amazon.” She grows apples and forages for other cider ingredients, such as mugwort and goldenrod, on property owned by Mr. Merrett near Hudson.

“I think people are looking for such connections, especially since the world is really changing because of climate change and everything that’s going on with Covid,” she said. “They’re looking for community, they’re looking for stories, and they’re looking for what ethical consumption can look like these days. It sounds like a luxury, but it shouldn’t be.

The Apollonia’s small crew – members include a carpenter, set builder, summer vacation teacher, and a colleague of Mr. Merrett’s at the Hudson River Maritime Museum, his other part-time nautical engagement – have their work cut out on Plate. For starters, it’s not easy being a captain. “If it’s going well, I have nothing to do, but I never do,” said Mr Merrett, sitting next to the helm as he was moored on Red’s waterfront. Hook and eyeing a long to-do list scribbled on a whiteboard on the companionway door: “Seal the gaff cracks; touch-up varnish – rubbing in the wind; provisions.”

The exhilarating freedom of a life on the water is interrupted by the reality of not showering for several days, eating salty olive pasta for dinner several nights in a row, or being thrown out by a lack of wind or an unexpected burst.

And while the Apollonia crew did not endure episodes of scurvy or embrace the art of scrimshaw to make long, isolating trips, the unconventional work schedule – two weeks two weeks off later – can negatively affect their personal lives, says Merrett.

There is always work to be done, even out of season when the Hudson is freezing and there is no money to be made. In 2018, the owners had put more than $ 110,000, raised from a few investors, in the renovation of Apollonia – and the spending never stops. This winter, the boat will have to be sanded and have its jib repaired; it will also be necessary to adjust the cockpit scuppers, which surround the drains on a rear part of the deck.

It is perhaps not surprising, then, that a number of organizations have already set out to resuscitate wind-powered shipping on the east coast, and are no longer here to tell the tale.

The Vermont Sail Freight project raised $ 13,000 on Kickstarter in 2013 for its first cargo shipment but folded two years later for lack of sufficient funds. a efforts in maine met the same fate. Of course, there are worse ways to go down in this business: In 1979, a former high school English teacher left New York City for Haiti in a 97-foot schooner lovingly restored with a cargo of chemicals and lumber. of preserves, and a dream of wind-powered navigation. But the job sank in 20 foot waves about 190 miles off the coast of Long Island; the nine people on board were rescued.

These failures have not dampened the enthusiasm of those who believe in the commercial potential of clean shipping. Around the world, new operators repair vintage ships, build new boats from scratch, and align their efforts under banners like the Sail Cargo Alliance. In Europe, some climate-conscious sailboat freight operators have managed to stay afloat for more than a decade. Departing from Brittany, France, the Grain de Sail, a 72-foot aluminum cargo schooner, sports a state-of-the-art wine cellar designed to carry pallets of biodynamic wines on the high seas. (This year she brought back in France coffee and cocoa from the Dominican Republic on its return trip.) In Costa Rica, Sailcargo Inc. is developing a plan – and a fleet – to be launched in 2022.

Even shipping giants, like Maersk, the world’s largest operator, are explore wind navigation. The company last month committed $ 1.4 billion in carbon neutral innovation.

“Is it profitable? Absolutely not, ”Merrett said. For now, he says he remains focused on achievable goals like establishing trade routes, making deliveries “to see if it works” and “trying to pay the crew” an hourly wage of $ 20.

Mr Ezinga, his business partner, said: “This is the new green economy. These are green jobs. Two years ago they did not exist. We make them exist.

But Mr Merrett said “it doesn’t work like one boat doing one thing”. “As a country, we need to start reinvesting in riparian infrastructure to make this work,” he added. “A single boat will never do that. It must become a model.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Carbon neutral shipping on the Hudson
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