The last bet of maritime transport in its fight to be sustainable is to… return to sailboats

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In the fashion industry there is a maxim, revalidated by bell bottoms and pineapple shirts, which ensures that every trend ends up coming back over the years. The strength of nostalgia, you know. But… What if something similar happened in the transport sector? And not because of a matter of late-night homesickness or longing, but because of pure and simple commercial pragmatism.

It may sound strange, but maritime transport leaves an example that is as surprising as it is worthy of study. There are businesses that, when it comes to deciding how to move their goods across the high seas, dispense with the gigantic container ships to opt for cargo sailboats.

They are not the majority, of course, although they do point an interesting trend.

Café William is one of the businesses that has decided to take the leap and switch to a transport model not very different from the one they already used the Phoenicians. reasons, how do you explain to Business Insider, you have to do it. Until not long ago, the firm, which specializes in fair trade coffee, paid between 7 and 10 cents to transport a pound of beans – about 0.4 kg – aboard a container ship; but the rise in fuels caused that bill to skyrocket.

Question of accounts… and CO2

“Suddenly the world goes crazy and the price of shipping by container increases fivefold during a good period”, regrets the person in charge of the company, Serge Picard: “It’s slowly coming back down, but it’s actually more expensive and it takes longer to ship by container.” Now the businessman plans to use cargo ships in 2023 to move his grain from South America to New Jersey.

The rise in the price of fuel would not be the only reason to bet on the new (old) model. Picard assures that the sailboats have managed to avoid delays in ports, a problem that caused major headaches for more than one businessman at the end of 2021.

William Coffee it’s not the only one company that has decided to move its merchandise using the force of the wind. TransOceanic Wind Transport (TOWT), a French company dedicated to maritime transport that is building a sailboat with capacity for 1,100 tons of merchandise and plans to have its first Fenix-class ship as early as 2023, details on its website half a dozen other companies that have partnered with her or directly committed to using her services to move some of their cargo. The list includes suppliers of coffee, chocolate, wine or champagne.

TOWT also does not operate alone. Other firms, like Shipped by Sail, Grain of Sail either SailCargo, have seen the possibilities of wind-powered shipping and are already gearing up for demand. Throughout this year the Grain de Sail gala has commissioned a new boat and driven a marine logistics service and SailCargo has gone big with two wind-powered freighters: the Vegaa three-masted schooner, and kapoka hybrid freighter.


Today’s sailboats, yes, have little to do with those used by merchants centuries ago. “A Ceiba Line ship can have auxiliary engines powered by electric batteries, hydrogen cells or algae biofuel. For our flagship, electric batteries will be used. Using the dual propellers as underwater turbines, Ceiba will be able to regenerate power when move to sail”, explain from the company.

As for the Grain of Sail 2It will offer a payload capacity of around 350 tons, with space for up to 238 pallets and ample space reserved for liquid cargo. She will reach 1,170 m2 of sails, a length of 52 m and a beam of 10.7 m. The maximum speed of it: 12-13 knots.

Are your rates more economical than those of conventional container ships?
SailCargo recognizes that when the cost of fuel returns to normal, Ceiba’s services will be “a little more expensive than the cheapest forms of shipping”, which would translate into an extra $0.7 for each kilo of coffee transported between Costa Rica and the British Columbia. Another handicap is speed: Ceiba will advance to a maximum of 14 knotsbelow a container ship, although it is not uncommon for these to slow down precisely to save fuel.

Services such as those of SailCargo or TOWT, however, offer a key added value: they improve the environmental footprint of the merchandise, which is no small matter when you want to value that plus to the end customer. The impact of transport on the environment is so commercially significant, in fact, that traditional shipping companies have already started looking for ways to reduce their emissions. On the table there is even an option that bets on the strength of the wind.

If cost and speed are important, it is no less important, especially in certain markets, ensure traceability of the product, demonstrate that it has had a minimal environmental impact.

Cargo ships are getting bigger and bigger.  And that's a problem, especially when they run aground

Based on effort and innovation, coffee companies have achieved reduce your CO2 footprint on the plantations, but they still have the challenge of transportation, especially when they move their merchandise with huge container ships. That is your Achilles heel. And that is precisely where the new signatures and the cargo sail are pointing. TOWT calculates that from 2023 its ships will allow it to save several thousand tons of CO2 per year just in traffic to and from Le Havre.

In the end, slide Bloombergeverything is limited to whether the customer will be willing to pay more for a product that affects its price the extra cost of transport free of CO2 emissions.

Pictures | Shipped By Sail Y SailCargo

In the fashion industry there is a maxim, revalidated by bell bottoms and pineapple shirts, which ensures that every trend…

In the fashion industry there is a maxim, revalidated by bell bottoms and pineapple shirts, which ensures that every trend…

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