Wind-driven, ocean-going cargo: How big a reach is that?
DEN HELDER, Netherlands _ Tres Hombres returned home in June, 2012, ending an eight-month trip to the Caribbean. If eight months sounds like a nightmare to any logistics expert, it’s music to Jorne Langelaan’s ears. “The voyage of Tres Hombres is really a statement,’’ the ship’s captain wrote in his log as his vessel inched forward across a glass-smooth North Sea to Den Helder, Netherlands. Tres Hombres has been making a unique statement since December, 2009, when it began service as an ocean-going cargo vessel powered by wind only.
The 32-meter, newly built brigantine does not have an engine. It is a project of Fair Transport BV, a Netherlands-based group promoting a greener, more sustainable way to ship goods around the world. The ‘Tres Hombres’ can carry 35 tons of cargo and has a crew of five. It has to date made 3 trans-Atlantic voyages showing that zero emission cargo traffic by sea is not pie-in-the-sky stuff. On its 2011-2012 voyage, Tres Hombres loaded and unloaded beer, wine and olive oil in Brixham (UK), Brest (France) and Porto (Portugal), then sailed to Madeira, the Cape Verde Islands and Barbados. It took on rum in the Dominican Republic, a load of organic chocolate in Grenada and tea in the Azores arriving back in Den Helder fully loaded. The project is privately financed.
“Each time we get back to Europe with more cargo,” Arjen van der Veen, one of the Tres Hombres behind the Tres Hombres project, tells Bavaria Currents. “What we see _ and we think this is great, really! _ is that our clients like to associate themselves with our zero-emission goals. The last trip brought organic chocolate to Europe. That in itself promotes the product. So transporting goods under sail across the ocean gives the cargo an extra added value.” Van der Veen acknowledges wind-powered, ocean-going cargo is “very much a niche market. We have no competition. He calls the ‘Tres Hombres’ an “ambassador for a new future of sailing cargo transport.” Ninety percent of global trade is carried on ocean-going ships. Maritome transport is a highly competitive sector. and not an environmental success story. Cargo vessels burn dirty fuel, a tar-like substance that must be kept heated 24/7 or it’ll turn rock-hard.
The ‘Tres Hombres’ appeal for cleaner cargo transport is not a one-off. Worldwide private citizens and industry are doing their bit. Some examples:
- The British West Country ketch ‘Irene,’ built in 1907, ships organic beer from Britain to France, olive oil from Spain to Brazil and cocoa, coffee, and rum from South America and the Caribbean.
- The ‘Kwai’ is a wind-aided packet vessel that plies the waters between Hawaii and the Cook Islands using year-round trade winds in both directions.
- The German SkySails system puts bow kites on cargo vessels that are going downwind to reduce operating costs and emissions.
- ‘E-Ship1’ of German wind turbine maker Enercon GmbH, has four giant tube rotors on its deck to aid the ship’s propulsion
- The cargo ship ‘Ecoliner’ has the dyna-rig sails its Dutch designer, Dykstra Naval Architects, put on the ‘Maltese Falcon.’
- Anglo-Irish B9 Shipping is looking for $45 million from investors to build a 328-ft commercial cargo vessel, also equipped with the dyna-rig sail system of the ‘Maltese Falcon.’
The ‘Tres Hombres’ is a brigantine _ a two-masted vessel of which only the forward mast is square-rigged. The brigantine was originally a small ship powered by both oars and sails. A favorite of Mediterranean pirates, its name comes from the Italian word “brigantino,” or brigand. The ‘Tres Hombres’ was built new in Den Helder, the ship’s home port. It has no engine but brims with the latest navigation gear.
“To get in and out of ports, we need a push from someone,” says Van der Veen. “There has never been a shortage of people wanting to help.” The name refers to three friends who launched the initiative to generate goodwill for sail-powered cargo. The ship also hauls rum bearing its name and takes a maximum of 12 paying passengers _ men, women, old, young. They learn square-rigged seamanship, boat maintenance, maneuvering under sail, maritime safety and much more. The costs range from 180 euros for a three-day trip (along the European coast, for instance) to almost 3,000 euros for a trans-Atlantic voyage. Passengers are issued certificates that are recognized by no government but attest to a ton of experience earned in a unique maritime project.
U P D A T E:
On April 26, 2012, six weeks before “Tres Hombres” arrived home, the Sustainable Shipping Initiative _ a project of the non-profit Forum for the Future _ stepped up its push to help develop a more sustainable ocean transport sector by 2040. The cross-industry group includes big-name players such as Cargill, which operates a 300-vessel charter fleet; Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering; Rio Tinto Marine, the shipping arm of the international mining giant; the marine insurer RSA; and the Greek tanker operator Tsakos Energy Navigation
It sees wind-powered ocean-going vessels as a limited option. There is just too much cargo to be transported, some cannot be stored on heeling ships and uneven winds make for iffy arrival and departure times. In stead, it looks at liquefied natural gas to power engines, at wind as a supplemental source of power, at new technologies such as recycling engine waste heat and improving hull designs.
Says Jonathan Porritt, director of Forum for the Future: “Companies realize we’re heading for a different place, where they create value for shareholders, for people and for society by producing the things that people want with a far lower impact on the natural world, our communities and our way of life.”