The Vermont Sail Freight Project

A Sailing Cargo Initiative Connecting the Farms and Forests of Vermont with the Lower Hudson Valley

Tugboat Roundup in Waterford

Continuing our theme of posts not written by the blog’s primary author, Erik Andrus, here is the third in a series of contributing-Author posts by volunteer crewman Harry Milkman of Chester, Vt.  Thanks for stepping into the breach and making the Waterford run a success, Harry!  –Erik

As a Vermonter, sailor, and former New Yorker, I’ve been fascinated by the Vermont Sail Freight Project ever since I first heard about it.  I didn’t fully understand its economics at first, but its sailing aspect intrigued me.  I’ve sailed on Lake Champlain and on the Hudson River, but never before on the corridor that connects them, the Champlain Canal.  My reluctance to transit the canal was probably due to my preference of sailing over motoring.  The canal requires motoring most of the way, because of its low bridges, narrowness in spots, and frequent twists and turnsAs a Vermonter, sailor, and former New Yorker, I’ve been fascinated by the Vermont Sail Freight Project ever since I first heard about it. I didn’t fully understand its economics at first, but its sailing aspect intrigued me. I’ve sailed on Lake Champlain and on the Hudson River, but never before on the corridor that connects them, the Champlain Canal. My reluctance to transit the canal was probably due to my preference of sailing over motoring. The canal requires motoring most of the way, because of its low bridges, narrowness in spots, and frequent twists and turns.

But when Erik put out the call for crew to take Ceres to the Tugboat Roundup in Waterford, NY, I didn’t hesitate for a moment to volunteer. The crew for the Waterford trip all met for the first time in Vergennes shortly before we departed. None of us had sailed together before, and none of us had sailed on Ceres, so Erik joined us for the first leg to teach us the rigging and how to raise and lower the mast.

Soon after getting underway, we realized that we’d forgotten to replace the topsail block and halyard, which had fallen into the lake (and been retrieved) on a previous voyage. Rather than waste time de-rigging and lowering the mast again, Captain Christin Ripley offered to climb the mast. While I took the helm, Christin tied herself a safety harness and connected it to an existing halyard. Erik and Phil secured the line as Christin climbed to the top of the mast (over 30 feet high), replaced the missing block and halyard, and returned back down to the deck. Needless to say, we were all very impressed!

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We reached Lock 12 of the Champlain Canal at Whitehall, NY by nightfall on the first day (Wednesday), docked just before its entrance, and lowered our mast. (Fortunately, Ceres’ forestay is attached to a winch, eliminating the need for a crane to lower or raise the mast.) Erik disembarked, entrusting Ceres to his new crew. We had sailed about 50 miles, through the southern part of Lake Champlain and its “Narrows,” which more closely resemble a river than a lake.

The next morning we made our first passage through the lock. Christin took the helm, while Phil and I kept the boat parallel to the wall with ropes and boathooks. The first time through was a bit nerve-wracking, but once how we knew how it was done, the remaining 23 were routine. There are 11 locks on the Champlain Canal — there is no Lock 10 — and to reach our final destination in Waterford, we had to pass through the first lock of the Erie Canal.

Long stretches of the Champlain Canal coincide with the Hudson River, and resemble nature preserves. We saw many species of birds, including geese, ducks, loons, great blue herons, cormorants, egrets, and kingfishers. There were also cows grazing right up to the edge of the water, and on hot days, they stepped into the water up to their bellies to cool down!

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By sunset of the second day (Thursday), we reached Lock 5 at Schuylerville, NY. There was heavy barge traffic in both directions due to the PCB dredging project. (GE illegally dumped PCBs into the Hudson River from 1946 to 1977, and it’s finally getting cleaned up.) We realized we wouldn’t get through the lock before dark, so we docked for the night at Hudson Crossing Park.

On Friday, we completed our transit through the rest of the locks of the Champlain Canal, ending in the open Hudson River north of Troy, NY. At Waterford, we turned west into the Erie Canal, and docked at our designated spot between Locks 2 and 3. Around the bend, we could see the Lois McClure of the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum already tied up. At first we thought the Vermont vessels were “exiled” to an area separate from the New Yorkers, but later learned that we were in the entrance to the original Champlain Canal, long since abandoned. We raised our mast, not to sail, but to make Ceres more visible to visitors of the Tugboat Roundup. Since the southern tip of Lake Champlain, we had travelled an additional 64 miles.

On Saturday, we set up our pop-up canopy and unloaded our cargo of Vermont maple syrup, maple sugar, apple butter, honey, sunflower oil, coffee, switchel, dried herbs, various flours, grains and baking mixes, as well as VSFP mugs and t-shirts. There wasn’t as much foot traffic up in the Lock 2 area as we’d hoped for that day, but we did manage to sell some products, and generate a lot of interest in the project. We were visited not only by festival-goers, but also by members of the press, social media, NY State Canal System, and the local Chamber of Commerce.

Waterford’s weekly Farmers Market takes place on Sunday, and we were already set up right in the middle of it. It was especially gratifying to tell shoppers, “We brought all of these products here from Vermont on the boat right over there!” As a sailor and not a marketer, I was much more comfortable talking about Ceres and our route, but we had crew members among us who were well-versed in the economics of connecting small farms to new markets. My favorite questions to answer were “How old is the boat?” (“It looks 19th-century, but it’s only a year old.”) and “You can get here from Vermont by boat?” (“Yes, the Erie and Champlain Canals intersect right here in Waterford.”).

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At the end of the farmers market, we reloaded our remaining cargo and lowered our mast, in preparation for passing through the locks again. We headed east through the Erie Canal, back into the Hudson River, and re-entered the Champlain Canal. By nightfall, we had reached Lock 5 and docked there for the night again.

On Monday, we cleared the last lock at Whitehall by mid-afternoon, and were back on Lake Champlain. Christin needed to catch a train home, and Erik had agreed to replace her as captain. Unfortunately, Erik was unable to get a ride down to Whitehall, so either Phil or I had to drive his van back to Vermont. Phil graciously agreed, and I continued onward with Erik. We raised the mast and set sail northward.

There was a Supermoon on Monday night which allowed us to keep sailing long after sunset. I cooked dinner (pasta and a wonderful marinara prepared for us by crewmember Rachael), and we eventually dropped anchor north of Fort Ticonderoga.

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On Tuesday, we sailed under the new Champlain Bridge at Crown Point, beyond which a huge flock of migrating loons had gathered, and continued on our final tack toward Button Bay, where we had first departed 6 days before. Rather than anchoring in the bay, we dropped sail and motored up the Otter Creek to Vergennes, passing some War of 1812 reenactors along the way.

When we reached Vergennes, I was hot, tired, and sore, but still didn’t want the journey to end. It was a long, physically demanding trip — and only half as long as Ceres’ usual trip down to NYC — but I’d do it again in a heartbeat. This voyage has convinced me that Ceres and the VSFP are no longer just concepts, but viable, reliable vessels to connect small Vermont and New York farms to the larger markets that will sustain them into the future.

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A “Foremast Jack’s Perspective” on VSFP

Note: The following piece was written by Meade Atkeson, our intrepid intern who came to us through the MiddCore Plus program of Middlebury College.   We all wish Meade the best in his future endeavors!


Ceres maneuvered slowly but gracefully onto the dock in the Vergennes basin. It was comforting to see her return to where our voyage began. I truly had the experience of a lifetime working for Vermont Sail Freight Project this summer. If the views of the Adirondack Mountains, the Champlain canal, the Hudson River Highlands, and New York City weren’t enough, both sailing and living on Ceres was a daily adventure.

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Ceres is an excellent teacher. She taught me things about myself and about what it takes to turn an idea into a reality. With this second trip I believe that Vermont Sail Freight Project has truly cemented itself as a reality. Every aspect of the project that needed improvement from last fall’s voyage saw spectacular success. First and foremost, we sailed the crap out of that boat! Ceres’ tall wooden masts and crisp white sails are far from ornamental. The newly discovered sailor in me jumped for joy each time that Captain Steve called for our gorgeous new topsail to be brought on deck. Every day that we hauled up the sails she sailed a little faster and a little smoother. This is a essential development for the future crew of Ceres, because there is nothing more exhilarating than when Ceres is tearing through the water at seven knots, and there isn’t a crease to be found in the mainsail.

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The second major improvement has been in simply moving the goods from the boat into the hands of our customers. Under favorable conditions, Matt and myself could set up the entire market in an hour. We were able to accomplish this with some rigorous organization, and some handy blue crates. Not to say that it wasn’t hard work, market days left us tired and weary. I can’t recall who first said it, but shifting around these blue crates in the cargo hold was deemed the “tetris from hell.” However, this year’s cargo management was a resounding success compared to the stories I’ve heard of last fall’s expedition, and it can only get better. Reducing the amount of manpower the operating requires is the key to future success as it allows the boat to function independently from any shore assistance.

In my mind, Vermont Sail Freight Project has found its missing puzzle pieces, and is poised to put them together. One thing I learned during the voyage is that we aren’t the only ones in love with this idea. Nearly everyone we interacted with expressed sincere excitement and support, and that was encouraging, knowing we weren’t simply dreaming. I want to recount one moment that solidified my belief in VSFP. I took a day off to go visit my grandparents and I happened to spot a jar of the same brand of honey that we sold on the boat. I was surprised to see the brand so far down river but they were one of our larger producers so it wasn’t totally out of the question. Then I noticed the price; it was about three dollars more than the exact same jar we sold off the boat! I asked my grandmother where she had purchased it, and she replied that it was her favorite honey that she always bought from the grocery store in town. I was shocked. Our delivered by sail honey was cheaper than that of a store that had shipped the jar 300 miles by truck. My conclusion from this and the finding of our second voyage is that Vermont Sail Freight Project has a place in the communities and economies of the Hudson valley.

IMG_1930For now, I bid a reluctant farewell to Ceres, but I know that our paths will cross again in the future. Sailing is a hard habit to break.

If Not Now, When?

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The following piece was written by my colleague and contributing author Andrew Willner, a sustainability advocate and sailor in the NY/NJ area of long standing.  I am pleased to be actively working in partnership with Andrew this year and to share his observations on the blog.  –Erik Andrus


In a January 2014 on my blog I talked about the choices this old “sailor” was considering as I looked at 70.  In that piece I wrote about my interest in the Vermont Sail Freight Project,  “the Vermont Sail Freight Project is the furthest along of these ideas.  Founded and implemented by Erik Andrus a farmer in Ferrisburgh, VT.  VSFP is a slow tech approach to energy and a resilient food system.

Erik has said about the project, “The Vermont Sail Freight Project originated out of our farm’s commitment to resilient food systems.  Producing food sustainably is not enough.  The other half is sustainable transport of goods to market and equitable exchange.  A good portion of the damage conventional agriculture does to society and the environment is through our overblown, corporation-dominated distribution systems.  The idea of a small, producer-owned craft sailing goods to market, perhaps even a distant market, is an alternative to this system, and one which has served our region well in the past. “

I signed on in significant part because Ceres, Erik, and the crew confirm my belief in preserving the skills of the past to serve the future.  The Vermont Sail Freight Project appealed to my head and heart in significant part because I agreed with Erik when he said to a member of a television crew, “I offered my belief that contrary to the techno-paradise that some expect, my belief is that our future will likely resemble our past, and that we may fall back on proven, low energy approaches to supporting human life that have been historically proven to work.  “Isn’t that pessimistic?” asked the interviewer.  I replied that I don’t think so.  It is in my view even more pessimistic to imagine a world continuing on the current path, becoming a place in which there is no place for human labor or creativity, where rather than doing things with our backs and hands and minds, we must instead wait passively for conveniences and solutions to be marketed to us.   That, to me, is the most depressing future imaginable.”

The adventure started when I picked up Captain Steve Schwartz on my way to Vermont.  I met Steve briefly late last summer before Ceres’ first trip, and we exchanged emails when he learned that I was going to be a crew member.  We talked constantly all the way from the Hudson Valley to Erik’s farm.  It turns out we are close enough in age to share musical taste and Vietnam War draft board experiences.  (Maybe I will do another post about this to the tune of Alice’s Restaurant).

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We also have Hudson and Harbor stories and friends in common from Steve’s long term commitment to Clearwater as Captain of the Sloop Woody Guthrie, to his friendship with and my appreciation of the work and life of Pete Seeger, from my days as mate on theSchooner Pioneer, and because of the people I met during my 20 years on the water in the Harbor and lower Hudson as the NY/NJ Baykeeper.

The next few days were an amazing ballet (or rugby scrum depending on your point of view) of riggers adding a topsail and outer jib, food shopping for a crew of four, moving and loading the cargo totes, trading one ailing outboard for a used but working one, deciding on last minute changes to the schedule, loading on personal gear, and finally getting underway.

But more than that I learned firsthand why Erik is so passionate about this project.  One of the reasons he asked me to help out for a few critical weeks was because he was in the middle of planting rice in a “paddy” that he had constructed in a low lying part of his farm.  It was eye opening to see what goes into the preparation and planting of this specialty northern variety.

He was also up early baking bread, for sale at a nearby farmers market from local grains in the wood fired oven that he had built.  Erik’s quest for resilient food became more apparent as I saw the dedication to local production and distribution that the bakery epitomized and that the care that went into the preparation of the muddy field for the rice.

It was also apparent that he put the same kind of thoughtfulness and consideration (and appropriate business model) into buying the local shelf stable products outright from neighboring farmers.  The cargo of mostly Vermont maple syrup, honey, preserves, cider syrup, “fire” cider, herbal teas, grains, flour, and beans meant cash in the pocket at a time when many farmers are strapped.

I watched from land as Ceres left the town dock in Vergennes, turned down stream just under the falls and disappeared around the bend in Otter Creek on the way to the Lake. Ceres and her crew, Captain Steve, Meade Atkeson, and Matt Horgan spent the first night anchored in one of the most beautiful shorelines on Lake Champlain, Button Bay just off the State Park.  The next morning Erik rejoined the boat along with Edward and Gary from the French television program Thalassa    for the trip down the Lake. I was not on board (that’s a whole other story), but.  I was fortunate to stand on a bluff above the bay and able to watch the boat get underway, and raise all sail for what proved to be an amazing downwind “sleigh ride,” shaking out the new topsail that Steve described as a “turbocharger.”

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I caught up with the boat at Whitehall, NY.  Whitehall is like a town encased in amber.  Its nineteenth century brick buildings face the canal, many empty and waiting for the resurgence of canal traffic to reanimate this once thriving town.  It was at Whitehall that we took the rig down (with the boat’s own gear) for the canal passage.  We spent the evening in a waterfront bar, as sailors should, and got underway through the first of ten locks the next morning.  This was my first trip through the canal, and the only other lock I had been through was the one connecting Lake Union to the Puget Sound in Seattle.  Steve was a veteran of last year’s trip and drilled the crew on handling the boat through the locks.

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The Champlain Canal is a 60 miles long.  It connects the south end of Lake Champlain, to the Hudson River. It was built at the same time as the Erie Canal and was completed and opened in 1823 from Fort Edward to Lake Champlain.  The canal carried commercial traffic until the 1970’s.  Today, except for the tugs, crew boats, dredges, and barges connected to the General Electric PCB clean up, most of the traffic is recreational boats that can travel up Lake Champlain to the Chambly Canal that connects the Lake to the Saint Lawrence Seaway.

It rained almost every day of the transit, and the thing about foul weather gear, even the new “high tech” stuff is that you sweat, so you are almost as wet at the end of the day as if you hadn’t worn anything at all.  But that didn’t stop all aboard from being astounded by the canal.  The trip through the locks was eye-opening and the 19th century technology (with some 20th century updates) is a credit to the ingenuity of the engineers and builders. The  lock tenders for the most part were friendly and supportive while the always gregarious Captain Steve renewed friendships from the previous voyage and made new friends.  These relationships were important as the tug, barge and crew boat traffic is very heavy, and our small vessel and its crew were treated with professional courtesy, and once in a while even given hints about where there might be a place to spend the night near electricity and water.

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We did a quick stop in Mechanicville where Pete Bardunias from the Southern Saratoga Chamber of Commerce, (a long time supporter of the project)   brought local dignitaries and some vendors to the newly rebuilt town dock.  We took on some cargo from local preserve and herbal tea businesses to sell down river.  A local newspaper covered the arrival and like last year the project got some amazing press.

Our next stop was Waterford where we thought we might spend the night but then forged on to Troy.  Troy was an excellent stop especially because the dock is just steps from Brown’s Brewing Company ,  where, if I hadn’t already learned that Steve was a beer connoisseur (I guess I should have known since half of his gear he packed in my car was artisanal home brew), I knew by the end of a  well deserved meal and brew in a nice dry pub.  Eric the dock master at Troy was elated that Ceres would be doing a market on the way back north, and said he would spread the word among the many advocates for the Project in Troy.

We raised the rig at Troy and then partially dipped it to get under the Troy/Albany lift bridges and then lifted it all the way back up and sorted out the rig, practicing raising and lowering the sails, but mostly motored through foul currents and a bad rain storm. This was the part of the trip that a transformation began to happen, four people of different ages, backgrounds, and experience began to become a crew.  Only people who have spent time on a small vessel for a length of time understand the mysterious way it happens.  Maybe it is called teamwork, but I believe it goes beyond that.  On a boat, each  person has a job to do, but that job is entirely dependent on others doing theirs, and intuitively knowing when someone needs assistance.  It is also about shared “hardship.”  There is nothing much fun about being so busy that breakfast lunch and dinner are all peanut butter and jelly on day old bread, or leaks over your bunk, or sores on your hands from handling wet coarse manila lines.

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But it goes beyond bunker mentality, you share chores, share stories, find commonality, begin to make friends, and that is when the crew and the boat become a working whole.  There is nothing in the world like the feeling of a sailing vessel, trimmed right, crew at their stations, a fair wind off the quarter, heeled slightly, sails full, a telltale vibration in the tiller, smiling, and thinking, “this is the most fun I have ever had standing up.”
We anchored just south of Saugerties after a passage through an unmarked, “local knowledge” channel where the crew was afforded great courtesy at the home of one of Steve’s friends “Doc” and his extended river family.  Not only was it good to sit in a dry house, but the food and company was good as well. The anchorage was remarkably beautiful and serene.  For those who have not had the experience or treat of sleeping aboard a boat in a safe anchorage, with the sound of water lapping on the hull lulling you to sleep, it is impossible to describe the peacefulness.  However, as old men do, I was up in the middle of the night, and by habit, checking to make sure the anchor hadn’t dragged, looking at the stars, seeing the reflection of lights on the water from the far shore, and tired again, going down below, and back to bed.Next morning we took on a guest, Chris O’Reilly, who is a shipwright, rigger and Clearwater crew member. With a fair wind and current we raised sails and made two quick stops.  We dropped Chris off at Rhinecliff, and then sailed down to Poughkeepsie where we picked up Meade after his weekend back at school, finally we continued our downwind charge including the “turbocharger” topsail.

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It was at this point that I started to learn a few hard lessons:

  • I didn’t remember as much as I thought from my days of being the mate and captain of traditional sailing vessels since that had been more than 20 years ago.
  • Despite that experience I was not the captain, or even the mate, but a deck hand,
  • That 70 year old deck hands have trouble keeping up with 20 something deck hands.
  • That I was having fun despite the hard work and wet weather,
  • And that this unlikely boat when trimmed well and sailed skillfully would go to windward.

Below Chelsea we began to tack to windward using the lee boards. Steve kept experimenting to see how well she could do and drilled us in tacking, finally taking the Yankee down because it wasn’t doing as much as when sailing down wind.  We made some down river progress on close reaches and the current, and used the old trick of “backing the jib” to get the bow around.

We got into Beacon that afternoon.  The next morning Matt and Meade set up our first market at the Beacon Farmers Market.   This was the first test of the tote system, and the bar code inventory.  The market went very well and Ceres was a hit.  At times during the day there was line at the market stall and at the boat with people wanting to know about the products and the “why” and “how” of the project.

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We stayed in Beacon for a couple of days, and then got underway, raised all sails except Yankee and tacked upwind again for a short sail to deliver an order to the Cold Spring General Store at the public dock. People started to gather at the dock to admire the boat and watch cargo being transferred from hand to hand right from the hold into the arms of the store owner.  We made more good friends and by the time we were ready to cast off there were so many people on the quay that if we were set up to do so we could have done a “pop up” market.  We arranged on the spot to do a July 4th market with the owners of the Cold Spring General Store.  After leaving Cold Spring we continued sailing until we were in sight of the Mid-Hudson Bridge.

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That evening we anchored and spent the night on the northern edge of Iona Island.  There is something pretty astonishing about watching the sun pass behind Bear Mountain, and watch the lights of the commercial traffic as we sat on deck having out dinner. The next morning we sailed off the anchor, and sail/drifted until the current turned and we motored to the bulkhead at the Clearwater Festival site to familiarize the crew about where the boat would be the next weekend.
We arrived at Ossining early afternoon checked in with dock master and the Ferry Sloop   contact, found the showers and then the bar.  The Yacht Club folks and especially the Ferry Sloop members were helpful and even took me for a needed  grocery and hardware store run. The next day we set up a market at the club house of the Shattemuc Yacht Club and drew a pretty big crowd.  That evening Steve and I gave a slide show and talk about the project and this year’s voyage to about 25 people.

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Ossining Mayor, William Hanaurer came down to the boat at least twice.  He said that he wants to make the Hudson Ossining’s front yard not its backyard.  He is also advocating for the use of a new public dock adjacent to the Ferry dock for vessels like Ceres.  The next day Erik arrived and I reluctantly headed home.

In retrospect, I had a terrific time.  It has been a while since I did so much physical work, thought about tide and wind, learning the boat’s gear, assessing its sailing ability, and as observing and participating as much as I could in cargo handling and the marketing.  It didn’t hurt that Steve is an experienced mariner and a terrific teacher.  I observed that he was instructing the crew as he is learning about the boat’s ability.  He is both willing to
press the vessel to see how the gear holds up, but is conservative and prudent when it comes to boat handling.  Mat and Meade are terrific young men and great crew.  Under trying circumstances they figured out the marketing while learning how to be crew members.

I agree with Erik when he says, “running the vessel and its market requires skilled operators and solid river sailor, plus business capability to maintain inventory and accounts while on the move.  It also requires a serious interest in the farms and waterfront communities of the region, and some facility at outreach and social media.”

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My take away is while crowded for a crew of four, two to three, friends, a married couple, or partners, could live aboard for the season.  I see this second voyage as “proof of concept.”   Ultimate success of the project is not necessarily measured by whether it is profitable or not (although I believe it will be).  Ultimate success is that in some small way lay the groundwork for the development of the next generation of watermen and women while building an alternative carbon neutral logistic chain, from farmer, to processor, and finally to individual, wholesale, or restaurant customers.

The use of sailing vessels as transportation is nothing new.  Many coastal schooners and sailing vessels are still working in the trade between main ports and remote islands and harbors in Africa, Caribbean, South America, The Indian, Ocean and the Pacific.   From Northern Ireland to Fiji, freight carrying sailing ships are being planned, built, and sailing.  These first forays into what will become a huge post carbon enterprise are examples of how coastal short sea shipping along the North American coasts, bays, and rivers will be changing in the near and mid-term.    Some operating and soon to be operating examples are, the Gundalow Company in New Hampshire, Farm Boat in Seattle, Dragonfly Sail Transport in Michigan, while SV Kwai, Tres Hombres Packet Company, Greenheart, andB9 Shipping are ocean  crossing sail transport vessels in various states of implementation.

Ceres is now an integral part of this world-wide effort of sail freighters who have started a revolutionary movement to prepare for a carbon constrained world by preserving the skills of the past; marlinspike seamanship, building, rigging, and sailing traditional vessels, developing an alternative logistic chain, linking the farm to the table, participating in “fair trade,” and providing real world examples of what happens when you stop talking and start doing.
This movement is led in part by Jan Lundberg’s Sail Transport Network .  Jan said, as long ago as 2007, “Sail power is more than some theoretical future mini-substitute for today’s oil-based trade and flying and driving. The Sail Transport Network’s team is growing, dedicated, talented and well informed about energy and environmental issues — and we love adventure and accept risk. You’re welcome to not just watch but help bring about a better reality for sustainable transport all the sooner.”

Based on my limited experience, I am more comfortable than ever before that the Vermont Sail Freight Project is a timely, doable, and potentially a profitable enterprise.  If I wasn’t before, I am now a convert.  I am off the boat now, but I think my adventure is just beginning.

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Hudson, Troy, Mechanicville

Ceres is on her northward trek now and the last few markets of the run are upon us.  They are coming right up.

  1. Hudson –Wednesday July 9th, 10 am -6 pm.  At the waterfront.
  2. Troy — Friday July 11th, 10am-4pm, Troy Downtown Marina near Brown’s Brewery
  3. Mechanicville — Saturday July 12th 10 am-6 pm, Mechanicville Public Dock

A few items are sold out but by and large we have a very wide array of syrups, preserves, oil, honey, flours and grains still on offer.  Come see us!

Following this trip we will take a well-earned break and plan our next moves.  Generally both the navigational and the commercial aspects of the project made positive steps.  We want to continue to offer markets and to sail in the latter half of the season as well. 008

A Symbolic Visit to NYC

Tuesday evening amidst few sounds other than the fish jumping and the lapping of waves, Ceres anchored just off of Edgewater Park next to the New Jersey Pallisades, about a mile north of the George Washington Bridge.  With Manhattan glowing just beyond the bridge to our south, we spent one of the most tranquil nights of the trip bobbing at anchor.

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Our trip to the city this time stands in some contrast to our trip last October.  We’re in less of a rush, and are in more of a cautious exploratory frame of mind than previously.  Last fall we searched frantically for a dock that would meet the requirements of our project (including low cost, adequate protection from currents and wakes, reasonable application process, and public access from shoreside) and settled on Brooklyn Navy Yard where project friend Marc Agger advocated for us.  We are very grateful to Navy Yard for allowing us to work with them on that occasion. However Navy Yard piers fall a little short of what we really need in terms of the security of the vessel, because the bulkheads there are a little too rough and the currents too strong, there are too few cleats and fenders for a vessel of our class.  And also, Navy Yard is not a public location, it is a rather gated industrial park — a very green and forward-looking industrial park I might add, but still not the public dockside location we really need to make this project thrive.  So we are back to searching for that elusive dock that will welcome Ceres to NYC.

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Robert LaValva of New Amsterdam market and his supporters get it.  Without a public-access waterfront with which to interface with the world, the city is cutting itself off from the very asset that made it what it now is.  And with remaining public rights to space still being sold or given away to private interest it seems this unfortunate trend is not reversing yet.  It’s ironic that while New Amsterdam market is right on the waterfront at the old Fulton Fish Market site, we can’t offload goods to be sold at that market without the necessity of a long road journey across town or over the bridge from Brooklyn or yet further afield.  We’re still working on this problem, but it’s tough for a volunteer-driven effort like ours.

And so it was, that on Tuesday June 24th, Ceres sailed into New York Harbor for the second time without any dock at all.  This was just a courtesy call, to show the city that we have not given up on them.  Philosophically the journey from the mountains to the sea has always been important to me.  While the cost-benefit calculus increasingly suggests that our cargo vessel ought to sail from Lake Champlain to the Tappan Zee bridge and then turn around and go back, we feel that in some ways such a plan diminishes the project.  So we are hopeful that by continuing to try, eventually that perfect–or at least adequate–dock will be found so that we can land our cargo somewhere in the Port of New York.

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Things got a little exciting this time on a few occasions.  First, when we were raising the topsail, which is flown from the deck, we had an equipment failure that stood to make us look pretty disrespectable indeed and posed something of a danger.  The topsail has a carabiner-style clip ring that allows the sail to travel up a thin steel cable.  On its way aloft, this carabiner clipped around something it should not have, 22 feet off the deck, which not only prevented us from flying the sail, but also prevented dropping it to fix the problem.  I was at the helm while Steve and Meade were working on flying the sail, and first became aware of the problem by hearing Steve yelling bloody murder about what a mess we were in.  The chop was significant and the wind increasing to around 15mph, and our second-largest sail was neither up nor down.

Steve first attempted to solve the problem by taping a boat hook to one of the 16 foot poles we use for maneuvering in shallows, and using the boat hook to try to unclip the carabiner.  At one point he almost had it.  But it was too far away, the boat was moving around too much, and he had no leverage.  It was hard to see how this was going to get solved.  Around this time French journalist Edward Bally put down his camera and volunteered to go aloft in a bosun’s chair, which is a sort of rope harness that allows others to haul you up into the rigging.  I guess it was determined that Edward was the lightest guy who could pull this off.  So Steve and Meade heaved Edward up to the crosstrees and Edward was quickly able to reach the ring and unclip it.  He was quickly lowered back to deck unharmed but a little shaky, and went below seconds before his colleauge arrived with a helicopter to film us from the air.

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Once the gear issue was addressed our sails all flew beautifully and we sailed on looking our best off of 58th street or thereabouts, and then turned for home.

One final bit of drama occurred when my straw hat blew off and into the sea.  “Keep your eye on it” Steve yelled.  I insisted that it’s only an 8 dollar hat and totally not worth retrieving, but Steve said, “Man overboard drill!  It’s good for the crew!”  And so, since I guess we hadn’t had enough excitement for one day, we tacked around and came abreast of my poor hat which was still, amazingly, floating.  I reached for it but missed by about six inches, but the next second Meade speared it with a boathook.  So now we know that we can execute a man-overboard routine in some pretty challenging conditions.

Following that we had a pleasant market in Nyack, facilitated by Mayor Jen White and the Claremont association which gave us access to the Claremont Pier.  We had such a good time that we intend to come back next Tuesday, and will hold another market from noon to 6 pm at memorial park.   Thanks again to Mayor White and Village Administrator Jim Peloti to helping us arrange dockage in the fine Village of Nyack, and also thanks to Gypsy Donut and Espresso Bar for helping us get the word out and for bringing us treats!

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But before that we are due in Kingston, where we will be open for business at the Hudson Maritime Museum at the Rondout from 10-5 tomorrow, Saturday June 28th.  Hope to see you there!

Hudson River Revival

On rejoining Ceres after a marathon rice planting session, I did not accidentally check myself into Sing Sing prison just outside Ossining, but almost!  After exploring the Ossining waterfront a few hundred feet at a time for about an hour, I finally found the Shattemuc Yacht Club, our gracious host.  It was no problem spotting Ceres’ one-of-a-kind wooden masts and brailed-up sails in amongst the jungle of aluminum and stainsless steel poles.  I had just driven down from Vt to relieve our capable Acting Director Andy Willner for about a week.

Ceres’ crew, comprised of Andy, Captain Steve, Matt Horgan and Meade Atkeson had just finished some really impressive sailing that I told you about last post, including a delivery of a wholesale order to Cold Spring General Store by sail alone,

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and had held a really nice market and a talk afterwards at Shattemuc, all of which I personally missed.  What I was really sorry to miss but was happy to hear about was yet another mayoral visit from the mayor of Ossining, William Hanauer.  We are grateful for the mayor’s expressions of support for our project, and for this statement:

We want to make the waterfront Ossining’s front door, not its back door

Our intention is exactly that — to help the water that built our region in a previous era  to be once again a conduit of life and trade.  And yes, we’ll be back.

After Ossining we headed back north to dock next to the Sloop Clearwater and the Mystic Whaler at Clearwater Fest.  How to describe the weekend?  The entire time we were surrounded by music, of course working like dogs moving and selling our goods and showing off Ceres to all comers.  Hannah, Ashton, Tony and Matt Schlein from Willowell came to staff a booth at the working waterfront section, while Matt and Meade ran the market stall, and Steve wandered around talking to old friends.  Of course in this last year since the last Clearwater festival the world has lost both Pete and Toshi Seeger so it was an emotional time, especially for folks like Steve who were close friends.  So no coincidence that Ceres ended up there or that Steve is now captain of Ceres; there is a philosophical convergence between the work of the sloop Clearwater and what we are trying to do with Ceres that flows in all directions.photo (3)

 

What next?  Well, Manhattan of course.  What else is there?

Before fans get too excited, please note right away that we have no viable plans to dock or have a market this time, although we may yet succeed in pulling something together small scale and last minute.  It is very, very, difficult to arrange viable docking for what we are trying to do in NYC.  It is as difficult in the city as it is easy in places like Nyack and Ossining.  Each spot potentially available to us has either physical dangers to the vessel, high costs, daunting bureaucracy, lack of public access, or all four problems at once.  Sometimes our project is viewed as being too commercial for the recreational facilities and yet too small-scale for the commercial facilities.  Often being cross-categorical is to our benefit, but sometimes not so much.

There are still possibilities, and we are going to the city if only briefly to show NY and the world that we have not given up on them.  Perhaps our visit will only be ceremonial in scope this time around.  Look for Ceres off the west side later this afternoon!

Following that we are aiming to come to Nyack either tomorrow afternoon or wednesday morning, and I will announce details as soon as I have them!

Posted from on board Ceres just north of the Tappan Zee Bridge!   photo (4) photo

Ceres the Spry

So there’s, me, Erik, totally plastered in mud and wallowing around in the rice paddy, while Ceres and her crew are cracking on, throwing up spray in Haverstraw Bay, making a wholesale order delivery.  Did I hear that they were making 6 knots upwind?  That they sailed off their anchor without motor assistance?  That they tacked upwind and against the current?  Rather than be irritated that I wasn’t there to see it, this news filled me with delight.  It has always been my goal for Ceres to have a life of her own and at least somewhat apart from mine, and to hear the enthusiasm with which my crew (who I have not seen for eight days) reported their feats this is clearly beginning to happen.

This spunky project had a lot of doubters.  They are becoming fewer in number now that we are still doing this thing one year from launch, and getting better at it each day.  Some said our rectilinear barge would have poor sailing properties, could never work her way to windward.  Others were quick to point out our reliance on the motor during our first run.  To these folks I would point out, in the friendliest way possible, that working sail took many decades to slowly vanish from our view, so it’s only realistic to expect that it will take some time to rebuild not just the craft that can do real work but also the skills and the confidence to perform.

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We can meet these challenges.  I say “we” because this project has attracted, time and again, a perhaps odd assortment of principled and talented individuals that have in common the fact that the mission of this project personally moves them.  No one of us, least of all myself, can perform all of the roles needed to make this little ship sail.  But together we can pull off this thing that has an element of … dare I say .. grandeur.  This grandeur commands attention, and has garnered respect from NYC transportation theorists, Brooklyn hipsters, trending-conservative upstate NY local business types, Nyack Jewish ladies, and more.  It inspires conversations, and I think and hope that it also inspires people to take joy in the place they inhabit, as well as in the notion of seeing our common waters not as a barrier but as a conduit of life and trade, such as it has been for the majority of our nation’s history.

Yes, this is some pretty high-flown language from a guy who spends the majority of the days now quite literally coated in mud and getting bitten by three kinds of flies.  But I do believe in this work.  Yes, we still have problems, but we’re still sailing!

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We are all looking forward to a huge event at Clearwater festival this weekend.  In its way I think VSFP encapsulates the mindset of Pete Seeger’s early vision for the Sloop Clearwater–that radical idea, sprung from the grassroots, that eventually won over the doubters.  Not a facsimile reenactment or period piece but a people-driven cause with a reason and a spirit!  As I recounted a while back, I only got to share our project and our boat with Pete for the most brief of moments last fall, and that will have to suffice (Pete’s one word appraisal of Ceres’ below-decks accommodations — “Palatial!”). I would be carrying on even if Pete hadn’t come aboard to validate our effort personally, but the fact that he did makes me a little more resolved.

But while the sloop Clearwater is a vessel for education, advocacy and activism and is funded for the great work she does in those areas, Ceres is funded primarily through trade.  We buy our goods from farmers along our trade route and mark them up for resale, much as any store would do.  Except that our “store” is on the move, deploying in public waterfront locations wherever we can arrange it.  This is no doubt a little different from the way the old river and barge trade worked, where most larger vessels were not floating general stores so much as they were  bulk haulers, carrying say 100 tons at a time of lumber, coal, or potatoes.  But our strategy is not to strive to compete for least-cost transport of bulk goods, but to perform a moving community retail function that allows us to make personal connections throughout the region in a way that bulk maritime transport cannot.

So how can you help?  Well, come and see us.  Try out some of our goods from farms around our watershed and region.  If you are a business or know of one, consider placing a wholesale order with Ceres.  (We are working to get a cargo manifest page up on the main website, www.vermontsailfreightproject.org, in the next few days, so you will be able to view the contents of Ceres that are for sale).Perhaps you can help us get connected with decent docks and public spaces in your area if we haven’t done so yet.  Advocate for public market spaces and sturdy public docks in your community, and for municipal support of a revived working waterfront.  We depend on our fans and supporters to take an interest in what we are doing and to help ensure its continuance!

Vermont Sail Freight Project

Arriving at Brown’s this Evening

Just wanted to add a quick update to the earlier post to say that after quick calls in Mechanicville and Waterford, Ceres is off to Troy to tie up this eve.  I spoke with Andy about arrangements just recently.  In the background, I heard Captain Steve ask, “Is that the dock with the bar?”  Yes, Steve, it is the one with the bar….a guy has gotta have his priorities, I guess.   So, if you are in Troy and you want to meet a real character just go to Brown’s this evening and look for the guy with the big white beard who looks like he just crawled up from the river.  Just to warn you though, Captain Steve is a little shy.  Doesn’t have too much to say.  Pretty hard to get an opinion on any subject out of the guy.  Especially anything having to do with boats or sailing.  Whatever thoughts he may or may not have on sailing he pretty much keeps to himself.

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These barrels are for the captain. Everyone else get your own from the basement.

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Tomorrow, while the crew gets to work getting the mast upright, as well as getting to work getting the captain upright, there may be an opportunity to say hello at the docks and perhaps even to make a quick purchase.  Our ability to quickly find items within the boat should be much improved over last year.  We promise a more lengthy stop in Troy, as well as Waterford and Mechanicville, in the coming weeks.

Sailing Like Stink

Topsail aloft!

Captain Steve looking aloft

Cracking spars on the first day out not allowed

Cracking spars on the first day out not allowed

We had our work cut out for us to get Ceres ready to head south, but this time the cargo loading was actually a snap.

Yes, it’s a pretty odd expression, but one I’ve heard Captain Steve use several times. Yesterday it applied to us pretty well.  It was an amazing experience to see Ceres belting down into the narrows of the southern end of Lake Champlain under all canvas, heeled over nicely (but not too nicely) under a freshening north wind.  At about 5.5 knots we were verging on overpressed with sail, and started to worry about losing the topsail club or even the topmast on the first day out, and so we doused it.  Still, we can put up a nice little mountain of canvas even without the topsail, and after lowering it we were still making 5 knots under staysail, yankee jib, main, and mizzen.  Sailmaker Matthew Wright and Riggers Carrie Glessner and Will Young ought to be good and proud of their work.  Breathtaking.  Brings to mind an expression my grandfather used that I occasionally deploy myself, “there’s glory in it!”

 

Three wagons full of just-baled hay rolled under cover mere minutes before a thunderstorm?

“There’s glory in it!”

Perfect blooms on your dahlias?

“There’s glory in it!”

Dealing with bloated sheep by tubing the sheep gas out of the stomach?

“There’s no glory in it.”

Well, sometimes there’s plenty of glory and sometimes there’s not.  We are on the move and bound for New York for the second time.  There’s glory in that, for certain.  But also a lot of unglorious work, lifting, sanding, fixing, and struggling with the many complicated challenges in making this project of many moving parts work the way it is supposed to.  About half my day yesterday was consumed with a task with no glory in it, chasing small water leaks out of hidden air spaces in the hull construction by injecting epoxy resin into voids, tough to do at any time but very challenging when the boat is full of stuff and is pounding down the lake.

Today Ceres is still on the move, masts down now, motoring through the New York State canal system, and at last check is nearing Fort Edward.  As for me, your author and raconteur, at least up to this point, I am no longer with the ship.  Last night after a round of drinks at Howie’s in Whitehall, I traded places with Andrew Willner who now assumes my shipboard role in the capacity of Acting Director.  I personally am very hopeful that this is the beginning of an excellent collaborative working partnership with a man with many years of experience in craftsmanship, sailing, and in promoting waterfront sustainability, whose work and genial nature have earned the respect of pretty much everyone I have met who has had much to do with traditional sail and New York Harbour.  VSFP is lucky and honored to welcome Andrew on board.

As for me, the rice plants that I mentioned last time are now pushing seven inches tall and the paddies are in great shape and transplanting is underway.  I needed the liberty to tend to my farm at this early point in the growing season.  I can’t deny that I track the progress of Ceres compulsively now, as perhaps some of you readers did last year when I was aboard.  So I know that the same steady rain that watered my garden transplants and added depth to my rice fields also fell on Ceres as the crew guided her through at least seven or eight locks today.  But the mission advances, despite the challenges, delays and problems.  We have a much smaller crew than last year, when many events were amped up into mini-festivals through the energy of Greenhorns and its dedicated volunteers and staff.  Now we are trying to advance to the next stage, to where we can hopefully build on the work and the recognition of last year, and hopefully wean ourselves down to a primary crew of four, all based on the barge.  Ultimately a small craft like Ceres really ought to be run as a mobile market by a crew of two, but we are not there yet.

Erik at the helm on Lake Champlain.  That little mizzen sail really helps push us along when running with the wind.

Our current crew is Captain Steve, Middlebury College intern Meade Atkeson, Andrew Willner as I mentioned above, and recent Binghamton University Grad Matt Horgan, who we will be losing to grad school later this month.

Running the vessel and its market requires that a skilled operator be a solid river sailor, plus a capable businessperson in order to maintain inventory and accounts while on the move.  It also requires a serious interest in the farms and waterfront communities of the region, and some facility at outreach and social media.  Interested?  Well, we are in need of a new crew member to volunteer at the end of this month and are considering recruiting full-time staff if our operations in 2014 prove successful.  While crowded for a crew of four or more, for a working crew of two, be they friends, a married couple, or partners, Ceres affords reasonable on-the-water living, in the space not consumed by cargo that is.  I never intended for this liveaboard operator to be me.  I have a farm and am pretty well bonded to my family and my place.  Sailing around the battery into the East River?  Well, that was unforgettable.  But the next time someone else can do it.  Ultimate success of the project is not measured by what I personally get to see, do, or experience, or even necessarily by whether it is profitable or not (though we strive for it to be).  Ultimate success is that we help crack the door and in some small way lay the groundwork for the development of the next generation of watermen and waterwomen.

Ceres ties up to the southbound bulkhead at Lock 12

We are being filmed by the extermely-active Edward and Gary (deux noms qui ne sont pas tres francais je dois dire) from the French television program Thalassa.  In the course of our many (sometimes a bit repetitive) interviews, I offered my belief that contrary to the techno-paradise that some expect, my belief is that our future will likely resemble our past, and that we may fall back on proven, low energy approaches to supporting human life that have been historically proven to work.  “Isn’t that pessimistic?” asked Edward.  I replied that I don’t think so.  It is in my view even more pessimistic to imagine a world continuing on the current path, becoming a place in which there is no place for human labor or creativity, where rather than doing things with our backs and hands and minds, we must instead wait passively for conveniences and solutions to be marketed to us.   That, to me, is the most depressing future imaginable.

About our schedule.  We are so far behind that our plans to stop with our partners in on the way south are pretty messed up.  We have to make “fast” progress toward our most important destination, Clearwater Festival, and any chance to see us along the way will be catch-as-catch-can.  Not the way we wanted it, but it is just the beginning of the season and we hope for many chances to make up for the lost opportunities early on.   I will be posting weekly here now, and will try to get some authorship going from Ceres herself now that I have left the ship, so look out for that.

Plans to Sail South Once More

My rice seedlings that I told you about last time are doing really great.  The modified hoop house is certainly my best cheapo rice nursery solution to date, and I’m very happy with it.  On a sunny day, even with temperatures outside in the 70s, entering the hoophouse will fog my glasses up.  Tropical!  On cloudy days the effect is less pronounced but all in all it is a nice environment for cold-climate rice seedlings.  A couple of days we had sub-freezing temperatures and I have never been less worried about losing seedlings than this year.

At the same time of course plans are coming into place for our upcoming trip!  I have a few docking dates to announce:

  • Mechanicville, NY  Saturday June 7th.  Market at the dock.  Hours TBA
  • Waterford, NY  Sunday June 8th.  Attending Waterford Farmers Market 10am – 1pm (subject to confirmation)
  • Coxsackie, NY Wednesday June 11th, Attending Coxsackie Farmers Market 4-7 pm
  • Croton-on-Hudson NY, Ferry Sloops, Shattemuc Yacht Club, June 18th, Market, hours TBA
  • Croton-on-Hudson, Clearwater Festival, June 21st-22nd
  • Manhattan, NY, New Amsterdam Farmers Market, June 28th, 11-4pm

This is just the beginning of the list.  The hope is that in the course of this trip from VT to the sea and back again that we will hold about 20 public markets.  There are many more localities we are looking to stop at, and where confirmation is too many steps away I hesitate to list them.  Still I am confident that many more venues will be added in short order.  We’re delighted to be able to say yes, we’re coming back, and if you live along the route and have a burning desire for us to visit your local dock, then please get in touch!  Our local partners and allies are totally essential to our success.

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Another opportunity to visit and engage with the project is our upcoming Dinner at the Falls in Vergennes, for which we still have 6 seats available.  We had a fantastic time hosting this last August.  The setting is perfect, the food awesome.  If you live up our way in Vermont please consider coming aboard for dinner and good conversation on Friday May 30th at McDonough Landing, Vergennes.  Advance purchase of tickets necessary, $150 per couple.  Proceeds go to support the nonprofit Willowell Foundation and VSFP.

setting up for a dockside dinner

Now that the rice nursery is secure my attention is pretty much all on planning, coordinating this with the esteemed Andrew Willner who will be superintending this round-trip from on-board the barge in the capacity of Acting Director.  In addition to planning are a number of small repairs and modifications needed to get Ceres ready for the water again in a few short weeks time.  Structurally, she held up to the rigors of the last voyage faultlessly.  So the improvements are mostly in the direction of improved cargo management and improved shipboard quality of life, with some attention as well to improvements of the sail rig.  I hope to begin sinking my teeth into that work in the coming week and look forward to telling you about it all in detail in the next post.

topside unsectioned topside sectioned

 

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