A Voyage Begins
by Vermont Rice
As of this writing I am back at the farm in Ferrisburgh with the sun setting. I’ve been off of Ceres long enough that the earth no longer feels like it’s rolling and pitching beneath me. So I am home, at least for the moment, but the sailing barge Ceres is not. Ceres’ voyage to New York City has begun, with substantial progress already made. As of this moment Ceres is docked in Whitehall, NY, and fully loaded with the bounty of the north and ready to enter the canal system.
Over the past five days a mind-blowing variety of agricultural products, a true cornucopia of the north country, was rallied both to my farm in Ferrisburgh and to the colonial-era shipping warehouses of Chipman Point Marina. Our friend Elizabeth Frank has earned “Benefactor of Ceres” status by connecting us with her friend Pat Ullom, owner of the marina who is now a benefactor as well! Up until the middle of last week our plan was to use a fishing access near Champlain Orchards. That plan seemed acceptable enough. No commercial docks were available in the area, at least as far as we knew, and the boat ramp had a small pier and was within a mile of Champlain Orchards and its buildings. There was enough space in the parking lot for us to get organized, and it was public. Besides, we have experience docking and loading Ceres in such conditions already so this seemed adequate. But when an offer was made to connect us with a place with not only everything we needed for the cargo load-in right at hand but with a history of being a hub of such activity going back over 200 years, we dropped the boat ramp idea in a heartbeat.
During the load-in were over half a dozen crew steadily working at loading, sometimes close to a full dozen. Next time it will go easier, no doubt, experience will teach us a lot. But the job got done. Now, Ceres weighs about 7000 lbs empty. We added 5000 lbs of ballast to make her 12000 lbs. Now she is loaded to a total displacement of about 36000 lbs, meaning that we have loaded in about 24000 lbs of saleable (sail-able) cargo. So she’s lower in the water now, sitting down on the waterline that seemed so crazy-high when we launched her empty and unballasted. She’s steadier now too, but may prove more challenging to get going, maneuver, and stop than earlier, so Captain Steve is going to be cautious about handling until the new parameters are well understood.
And as it turns out we didn’t even know how badly we needed Chipman Point. First of all, the complexity and artistry required for the load-in I think took us all by surprise. None of us ever having loaded a cargo vessel with tonnage before, we had to guess at it. One guy unexpectedly rose to the challenge. Finn Yarborough, our in-house videographer, decided there were too many video cameras there already and set his own down to take up a clipboard and begin organizing the load. Finn worked with the rest of the crew until 10 p.m. Sunday night, and was back at it the following morning. We had planned on loading quickly and leaving for the south on Sunday, but that plan was out the window when we saw the scale and complexity of the load in.
Plus, a cold front was pushing in from the South, throwing a rising wind in our face with danger of gusts over 40 mph, heavy rains forecast, and even a tornado warning out there for a little while. At Chipman Point we were able to remain productive while dodging the showers that preceded the front on Sunday and into Monday morning….we stayed at the dock an extra two nights, one for the loading and a second to wait out the storm. How we would have fared trying to do all this work and still stay safe while working off the boat ramp and its parking lot, I don’t know. So once again, the Vermont Sail Freight Project has reason to thank people in our waterway community who have stood up and offered us help in the nick of time. The cumulative effect of these gestures has been that our project has become more beautiful and more meaningful than we ever could have imagined at the outset. So, let me say it again, to Willowell, to Greenhorns, to the craftspeople of wood, canvas, rope, words, images, and digital code, and to the 37 farmers whose goods now fill our hold, and to the 300 plus individuals who have contributed financially, thank you, thank you, thank you.
We’re not there yet. The trip is just beginning, with a lot of work and a lot of challenges in the weeks ahead. Would it be unbusinesslike to say that I am terrified of screwing it up, having come so far? There is risk in this, and neither I nor Captain Steve forget this for a second. We are carrying not just the physical cargo but also a cargo of hopes and dreams, and that’s a heavy responsibility. Now, so far we have been able to address the difficulties that have come up, including some major ones. But now the ante has been raised. On the other hand, looking out the window today and at the forecast in the weeks ahead, the weather has broken and we are looking at some fine days just ahead. We are all also gaining experience and becoming a more effective team as we progress.
There’s no turning back. NYC, Ceres is coming.