More about the mission

by Vermont Rice

As mentioned previously, the goal is to launch in 2013.  A little more about that now.  What is this launch exactly? And what happens after that?

I strongly feel that building the boat is the easy part.  It will a lot more time networking and planning to execute the trip than it will to build the boat.  Once the boat is built, we have to store it and take care of it.  Therefore we’re going to wait until next spring to begin building.  Triloboats are not complicated and designer Dave Zeiger and I agree that about a month ought to be plenty from loft to launch.

In the meantime we’ll be working on the Plan.  The Vermont Sail Freight project is (at least in my mind and as of this moment) primarily a retail concept with some wholesale possibilities.  I have in mind some software applications to make it work smoothly.  The boat could have its own website, which would list inventory currently on board and for sale, and this cargo could all be purchased item-by-item through a regular “shopping cart” type function.  Then the purchaser meets the boat at some point in its voyage, and the already-purchased goods change hands and the sale is complete.  Some cash sales could take place at the dock too.  The website, or iphone app, could also report the boat’s current location in real time and pinpoint it on a map.  Or even generate a semi-automated twitter feed, for instance:

We’re 6 hours out of Saratoga.  Our next port is Troy, due there around 3pm.  Making 8 knots, winds light NNW.

These electronic aids could help overcome one of the limitations of delivery by sail: somewhat unpredictable schedules due to vagaries of wind and current.  For customers, up-to-the-minute information on the boat’s whereabouts would be entertaining and informative, and also practical for purposes of meeting it on time.  So we’ll be working on this as well in the lead-up to launch.

For the first voyage, most likely to take place in September 2013 after the rice is harvested, I will probably sail the boat along with my friend Will Trithartt.   Maybe 10 days down, a week in the Big City, and 10 days back.  We’ll see how it goes!  I grew up on the banks of the Susquehana and spent many, many happy hours in canoes on her waters.  I have always wanted to canoe the Susquehana from source to mouth, Cooperstown to Baltimore.  But that trip never happened.  But that’s okay because this one is even better! I might bring my son Julien, who at that point will be 8, if I can talk my wife into that.

I could probably fill the hold with produce just from my farm but the hope is to assemble a cargo with an assortment of Champlain Valley wines (actually very good), hard cider, apples, potatoes, onions, garlic, rice, cornmeal, wheat flour, hops, and so on.  I have noticed that NYC Greenmarket has an initiative to promote regional grains.  We Vermonters can help you with that!  At any rate, I think once there is real forward momentum it won’t be hard to convince producers to consign cargo.

Ultimately my vision is that the Vermont Sail Freight “Project” will become the Vermont Sail Freight “Cooperative,” and take on the organizational structure of a producer-owned cooperative.  It could easily grow to multiple craft, each making several trips per season, and some dedicated warehousing and docking facilities somewhere on the lake.  By the time I’ve run the route once or twice, the project will either be ready for such a group to take it on, or it won’t.  I already have a job, and hope that this idea will grow wings (or sails) so that I can be one Champlain Valley producer among many, all of us working together to send our sail merchant fleet out into the world.