The Vermont Sail Freight Project

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

Month: February, 2013

Erik with the VSFP barge model on West 18th Street, NYC

Erik with the VSFP barge model on West 18th Street, NYC

The further we progress towards launch of the adventure the more convinced I am that we are on the right path, that the time is right.  Last week I took to the streets of New York, with a whirlwind of eight sail-freight related meetings in just 36 hours.   Something productive came out of every single one.  You can see that the 1 12th scale model came along with me, on the train, on the subway, in cabs, and bumping on my back in a great unwieldy wooden box for many, many blocks.  It was worth it.  Though I am very happy to be home and to have that heavy box in the basement and the model on top of the piano again.  The next time the sail freight barge goes to Manhattan, I want it to carry me there and not the other way around!

I learned a lot about the logistics of the lower Hudson and the Port of New York too, including an introduction to mastering the tides and a tour of some likely docking spots.  I noted, for instance, from the Metra North Train, that the ice in the Hudson River was moving north on a calm day.  Closer to the sea, the forces of tide and current become even more powerful.  It may actually be quite a challenge, for instance, to sail from the Hudson to South Street on the East River, because doing so requires that you fight a strong current either to reach the Battery or to work upriver from it.  In addition, some of the world’s tallest waterfront buildings baffle the winds and make sailing problematic.  Maybe that’s where we hire a tow, or else stick to the Hudson river.  We’ll find a way somehow.

Another thing I learned along the way is that a 36 foot boat is actually very small in this setting, and that all the beam-end stability we can get will be to the good.  So we’re planning on upping the dimensions somewhat while still staying within the USCG inspection-exempt cargo vessel parameters.  The revised dimensions get us a greater cargo capacity without additional crewing requirements, and with some other plusses too, like more headroom in cabins and below decks in the cargo holds.

Another new development is that construction of the barge is now slated to take place start to finish here at Boundbrook Farm, where we have facilities nearly at the ready for a project of this scale.  Naturally it makes it more convenient for me to work on and administrate the project too.  Before too long we’ll be clearing the shop to begin this exciting project.


Having fun with the model

Now the 1/12th scale model is essentially complete, with only the leeboards left to make.  It was fun to build, and gave some idea of the challenges we’ll encounter in the real version.  I used 1/8th inch plywood for the most part.  It is certainly true that with all these full sheets of plywood everywhere the design is quite self-squaring.  I faired off the joints with bondo and gave it a couple coats of oil paint in my favorite color scheme.

Today the sails arrived in the mail from Matthew Wright, VSFP’s valued Brattleboro collaborator, and they are beautiful and a real treat to put on.  It does look the part of a miniature Thames barge now, at least to my eye.  Matthew and I have been discussing rigging a lot lately, as we are approaching the time when design decisions need to be made.  One of the questions we are wrestling with is amateur-freindliness, and the degree to which going aloft would be necessary.  Balanced into the discussion are various project-specific features of value, most crucially, the easy-drop rig.

When the Lois McClure sailed to the Hudson a crane unstepped and restepped the masts on either side of the bridge-festooned Champlain Canal.  This is not an affordable proposition for our enterprise–we need to be able to strike and reset our rig while underway, or at least unassisted while moored.  While I have never seen a Thames Barge lower its massive rig by means of its forestay, it’s apparent from the design how this might be done.  Fantastically, the model shows this feature beautifully.   Robin, age 5, was able to lower and re-raise the mast with ease!  When loosening on the forestay, the entire mainmast and every sail attached to it lowers in a controlled, orderly way to the deck, which on the full-scale model would reduce our height from 37′ to 13′.  Striking the mizzen would reduce this even further.

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