The Vermont Sail Freight Project

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

Month: August, 2013

Setting Sails


Thoreau’s Journal: 22-Aug-1858

I have spliced my old sail to a new one, and now go out and try it in a sail to Baker Farm. It is a “square sail” some five feet by six. I like it much. It pulls like an ox, and makes me think there’s more wind abroad than there is. The yard goes about with a pleasant force, almost enough, I would fain imagine, to knock me overboard. How sturdily it pulls, shooting us along, catching more wind than I knew to be wandering in this river valley. It suggests a new power in the sail, like a Grecian god. I can even worship it, after a heathen fashion. And then, how it becomes my boat and the river,—a simple homely square sail, all for use not show, so low and broad! Ajacean. The boat is like a plow drawn by a winged bull.


There is much to report since my last post here three weeks ago.  Since our first spaghetti dinner on Ceres we have completed nearly all the rigging and put Ceres through some baby steps in protected bays and out on the open lake.  All the while there is feverish work going on behind the scenes as Colin builds new web architecture on and Patrick builds our network of suppliers and clients.  I am amazed by the array of fantastic farm goods we have brought together.  And in the end it is the job Ceres will do — the work of bringing these goods to market — and not Ceres herself that we are really all about.

But, that being said, let’s just go ahead and focus on Ceres herself just because I can’t completely stop myself.  Please understand that everything about this sailing barge, from the rig, to the hull shape, to the overall dimensions and scantlings was designed to make her a practical tool for the job at hand.  We expected her to be utilitarian.  And while we didn’t go out of our way to make her ugly, we never expected to pick up any yacht beauty contest awards.  To paraphrase Red Green, if we couldn’t find Ceres handsome, at least we could find her handy.

So it is with some sense of surprise that I can now report that Ceres is, at least to me and a few of my friends, elegant and gracious beyond anything I could have imagined when drawing lines on Sketch-up some six months or so ago.  This is thanks to the passion and the sacrifice of our amazing volunteers, Matthew Wright, Jordan Finkelstein, Carrie Glessner, Will Young, and Brian Goblik and many others.  All of these talents pooled together, and what a thing we have accomplished!

Just speaking frankly and personally, the sight of Ceres gladdens the heart, in a way I suppose I hadn’t anticipated, and I think the other participants in this project feel the same way.  Much like when the local community gathered here on the farm to roll the barge over, we maybe doubted our combined strength, but stuck with the task, and in the end we all surprised ourselves with what we could do.  Will any of this sentimentality stop us from putting Ceres to rough service and wearing her out in the line of duty?  I very much doubt it.  Ten, maybe fifteen years and we’ll decommission Ceres and use whatever parts we can salvage to build the next boat.

Of course, this is just the beginning.  We are entering the last few weeks of preparation for our trip.  We are working towards finalizing several key partnerships, not the least of which is the bringing on board of our captain.  No, it won’t be me, and trust me, that’s a good thing.  As with the building, there’s no reason not to bring as much talent, passion, and experience to the project as we can, and there are some people who are exponentially more qualified than I am to guide a loaded sailing barge down the river to New York City.  I look forward to announcing that and more soon.  We still have plenty of challenges ahead, of that I am totally certain.

Faithful readers, please accept my apology for the long wait for this post.  I will try to come up for air more often in the future!


First Dinner on Board

Another week goes by, and more milestones to report.  Well, it’s true that the first meal cooked and eaten on board is a little bit of a big deal, especially to two boys who have barely spent any time on boats, but also we have just been handed our Coast Guard Documentation with the Coastwise Trading Endorsement.  It feels great to have this in hand.  While we of course had reason to expect that our vessel and its mission would receive documentation, in working with the federal government and homeland security there are no guarantees, and no way to know for sure how long things will take.  We had to go back and forth with the USCG Vessel Documentation Center a few times to iron out details, but they were very helpful and cordial throughout, and now Ceres is a flagged vessel of the United States merchant fleet.  Imagine that!  A few short months ago she was just a stack of sheets of plywood!

Even as work continues on getting Ceres ready to sail cargo, even more is being done behind the scenes to roll out our commercial model.  Patrick Kiley is building up our network of producers and Colin Gray is working with the crew at to transfer a version of their grocery ordering model to our website.  We hope to have the model up and running in less than two weeks!  Also, we have figured out how to use a tablet to upload GPS positioning through, which will allow people viewing our website to see the exact location of Ceres at all times.  So that’s coming up too.  Also we are building up the schedule of proposed docking stops and activities on our first voyage to New York City, which involves building a lot of alliances with towns and cities on the Hudson and working with State and NYC authorities.  And on top of all that we are also putting up hay on the farm, which is plenty exhausting all by itself.

Still, there are moments of reprieve.  Here are some lovely summer eve photos of our first meal aboard Ceres.  Erica, Julien, and Robin came out to Ceres where she lies at anchor in Kingsland Bay.  We cooked up tortellini, spaghetti with marinara, fish and crab cakes, and baked salmon.  Ceres has a three-burner propane stove that we scavenged from a friend’s camper.  Works great!

Robin in particular fell in love with the boat and didn’t want to go ashore.  “Is there a bathtub on the boat?  Can I have my bath here?  Can I sleep in one of those beds?”  I guess we’ve come a long way from his more skeptical comment, “Looks more like a big box on wheels than a boat.”  Now it’s definitely a boat, who could doubt it?