The Vermont Sail Freight Project

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

Month: October, 2013

Next Project — Dirigible!

The Vermont Airship Freight Project!


Just kidding….I think!

But if airships aren’t the answer of the question, where do we go from here, then what is?  The answer is pretty simple.  We do it again.  And over time we will get better and better at this.  Our first trip with cargo was like a fair, a fun and crazy fair at times, and every one on our team were reeling to cope with challenges of all kinds.  Everyone performed above and beyond the call of duty, and those who have been reading me for a while can easily see what I mean when I say that this project has grown quite a bit from its genesis as one farmer’s quirky idea of using watercraft to transport cargo as a kind of off-kilter business model and activist statement.  We’re all tired, we’re ready for winter.  Or at least I am, and I can probably speak for most of the crew in this regard.


But fun as a fair can be, the ultimate goal is for us to become ordinary.  The day when Ceres is just another sailing barge on the Hudson, not really worth of a second look, will be the day the project has become ultimately successful.  In the meantime, we’ll be doing our best to keep our effort present in the public eye and dialog while also becoming better at our jobs.

But back to the mission for a moment.  Last I left you we had just arrived in New York Harbor.  We had a great time with our markets and celebrating our feat both in Brooklyn and at New Amsterdam market near the Fulton Fish Market site.  The enormous pile of bottles I told you about?  Well, we clinked a few glasses but no three-day bender ever came of it.  Blessedly both the workload and the liquor consumption are backing down to reasonable levels now that the business is ashore and we are no longer looking down the barrel of seemingly impossible-to-meet commitments both on land and on water.


First I have to come clean a little bit about my feelings about New York City.  I call myself a Vermonter, see, but I am basically an upstate guy, born and bred in New York well north of Poughkeepsie and raised on a healthy diet of antipathy towards the city.  In fact come to think, of it just calling New York City “the city” always rankled a little, as if there are no cities elsewhere in the world, or even in New York State.  But I have to say that I am warming to it.

The thing is, the city is so multi-layered that no matter what you are into, there is a lot of it in close proximity around here.   Even farming!  And at breakfast this morning the waitstaff in the Astro Diner were discoursing with customers in four languages (English, Spanish, French, Greek)!  You don’t get that in Vermont, where I am now especially conscious of the whiteness and English-only-ness of my boys’ social milieu.  So despite the fact that in the end I still want to go back to my little valley, hobbit style, and spend the winter feeding the woodstove, I have made some really great friendships and connections along the way and here in the harbor area in particular.     The collegiality and generosity with which both myself and the project as a whole have been received is incredible, and this has forever altered my perception of this place, and changed my thinking about the kinds of collaborations that we might be able to undertake.  In particular we are grateful for the hospitality of Marc Agger of the Brooklyn Fish Transfer and to Matt Hopkins of Brooklyn Navy Yard for hosting the dockage of Ceres and our scheduled project-related events.

Brooklyn Navy Yard is a really unique place.  Most of the time while working on the final disposition of the cargo and markets I spent the night on board Ceres at the dock here.  The yard is really like a city unto itself, with streets, bike lanes, a cafe, but is also a secure industrial park.  Everyone here from the tugboat company to Marc Agger’s staff to Navy Yard security and administration has been absolutely terrific.  I would go so far as to say that our involvement with Navy Yard was yet another one of those things in the trajectory of this project that turned out to be totally crucial, and we were largely unaware of just how crucial until fairly late in the game.

Navy Yard has a history of shipbuilding, docking, and warehousing going back hundreds of years, and its management has become very proactive about repurposing the yard for changing times.  The evidence is all around you here–as a vertical axis wind turbine fan I noticed the Darrius rotors collecting wind energy on the streetlamp posts right away.  And many business startups are taking up residence too.  It seems to me that VSFP could be a good fit with this community, particularly as we become more predictable and seasoned, in that we can help carry the Brooklyn mystique north along our route through “craft transport.”  We’re doing this already, as Ceres has taken on a cargo of fair-trade Brooklyn Coffee Roasters coffee with the intent to sell it in the North.  I bet it will be a hit.




As of this moment Ceres is on her way north, and has reached or passed Nyack.  We are trying to get an AIS signal up so that the barge tracker will function for the remainder of the      return journey.  I have stayed behind to take care of some loose ends and will catch up at some point.  We still have some unsold cargo that Patrick and I are working to dispose of.  So, if you have a store or a restaurant in the city,  and need some great yukon gold potatoes, or flour, or garlic or dry beans, we still have several pallets of Ceres’ cargo here at Navy Yard and would love to get it into your kitchen.  Get in touch if you’re interested!  We’ll have a complete list of the remainder shortly.


I am so proud of our crew!


Ceres has arrived in NYC

As many of you are aware, our plucky little cargo ship Ceres has made it to NYC with barely a scratch on her.  The last few days have been very intense, and it has been very difficult for me to sit down and write, feeling very drained both physically and emotionally, yet also knowing there is a huge amount of work to do in the coming days for which we all need to conserve our energy.

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Night before last we tied up to the hip of the majestic sloop Clearwater who in turn was tied up to the fascinating Science Barge in Yonkers.  Now I don’t know too much about Yonkers other than that there was a set-piece battle there against the zombies in the book World War Z.  Now, the Science Barge would be an awesome  place to hold out against the zombies.  They capture rainwater, produce their own energy and food…

Anyway, containment of an outbreak of zombie virus was pretty much the last thing on our minds as we joined the crew of Clearwater for a pizza dinner that couldn’t be beat (Clearwater boasts a very impressive galley).  Jordan couldn’t help but notice that there are regular mealtimes on Clearwater, not like on Ceres where Steve and I routinely work past the point of being fairly hungry.  But poor Jordan needs meals at regular intervals in order not to get cranky.  And in order to be a big enough guy to be able to walk around in rough neighborhoods too of course.

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We met a few members of the public briefly in Yonkers although we were so tired from a blowout market in Nyack we couldn’t bring ourselves to break up the holds and have any sort of a market.  Someone asked me what our plans are for once the cargo is sold, would we arrange for back-hauling to the north?  I answered that probably once the cargo is sold the crew of Ceres would probably not sober up for several days.  I was only partly joking.

This has been an incredibly exciting and meaningful journey and is hopefully opening the door to something that can grow and last.  It’s also been very strenuous in every way, being always on the move and alert for hazards, watching the current and the time and the wind and trying to avoid the much larger and faster commercial vessels that can swamp us with their wakes, plus lifting cargo over and over and over again.  We have done this as a team with widely varied personalities and skillsets, all working through conflict and way past the point of being tired enough to call it a day.  And when the day is done the empty bottles tend to pile up.  When there is finally no work to do the following day I imagine it could be a pretty large pile of bottles indeed.  So you can see that this is a different life than the one I am accustomed to living as a small farmer in Vermont, but not without its own unique rewards, and with a kind of cameraderie that makes us all feel a little like we’ve come through the wars together.  When we haul Ceres out and put the project to bed for the winter I imagine I’ll have very mixed and conflicting feelings about it, just as I do now.

Before dawn the next day we slipped our lines and started down past the Pallisades.  The skyline of the city had been in view since we passed under the Tappan Zee Bridge, but grew as we drew closer.  By 8:30 in the morning we passed under the George Washington and began sailing down the West Side under a freshening west wind.  The commercial traffic was intense, as we knew it would be, and we were heaving and rolling around like the small underpowered boat that we really are in no time.  Captain Steve at first tried to turn to meet wakes bow-on, but before too long there were so many workboats, barges, ferries, tugs, and water taxies that waves were flying every which way and there was no turning to meet each one.  Therefore we just sailed south and hoped for the best.

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The barge always seemed to gracefully swim out of the toughest wakes and chop, throwing up spray.  Our greatest fear was swamping the outboard which we would need for backup power in the East River.  In the end all was fine, our fine barge rose to each challenge gloriously.  Captain Steve, who had been dubious about the seaworthiness of the barge right from the start was ready to hug me and declare me a master shipbuilder by the time we had rounded the battery.  Well, we were all a little giddy.  We had made it to New York!  How could this get any better?

We found just how it would get better when we reached the Brooklyn Navy Yard.  Now here is a place with a pedigree of ship building and docking going back centuries.  Our host and partner Mark Agger has helped create the perfect cargo terminus arrangement, and his crew are busy even as I write these lines in helping us offload the cargo and arrange it in a warehouse big enough to have a game of football inside, field goal posts and all.  Our volunteers are rallying to the call, and we are organizing everything and making up orders in anticipation of lively markets this Saturday and Sunday plus delivery of our wholesale orders through our partnership with Revolution Rickshaws’ cargo trikes.  Not only that but Mark has offered to help VSFP make arrangements to buy Brooklyn Coffee Roasters coffee, many pallets of which are already stocked in the Agger Fish warehouse just at hand.  It’s fair trade, of excellent quality and reputation, and is exactly what I had in mind for back hauling.  And here it is, ready to load.  I can hardly believe it.



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Storm King and Breakneck

Ceres has just passed through the North Gate of the Hudson Highlands, between the mountains Storm King and Breakneck, through the area the Dutch called the “Warragut,” or “Weather Hole.  A final resting place for a lot of ships, but we sailed through it today during a near total calm without the least anxiety.


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This same weather that has been so kind to us in terms of markets — the beautiful days just go on and on — is not so great for sailing towards the south.  Day after day we have the wind right on the nose.  This has made for less sailing than I had hoped.  This being the first time out, our schedule was laid in pretty far in advance.  Schedules and sailing vessels are really a poor match and we’ve done the best we can to balance between being on time so that our land-based partners can plan for our arrival and maximizing sail.  Hopefully in the future we’ll be able to develop a more flexible schedule that will have fewer distance imperatives built into it.  But for the time being we have the schedule we have and the weather we have, and all together we have a lot to be thankful for as the voyage has gone quite well so far.


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We have just departed Beacon where we had a great market and delivered a huge batch of pre-orders.  Beacon could really use a better pier so we can dock closer to the land (anyone on the Beacon City Concil reading this?  Maybe dredge out and repair the old ferry landing?) but we managed despite a 300 foot walk between our market setup and the boat.  Which is tough when you have 160 products!  But as I said it was a terrific market, followed by some beer and Chinese food eaten in the Galley.  The boat was reloaded just after dark,m with little to do the following morning, so the coffee was made and Ceres was underway well before sunrise today.


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Our market in Newburgh on Saturday was not quite so successful.  Not nearly as many farmers were in attendance, mostly a mix of flea market type activity and various organizations passing out leaflets.  Riverside Marina was a great host, though.  The funniest, though also the most alarming aspect of the visit was when I sent First Mate Jordan to go buy us some bagels.  We’re downstate now, so bagels ought to be everywhere, right?  Not like Vermont.  But despite his iphone nav system–actually partly because of it–Jordan got one bum steer after another, walking six miles into some pretty sketchy neighborhoods.  One teenager was having some sort of an argument in a house Jordan walked past, and ran down the steps, shouting, “No, I ain’t gonna do it!  It ain’t worth it.  The guy is too big!”

Lucky thing we feed Jordan well, or else maybe he might not have been too big.  And he might have been worth it.  Whatever “it” is.  And hey, maybe it was some other big guy who was being discussed, anyway…. Whatever the case, Jordan didn’t stick around to find out, and so we didn’t lose our first mate in Newburgh.  But it does serve to remind us that not all the risks in this mission are in the form of shoals and squalls.  There’s plenty of potential for sailors to get in trouble ashore, too.  Which just goes to show, there really is nothing new under the sun.


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Events for the Lower Hudson Valley and NYC

We are having a great time marketing our way down the Hudson River.  Everywhere we go we are delighted to make new friends at dockside.  Now we are coming to the final phase of this odyssey, the goal that all of this work has been leading up to for well over a year.  Some of you readers out there have been reading me since long before we had a boat, a crew, a cargo, all there was was a lone farmer’s loopy idea of building a sail cargo vessel to unify the goals of low-impact water trade and revitalization of the regional foodshed.  An idiotic concept that would have certainly died at any bank loan officer’s desk or any self-respecting boardroom table.


99% of the time I am still so immersed in the challenges of the day to day that I fail to appreciate the big picture, but occasionally it’s worth taking a moment to consider how far we’ve come, and how this whole endeavor is really the product of teamwork and community-building on a regional scale.  Sailing through this stunningly beautiful land on a handsome (yes, handsome) craft we all made together by hand, working alongside friends whose values I share, I feel incredibly fortunate that despite all the havoc the last 70 or so years of rapid “development” that have been wreaked on this landscape and its human culture, there is still beauty there, and there is still potential to rediscover a more benign way of living together.  VSFP artist, builder and stevedore Brian Goblick has termed this a “utopian reality project.”  Now, maybe I wouldn’t go that far, but the mere fact that we are here, on the final approach to NYC, suggests that community-driven approaches to change can’t be written off as categorically unworkable.


Here is the roundup of our coming events.  I’m going to put this in its own page in the menu bar, too.  Some of these events may be subject to change but as of this moment this is the authoritative, final word on the trajectory of Ceres for the final 10 days of our first southbound voyage with cargo

  • NEWBURGH oct 19
  • location and time:
  • waterfront 10-4pm
  • Market and participation in the Newburgh Fall Festival
  • Ceres will  be by Torches restaurant at the waterfront.
  • BEACON oct 20
  • location and time:
  • Beacon Farmers’ Market: 11am-3pm
  • at the river by the train station
  • Farmer’s market and picnic with Beacon Sloop Club
  • NYACK oct 22
  • Location and time:
  • 11-4
  • Market at Hook Mountain Marina
  • in conjunction with Pie Lady and Son
  • YONKERS oct 24
  • location and time:
  • Groundwork Hudson Valley Science Barge, time TBD
  • Downtown Yonkers just North of the Yonkers Pier.
  • BROOKLYN oct 26
  • Location and time:
  • Brooklyn Navy Yard, 3-5pm, reception after
  • Building # 313
  • Event:
  • In partnership with Agger Fish and Brooklyn Grange
  • Cargo demonstration with Revolutionary Rickshaws. Reception and market at the BROOKLYN NAVY YARD Warehouse with Brooklyn Grange, triple island, Agger Fish, Marlow and Daughters , the Pines. Pumpkin carving, art installation with Mare Liberum and other nautical artists. MORGAN OKANE plays from 3-4:30pm.
  • MANHATTAN oct 27
  • location and time:
  • New Amsterdam Market 11am-4pm
  • South Street between Beekman Street and Peck Slip
  • Event:
  • pumpkin carving, doughnut frying, music and market
  • and a toast to the first of many VSFP runs!
  • NY oct 28
  • Vermont Sail Freight Prix Fixe Dinner with Beer Pairings
  • Jimmy’s No. 43
  • 43 East 7th St. btwn 2nd and 3rd Ave.
  • please RSVP online for this paid event.

We just had a great time in Kingston where we were kindly hosted by the Hudson River Maritime Museum in Kingston.  Sold some cargo (Ceres floats an inch higher than 24 hours ago, and that’s 2000 lbs of cargo), led some school groups through a tour of Ceres and what she represents to their fine city and its longstanding heritage of waterborne freight, and even played some music.  Thanks especially to Patrick McDonough and Lana at the museum and to Gai Galetzine and Pamlela Boyce-Simms for being such great hosts.  Photographer Jim Peppler took these photos and I hope to post some directly onto the blog soon.

In the meantime, enjoy these, taken just outside Kingston.20131016_070501  20131016_070347

Adieu, Hudson, we’ll be back.

We had a great time in the town of Hudson, a spot well known to our Greenhorns collaborators.  We had friends to meet us at the dockside, the Hudson Sloop Club.  Nick Zachos of the club in particular went way out of his way and really helped make our visit to Hudson a success.  A pleasant dock, a fun and supportive crowd, and I even got to play the accordion a little.  You can read all about our time in today’s Register Star right here!

Some of the team got into the bottle a bit after it got dark.  Sailors…you know how it is.  Even I got into it a bit in the atmosphere of general euphoria that what we are about here not only seems to be working, but is even beginning to be taken seriously.  After some limey gin drinks I wobbled back to the boat.  With no pressing need to depart the next morning and with a bit of a fuzzy head, I began wandering around the fine town of Hudson in search of a diner.



Hudson is a really interesting town, and actually was a whaling port at one time.  I was told that the whalers favored it because the barnacles on their hulls died and fell off in the fresh water (the salt water doesn’t set in until around Poughkeepsie).  There is some stunning brickwork warehouse architecture and the facades of the row buildings on the main street evoke a grand past for this significant river trading center.



Anyway, it didn’t take me too long to fine to find Tanzy’s diner. and found the Register Star with the picture of Ceres on the front page.  The two waitresses there served an awesome two-egg breakfast with some perfect hash browns and kept the coffee coming, which was just what I needed.  I mentioned that I was with the Ceres, and they were all excited about that.  I was just getting into my second or third cup when the Captain (Steve) and Jordan came in looking like something the cat dragged in, which was odd because I hadn’t told them where I was going but they found me anyway.  So they sat down at my table and I introduced them to the waitresses which upped the ante of the visit to Tanzy’s a little bit.  Once having established that I was buying, they both ordered big breakfasts. Steve wanted to add a pancake to his, but our waitress warned him that they were mighty big pancakes.

“If I eat it all, do I get my breakfast for free?” Steve asked.

The waitress agreed, but I put a stop to the wager right away.  Steve is not a real big guy but I know he can sock it away.  I told the waitress that I want them to get paid.  And good thing I did because all plates were clean at the end of the visit.

Now Ceres is off to Kingston, but not due there until Wednesday.  We are spending a free night with a friend of Steve’s.  From here our odds of staying on schedule get better and better as the legs between stops get shorter and shorter.  005


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I think at this point I have mastered at least the basic capabilities of my “boat office,” portrayed above.  It is cramped and limited in power and shares space with several other functions, including chart monitoring and being stairs up to the deck.  But I like it.  Yesterday in Troy I bought a wire soap dish that is supposed to suction-cup to tiles or something, removed the suction cups, and screwed it to the wall.  Instant cord storage for all of the electronics gizmos!  The office and all other electrical are mostly run directly off the boat’s 12-volt battery bank but we also have an inverter with which to run the printer, which looks awfully big in the small confines of the cabin.

It’s not that Ceres is really that small of a boat, more that living space is minimized to maximize cargo.  We’ve been selling on the run, but are still carrying lots, and are down close to the designed waterline.  At the rate we are going though, we stand to be considerably lighter before we reach the City.  Any farmers in the mid-hudson looking to sell us some maple syrup to supplement our cargo?  Let us know!

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On the way through Albany we passed the replica of explorer Henry Hudson’s ship, the Half Moon, which our skipper has captained at one time.  I love the look of this galleon-type hullform.  Plus it has cannons.  Though really the Half Moon is not that much of an order of magnitude bigger than Ceres.  In this vessel, as Pete Seeger put it, the native americans discovered Henry Hudson.


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Being in something of a rush to catch up, we buzzed through the port of Albany past some monster ships.  The superstructures boast perhaps the largest “No Smoking” sign you have ever seen.

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Nightfall found Ceres still about six or seven miles north of Hudson.  We found a pleasant town dock at the town of Coxsackie and cooked up a nice meal of red peppers, rice and Kielbasa.  The night was totally quiet, except for the occasional creak of the rudder pins which prompted me to go up on deck in the middle of the night in my pyjamas and come up with a very unseamanlike but effective lashing.  Then total quiet, and a gentle rocking, and oblivion.  The motion of the boat is ridiculously sleep inducing once you are in a prone position.

Today dawned calm, with the current just at the end of the ebb.  We slipped the dock at 7:30 and made the most of the last of it, with the Hudson looking like old glass, with the subtle undulations and ripples you sometimes see in 19th-century windowpanes.  Different than Lake Champlain, where few currents are at play beneath the surface.

We arrived in Hudson to meet up with our on-site volunteers and are now setting up for a lively market!

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Hang on, we’re in for some chop..

troyoct13 002 troyoct13 001Captain Steve calls this the “Big Boy Waters” but that’s sexist, right?

However you call it, we are in the tidal Hudson now, with stronger currents at play than in our home waters, and we’re also sharing the river with more and larger vessels.  We had a great market in Troy this morning, meeting up with several kickstarter backers and lots of other enthusiastic Troy folks.

I met up with Duncan Crary, one of our champions in Troy, and had some good food and better beer at Brown’s Brewing Co. brewpub in Troy.  This morning we set up for market both up on the parking lot outside the dockmaster’s (another Erik) shed and also fanned out our wares on the dock right beside Ceres.  This was the same place where I came and saw the Lois McClure docked some months ago and it pleases me to have Ceres following in her wake!  Troy was really good to us.  So was Mechanicville.  And it is the greatest pleasure, the greatest honor, to be able to connect VSFP with these new friends, who see something in what they want for the future of the towns and cities they love in what we are doing with Ceres.  And I know we are passing by some towns too where we would love to stop too, but we must press on towards the south.

VSFP crew were aided in the market work with some local volunteers.  Charlie and others who had worked on the Onrust came to help us out too.  We saw the Onrust docked as we passed Waterford.  Next time we hope to visit.  We think Ceres has a scrappy pragmatic nature that the early Dutch colonists would have appreciated.

Before leaving we bartered some nice sandwiches for cargo from the owner of Deli-icious before pushing off the dock and heading south.  Perhaps we’ll make Hudson this evening, we’re making good time on the ebb tide that’s pulling us, little by little, down to sea.

Docked in Troy

Ceres and crew are bracing for another busy day tomorrow as Troy turns out to welcome VSFP to the northern edge of Federal waters.  We’ll be here at the parking lot near Brown’s Brewery (where we just finished enjoying some great refreshements) from 9 to 1 tomorrow.  From here to NYC the bridges are either already high enough for our rig or are drawbridges or rotary bridges, so it’s up with the rig.  A nice bit of functional theatre, and a way to prepare for sailing more in the days to come.

The lower doors close behind us in Lock 12

The lower doors close behind us in Lock 12

Heading south from Whitehall

Heading south from Whitehall

reflections above Stillwater

reflections above Stillwater

The historic shipping town of Whitehall

The historic shipping town of Whitehall

We'll not stave aboard if I have anything to say about it.

We’ll not stave aboard if I have anything to say about it.

Lock 12, Whitehall NY

Lock 12, Whitehall NY

Troy docking details:

Now Ceres is making progress towards Troy.  We expect to land within the hour of this posting.  Here’s a little added information about our docking:  It is just outside of Brown’s Brewery, just to the north of the drawbridge.  The plan is to be open for sales from 9 am to 1 pm tomorrow, that’s Sunday, October 13th.

After Troy we get to raise the rig and begin sailing.  I can’t wait!

Mechanicville Wall

If this trip continues anything along the lines of what we just experienced in the tow of Mechanicville, the boat will get a lot lighter and the crew is going to get a lot heavier.

I can’t understate the friendliness and helpfulness of the NY canal corporation lock masters and management as we made our way through nine locks yesterday.  We were met at the Mechanicville public dock, sometimes called Mechanicville Wall, by Pete Baraudinas of the local chamber of commerce who took us out for some much needed food and drink.  After sleeping like the dead until light, we were met by Matt Hosek of the local Rotary club (whose acquaintance I first made in Middlebury during the early, conceptual phase of the project) who took us to a wonderful breakfast at the Ugly Rooster.

At nine we started to break up the holds to make orders.  People came down to the docks much faster than we were prepared for!  We didn’t have tables, a tent, a complete price list, or even a complete vision of what was where in the holds.  But folks were very friendly and patient.  Some moms showed up too, mine and Tiannas, and my wife Erica showed up with our two boys.  A very lively time, we were really hopping!  By 1 pm we had the barge repacked and reprovisioned and as of this writing we are southbound on the Hudson making for Troy.  I will upload pictures soon.

Mechanicville has already earned a special place in the hearts of those involved with this project.  But it is also a very small town.  Now the navigation aspect of the effort is getting under control, but we are wondering how we will manage when we land in towns and cities further to the south that are many orders of magnitude larger than Mechanicville.  We can only do our best, but with such friendliness at the dockside and sailing through a stunning landscape under azure skies, it’s hard not to be optimistic.

For folks in Troy, the plan now is this: we plan on landing there around 5 or 6 this evening and setting up for sales tomorrow morning.  We’ll remain open for business until 1 p.m.  We should be set up by 9 am so this will give us four hours at the dock.  Look forward to seeing you there.

Pictures will be forthcoming!