B y Derek Liebig
In a scene reminiscent of Whitehall’s maritime past, a freight ship carrying 15 tons of cargo plied the waters of the Champlain Canal last week.
The Ceres, a flat bottom sailing barge named for the Roman goddess of Agriculture, was docked at the Whitehall Marina for three days last week as crew members waited to pass through Lock 12 on a 330-mile journey from Ferrisburgh, Vt., to New York City.
Inside the ship’s stores was 30,000 pounds of non-perishable food—collected from 30 farmers in the Champlain Valley—destined to be sold at waterside markets at the South Street Seaport in New York City.
The journey is part of the Vermont Sail Freight Project, an eco-friendly transportation company that delivers sustainably farmed products to families and retailers along the Champlain-Hudson waterway. “It’s not only supposed to be a way for farmers to make money, but a statement about traditional freight,” Jordan Finkelstein, a 23-year old recent college graduate and first mate said.
“We want to make people think, why transport using a truck traveling 60 mph when you can use carbon friendly transport to move food that is still good two weeks later,” Brian Goblik, the ship’s carpenter and coordinator of logistics said.
Conceived by Vermont farmer Erik Andrus, the venture is one of only two sail-powered delivery systems in the country.
Because the ships contents are non-perishable, speedy transport is less important. The cargo, which includes potatoes, apples, garlic, dried beans, rice, dried herbs, maple syrup, honey, squash, flours, jams, jellies, and an assortment of canned and pickled goods which don’t require refrigeration and are easily packed in the boat’s hold.
The 39-foot long, 10-foot wide ship was built over the course of several months this spring.
Modeled on the traditional Thames Sailing Barge, the ship is a combination of the traditional and the modern. The boat’s flat bottom hull is made from plywood but many of the elements above deck were built using more traditional materials and methods. The sail was hand-sewn, the rigging hand-made and the masts were hand carved from spruce and cedar trees sourced from Andrus’ property. The boat’s rig also has a heavy “spirit” that serves as a crane for handling cargo and can be folded down to allow passage under bridges.
Despite the ship’s traditional appearance, the project utilizes modern technology. Around ten percent of the ship’s produce was pre-ordered through an online website and the ship has a portable solar charger so crew members can utilize social media and update blogs along the trip.
“It’s a melding of the old and the new,” Finkelstein said.
The ship left Shoreham on Oct. 5 and will make a dozen stops during its two-week voyage. A series of events are scheduled in New York once the ship arrives and the produce that has been preordered will be delivered to customers via rickshaws, further minimizing the trip’s carbon footprint.
The project’s cost is estimated at approximately $40,000 and nearly 2,000 volunteer hours.
“It took an amazing amount of volunteer effort. There are a lot of moving parts,” Finkelstein said.
Although the project has received support from several non-profit organizations, Finkelstein said it is not a publicity stunt and is meant to be a money-making venture.
He said he envisions a fleet of regional ships—one on Lake Champlain, another on the Hudson and perhaps a third on Erie Canal—delivering fresh produce to consumers throughout New York and Vermont’s waterside communities, including Whitehall.
“We’d love to make Whitehall more of a feature in the future,” Finkelstein said. “The community has been very welcoming.”