It is empowering to look back when deciding on how to move forward. Working with sailing ships to carry cargo brings with it a unique opportunity to rethink how we trade, in practice and in purpose. These ships are bound to the seasons and depend on the expert knowledge of their captains and crew to navigate the wild oceans. With advanced technologies in weather prediction, their voyages are far safer and more predictable than they were 100 years ago. This makes our moment in time unique, we can benefit from the old traditions without the original risk. What may look like a historical reenactment, is, in fact, an entirely novel pursuit, the best of both worlds.
A voyage on a sail cargo ship is still tough on the body and mind, but it is rich in the wonders of life; both inside and out. Our sailors, through circumstance of their privilege, can choose this ‘romantic’ lifestyle with their own free will, they are not press-ganged or enslaved. Each voyage is a rare opportunity in this industrialised world to strip back to the bare elements, to be simply, wonderfully human in raw wilderness. In fact, this pursuit is our small rebellion against a life of limitless choice and lazy comfort, where overconsumption numbs the senses and is an addiction that erodes the very earth beneath our feet, polluting land, air and water.
The producers who provide the cargo we carry are of a like mind. In order to protect biodiversity, they choose to work the land without poisonous chemicals using slower, more labour intensive methods; a rebellious act when the industry is still overwhelmingly rigged for profit at any cost. These brave humans, with their fingers in the soil, are physically taking care of our land and the traditions that grew from it. Though this may also seem ‘romantic’, they know the enormous value of their knowledge and practice. The Organic and Fair Trade movements are examples of how new technology and traditional practice can come together and create a new path, and it is high time for global transport to do the same.
The shipping industry is a largely invisible facilitator of global trade and therefore the economy. This means that to rethink shipping we must rethink trade and to rethink trade we must have a clear priority of what we need and want… and why. Big questions that really dig into the dark, nitty-gritty heart of our ‘economy’ – the all-pervasive beast that we struggle to comprehend but that we know we depend on, and which depends on us. Questions that ask us to think about who we are, how we relate to each other and the world and whether we are happy with this. It is a voyage of discovery that many people are on and that is far more rewarding than you might think!
Sail Cargo is only one expression of this desire for change, but for it to succeed depends on all of us. Why not take inspiration from our farmers and sailors and be a little more romantic about how we trade. Though this can mean suffering the ‘hardships’ of not having our every desire met instantaneously, there is a lot to gain. We can also look to times past for inspiration on ways to do this, from eating seasonally and saving the best for special occasions, to wasting little and sharing more. This is not rooted in a desire to revive an idealised past, but to use what is available to us, from the old and the new, to choose a new path.
If you are reading this, it is most likely that you too have the enormous privilege of choice and with this privilege comes responsibility. We can make choices that lift up those who are impacted by them and transform each link in a supply chain from a stranger to an ally. There is no shame in being romantic and desiring a lifestyle that is healthy for our bodies and minds and not just for ourselves, but for all people and our planet.