This idea began for me on a cocoa plantation in Bahia, Brazil, a deeply affecting, wild and beautiful place where I lived and worked for a while. Fazenda Pura Vida began about 7 years ago when, along with good friends, we decided to take on a piece of land where we could learn first hand about sustainable living. With 3/4 of the farm covered in cocoa-trees that together with the local community we helped return to full health and productivity, our dream was to one-day sail these beans back to Europe. From those first conversations of sailing cargo ships, I remember finding my path.
The farm is itself quite a brave idea, with a radically common-sense philosophy based on fairness to both planet and people, a sailing ship is a natural extension of that: physically and metaphorically bridging the gap between distant communities and cultures. A Slow Food Sailing Circus, is a ship that not only carries cargo, but has sailors who are also artists / teachers / makers / performers / musicians / scientists and chefs. A community, who not only value good ethics from the sourcing and transportation of cargo, but understand the importance of celebrating these cargos and voyages as well. We need to re-enchant a culture around the stuff we make and trade and consume, and the arts, in all its forms, is the best route through which to create, educate and disseminate this new culture.
Their are incredible businesses, like B9 Shipping, who are developing 100% renewably powered commercially and technically viable sailing hybrid cargo ships, but we are not interested in replacing existing cargo ships, but we want people to rethink their consumption habits. At the moment 90% of what we buy comes off container ships, (which often use the worst type of polluting fuel and treat their crews appallingly) but how much of this do we actually need? Ultimately we should look to fulfil most of our wants and needs locally. The cargos that WE choose to sail over from distant lands are of value because they are products that cannot be grown in England and are of cultural significance and curiosity – the luxuries in life which are worth savouring; like coffee, chocolate and rum. We believe that fine quality, especially in food, is intrinsically linked to ethical production and that therefore an epicurean nature is something to be nurtured in everyone, and need not cost the earth.
Since my time on the farm, I’ve shared this dream with Jamie, Lucy, Darren and Becky and together we created New Dawn Traders.
New Dawn Traders came about in early 2012 with the aim of finding our sailing cargo ship. Jamie and Lucy got the opportunity to sail aboard the Irene of Bridgewater with the hope of taking olive oil from Portugal to Brazil… for many reasons this trip was not successful in her trading mission but was, for all it’s ups and downs, a soul-shaping adventure. The best way to learn is through doing after all!
Not completely disheartened by this pilot voyage, we started hunting new opportunities and came across several sail-cargo initiatives happening abroad, from the Vermont Sail Freight Project and the Sail Transport Network in the States, the Greenheart Project in Fiji and TOWT in France, amongst others. The closest to home was Holland’s Fairtransport with their beautiful ship Tres Hombres. She is an engine-less schooner-brig that has now completed 5 trans-Atlantic round-trips, carrying cargo without the use of fossil fuel. We met the boat when she was in England on her return to Holland from the Caribbean in the spring of 2013. Stepping aboard this ship means to fall in love! We had found a crew with views about as radical as ours on a boat that couldn’t fit the dream more perfectly.
I ended up working as chef aboard the Tres Hombres for her last Atlantic round trip. Sailing for 8 months from Holland calling into ports in Norway, France, Portugal, The Canaries, The Cape Verde Islands, Brazil, The Caribbean, The Azores and England before returning back to Holland. Each leg of this voyage was filled with its own magic, from epic skyscapes, dolphin displays, brilliantly mad people and all kinds of exotic flavours. But as a working ship with a schedule to meet, there is a strict work routine through all weathers. I had to perform my best miracles in the most trying conditions, with a miniature kitchen at full tilt for cold and wet and hungry sailors in a washing-machine-sea. Living aboard this sail-cargo ship is itself and adventure for the soul and the senses. Ultimately, it was an opportunity to see a pioneering sail-cargo project in action and to start building our community and brand identity for New Dawn Traders.
On this voyage we delivered our first cargo, a barrel of fine rum from the Dominican Republic, which we blended and bottled in Falmouth, and labeled as New Dawn Rum – the first sail-shipped rum barrel to be landed in the UK for nearly 100 years. This year we are launching our 2015 edition of New Dawn Rum along with our first chocolate and coffee.
Currently we also work as brokers for cargo and products shipped by Tres Hombres but there is more to us than our products. For the second year we are organising the festivities around the arrival of the Tres Hombres into Falmouth. From dockside fanfare, sail-cargo industry meetings, speakers evening, film nights, tastings and our notorious “Apocalypso” knees-up, we are raising awareness around fair-transport, ocean conservation and food sovereignty, and supporting a growing industry for sail shipped goods.
Amazingly, things are heading towards the construction of our own ship. To get this far has been a long series of small steps, which often felt enormous at the time, but momentum is picking up! Sailing to the farm may not be just a dream for much longer.