Last month the British sailing ship Irene, a 1907 West Country trading ketch bought and restored by owner Dr. Leslie Morrish in 1965 and restored again after a fire in 2003, set off from Plymouth on what may turn out to be an historic attempt to set the model for the return of sail power for cargo transport.
Over the next four months or so, according to a report in the Guardian, Irene and its crew will carry organic beer from Devon to France, olive oil from Spain to Brazil and then – all being well – bring cocoa, coffee, Amazonian “super-foods” and rum from South America and the Caribbean back to the UK.
Not that it will be rowed, as most such sailing vessels were in the past, into and out of harbors – the ship’s diesel engine will be fired up to do that. But for the rest it will use merely the power of the trade winds to cross the Atlantic.
The hope is that, with this symbolic season of journeys, Irene – a lovely wooden sailing ship built to transport bricks and tiles – will blaze a trail for other wind-powered cargo ships.
The project, New Dawn Traders, was hatched by Jamie Pike, a Bristol environmentalist and champion of the slow food movement. He wanted to find a way of bringing goods back from South America under sail and approached Irene‘s owner, Leslie Morrish, a retired psychiatrist who spent years restoring the vessel and keeping it at sea.
The finances did not add up for a one-way journey, just as they don’t for one-way aviation or road transport. It would have cost Pike £100,000 to charter the boat, a sum he simply did not have, but then Irene‘s captain, Laurance Ottley, met someone in the olive oil business and came up with the idea of sailing a consignment out to Brazil (which has a growing appetite for luxury goods thanks to a booming economy) and letting Pike fill the boat up with goods for the return trip.
Dropping off 2,500 bottles of organic ale from Devon for beer-loving Bretons was another wheeze designed to add profit to the enterprise.
For the complete story, go to www.sail-world.com.