We walk through the centre of Porto when Ivar reads an e-mail: “The Tres Hombres is on its way!” A volunteer from Fair Transport shipping reports the arrival of their sailing cargo ship. Just as we walk back to Lucipara2, we see how a pilot boat helps to moor the Tres Hombres. The schooner has no engine, so it has to be towed up the river Douro. We approach them and ask if we can moor alongside. This way we can meet the crew and save harbour costs. “Of course!”, captain Andreas Lackner replies enthusiastically.
Clean Transport for Organic Products
Andreas is proud of Fair Transport, the shipping company he founded with two friends in 2007. “It is the largest shipping company in the world using sailboats. Our current fleet of two sailing cargo ships sail the Atlantic and the North Sea. Without an engine, using only the wind. Solar panels and wind generators provide power for our communication and navigation equipment. For emergencies, we have a generator that runs on recycled cooking oil.”
Sailing against the Current
“We want to show that clean transport is possible,” Andreas explains. “Sea transport creates massive levels of pollution. It uses heavy oil, which when burned releases soot, carbon dioxide, sulphur and nitrogen dioxides into the air. These are toxic substances that pollute the air, harm the marine ecosystems and aggravate dangerous climate disruption.” “So you want to transport goods differently than the rest of the industry?” we ask. Andreas responds fiercely: “No, we just want to do it normally. The others do it differently! They pollute too much and transport too many things that nobody really needs. ”
“Moving” more Important than Making Money
Fair Transport not only transports as sustainably as possible, they also apply strict sustainability principles to their cargo. They know the producers and know that their methods are fair and respect nature and workers. “In addition, we only ship luxury goods, such as coffee, cocoa and rum. That way we meet a need without damaging the environment. Other products are best produced locally, so there is no need for transportation at all.”, explains Andreas. We are a bit confused. A transport company that wants to transport fewer goods, really? “We are a company, and we work like one. But the money involved is far less important than what we change in people’s hearts,” Andreas beams. “We encourage people to think about what they buy and how they deal with nature. By proving that sustainable transport works, we hope to encourage more long-term thinking. Our luxury products aren’t meant to be consumed too often, but in moderation. Only then there will be enough and can we preserve our planet.”
Co-skipper Lammert adds: ‘We must learn to live with nature, not of nature. Therefore, we must try to consume less and reduce our pace. We envision a future of only sailing cargo ships, transporting luxury goods that you can’t produce locally.”
Unfair Competition: the Polluter Benefits
Nevertheless, Fair Transport must pay the bills, just like any company. “Our prices are based on the cost of maintaining a sailing ship. We only need wind, so save on fuel and do not harm the environment,” Andreas continues. “And yet we have more costs than the polluting carriers. Heavy oil is cheap but they do not take into account the environmental pollution they cause.” Fair Transport, despite this unfair competition, is still turning a profit. This is because another source of income…
Trainees for Now and Later
On board there is room for ten trainees. They learn sailing on the square-rigged two-master and help load and unload cargo. They choose which part of the journey they join and they pay for taking part. The age diversity is striking. We see trainees of eighteen, but also of over seventy years old. The conditions on board are far from luxurious. While each trainee has their private bunk, they all sleep in one big space. Electricity and water are scarce. Yet, they visibly enjoy the experience. They are proud to actively contribute to this sustainable form of transport. Some seek adventure, others want to really learn to become a crewmember later. Andreas: “This is how the traineeships not only provide income but also ensure continuity of our business.”
Circular Flow of Goods
The Tres Hombres also takes something from the Netherlands to the Dominican Republic: phosphate. Andreas points to a stack in the cargo hold: “Phosphate derived from wastewater is useful on the plantations. Coffee plants extract many phosphates from the ground. Dutch coffee drinkers help to replenish this shortage. It is a truly circular flow of nutrients. ”
In Porto, empty port vats are loaded and stored. In the Caribbean, these will be filled with rum to give it even more flavour. We also meet Irma, a Dutch woman who delivers olive oil. She lives in Portugal and knows the farmers who make the oil. “All organically produced by my neighbours!” she smiles. The crew loads the stainless steel vats one by one into the cargo hold, which is used as efficiently as possible throughout the journey.
Side by Side under the Eiffel Bridge
Further upstream a quay becomes available, close to the bridge that Gustave Eiffel designed, opposite the port houses and right in front of the coloured Ribeira, the historic quarter on the river bank. It is a very central spot and Andreas sees an opportunity: “If we moor between the tourists, we can get more attention for our mission.” He looks at us: “How strong is that auxiliary engine of yours? Around slack tide, when there is no current in the river, you should be able to tow us the few miles, no?” Hmm … The Tres Hombres is a serious ship of 32 meters long and weighs 128 tons. We hesitate, but then firmly attach Lucipara2 to the Tres Hombres. A little while later we’re sailing up the river Douro together.
In the heart of Porto the Tres Hombres draws a lot of attention. The crew hangs banners with information and display their products. captain and crew act as enthusiastic ambassadors to the many passers-by. We also support Fair Transport and purchase their coffee and chocolate bars from the Amsterdam brand Chocolatemakers, made of cocoa transported by the Tres Hombres. All for special moments, of course. And when we say goodbye, Andreas gifts us a bottle of their rum as a token of appreciation for towing them upriver.
As we leave Porto and encounter the first cargo ships on the Atlantic Ocean, we are confronted with reality. Yellow-brownish exhaust trails show exactly where they have gone. The film Seablind by Bernice Notenboom and Sarah Robertson visualises the extent of the pollution, which most consumers never see, but from which there is no escaping at sea. We cannot wait until the polluting ships are all replaced by clean, sailing cargo ships!