Welcome to Sail Freighter Fridays! This article is part of a series linked to our new exhibit: "A New Age Of Sail: The History And Future Of Sail Freight In The Hudson Valley," and tells the stories of sailing cargo ships both modern and historical, on the Hudson River and around the world. Anyone interested in how to support Sail Freight should also check out the Conference in November, and the International Windship Association's Decade of Wind Propulsion.
The Vermont Sail Freight Project was first conceived of in 2012, and resulted in the launch of the Ceres in mid 2013. Just short of 40 feet long, made of plywood, she had a Yawl rig and leeboards. Leeboards, which are separate drop keels that mount to the sides rather than center of the boat, have been out of use in the US for almost 250 years. Their use aboard Ceres made her very unique looking, and unique to sail as well. With a cargo capacity of only about 10-12 tons, she was not luxurious or large, but she was a capable sailor whose rig could be folded down for passing under the low bridges of the Champlain Canal.
She was loosely based on similar sailing canal barges that operated on Lake Champlain and traveled the canal throughout the 19th century. The replica Lake Champlain canal schooner Lois McClure is one example of these historic vessels. Ceres' sailing rig was more inspired by the British sailing barges that operated on the Thames River from the 17th to 20th centuries in England.
She was built in the farmyard of the project's founder, Erik Andrus, and launched in Vergennes, VT. After some initial tests, she was used to carry farm produce cargos in 2013 and 2014 from the Champlain Valley to New York City. In 2013, she visited the Hudson River Maritime Museum, hosted a farmer's market with produce from the Champlain Valley, and provided education programs for local school kids. The endeavor gained a lot of press, and was mostly successful, but in the end, the demands of time and attention were too much for a group of volunteers to handle.
The project ended in 2014, and Ceres was sold for use as a tiny house in 2018. The rig is still in a barn outside Vergennes, waiting for another boat to be built and launched. Though the project wasn't long-lasting, it was ambitious and brought much-needed attention to the possibilities of sail freight in the US. The Schooner Apollonia was directly inspired by the VSFP, and Maine Sail Freight's single 2015 voyage was in response to the Ceres' precedent as well.
Aside from a lot of press coverage and a few sail freight ventures, the VSFP also inspired my Master's Thesis on the revival of Sail Freight and what it would take to make it a reality in the US. Erik Andrus graciously served on the thesis committee for this work, and contributed invaluable insights and materials which will benefit the other efforts which are rebuilding the sail freight economy.
You can read more about the Vermont Sail Freight Project here. If you'd like to see some artifacts from the Ceres, there will be a few on display in the exhibit.
Steven Woods is the Solaris and Education coordinator at HRMM. He earned his Master's degree in Resilient and Sustainable Communities at Prescott College, and wrote his thesis on the revival of Sail Freight for supplying the New York Metro Area's food needs. Steven has worked in Museums for over 20 years.
If you enjoyed this post and would like to support more history blog content, please make a donation to the Hudson River Maritime Museum or become a member today!
This blog is written by Hudson River Maritime Museum staff, volunteers and guest contributors.
Hudson River Maritime Museum
50 Rondout Landing
Kingston, NY 12401
The Hudson River Maritime Museum is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation and interpretation of the maritime history of the Hudson River, its tributaries, and related industries.
Become a member and receive benefits like unlimited free museum admission, discounts on classes, programs, and in the museum store, plus invitations to members-only events.
The Hudson River Maritime Museum receives no federal, state, or municipal funding except through competitive, project-based grants. Your donation helps support our mission of education and preservation.