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 Ketch Nordlys is claimed to be the oldest engineless wooden sail freighter in service today, having been built in 1873 on the Isle of Wight. Though she started her career as a fishing trawler, she was converted to Sail Freight after being purchased by Fair Transport in 2014. She started coastal trading on European routes in 2015.
As a Ketch, Nordlys is well suited to coastal trade. The Fore-&-Aft rig allows for sailing close to the wind, which is important when working in coastal waters. She is a small ship, only 82 feet long and carrying 25 tons of cargo. However, she is also light on crew, requiring only 5 professional crew and taking on up to 4 passengers or trainees. Her cargo is normally high value goods such as wine, whiskey, and similar products.
As an engineless vessel, Nordlys is a representative of the most extreme version of Sail Freight. The majority of sail freighters have engines on board for emergency and docking use, as well as for use in crowded harbors. Nordlys, like her fleet-mate Tres Hombres, relies on the wind entirely for power, and this exposes the vessel to all the same threats and risks as sail freighters a century or more ago. While there are modern communications equipment and solar panels on board to power them, these are not a tool for propulsion. They do increase safety when interacting with other vessels, but can't shorten the time at sea if stuck in the doldrums or power the ship off a lee shore in a storm.
In exchange for these disadvantages, engineless ships offer the largest carbon emissions gains, and in the case of Nordlys, even more than normal: She replaces trucks and trains instead of other ships due to her coastal trade routes, much like the far more local schooner Apollonia.
You can learn more about Nordlys and Fair Transport here.
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.
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This blog is written by Hudson River Maritime Museum staff, volunteers and guest contributors.
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