We have been talking a lot about Sail Freight recently, with the upcoming exhibit "A New Age Of Sail: The History And Future Of Sail Freight On The Hudson River," the Northeast Grain Race happening in May, and the Conference scheduled for November.
It isn't always clear what the real-world gains would be in terms of carbon impact, or what speeds might look like in a sail freight future. Very few people have studied sail freight with anything but a historical lens, and even fewer are actually running sail freighters. Those who are running them are far too busy doing so to make an academic study of their results.
This recently changed with the publication of "Operation of a Sail Freighter on the Hudson River: Schooner Apollonia in 2021" in the Journal of Merchant Ship Wind Energy. This paper is especially interesting to those along the Hudson River and New York Harbor, as it focuses on the Schooner Apollonia, our regional sail freighter out of Hudson, NY.
Captain Merrett and I learned a lot in the course of writing the paper. Apollonia moved over 27 tons of cargo, and only used 19.47 gallons of fuel over 6 months. If measured the same way as truck efficiency normally is, then Apollonia would be 25% more efficient than railroads, and 9 times more fuel efficient than average trucks. She prevented at least 1,500 pounds of CO2 from being emitted by trucks.
The speed of Sail Freight is another thing we learned more about. Since Apollonia sits at anchor when the tide is against her, just like the Hudson River Sloops and Schooners of the past, she only made an average speed on course of 1.578 knots if you include time at anchor. Because she had to tack and jibe, she sailed as fast as 8 knots over the course of the season, but made an average speed on course of 2.5 or so knots when she wasn't at anchor.
The article also gives an account of what cargo was moved, the ports called at, and technical details of Apollonia's 2021 season. If you wanted to get an idea of how much malt she moved, or what other cargo she carried, the paper has those details on pages 4-5, while other voyage data is on page 6.
Lastly, I'd like to leave you with this quote from page 9, which I believe is worth thinking about as we move into an era which will most likely be defined by high energy prices and fuel shortages:
"If fuel were allocated to vehicles based solely on their maximum theoretical fuel efficiency, no cargo moved by fossil fuels or electrified transport would ever arrive on target…By contrast, 5,000 years of precedent has shown a lack of fuel does not fundamentally affect sail freighters' ability to reach their destination."
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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