Urgently sought: Alternative to conventional goods transportation by sea. Container ships, general cargo ships and tankers are responsible for almost three percent of global CO2 emissions. A look back could lead to a step forward from the climate Saul to the climate Paul: Why not ship goods under sail again?
The current cargo sailing movement uses old ships(Avontuur, Tres Hombres), builds new ones according to old plans(Ceiba) or plans new ones according to new plans(Veer Voyage). Within this movement, the French organization Transoceanic Wind Transport/TOWT is one of the best organized players. As a brokerage agency, it arranges sea transportation with sailing ships that it does not own itself – such as the Avontuur or the Tres Hombres. After more than ten years of experience with old ships, TOWT has come to a drastic conclusion: Freight sailing needs to get out of its romantic niche.
If cargo sailing is to establish itself as a robust leg of maritime transportation, it must not remain confined to antique ships such as the Avontuur or the Tres Hombres. There are also no more trucks on the road whose engines are started with a crank. Transporting goods under sail is a high-tech task.
Freight sailing as high-tech
TOWT is tackling this task by building two of its own cargo sailing vessels with aluminum hulls and carbon masts. Two years ago, they placed the order with the French shipyard Piriou. The identical ships are being built at the Piriou shipyards in Romania and Vietnam. The Anemos and Artemis will be afloat at the end of 2023. They should be rigged and ready for take-off in the course of 2024.
The 80-metre-long two-masters can transport 1,100 tons of freight on pallets. (Veer Voyage plans to load 160 containers/approx. 3,400 tons, the largest conventional general cargo freighters can handle more than 50,000 tons). The crew consists of seven people: three officers, three sailors and an engineer. The 1,500 square meters of sail area can be controlled remotely from the bridge. Cloth sails are used, not fixed dynariggs as in other future projects. Despite the material’s poor environmental footprint, TOWT opted for carbon masts because they are unbeatably light and stable. The gain in speed makes up for the ecological disadvantage.
In addition to the masts with 1,500 square meters of sail area, two diesel engines can support the journey. Electricity is generated by a hydrogenerator. Thanks to its digital routing system and efficient hull design, TOWT is expected to reach an average speed of just over 10 knots under sail (compared to around 15 knots under engine for conventional cargo ships). A top speed of 16 knots under sail is possible. The Anemos and Artemis are to be joined by two further identical newbuilds by 2026.
Grain de Sail, also a French company, is implementing a very similar project. Their cargo ship Grain de Sail II is a little smaller at just over 50 meters in length, but is very close to the two TOWT ships. The aluminum hull is also built by Piriou in Vietnam, while the masts, as for the Anemos and Artemis, are made by carbon specialist Lorima.
They have been gaining experience with their first Grain de Sail, a 24-meter new build, since the end of 2020. The fact that Grain de Sail is sending out a sibling twice as long three years later adds up to a promising signal with the TOWT offensive. Perhaps it will become a matter of course that our fair trade chocolate is also transported fairly.