Sailing Ships Hauling Cargo in 2021

Today in the search for more sustainable ways of shipping, there are 5 companies, who are sailing ships the traditional way and hauling cargo. While they are the oddballs right now, there is growing interest as we see the damage that is done to our world with modern shipping methods.

Sailing was invented and put to use in the Nile River in Egypt and in Taiwan around 3000 BC. So for about 5000 years, sailing has been a reliable method to move people and cargo all over the world.

Pamir, the last commercial sailing cargo ship, was a German four-masted barque that rounded Cape Horn for the last time, in 1949. By 1957, she had been outperformed by modern bulk carriers and could not operate at a profit. Finally, on 21 September 1957, she was caught in Hurricane Carrie and sank off the Azores, with only six survivors rescued after an extensive search.

Since then, diesel has ruled the shipping industry, and while it has become an efficient means of transport, it also is a huge polluter. While there are new regulations and the reduction of sulfur emissions in effect, there is a lot of research going into finding alternative fuels and ways to ship things.

Looking to wind power again

Wind-powered vessels have worked and been a proven way to transport things without emissions. So if we change our expectations just a little and plan for the long run, we could use sailing ships again. While it’s not an easy solution and is just a niche market right now, with advanced weather forecasting, there are aspects that will be much easier than sailing 100 years ago.

Understandably, the Just In Time Manufacturing companies depend on the materials showing up right when they need them. But as the increased demand for sustainable options continues to grow, there are things that these sailing ships can transport.

Timbercoast – Cargo Under Sail

The German company Timbercoast, created by Cornelius Bockermann in 2014, is hauling rum, coffee, and cacao from the Caribbean, back to Europe. Much like the ships of the 1700s, it’s not an easy business, but he has a main group of sailors who are assisted by volunteers who want to learn to sail and support sail cargo ships to reduce pollution.

Cornelius bought Avontuur, a beautiful 44 m long two-masted, gaff-rigged schooner which was built in 1920 in the Netherlands. He refit it and now it has a 114-ton carrying capacity, much smaller than the big diesel ships, but for him, that’s not the point.

“We want to disrupt the business as usual approach to shipping by offering a truly low impact shipping alternative. Together with the support of our partners in the Sail Cargo Alliance, we are providing a truly sustainable and environmentally responsible service,” he says.

Cornelius Bockermann standing on Avontuur
Cornelius’s story

Born in Bremen, Germany, Cornelius’s fascination with ships and seafaring began from an early age. Naturally, he went on to study nautical science and marine engineering eventually earning his Master Mariner license.

Working over 20 years in the marine industry, he saw firsthand the negative impact humans are having on the marine environment. Realizing that it was time to act, Cornelius started the Timbercoast project, his own marine contracting company.

His goal is to provide wind-powered cargo shipping, thereby linking sustainable producers with ecological consumers.

The AVONTUUR is a two-masted, gaff-rigged schooner that was built in 1920 by Otto Smit in Stadskanaal, Netherlands. Until 2005 she was used as a sailing cargo vessel, most recently by Dutch Captain Paul Wahlen. She sailed cargo between the North Sea, Baltic, North Atlantic, and across to Caribbean ports where she was widely regarded as one of the last true cargo sailing ships of the twentieth century.

After years of serving as a day passenger ship along the Dutch coast and West Friesian islands, the AVONTUUR became the foundation of the Timbercoast community in autumn 2014.

Obviously, Timbercoast will not be able to change the world with just one ship, but they want to grow, and with the growing demand for sustainable shipping, there will be room to grow.

In his words, “our work may look like a drop in the ocean, however, we will persist and together we will be the tide that changes the marine transport industry!’’

“As we develop the market for sailed goods, we surely wish to grow our fleet and inspire corporate reflection on their shipping choices,” Bockermann concludes.

Timbercoast makes great videos showing their work and their process of looking for cargo and places to sell their cargo. Most of them are in German, but with Youtube’s closed captions and translator, it’s pretty easy to watch.

On Timbercoast’s website, you can see where the ship is and their plans for the next voyage. They also offer spots on the ship for people who want to help and learn to sail with them. They want to include the common person, to learn to sail with them, and to become ambassadors of the sustainable shipping goal.

Grain de Sail

The Grain de Sail company is located in the heart of the port of Morlaix, France, at the foot of the lock. The original project, imagined in 2010, is to produce exceptional coffees and chocolates whose raw materials are transported by a transatlantic cargo ship, synonymous with maritime adventure and respect for the environment.

In 2011, using a 36-foot sailboat they transported more than a ton of green coffee to France.  Five years later they were able to expand to the chocolates and using an old sailing rig, transported coffee from the US and cocoa from the Dominican Republic.

Now, having completed the construction of their new sailing ship, Grain de Sail plans to make four crossings of the Atlantic each year. The vessel will always leave France loaded, transporting French products to the United States before loading its cargo of cocoa and coffee further south.

To fund this goal, Grain de Sail launched coffee production in 2013 in their roasting facility located on the banks of the Morlaix river. On the strength of this experience, they continued to develop their product range by creating a chocolate factory at the start of 2016.

As with the coffees, they control the entire manufacturing process, to develop their own chocolate to their standards. Controlling the quality of the products also involves a rigorous selection of cocoas from the Caribbean and Central America.

Grain de Sail’s chocolate factory and coffee roasting are essential to their maritime commercial sailing project, based on modern sailboats specifically designed for the transport of transatlantic goods.

Brittany is a region historically centered around the ocean and food production. Grain de Sail wishes to promote these 2 universes by creating a strong brand which associates a regional quality production, local jobs, a carbon footprint flush with the daisies, as they say.

The new 72-foot long aluminum hull cargo ship set sail on November 18 2020 from St Malmo on the Brittany Coast of France bound for New York. Using a schooner-type rigging and with a crew of four, the vessel has a capacity of up to 50 tons of cargo. They can load 28 pallets into the refrigerated hold cooled with green energy.

Loaded on board for this first trip is 14,000 bottles of French organic wine. It will be delivered to a distributor in New York and the plan was for it to be sold to American restaurants. After off-loading the wine in the United States, they will sail to South America where they will load cocoa and coffee for the return voyage to France.

While the vessel does have an auxiliary engine, the main power comes from more than 350 square meters of sail area. In addition to fulfilling their environmentally-friendly mission, the vessel is fitted with technology, including wind generators and solar panels.

Sustainable development is synonymous with ecology, economy and social development. Grain de Sail seeks to respect these 3 pillars as much as possible by offering organic products, an optimized carbon footprint, reasonable prices and production carried out in partnership with Les Genêts D’Or.

Carbon-free maritime transport is at the heart of their project. Transporting raw materials, Grain de Sail cargo sailboats will produce a spectacle, an adventure, and an ecological performance that is unique in the world.


While sailing on the Dutch barque Europa in 2007, three friends Andreas Lackner, Jorne Langelaan, and Arjen Van der Veen saw first hand the yellow smog caused by commercial vessels. They were also taken by the beauty and power of great sailing ships that use only the wind as a means of propulsion. So they decided to start the world’s first modern climate-friendly shipping company, based in The Netherlands. Originally named “Stichting Atlantis Zeilende Handelsvaart”, the company is now simply known as “Fairtransport”.

The three friends’ goal, ‘Mission Under Sail’ is to minimize the carbon footprint worldwide and to raise awareness for climate-friendly transportation. Striving for a sustainable product lifeline they are aspiring to constantly improve their environmental impact. Fairtransport’s positive community is trading with local entities and moving organically grown goods from fair producer to conscientious consumers.

Tres Hombres

The 104-foot brigantine, Tres Hombres, was built in 1943 and started her life as a navy vessel for the German Kriegsmarine. She was then used as a fishing vessel, a package and passenger ferry in Ireland, being laid up on several occasions, and was discovered by the three friends in 2007 in Delft, Netherlands. In two years they had fully restored it in order to sail in transatlantic engine-less freight service.

Since then Tres Hombres have been actively sailing for Fairtransport. She mainly hauls Caribbean rum, fair-trade chocolate, and coffee.


Nordlys was restored in 2014 and since it was added to the Fairtransport fleet in 2015. This wooden ketch is either the newest sailing cargo venture or the oldest sailing cargo ship depending on how you look at it as she began her life in 1873 as a fishing trawler. She was built on the Isle of Wight, south of England.

Nordlys was on her maiden voyage in 2015, after two years of restoration, and had just arrived in Douarnenez from Brixham, England. In the morning of October 12, around 7 a.m. local time, she was at anchor in the Bay, and the 20-gt French fishing vessel Reine de l’Arvor, returning from a fishing trip to Rosmeur, slammed into the stern of the sailing vessel.

The Nordleys was hit with a speed of 10 knots. The aft was severely destroyed, and the ship suffered water ingress. At the time of the incident, there were nine crew members on board. There was no one hurt, and they were able to haul the ship out in a nearby shipyard and perform the necessary repairs. It seems like a rough start to a fresh refit and restoration, but she has now safely completed 5 grand European voyages.

She has no engine, only sails, and now Nordlys carries a maximum of 25 tons of organic and traditionally crafted goods like wine, whisky, and olive oil.

A growing demand for eco-friendly shipping

It has become apparent that their passion has turned into a source of motivation for alternative shipping anywhere in the world. The merchant sailing company plays an important role in the evolution of contemporary sustainable transportation over sea and land. Fairtransport is a shining example of the existing possibilities and Tres Hombres and Nordleys are the ambassadors for sailing cargo worldwide.

Fairtransport’s ships are publicly owned by shareholders according to the tried and tested model of shareholding developed during the golden age of sail. Shares are sold during the build and restoration to finance each ship. Using that model, they have established the re-introduction of sailing cargo ships, and are now expanding to a larger, more commercial scale.

The company of each ship is controlled by the shareholders. Annual shareholder meetings are held whereby the company management presents the guiding policies of the company and the financial report of the previous financial year together with the projections for the forthcoming year.

This climate aware market is growing rapidly and the demand of consumers ensuring that future ships of the Fairtransport can be put into immediate service sailing cargo.

Greyhound Ventures

In 2010, Freya and Marcus Pomeroy-Rowden decided to build an English version of a three-masted lugger, something that hadn’t been done in 200 years. The well-respected boat builder, Chris Rees, brought the plans of the 1776 Revenue Lugger Grayhound to the table, and also agreed to take on the design and head the build.

Grayhound was built to offer environmentally-friendly charter and cargo shipping on a classic sailing ship. 

In December 2010 Marcus started to fell oak trees from his mother’s fields. Fairlie Restorations fed Chris Rees’ plans into their computer and produced the structural assessments, stability information and framing patterns.

April 2011 tons of wood delivered and processed in Chris Rees’ yard in Millbrook. By August the boat was in piles, like a massive jigsaw puzzle, ready to be constructed in Shed 1 at Voyager Boatyard in Millbrook, United Kingdom.

Six full-time shipwrights gathered, including Marcus and an apprentice from the village. The Grayhound quickly took shape, she had a keel-laying party where a lot of people came to celebrate her conception and toast the newly laid keel and frames. Planking started in September 2011 and ended in February 2012. The planking was fastened with wooden pegs known as treenails, trenails, or trunnels.

For generations shipbuilding used treenails as a standard way to bind the boat together, now it’s a method that is long out of fashion but using them has huge advantages. The life expectancy for treenail fastenings is therefore about 80 – 100 years, as opposed to metal fastenings, lasting 25 years. 

Grayhound´s sponsorship involved over 4000 people. Their names and messages are written on treenails inside the Grayhound. The shipwrights that built the Grayhound were Demetri Wetzel, Marcus O’Dee, Peter Steele, Richard Burke, Russell Ferriday, Matthew Stevens, and Sam Carne.

Grayhound was launched on the 4th of August 2012. She is a 5/6th scale replica of a three-masted Customs Lugger built in 1776 in Cawsand, Cornwall, UK. Grayhound carries a Category 0 license for worldwide travel. She can carry 10 to 12 passengers and a crew of 5 and is armed with two cannons.

Freya and Marcus Pomeroy-Rowden have a background in producing large-scale theatrical projects, including Toqqortat in Greenland, Burnt Out Punks, and Kompani Bastard. Performing arts may become a part of Grayhound’s life. For now, they are content to offer a miniature museum on board that features fascinating maritime items from the collection of Dr. Cagliostro.

Greyhound travels in the wake of Roald Amundsen, Fritjof Nansen, Aud Djuopauga, and Aina Cederblom and often shares their routes.

The original Grayhound was built in Cawsand as a Revenue Lugger in 1776. Her work consisted of patrolling and chasing smugglers. On catching them, the crew of the Grayhound impounded the smuggler’s vessel and its goods, which then was sold at auction. Speed was, therefore, crucial for a Revenue Lugger in order to catch smugglers.

But soon the smugglers had the same three masted luggers so eventually, they were banned by the government to try a put a halt to the smuggling trade. The reason for this was their superior speed. Since they were so fast, they were very hard to catch. 

However, evidence suggests that Grayhound’s job as a Revenue Lugger was short-lived. As conflict arose due to the Declaration of Independence by the North American Colonists in 1776, privateering, in the English Channel and beyond became commonplace.

This included attacking foreign vessels and taking them as prizes, and taking prize crews as prisoners for exchange. A privateer vessel was a privately owned armed vessel granted a warrant by the government to wage war on enemy ships The Grayhound, being a well-armed and fast ship became a successful privateer vessel.

The final fate of the original Grayhound is uncertain, but there is some proof that she was sunk in a battle, heavily loaded with salvaged treasure but the spot is unknown.

The new Greyhound lives a more peaceful life and they offer a range of voyages, from family-friendly day trips to demanding expeditions in big seas. The cargo capacity of Greyhound is 5 tons and 2 barrels. While not a huge cargo capacity, they are doing more of raising awareness for the cause. They do welcome inquiries from environmentally-responsible producers.


Sailcargo’s vision is to create a regenerative shipping model that meets the ecological, ethical, and economic requirements of our rapidly changing world.

With their first ship they are building, they are setting out to demonstrate that a carbon-neutral shipping company can not only be financially competitive but can inspire change and educate.

This company, from Canada, are currently in process of building their first zero-emission ship, Ceiba, in Costa Rica. They have the goal to be sailing in 2022 and given their progress and their strong team, it looks like they will meet their goal.

Combined, they have years of research, decades of experience in the maritime sector, a diverse team, and a very strong business plan. Naval Architect Pepijn van Schaik of Manta Marine Design is the lead architect behind Ceiba. His past work includes Tres HombresEuropa, and Ópal.

Sailcargo is also collaborating with Sigma Plus Associates in Switzerland to develop the electric regenerative system based on their experiences with Schooner Opal from North Sailing in Iceland.

Clean Cargo Ship Designs

Ceiba will be the largest sail-powered cargo ship in the world at 150 feet, built from timber carefully sourced in Central America and Canada. It will have a cargo capacity of 250 tons, and about the same volume as 9- 20ft containers.

This is a project where traditional craftsmanship meets modern technology. Ceiba will mainly be using the wind to transport their cargo. But for getting in and out of ports, there will be a high-tech fully electric propulsion system onboard.

During sailing by the wind, the batteries will be charged by custom-designed controllable pitch propellers that are driven by the speed of the boat. The generated power stored in the batteries can also be used when there is no wind.

A Shipyard for Coastal Communities

The shipyard where they are building Ceiba, named AstilleroVerde in Spanish, translates to “green shipyard”, which this place is in more ways than one. This is an environmentally-conscious shipyard and one that is physically green due to the protection and expansion of natural green spaces on the land.

The yard boasts rustic facilities that have a minimal impact: woodworking shops, an outdoor kitchen with clay oven, open-air offices, tree-planting nursery, greenhouse, food gardens, and more.

Located in Central America

AstilleroVerde is a nonprofit association registered in Costa Rica. At their eco-shipyard, they also run an annual tree planting and care program which works to offset the carbon emissions of Sailcargo. They are located in the small coastal village of Punta Morales on the west coast of Costa Rica.

Notably, Costa Rica has been producing 98% of its electricity from renewable resources, since 2017. It is something that many wealthier countries have not yet achieved.

Located in one of the most financially vulnerable regions of Costa Rica, where educational and employment opportunities are sparse, Sailcargo is able to provide job opportunities that include paid training for locals. The kitchen, which provides all meals for the 30 or so workers, is run by two local, self-managed women’s associations.

Sailcargo has also worked hard to restore greenery to the shipyard, which was more or less a barren field when they first moved in.

First Voyage Route

The Pacific Exchange Line is the first shipping route developed by Sailcargo.  Voyages will take ships of this line northbound to Canada via Hawaii, down past California, and home again to Costa Rica. Extensions to this service line may include Peru, the Galápagos, and Alaska the future. When the ship, Ceiba, is operational in 2022, she is expected to sail this route twice annually. 

Even before leaving the shipyard, Ceiba’s to-do list is filling up fast. With at least a year to go until she is in the water, she already has a surplus of interest for her initial northbound voyages from companies willing to pay a premium for emissions-free transport of products such as green coffee, cacao, organic cotton, and turmeric oil. Bio-packaging, electric bicycles, and premium barley and hops for Costa Rica’s growing craft-beer market are among bookings so far on the southbound journeys.

Voyage Route Expansion

Sailcargo is planning routes across the globe to serve growing markets. New routes are being designed by their Trade & Logistics Divisions in accordance with interested clients. If you wish to sail your goods, or learn more about carbon-free shipping, voice your interest today.

In order to expand the service routes, the Sailcargo Trade & Logistics Division is currently seeking cargo partners from around the world.

Giving back

Sailcargo has also pledged that 10% of its profits will go back to the planet, including donations to AstilleroVerde as well as other charities. In addition to this pledge, it aims to ensure Ceiba is “carbon negative” by planting 12,000 trees in Costa Rica before she is launched and giving each four years of care after planting. One in every 10 of those trees will be destined for building future ships, while the rest will overcompensate for the wood used to build Ceiba.

What is in store for 2021?

In my research, I came across many other companies that came and went over the years. They all had similar goals to provide more sustainable shipping, but it is not an easy business. But today in 2021, there seems to be more of a demand, and more people are looking for a complete supply chain that is sustainable and has a very small carbon footprint.

It seems that this change will be more conducive to the success of these companies. Having volunteers sail with them also helps people have a better connection to nature, the process of cargo, and sailing ships. There is something special when you haul the sails up and feel the pull of the wind. In the light wind, it is quiet and you just hear the splashing water and creaking of the boat. In the heavier wind, everything comes to life, the singing of the wind in the rigging, the spray of water over the boat, and the flapping of the edge of the sails.

The power of wind and ocean is immense and must be respected every second. Today, with the technology we have and the weather prediction, sailing can be planned more intelligently, but there must always be training for when things aren’t perfect because bad things do happen. I hope these companies make it and thrive, to become the shining examples that they set out to be. For a cleaner tomorrow.

Thanks for reading, and if you found this interesting, I bet you have a friend that would like to read this too!

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