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Slow Shipping: Adventurers Move Fair Trade Goods With A Vintage Merchant Ship

Once upon a time, we had to haul freight with only the wind. Sure, giant diesel cargo ships go faster. But there may not always be the diesel to power them. The New Dawn Trader might be the solution.

You’ve probably heard of the slow food movement, but slow shipping? Yes, it’s a thing.

Or it will be if Jamie Pike has his way. Pike, an English environmentalist, has long been interested in making fair trade more sustainable by using sailing ships instead of the diesel-powered behemoths that currently carry most international cargo.

This past spring, Pike contacted Leslie Morrish, the owner of Irene, a restored vintage ketch that served as part of the British Merchant fleet between 1907 and 1960, to ask about using the boat. Morrish eventually agreed. He not only waived the $150,000 chartering fee, he decided to come along, sharing in the adventure and the revenue.

And so the New Dawn Traders (that’s a Narnia joke) were born. Pike, Morrish, and a small international crew are embarking on a five-month trading trip that they hope will "shine a light on a future vision of shipping" by reviving a last-of-its-kind vessel that’s slow, perhaps, but clean. They are currently in Brest, France, where they just dropped off a cargo of organic beer from England. From there they will travel to Spain, Cape Verde, Brazil, and the Caribbean, trading olive oil, cacao, and other goods.

"The true costs of commercial shipping are not taken into account," says Lucy Gilliam, a crewmember who quit her job at the U.K. Department of Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs to join the journey. "Commercial shipping is incredibly polluting." Indeed, she’s right. Traditional shipping, with large diesel-powered freighters, creates an estimated 5% of all climate change emissions as well as ballast water that causes health problems for both human and marine life.

The New Dawn Traders want to highlight the importance of exploring cleaner alternatives. That doesn’t necessarily mean using ships like Irene, however. "I see sailing being a significant part of it," says Gilliam, "but it could also be hybrid ships with alternative fuel sources."

When they return in June, the New Dawn Traders hope to establish a "For Sail" label for products that have been transported by clean energy. For now, you can follow their progress on Gilliam’s blog.