Slow Cargo

Slow Cargo

This trip was over a year in the making, and one that as a business we felt couldn’t have aligned more with our values and ethics. Last week, after multiple pandemic cancellations and reschedulings, we were finally able to join Kent Sail Cargo on the Blue Mermaid on an emissionless voyage from Ramsgate to St Katherine’s Docks (next to London Bridge). With the wind seemingly forever against us, the trip took 4 days, through the once bustling Thames Estuary. Dodging ships and tankers when you don’t have an engine was quite the experience, especially in the early morning mist when you wouldn’t see or hear the 100,000 tonne behemoths until they were above you like a block of flats. After a 2am wakeup on the 3rd wet morning to take advantage of the flooding tide, we tacked frequently in the dark as the estuary became a river to try and make it to the Thames Barrier where we were due to meet our tug. That was assisting us with the last leg of our journey. Unfortunately the winds were ever unfavourable and we fell an hour short of our intended target. Meaning we had to wait another 12hrs before the tide would flood again, and we could make it to our upstream rendezvous. It was a spectacular sight arriving at London Bridge on a vessel that would have been doing identical voyages over a century ago. For the cargo onboard, coffee and chocolate from Colombia and the Caribbean as well as olive oil and almonds from Portugal, they had arrived at their final destination after a lengthy wind powered journey. It was a truly memorable first voyage aboard the Blue Mermaid for us, and hopefully the first of many for Haeckels.   


The Vessel

Blue Mermaid is a replica of a 90 foot steel hulled Thames Sailing Barge, that was made in Devon by a historic boat builder between 2015 and 2019 (Sea-Change, 2021). Built for Sea-Change Sailing Trust, a charity run by her incredibly capable captain Richard Titchener and his equally capable partner Hillary Halajko, who run Sea-Change to take vulnerable individuals sailing. More recently they have been using the Blue Mermaid for her original heritage Thames Barge purpose of moving cargo up and down the Thames Estuary. In 1900 there were around 4,000 Thames Barges working the estuary, feeding an ever hungry and booming London with goods and materials from the surrounding regions and abroad (Carr, 1951). Blue Mermaid is an identical replica of a Thames Barge that was built in 1924, but was tragically sunk after hitting a German mine in the estuary during World War II, along with the lives of the 2 crew (Top Sail, 2021). She operates now as an exemplary example of London’s heritage of a once industrial and sail powered period.    


Kent Sail Cargo

Members of the Sail Cargo Alliance, Kent Sail Cargo are part of a recent renaissance of sail powered cargo transport, generally sailing long life food goods (chocolate, coffee, olives) from where they are grown and made to the UK. The Alliance share ‘a passion for the creation of a healthy transport culture that protects and conserves life and nature’ (Raybel Charters, 2021).  Made up of a network of farmers, sailing ships/barges, and traders, the Alliance are bringing back emission free global trade, whilst raising awareness of the incredibly carbon intensive shipping industry. Within the fleet, the beautiful century old schooner, De Gallant does the Atlantic leg to the Caribbean Sea, whilst the Blue Mermaid collects the Atlantic load for the final trip up the Thames from Ramsgate. Kent Sail Cargo and the rest of the Alliance are showing the world that in some cases technological advancements are not necessarily better, sometimes looking back and resorting to age old practices is how to pave the way for a better and more sustainable future.


Importance of Sail Cargo / Supply Chain Assessments

A businesses supply chain is often overlooked when looking to reduce one’s impact, however with an average of 75% of an industries emissions footprint being accumulated in the supply chain it’s actually one of the best places to start (Sourceful, 2021). Luckily businesses are realising that if they want to reduce their carbon footprint the most, rather than looking at their final product or employees, it is their supply chain where the largest potential for reductions can be found. For Haeckels, we have been combing through our suppliers and sources, rooting out almost all imports for alternatives found closer to home. An example being fermented Kelp, a key ingredient in a number of our products. Upon digging into our harvesting license, we found that a native and abundant species of Kelp is available to us. Now we harvest the kelp off our local beach after storms wash them in and then do the fermentation in-house. 


This self-reflection and assessment of supply chains as businesses is needed more than ever. Especially after the recent and damning IPCC report that found that the last decade was hotter than any period in the last 125,000 years (IPCC, 2021). Whilst small changes in a small business isn’t going to reverse these issues alone, together small collective changes have the compounded impact of real tangible change. If you’re a business owner, or even an employee, no matter how large or small the business might be, you can have an impact that will induce change. We intend to continue assessing ourselves and working with great people doing great things like the Kent Sail Cargo, to reduce our impact but also to spread awareness that not all is lost.