Brooklyn Boro

After decades, cargo sailboat once again delivers to Brooklyn’s shores

Eco-friendly schooner is 'not your great-grandfather's sailboat' however

May 18, 2021 Mary Frost
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Bringing back the days of wind-powered cargo ships, a unique 72-foot sailing schooner, loaded with 15,000 bottles of organic French wine and bars of chocolate, has arrived at Brooklyn Bridge Park’s marina after an adventurous 27-day sail across the Atlantic Ocean.

It is the second Atlantic crossing for the French company Grain de Sail’s eco-friendly cargo ship, which set off from France’s northwest region of Brittany. 

Grain de Sail, a coffee bean and chocolate company, says the seven-sailed vessel “is not your great-grandfather’s sailboat,” but is part of the company’s green logistics chain. While the sails are powered by wind as in days of old, the vessel’s electronic and navigation needs are supplied by wind turbines, photovoltaic panels and hydro generators.

After dropping off its cargo in New York City, the ship (also named Grain de Sail) will head to South America to pick up coffee beans to transport back to Europe. It will make two round trips a year; each round trip takes about three months.

A map showing the Grain de Sail’s voyage across the Atlantic. Map courtesy of Grain de Sail and ONE°15 Brooklyn Marina

The evolution of the city’s waterfront

Bringing a cargo sailing vessel back to the same Brooklyn shore historically dedicated to shipping reflects the evolution of the city’s waterfront, Estelle Lau, CEO of ONE°15 Brooklyn Marina, told the Brooklyn Eagle. Grain de Sail is “bringing traditional shipping, sustainability and education to the New York waterfront, while recreational interest in the waterfront is nascent,” she said.

The marina and Grain de Sail have been working on making this happen for more than a year, but due to Covid restrictions the ship had to dock at the Brooklyn Navy Yard in January after its maiden voyage across the Atlantic.

Lau added that she spoke to a woman who sampled one of the wines from the shipment, which happened to be from her region in France. The bubbly variety she sampled was “fantastic,” she told Lau.

Visitors to the ship “are pretty impressed that the sailors cross the Atlantic on this big sailboat but small cargo ship!” said Grain de Sail’s US Wine & Spirits Director Matthieu Riou.

The Grain de Sail aroused attention from other owners of ships berthed at the marina, he said. “A lot of the other owners came to ask what this cargo sailboat was about.”

Soon after docking at the marina, an enormous charter sailing yacht berthed directly next to the Grain de Sail, he told the Eagle. “Now that there’s a gigantic sailing yacht just in front of us [and] we feel a little bit smaller, but it’s still amazing to be in Brooklyn with the first modern cargo sailboat in the world!”

Visitors can book a visit to the ship this week. About 100 people have already booked, Riou said, “and most of the slots for the week are complete!”

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Company is planning a fleet of cargo sailboats

The artisanal niche the company’s products occupy is well-suited to its green delivery system, said Sam Barrett-Cotter, dockmaster at ONE°15 Brooklyn Marina.

“By harnessing only the power of wind, and increasing revenues while doing it, Grain de Sail is demonstrating that you can have both an environmentally and economically sustainable business model,” he said.

“The company’s growth and the market demand for their exciting product is clear — they are currently building an even larger vessel with double the capacity for their next transatlantic voyage,” Barrett-Cotter said. The company’s revenue has grown from roughly €350 five years ago to roughly €5 million today.

According to the company, plans for an entire fleet of the wind-powered cargo ships are in the offing.

“Our vision is to operate the world’s first modern cargo sailboat shipping routes between Europe and the Americas. By harnessing the power of the wind, Grain de Sail can produce and sell great gastronomic products with a low carbon footprint to cross-Atlantic consumers,” the company said.

The company calls their “old is new again” approach “retro-innovation,” which combines ancestral techniques with modern technologies.

The concept is also about adventure, Grain de Sail said. “Grain de Sail is both an adventure and a business that brings together people around the same values.” Goulwen Josse is the ship’s master; Thierry Monnerie is chief mate; Julia Guérin is deck officer and François Le Naourès is a sailor and “médiaman.”

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