There are, however, some intrepid groups who are hoping that the answer may lie in going back to some age-old traditions.
New Dawn Traders is a U.K.-based collective of environmentalists, sailors and activists who have started an international shipping operation using an old-fashioned, engine-less brigantine. Not only do they get their goods from the Caribbean with virtually zero emissions, but those goods are sourced from fair trade operations and turned into unique artisanal, ethical delicacies like chocolate and rum — which for a bunch of intrepid sailors is the holy grail.
New Dawn is not the only game in town. As the company website explains, the group's story is interwoven with other green-minded sailors who are aiming to revive a lost form of transportation. Having undertaken a somewhat commercially unsuccessful mission to sail olive oil from Portugal to Brazil aboard an existing ship in early 2012, the crew set out to find other partners:
"Not completely disheartened by this pilot voyage, we started hunting new opportunities and came across several sail-cargo initiatives happening abroad, from the Vermont Sail Freight Project and the Sail Transport Network in the States, the Greenheart Project in Fiji and TOWT in France, amongst others. The closest to home was Holland’s Fairtransport with their beautiful ship Tres Hombres. She is an engine-less schooner-brig that has now completed 5 trans-Atlantic round-trips, carrying cargo without the use of fossil fuel. We met the boat when she was in England on her return to Holland from the Caribbean in the spring of 2013. Stepping aboard this ship means to fall in love! We had found a crew with views about as radical as ours on a boat that couldn’t fit the dream more perfectly."
This meeting of minds led to an ongoing partnership, and Alex Geldenhuys from New Dawn ended up working as a cook aboard the Tres Hombres for eight months, sailing from Holland to countries including Norway, France, Portugal, The Canaries, The Cape Verde Islands, Brazil, The Caribbean, The Azores and England. It was during this voyage that they delivered their first barrel of rum which was blended, bottled and labeled as New Dawn in Falmouth — and was proudly proclaimed as the first sail-shipped rum barrel to be delivered to the U.K. in more than 100 years!
Of course, from kite-powered freight ships to solar-and-hydrogen powered yachts, there are many other operations out there trying to update the way we get goods and people from A to B across the high seas. What makes groups like New Dawn unique is they have no apparent interest in developing a cutting-edge zero-emission alternative to our current freight system. Instead, they believe that our age-old traditions and "slow shipping" philosophies can teach us something about how we value exotic goods and treats from far away and, paradoxically, to refocus our attention closer to home:
"Ultimately we should look to fulfill most of our wants and needs locally. The cargos that WE choose to sail over from distant lands are of value because they are products that cannot be grown in England and are of cultural significance and curiosity – the luxuries in life which are worth savouring; like coffee, chocolate and rum. We believe that fine quality, especially in food, is intrinsically linked to ethical production and that therefore an epicurean nature is something to be nurtured in everyone, and need not cost the earth."
In keeping with this love of the shipping process, not just the end product, the collective also organizes a Sail Cargo festival in Cornwall each year to celebrate the power of sail.