“I wanted to see the world and not fly. And I wanted to see the world in a way that was active – I didn’t want to be a tourist. I never imagined I’d become a cargo broker.”
Not much beats sailing across an ocean in terms of an adventure of a lifetime. As far from human habitations as it’s possible to be, the seascapes are endless, the stars take on a life of their own, and creatures of all kinds come to say hello: Mahi-mahi, flying fish and blue-footed boobies.
The boat sighs and yaws, skims and pitches as the wind fills her sails, skittering across the water in the prevailing currents. It’s no surprise we have explored the world as we have, when just the power of the wind can take us to the other side of the planet.
"Living aboard this sail-cargo ship is an adventure for the soul and the senses.”
This is where we find Alex Geldenhuys, on an eight-month round trip from the Netherlands to the Caribbean. “As a working ship with a schedule to meet, there is a strict work routine through all weathers. As chef I have to perform my best miracles in the most trying conditions, with a miniature kitchen at full tilt for cold, wet and hungry sailors in a washing-machine sea. Living aboard this sail-cargo ship is an adventure for the soul and the senses.”
Alex is part of a team that founded the New Dawn Traders, a group with a mission to ship goods around the world under sail.
“On this voyage we delivered our first cargo, a barrel of fine rum from the Dominican Republic, which we blended and bottled in Falmouth, and labelled as New Dawn Rum – the first sail-shipped rum barrel to be landed in the UK for nearly 100 years.”
A lot has changed since the days when trade would travel the world under sail. Nowadays, most of the goods we buy are carried on vast diesel-powered cargo ships, and the industry keeps on growing in order to feed our ever-increasing demand for stuff. Air freight is much smaller in scale but much more carbon-intensive, and will only grow in response to our desire for goods which need to be delivered right away. The carbon debt of some of these items is huge – a pair of avocados flown from Peru are four times as carbon-heavy as the same weight of bananas, which arrive by boat.
In 2019, 57.6 million tonnes of freight was flown around the world, including 375 million litres of Californian wine, 160,000 tonnes of cut flowers from Kenya, 3.5 billion Amazon parcels and 7 million tonnes of avocados. Our consumer choices are important in reducing the number of planes in the air, and that doesn’t just include holidays, it also includes the goods we buy.
"In 2019, 57.6 million tonnes of freight was flown around the world."
The mission of Alex and the New Dawn Traders is not just to physically ship goods under sail, but to reassess how much of these things we actually need. “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 are raising awareness around fair-transport, ocean conservation and food sovereignty, and supporting a growing industry for sail-shipped goods.”