After a month's delay, the 40-foot Ceres, a wooden sail barge, is being loaded with maple syrup, organic beans, Maine sea salt, various flours, and heirloom garlic in anticipation of its maiden voyage on October 6, a 300-mile journey from Lake Champlain, through the Champlain Canal, and then down the Hudson, arriving in Brooklyn October 25. The ship is scheduled to stop in Beacon Harbor on Sunday, October 20. While barge trips like this were commonplace from about 1823 into to the 1970s, this style of hauling is rare today.
The idea of once again using the extensive canals and inland waterways of the Northeast has been floating around for some time. Vermont farmer and carpenter Erik Andrus not only had the vision, he got together the funding, the boatbuilding expertize, and the farmers to create the Vermont Sail Freight Project. Organizers hope this will be the rebirth of a once highly successful trade route.
The boat will sail from Shoreham, VT, with a number of stops along the way, including Troy, Kingston, Poughkeepsie, Newburgh, Beacon, and Peekskill. Customers wishing to be a part of this historic first run are advised to place an order online. "We will seal up your goods in a box with your name on it, not to be touched by anyone else," says Andrus. Because there is no way to gauge demand at the various ports of call, he strongly advises people to take advantage of the pre-ordering system, which is being handled by Good Egg. Interested Beaconites will want to place any orders in the next day or two. Otherwise, you can buy from the ship the day it docks, but there are no guarantees in terms of what will still be available for purchase.
Plans to backhaul a load of cacao beans from a farmer's cooperative in the Dominican Republic have gone by the wayside due to the launching delay, but Andrus stresses that the VSFP is definitely a two-way street--or, perhaps, a River That Flows Both Ways. He envisions producers in various southerly ports using the Ceres to take their goods north—or further south, as the case may be. This will also help make the project more economically viable. Meanwhile, for this trip, Andrus says they will "exert all efforts into the primary mission, then go home and collapse."
The on-line ordering page for the Vermont Sail Freight Project is at
A study released in May 2010, "NYS Canal System: Modern Freight-Way." This report is focused more on the need for high tech ports to handle global containers and "expanding" the modern economy than on small-scale regional trade. Its first suggested project involves motorized barges hauling containers of New York City garbage to Upstate landfills. Still, worthwhile reading, and packed with information about the economics and externalities of barge transport.
The Hudson River Foodway Corridor Project. The HRFCP recently released its own report regarding the feasibility of barges to transport food from Hudson Valley farms to markets in New York City. (Approximately 97% of all the food brought to the Hunts Point market each day is delivered by truck—that's 16,000 trucks per day, aka heavy traffic. The other 3% arrives by rail.)