petermarcus: (Default)
[personal profile] petermarcus
I casually mentioned this on Facebook, but I've been thinking about it all day.

With the Green movement and worries about carbon footprints, especially with shipping, I'm wondering if we couldn't bring back square-rigged sailing ships. Some of those suckers were 200-300 feet long and could hold 1500 to almost 3000 tons of cargo.

It would need to be relatively compact cargo -- no automobile transport, for example. Shipping cars wouldn't exactly be the business model for a low-carbon shipping company, anyway. Most things shipped overseas to the States include textiles, food products, and high tech (chips and parts).

I figure modern technology could improve a lot on the clipper ships. GPS, weather radar, instant communications with land. These ships could find the wind and avoid storms instead of sailing into the unknown. Maybe fiberglass composite over a wooden or composite frame, modern synthesized sails and rigging with some automated sail furling/unfurling to reduce the risk of most dangerous jobs. Diesel only used for power generation and perhaps emergency propulsion.

Maybe a modern cargo ship could carry the same amount of t-shirts as three or four modern clippers, but would people pay a couple bucks more, the way they do for organic food?

I think I would like to be a shipping magnate.

Date: 2010-11-09 10:21 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Proof of concept would be in carbon-neutral delivery of food to farmer's markets.

If that works, then you have an idea.

Date: 2010-11-09 10:29 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Food is what sparked the idea, because of all the locovore stuff and I'm a sucker for foreign foods (if you are what you eat, then you can experience at least a bit of other cultures by eating their food....)

But, most new concepts have to pass through the expensive trial phase, and since a lot of designer clothes are made in Southeast Asian sweatshops, I'm wondering if rich liberal socialites would pay a premium for low-carbon shipped clothing as a meaningless social statement. From there, it's on to high-tech chips and stuff, then the food!

Personally, I feel just a little lingering badness about eating cheap Maine lobster down here in Florida, since they are basically FedExed in weekly. Maine to Florida is nothing on a Clipper, though, so I'd feel a lot better about munching on the bugs :)

Date: 2010-11-09 11:42 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I think that since people are already willing to pay a premium for local organic food that you could then show that it's transported "organically" as well and charge a further premium for it.

And that would be the trial phase that gets you to the trial phase that uses start-up money for ocean voyages.

Date: 2010-11-10 12:04 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I would love to see the food thing. New Zealand lamb, and Argentinian beef are serious foodie stuff, but have to be shipped with either diesel (ships) or kerosene (air). I'd love for those to be carbon neutral (or at least low-carbon).

At the risk of being un-PC on either side, I'm an anthropogenic global-warming agnostic (how's that for buzzwords), but to just eliminate the issue altogether...there's some profit!

Date: 2010-11-09 10:57 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
What about airships? If there's weather, they just go over it.

Date: 2010-11-09 11:10 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I actually thought of that, but airships still use diesel for propulsion, unless you're talking pure wind-only transport like taking advantage of tradewinds or the jetstream...which has an interesting steampunk-like charm as well...

Date: 2010-11-09 11:21 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Actually, you aren't the first person I've heard suggest such a thing, but I seem to spend a bunch of time around sailors. I think a lot of cargo ships are sort of frightening (push-button auto-pilot). (We often work on Canadian Coast Guard vessels in Canadian waters and they hail cargo vessels to instruct them to get the hell away from a vessel with equipment in the water and more often than not you can't find anyone who speaks English on the bridge... or French, for that matter... or can answer even the most basic questions). So, this would involve much higher labour costs, but I guess that would be offset by the reduced fuel costs. I would guess the economics would hinge on the price of oil.

Some high-tech vessels supplement propulsion with wind power.

Date: 2010-11-09 11:57 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I've read a lot about de-masted sailors on solo around-the-world journeys who launched flare after flare at cargo ships, just to be ignored as none of them had anyone on deck at the time.

Labo(u)r (heh) would probably be the highest cost, yeah, but probably offset by fuel costs and maybe even a 18-19th century profit sharing model. And anyway, even in the 18th and 19th centuries, sailors rarely spoke the same language, so nothing new there.

I've heard of wind-assisted diesel. I was in Mexico once, and a tour-boat of the Cozumel reef did that -- unfurling a spinnaker and really shot us forward. That might be a good stepping stone for cargo -- sort of a halfway thing until some modern clipper ships get built.

Date: 2010-11-10 04:29 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Obviously it's much more serious for solo sailors in damaged boats, but it's sort of stunning to be ignored when you're with the Coast Guard! Or to hear people attempt to hail Sea Traffic Control in Spanish or Mandarin, mid-way up the B.C. coast. No one would treat Air Traffic Control that way, and it can be as dangerous to be unable to communicate.

Date: 2010-11-10 12:26 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Maybe as a co-op investment, some of the people becoming crew and some putting what they can into it because they believe in the concept and the greater good?

Date: 2010-11-10 12:48 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Profit sharing is a proven model -- both in 18th/19th century cargo, and in modern high-risk sailing like crab fishing in Alaskan waters. There's believing in it, but it doesn't have to be an ascetic avocation.

Date: 2010-11-10 05:47 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
dude, ascetic avocation.....are you living in the 18th century with that english ;)


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