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Oil-free food by sailboat - a tiny reality

by Mary Rothschild, Pacific Northwest/Sail-World on 3 Aug 2009
Dave Reid loading vegetables onto Whisper SW
There are small signs the world over. Over in Europe there's a sailor who is delivering wine by sailing boat, down in the Gulf of Mexico another attempt to convey goods by sailing boat came to a sad end when the boat sank, but now in USA's Puget Sound there's a sailor who has a weekly food order - to be delivered by sailing boat and without using a drop of oil.

It was last January when Scottish engineer Dave Reid, who gave up his job to begin his 'Sail Transport Network', loaded some 700 pounds of freshly harvested organic vegetables into the cabin of his 27-foot sailboat, The Whisper, in Sequim Bay, hoisted his sails and rode an outgoing tide into the Strait of Juan de Fuca, bound for Seattle.

Over the next two days, Reid sailed on quirky winds, dodged state ferries, scooted past Chinese container ships and even encountered a mammoth Trident submarine before eventually docking at Shilshole Bay. That's where his customers showed up to collect their allotments of herbs and greens.

In an economy that usually rewards speed and efficiency, Reid's carbon-free voyage gave new meaning to tilting at windmills. It took 36 hours to make a trip a small truck could have accomplished in two hours. And his 700 pounds amounted to a minuscule percentage of the food consumed in Seattle that day.

But Reid and his collaborators in the regional sustainability movement are dead serious about the idea of transporting goods by sailboat. It's an idea that's less about straight-from-the-farm spinach and arugula than it is about proving that just about anything can be moved from Point A to Point B without burning a drop of oil.

To make that work on a larger scale, he says, the effort must start small. Instead of waiting for President Obama or the Ford Motor Co. to conserve energy, he's taking action now, riding on the belief that individuals and neighborhoods must take matters into their own hands.

On a rather microcosmic level, Reid appears to have made his case. Six months after his test run, Sail Transport Network, after years of planning, has finally negotiated deals with several Puget Sound farmers and has dozens more interested. Seattle City Hall and the Port of Seattle have both offered free dock space. This summer, Reid is making weekly voyages from Sequim and Poulsbo to Shilshole Bay.

A soft-spoken engineer who has been involved in the idea of alternative transport means for several years, Reid doesn't expect Sail Transport Network to make a profit anytime soon. But he insists that his business is not about profit anymore than it's about maritime nostalgia.

'We are not looking backward,' he says. 'We're looking forward, dealing with the emerging realities of a new economy.

'Sustainability — broadly understood as meeting today's needs without exhausting resources or compromising the future — is hardly a new concept.'

If you have ideas for Dave, or want to help him on his way, go to his new website, under construction as this news piece goes out:


Letter received from Reader since publication of the article:

Sender: Tom Zurick

Message: I liked the article very much.
My plans are to retire in about two years and take on a live aboard status. I have been considering what type and what size sailboat to buy.
I have also been trying to fiqure out ways to make money with a sailboat, aside from charters.
It is encouraging to see that other people are thinking along these lines.

I wish Dave and Sail Transport Network good luck in this endeavour.


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