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The Return Of Sail Cargo To The Thames

December 1, 2021
by the gentle author

At the BLOOMSBURY JAMBOREE at the Art Workers’ Guild on 11th & 12th December we will be featuring produce from small farmers delivered to London by sail boat.

At 1:30pm on Sunday 12th December you can hear Gareth Maeer of Raybel Charters talk about the resurgence of sail cargo, explaining where this environmentally-inspired movement originated and the challenges that lie ahead.

Click here to book for THE RETURN OF SAIL CARGO

The Gallant arrives in Greenwich

Photographer Rachel Ferriman & I were at the shore to welcome the first sailing ship in more than a generation arriving at the London Docks with a cargo of provisions from overseas. We hope this will become a regular sight on the Thames with the Gallant bringing produce from Portugal and the Caribbean. Although it is a small beginning, we were inspired by this visionary endeavour which sets out to connect farmers directly with customers and make the delivery by sail power.

On board, we met Alex Geldenhuys who explained how she started this unique project.

“We are very excited because this is our first visit to London and we believe this cargo has not been delivered here by sail for forty years or more. We have olive oil, olives, almonds, honey, port wine from Portugal and chocolate and coffee from the Caribbean.

At first, we were working with ships crossing the Atlantic once a year bringing chocolate, coffee and rum but then I started the European voyages three years ago. We do two or three voyages a year which means we are learning more quickly.

With the captains, we decide when and where we will go and what we will pick up. We started in Portugal and most of our suppliers are based in the north of the country, small family farms producing olive oil. They give the best care for the land and contribute most to the local community. These farmers do mixed agriculture and so they also produce honey, almonds and chestnuts.

We look forward to working with Thames barges, meeting the Gallant in the estuary after the long distance voyage and delivering the cargo to London, just as they were designed to do. We will be back in the spring and customers can order online and then come down to the dock to collect their produce.”

The Gallant is a handsome schooner and we were delighted to explore this fine vessel moored in the shadow of Tower Bridge while the tanned and scrawny crew were unloading crates of olive oil, coffee and rum, loading them onto bicycle panniers for transport to the warehouse in Euston.

Down in the cabin, we met captains Guillaume Roche & Jean Francois Lebleu, studying charts of the estuary in preparation for their journey to Great Yarmouth, the next port of call. Guillaume began by telling me the story of the Gallant and revealing his ambition and motives for the undertaking.

“I am co-owner of the ship with Jean Francois, we take it in turns to be captain. The Gallant was built as a fishing boat in Holland in 1916, but, when we bought her two years ago to use her as a cargo vessel, she had been converted to carry passengers so we had to build a hatch for loading and enlarge the hold.

We are both professional seamen who have worked on big ships in the merchant navy and we want to do something about Climate Change, but the only thing we know is how to sail a ship. As well as delivering cargo by sail, we want to spread the word to encourage others so this can be the beginning of something bigger.”

Jean Francois outlined the pattern of their working year, making me wish that I could stow away on the Gallant.

“This summer we did two voyages to northern Europe from Portugal, two ports in France, a lot of ports in England – Bristol, Penzance, Newhaven, Ramsgate, London and Great Yarmouth. Next we go to Holland to deliver cargo there.

Over the winter, we will do maintenance before we sail across the Atlantic to the Caribbean and Central America to load rum, chocolate, coffee, mezcal and spices, and stop off in the Azores on the return voyage to pick up honey and tea. And we will bring this cargo back to London next year.”

The crew of the Gallant

Alex Geldenhuys, founder of New Dawn Traders

Guillaume Roche & Jean Francois Lebleu, Captains of the Gallant

Celestin, First Mate of Gallant

Davide, Deck Hand

The cargo is delivered to the warehouse by pedal power

Photographs copyright @ Rachel Ferriman

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9 Responses leave one →
  1. Ronald Wilkinson permalink
    December 1, 2021

    Beautiful. Sooner schooner than fetch in a ketch!

  2. Alex Knisely permalink
    December 1, 2021

    Remarkable ! The photographs of crew members make them look not “scrawny” but — perhaps instead “wiry” ?

  3. December 1, 2021

    The crew don’t look the slightest bit ‘scrawny’!

  4. December 1, 2021

    Incredible! Fantastic!

  5. Pauline Taylor permalink
    December 1, 2021

    Wonderful and congratulations to all of them, They all look so fit and happy and I admit to being envious. I think I would have liked to have had ‘a life on the ocean wave’.

  6. December 1, 2021

    As always, GA delivers huge dollops of optimism. And Rachel Ferriman’s photos have taken us right into the midst of this exciting new venture. A gallant endeavor, indeed.

    I’m so grateful to begin the day with Spitalfields Life.
    Long may you wave.

  7. December 1, 2021

    What a magnificent sight! Having lived on a boat, all be it a very small one, and travelled around part of the Mediterranean, I know this is hard work. But what a wonderful initiative.

  8. Mary Gillender permalink
    December 1, 2021

    Blimey that’s a handsome crew. Holy moly. Scrawny’s not the word I’d use. They could be rockstars except they look too healthy and cheerful.

    BTW this is a brilliant blog.

  9. Jude Rosen permalink
    December 1, 2021

    What a marvellous endeavour and hopeful environmental initiative that’s forward thinking but also learning from the past… Thanks so much for illuminating the story

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