Over the past month, I’ve been discovering the world, through sailing on the engineless sailing cargo vessel Tres Hombres.
The journey from France to Denmark has been an incredible and unique experience. After receiving the initial safety and climbing training and a galley and ropy tour, I was invited to work alongside the crew. The kindness and openness of the crew made a great ambience. Thus, from the first moment, it felt like I belonged.
All throughout the weekend, I’ve been on the edge of my seat.
First an e-mail from my boss Maria telling me, that Tres Hombres is moving fast! We can expect her during the weekend. Then a phone call from deckie Jonas, they slowed down in the middle of Kattegat, no wind, they will be here in the middle of next week. And then Monday, suddenly a text from the chef on board Giulia, they are almost here!
This is how it is to work with Fairtransport. It is a bit unpredictable, because, well… They move when the winds blow. Several people have looked at me with mild desperation and disbelief in their eyes, at the mere thought of not knowing when to expect delivery, and although it sounds like a logistical nightmare to have a fluid ETA, allow me to make the argument that it is the opposite. When we can’t participate in the ever faster moving treadmill of capitalistic supply and demand, when everything is not just a ‘click’ on a computer away, we are set free. There is no truck driver being pushed to drive faster and ignore resting hours, no dependence on fossil fuels, and no company deadline to reach. The process of getting goods becomes fluent and independent. It’s not up to us, we place our trust in the sails of an engineless vessel. What freedom, that is!
Soils and sails
We import natural wines from France. The importance of transparency, when making and selling natural wine cannot be overstated. Natural wine is a grounded messenger of the soils, every drop of wine comes from a certain place and tells a story of biodiversity. The juice comes from a plant that has roots deep in the soil, and it has been worked by people with intention. It’s all about this connection between roots and humans.
The connection to the soil that the natural wines teach us about, made us realize that even though the wines are made with care and focus on the Earth, it doesn’t matter if the wines are then shipped to Copenhagen in big diesel trucks. It removes the wine from the grounded process, and they become just another product on the German highway, stuck in the past, relying on dinosaur juice, and the infrastructure of capitalism.
The reason we work with Fairtransport is to keep the connection to the soils that the natural wines conv. Sailing the wines to Copenhagen keep them grounded, and it makes the wines better. And it makes us all better when we unload the cargo and meet each other and the wines. The awareness of the pure wonder that is getting a bottle of wine from a sunnier place on Earth to our cold corner is humbling and all too often taken for granted. One of the key values of working with Fairtransport is that this wonder is underscored.
The other big reason we work with Fairtransport is, that it is necessary. It is necessary because we need to change how much space we take up in this world and how much disturbance we make.
Transformational power in transportation
I believe there is real transformational power in the stories of natural wine and Fairtransport is a very crucial part of that story. The 19.000 bottles of natural wine that are carried by winds and waves every year in the belly of Tres Hombres all the way from Brest in the Loire to Knippelsbro in the middle of Copenhagen, is a testament to the connection between humans and the Earth. When the crew of the ship and eager Copenhageners help each other unload the many bottles, I get a sense of something greater, something important, that we almost forgot, but are slowly retrieving by warm hands embracing each and every one of the 19.000 bottles with a label that guarantees that it is cargo under sail.
The Earth is struggling with unbalanced human disturbance, and nature and culture have become dichotomies in our minds and our ways. Subsequently, environmentalism has become synonymous with the powerless feeling of being only destructive forces. Fairtransport shows another way, where humans are not only a destructive force to nature and where nature is not just a mass of materiality that we can use but a coworker, a friend and a bearer of culture. It connects us, both to each other when we greet the ships filled with old and new faces, but it also connects us to the Earth and the Sea, they are the ones doing in this relationship, we’re just along for the ride 🙂
Wir segeln gerade “um die Ecke”, bei Ouessant, also aus dem Kanal in den Atlantik, auf dem Weg von Amsterdam nach Les Sables d’Olonne.
Als Jugendlicher las ich alle Hornblower-Romane, die zum Teil genau hier spielen. Beim Lesen versuchte ich mir damals vorzustellen, wie ein Rahsegler und wie das Navigieren in Gezeitengewässern ohne Motor mit einigermaßen Sicherheit und Pünktlichkeit funktioniert. Jetzt, 40 Jahre später, stille ich mit dieser Reise auf dem Lastensegler Tres Hombres diese Jugendneugier.
Das aus Kriegszeiten stammende Holzschiff mit bewegter Geschichte flößt im “Schleuderprogramm”-Wellengang und durch das Saitenspiel bei Sturm in der Takelage nicht nur Ehrfurcht vor den Elementen ein, sondern vor allem Respekt für Andreas, den Kapitän, und seine Crew begeisterter SeglerInnen, die das Schiff routiniert im Griff haben. Das Mitmachen von uns, die wir Trainees genannt werden, ist gewünscht und gefordert, gerade weil es keinen Motor, keine Winschen und keine künstliche Segel-Intelligenz an Bord gibt, sondern alles auf Teamwork, Geschicklichkeit, Umsicht und Muskelkraft ankommt. Wir Trainees sind Teil des Mehrschichtbetriebs an Bord, Tag und Nacht. Mit dieser Reise verlasse ich die Komfortzone, die sich mit Plastikmüll in Ozeanen und umweltverschmutzenden globalen Lieferketten als trügerisch erweist.
Dies ist an sich schon Abenteuer genug. Was es jedoch zu einem besonderen Erlebnis macht, ist der Humor und die Geduld, mit der Andreas und seine Crew alles erklären und begleiten. In die Rahen klettern und Segel setzen gehören zum Trainee-Alltag wie die Bilge per Hand pumpen und das Steuerrad führen.
Wer eine bessere, fairere und inklusivere Welt wünscht, in der der Mensch und nicht Kapital und Maschinen im Zentrum stehen, sollte beim Anbordgehen Mitmenschlichkeit und Offenheit mitbringen und findet dafür hier im Kleinen, was alles möglich ist:
Handwerkskunst beim Instandhalten von Tauen, Holz und Schiffsgerät unterwegs an Bord, seglerisches Können, Mut und Kraft in den Rahen, und Begeisterung für ein Metier, das genauso wie andere bedrohte Arten auch zum wahren Reichtum unseres Planeten gehören. Der Mensch ist seine Bedrohung und Chance zugleich. Tres Hombres und seine vielen bewegenden Menschen sind eine Chance, die es zu ergreifen und zu unterstützen gilt, da sie Impulse auch über sich hinaus geben: die Verpflegung an Bord stammt von lokalen Bio-Landwirten und wird von einer kundigen Köchin köstlich zubereitet, die Seife an Bord ist eine handwerklich hergestellte Meerwasser-taugliche Seife aus Ingredienzen, die Tres Hombres herübergesegelt hat, der an Bord getrunkene Kaffee ist fair hergestellt und ohne Luftverschmutzung transportiert.
Der Wunsch aus Jugendzeiten ging für mich hier an Bord in Erfüllung und weit darüber hinaus. Ich kann die Erfahrung nur weiterempfehlen.
Life on Tres Hombres has been an experience and a half!
After a few years where we all had a life constraining effect from corona and a chance meeting with an old friend who had sailed on Tres Hombres previously my heart was set on an adventure.
A sailing trip from Amsterdam to Les Sables in France to pick up a shipment of fine wine was booked and the waiting began.
Only having sailed once before I am a novice sailor so before the trip began I had lots of questions. Many of these were answered in a very informative handbook that arrived a week or so before the trip. It is not necessary to have all the latest sailing gear but as long as you are prepared for all weathers it is enough. I respected the advice not to go out and buy new things but to make use of second hand, borrowed or recycled goods. This goes to the very heart of the ethos of the organisation. Transporting goods ethically across the world and at the same time allowing people to learn, experience and enjoy sailing on such a fine vessel.
When it was time for the adventure to begin I set off to meet the ship and the crew where I would be spending the next couple of weeks. After the confines of the previous years, it was a joy to get together with people from all over the world, of different ages and different amounts of sailing experience from the novice like me to vastly experienced sailors but all wanting to experience this unique vessel.
It is important to bring with you an open mind. This is not luxury but you gain so much more. On my arrival, I discovered the intended date of departure could not be met due to some repairs needed on the wooden ship which I learn are constantly ongoing and fascinating to watch and learn from. But also due to the wind. An engineless vessel relies on wind and quickly earths whoever sails upon her into the beautiful natural rhythms of nature. Indeed life on board quickly settles into a rhythm. Watch periods are punctuated with amazing food from the galley cook and the galley in a way becomes the beating heart of the ship. The time before departure was not wasted. We had time to bond as a group and literally learn the ropes and how life on board works. Onboard the crew share their passion for sailing on this boat openly and warmly and in a way, we are all learning together. Learning from each other, from nature and learning to work together. Without the teamwork inherent in the boat, the boat doesn’t work so we do it together. You are invited to take part in all aspects of life on the boat. Slowly you learn at your own pace and settle into life on the open waves.
You will experience all different weathers, seas, clouds, rain, sun and stars in the company of fellow adventurers. Quiet times are punctuated with intense periods of action. We trace our progress across the map as we near the destination always reliant upon the elements to get us there so timing can never be precise. I am writing this from the ship just off the coast of Brittany with strong winds and high waves and I feel alive!
Once at the destination, I will help load the cargo before beginning my journey home and this experience will become a memory. But what a memory it will be. Great food, great people, a vessel who is reliant and steady no matter what is thrown at her and an unforgettable bond with nature. My advice to anyone thinking of sailing on Tres Hombres is ‘do it’. Bring an open mind and a willingness to get involved and you will be rewarded with an adventure of a lifetime with an organisation doing good honest work.
Den Helder: for those who have been around Tres Hombres since her early days, this name will ring more than one bell and recall many memories. It is a town in Noord Holland which faces the island of Texel and looks over the Wadden Zee, with its place in the maritime history of the Dutch navy and fleet.
This is where the headquarters are, in Willemsoord. Where Teerenstra is, the shipyard where Tres Hombres drydocks and gets refitted since 2008. Just on the other side of the canal from the shipyard, there is a green oasis called De Groene Stek, managed by Judith, a strong woman who would deny a smile to no one!
Judith has a great team who works with her in the garden, a team made by special people who would be let apart in society otherwise, people who are differently able but so often get described as disabled. They work setting goals which are tailor-made for everyone involved in the project, matching their personal needs and aiming for real improvements, mental and physical benefits, creating a safe place of acceptance where people otherwise rejected by society can learn new skills.
Through growing veggies and herbs, they grow themselves too! Gardening becomes therapy for them, probably the best and most effective, a way to stay socially connected letting Nature do the healing that is needed.
From there we take the veggies we need for the refits and for the beginning of the winter voyages for many years. We go there to harvest them ourselves, to chat with the people, to cut the apples that will dry in the oven and be served as snacks on board, and to spend some time in this urban oasis of organic agriculture.
Fairtransport and De Groene Stek are long-term friends, Judith has been supporting many cooks and provisioning the galley of Tres Hombres for a long time, during the refit as well as at sea.
And she is so stunningly generous that fresh veggies aren’t the only gift she provides! Let Eddie tell you more about it…
So we are coming to the end of the winter voyage. Reflecting on the time that has passed there is a very clear group that contributed to making the galley what it was.
Groenestek! You have been with us the whole way, and every person on board knows and is so grateful for your gifts. Thank you for your abundant generosity!
A short summary of what they gave
There are some places that simply bewitch you. Faial is one of those indeed.
This little volcanic island in the middle of the Azorean Archipel is a classic stop for many sailors and seafarers for a long time. To split the long Northern Atlantic crossing into two legs, to restock on fresh provisions, to stretch the legs and fill up the lungs with pure ocean breeze loaded with a delightful scent of green grass, sailors stop in Horta and leave on the walls of the marina artistic signs of their passage, creating one of the most interesting open-air travel art galleries in the world! If you ever stop there, we challenge you to find all the drawings Tres Hombres has left over the years.
We have made many friends on the island, and it is always a bit like coming back home for those who have sailed there before.
The hospitality of the locals, who have learnt how to welcome and shelter sailors over many centuries, is legendary (just think of the most well-known example of it, the Peter’s Sport Bar). The island, with its green lush pastures and happy cows, is a hotspot for cheese lovers too. Blessed by the Gulf Stream which mitigates the climate, you can find both sub-tropical and continental varieties of fruits and vegetables too. Oranges and bananas grow next to each other, and a few years ago Tres Hombres’ crew, upon request of one of our farmer friends, brought even a seedling of cocoa. The little plant is now growing into a tree and seems to be pretty satisfied with its new home, soil and conditions.
From Horta, you can enjoy a stunning view of the next island, Pico, and its mighty volcano, which they are very proud of. The funny fact is that the locals in Horta say that the most beautiful thing about Pico is the view you have of it from Faial!
Due to weather and schedule, I knew before arrival that it was set to be a shortstop in the Azores. I got in touch with Paula straight away,
who has been a friend and the contact of the ship for many years. She was so kind and so helpful. The day after we arrived she took me
and some others on a drive around the island to visit some local producers.
First, we went to her family’s bakery where I was able to buy some extra 25kg sacks of flour at wholesale price (thank you!). She also gave us some of the delicious biscuits that they make.
Then we went to Emmanuel, her partner’s project. He has started a small company growing organically oyster mushrooms and has four grow rooms some of which look like some sort of SciFi world with pink lights and ducting. We also bought dried mushrooms for the galley, and be also ready to welcome them to the Fairtransport webshop of sail-shipped products soon!
We then walked to some of his land next door where he grew oranges and lemons which we picked straight from the trees. The ground had almost a carpet of wild mint and it was the most beautiful and overwhelming smell of mint and orange blossom as we walked. Those citrus jewels have been keeping our crew full of vitamin C for the final leg, the most important!
We also went to meet and visit Zuga, who showed us around her new land project and picked 40kg of bananas straight from her trees. Unfortunately, they haven’t ripened yet, but hopefully, it will be a nice treat for the summer trip!
Finally, we went to a beautiful home garden where we bought fresh salad and herbs. After 24 days at sea, all these leafy greens were much appreciated by the crew.
The next day Paula organized a tour around the island with the whole crew. What a lush day. Thank you, Paula, Emmanuel, Zuga, and all the locals who welcomed and helped us. Thank you Faial island, for a brief but beautiful last stop.
Boca Chica is a little village located 30km more East than Santo Domingo, on the southern coast of the Dominican Republic, a country situated on the island of La Hispaniola, which they share with their neighbours, Haiti is listed as one of the poorest nations in the world.
Unfortunately, the relationships between these two countries are not smooth: the differences, inequalities and conflicts have intensified
and aggravated even more after the heavy hurricanes and the cholera epidemic which hit the Haitian population over the past
Once again, we find that the origins of such a situation dig their roots way back into the History. We have to acknowledge that these seeds of
discord have been sowed a long time ago, here like elsewhere, from hands who were not working these soils but came from far away to
exploit them and enslave their natives. That thick, dangerous border line which divides the French-controlled part of the island, Haiti,
from the Spanish-settled zone, Dominican Republic was not there when the indigenous people, the Tainos among others, were inhabiting
the island. Other were the issues back then, surely, and conflicts were eventually present also before the arrival of the Spaniards, but
it is undeniable that the dreadful events that followed the landing of the first Spanish settlers in La Hispaniola opened up the way for
one of the most shameful chapters of Human history, colonization, which has deep and atrocious repercussions on
all Central and South American continents till our present days. This is in fact the island where Christopher Columbus first landed in 1492. Santo Domingo, the capital of DR, an immense city, overwhelming in its size and crowding was also the first permanent Spanish and European settlement in this part of the Earth in the whole History.
La Hispaniola is a beautiful and wild island, and very big too! In the Caribbean region, it is second only to Cuba in its size and
demography. Its waters, skies and forest are home to many different endemic species of flora and fauna: from the humpback whales, that
come here to reproduce nearby Samana, to the threatened and rare rhino iguanas, and more than 300 species of birds. And finally, in
its rocky guts are hidden ancient deposits some of Amber and of Larimar, a rare “stone” of a stunning turquoise colour, found
basically only in DR. And last but not least, much of the coffee and cacao we drink and eat worldwide has been grown here.
The Dominican Republic offers a very different experience compared to the smaller paradise islands Tres Hombres visits, but it is surely a crucial stop not merely for our cargo operations but also for our crew, to build up a deeper, and more comprehensive, overview of the History of the Caribbean.
For provisioning, I walked to the market area of San Andres, a 10min walk from the commercial harbour. The first day I spent shopping around at all the different stalls trying to get a gauge of what was on offer and the different prices. The language spoken there is Spanish which I have just enough of a grasp of to do some of my own negotiation, which was fun. It became apparent that I was getting the best deals with Maria, a very warm woman who ran her food stall with the help of her partner and daughter (on a side post scriptum note: we are still in touch via voice messages, she is really sweet and caring). I decided to organize the bulk of the big crossing order through her.
She also explained to me how it works: all the market stall holders go to a big night market to get their products in San Domingo. Maria told us she goes at 1 AM, three times a week. I have also seen her at her own stall every day of the week, so I can only imagine how long are the days that she works! We asked if we could go with her to the night market, but she wasn’t sure if it was safe for us as white people and was also worried that if she was seen with us they would raise the price of the veg sold to her. Fair enough!
Instead, I put together a big list and she went and got it on my behalf. The next morning her partner Angel drove the approximately 150kg of veg to the fish market, our dinghy spot close to the port. Here we loaded it onto the dinghy in three runs and got it on board. Storing it all away for the big crossing was a big mission as well, but this is another story.
Barbados is the most easterly of the Caribbean islands and for this reason, it becomes often the first stop after the ocean crossing East to West.
This little island of great natural beauty is yet another fragile paradise in the Caribbean belt: due to the high demographic pressure and the important tourist affluence, the environmental issues the island has to face are many, from the bleaching of the imponent coral reef which surrounds the island (the many container and cruise ships which regularly visit the port of Bridgetown are surely not helping) to the scarcity of water resources caused by several elements like the changing rainfall patterns, the depletion of freshwater aquifers, saltwater intrusion, groundwater pollution, sea-level rise. All of these above mentioned, and more, make Barbados exceptionally vulnerable to water scarcity. Growers struggle with more and more frequent drought and the population has less and less access to drinking water. A scenario we witness in many more countries around the globe, but that will not be depicted in the tourist postcards: you have to push yourself more inland, behind the hotels, private villas and beaches alongside the coast.
Despite the situation, resilient communities and projects are growing to protect Nature and secure the resources for the upcoming generations. The locals are lovely people, extremely welcoming and generous, very humble and firmly rooted in their land and soils. Our Eddie down below will give you a glimpse of it too!
Meeting and hanging out with a local in Barbados can be a pure treat. When walking with a local farmer in the forest, you might hear them whispering: “Can you listen? This is the sound of the Creation”. With Creation, they mean the Forest. There is so much to hear, so much to learn.
Finally, on fun but due note, do not miss the real deal street experience on the island: riding their public buses, a real reggae festival squeezed into a bus that looks and feels like a Rasta temple!
I met Bryn, a long-term friend of the ship, at the cruising club.
He was excited to get involved with the provisioning this year and had the idea to go to the farms and buy plants by ‘the rod’. We were able to dig them up ourselves. This is a fairly common practice and lots of small market stallholders apparently do this. A rod consists of five plants.
There is an element of a lucky dip regarding how much veg is on each plant.
Bryn was kind enough to organize all this, as we spent the day driving around in his pickup truck going to different farms. We dug for Yams and red and yellow sweet potatoes. The sweet potatoes came up easily. The yams were a bit more of an operation. They had a tendency to snap that’s why we would have to dig very deep around them. We didn’t get to weigh them but we got a lot, 2 big sacks of sweet potatoes and two and a half of yams. I’m hoping that some of these root vegs will last all the way back. I can’t describe how satisfying it was to dig up our own veg for the galley – you can’t get it fresher than that.
MEET OUR TRAINEE ARCO
Position onboard: TRAINEE
Former occupation on land (aka how do you keep yourself busy when you are not sailing)?
I am a father of two. I work as occupational health physician, insurance physician, and an instituutsopleider at the Radboud
University in Nijmegen (e.g. training new medical specialists). I also volunteer for the local GroenLinks political party, in an
orchard pruning group and for the Slow Food Movement.
Which book, film, song and/or event inspired and sparked in you first the dream of a life at sea?
TV series: Sil de Strandjutter
Book: In de Bovenjkooi from Jan Maarten Biesheuvel
Song: Al die willen de kaapren varen
What to pack for your sea chest, absolutely?
A small waterproof (dry) bag for dinghy rides
What to leave ashore, doubtless?
Which is your favourite peace corner onboard (aka where do you hide when you need to be alone?)
My bunk is my favourite place on board when I need a moment for myself.
Three magic words to hold fast to?
Look after each other.
Which wild creature would the ship be?
Biggest fear before joining and greatest satisfaction on the way?
Getting health issues was my biggest fear before we left.
The biggest satisfaction is that I can be part of all this.
Why Tres Hombres?
To me, there is no alternative to the Tres. Who else sails cargo without an engine between Europe and the Caribbean and vice versa? And, for a good cause!
Martinique belongs to the French Antilles and it is a well-known pit stop for many (especially French) sailors and cruisers on the Trade Winds route who like to drop their anchors in the many bays the island offers to restock on water, food, fresh croissants and baguettes!
The economy of the island strongly depends on a few agricultural crops such as bananas (first employer of the island) and sugar cane, used to produce the famous rhum agricole the one and only in the world to hold an AOC (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée). Right after comes tourism, especially dense and developed in the south of the island where Tres Hombres lands.
It highly relies on mainland France for many resources. Landing in Martinique means also entering French territory, in all meanings. The most consumed and appreciated fruit of this tropical paradise is….the apple. But be sure there is not even one single apple tree growing on the whole island. We won’t dwell here on the post-colonialism issues and consequences that many islands in the Caribbean area still suffer nowadays, but it is essential we keep this awareness well sharp in mind.
Even street markets can be very expensive, many products are imported and the average tourist consumerism is one of the greatest sources of income for the local community. Once a pineapple grower, who also owned a stall at the local market, told us that she had to sell her pineapples very expensive in Martinique because she had to give most of her production to France. She cannot really set a fair price for it. So what remains of her harvest can then be sold freely in the market, but this is the only situation where she is able to choose the price of her fruits herself and to compensate for the little she earns by dealing with the mainland, the local market prices are skyrocketing.
Marie Galante, a little island southwest of Guadalupe, is a true pearl and offers a different experience. Definitely more rural than its bigger sisters, Marie Galante still conserves some of its real wild and authentic beauty. Still pretty untouched by the invasive mass tourism and the wicked private construction which ravaged many of the other islands, the time seems to have stopped here. The local community is still very attached to its customs and tradition, animal traction is still widely preferred to mechanical labor of the soil. More oxen and less tractors!
We love this island and try to respect it as best as we can.
I was in such a daze stepping on land for the first time in three weeks when I went to the first little market in Saint Anne that I think I may have got a little ‘done’. I remember thinking that the kilo price for the bananas seemed high, but I was so scrambled and overwhelmed by being off the boat I didn’t properly clock it. Luckily it was only a quick little shop I did there with not too much money wasted.
At the next market in Le Marin, I was a bit more on it, although definitely feeling hindered by not speaking French. The ladies there were businesswomen and know how to hustle. I definitely bought some unintended pineapples as a result of this! However the food was good and I was keen to stock up the dry store after the crossing, especially as I wasn’t sure if we would be able to go ashore in Barbados because of Covid rules. I bought breadfruit at the market and once it got soft and sweet I fried up like plantain. Most of the people on board had not eaten it before. When I provision it’s important for me to find unusual local items and for the food we eat to evolve and change with our surroundings.
Such a tiny, tiny little island. Marie Galante has a population of 10,000 and only three small villages. In the village we were closest to there were two little veg stalls. With the help of Cami, our Bosun and native French speaker, we managed to organize a larger order of vegetables through one of these stalls. They were quite happy about it, so we got offered to pick up any old veggie that couldn’t be sold, for free. The average tourist cares a bit too much about the sexiness of the fruits and veggies. The first night of picking up a BIG vegetable soup was made!