Sail Power Reborn – Transporting Local Goods by Boat

Peak Moment host Janaia Donaldson joins Fulvio Casali, Kathy Pelish and Alex Tokar, co-founders of the Salish Sea Trading Cooperative, on the deck of the sailboat Soliton, docked in Ballard, near Seattle, Washington.

The Salish Sea Trading Cooperative have teamed up with Nash’s organic produce in Sequim, where twice a month they arrive by sailboat, to collect the produce, before heading back to Ballard for distribution to the local community through their CSA scheme.

“We are revitalizing an ancient form of transportation”, explains Fulvio, “Moving on the water, using just the power of the wind and the tides, which has been done by humans for millennia. We’re trying to re-establish it, and while doing it, we’re also trying to basically redevelop the skills and infrastructure that’s needed to make it a viable form of transportation — to move goods and people on water, between communities that are on the water. It’s a way to transition into a world where fossil fuels become more scarce, basically offering alternatives to keep trade and movement going by other means.”

Alex speaks about route planning and the complexity of making sure they catch the right tides and working with the currents. He also explains that at times they have had to use the engine for brief periods, so as to be in the right places at the right time for these tides. Kathy adds “It’s a work in progress… but longer term, definitely as we reskill more and more people, the goal is to sail engine-less.”

One of the good things about transporting produce by boat is that the water temperature — being under 50°F year round in this area — has a natural cooling action, so just a couple of boxes of ice placed in the storage cabin is enough to keep them cool for the journey, even in summer. No refrigeration, and therefore electricity, is required.

Kathy talks about her main part in the process as the pick-em-up person who comes to the boat in their little electric truck — continuing the goal of not using petroleum — and picks up the produce boxes, then delivers them to their distribution base at Aster’s Coffee Lounge. She speaks of the network which has been created while building this venture. “We’ve got support from other community groups like SCALLOPS, which is Sustainable Communities All Over Puget Sound, and Transition Town Seattle. So these are the folks we kind of consider our kindred spirits.”

Kathy and Fluvio enthuse about their goals of seeing their idea spread to all over the country, and indeed the world. Fleets of sailboats bringing goods to working marinas far and wide and a whole new base of skills, in a revived trade, where job opportunities could be created.

Kathy teaches a Transition Town course at her church and talks about her encounters there: “… there’s so much fear at this point in American society about fossil fuel depletion, and about climate change, and all the limits that we’re hitting… so when you mention this, you actually see people’s eyes light up. Like, "Oh yeah, Sail!" It’s in our closet, in our historical closet. We forgot about that. Let’s pull it out and dust it off, and let’s make it happen!”

Throughout the show, host Janaia Donaldson had the opportunity to visit and speak to people at various points in the chain, and also to take an active part herself! She shares with me her recollections of creating this episode:

The peak-oil savvy Salish Sea Trading Cooperative folks are way ahead of the curve — and having a fun time while they’re at it. We were so inspired by their unique project that we videotaped extra footage to show the whole adventure. It seems like a romantic notion — reviving sail power for local transport — and yet it resounds with many people as something we can do now to use less energy. They’re charting a new yet old path across the waters.

An episode which gives a whole new slant on future possibilities for transport and well worth watching!