150-Year-Old Sailboat Brings Olive Oil From Portugal to Britain

Almost 90 percent of the world’s cargo travels by ships which contribute four percent of global CO2 emissions. Not this one.

Photo: Sérgio Ferreira
By Daniel Dawson
Nov. 28, 2017 10:09 UTC
Photo: Sérgio Ferreira

A nine­teenth-cen­tury sail­boat could be seen arriv­ing in the Newhaven marina. Complete with two wooden masts and tri­an­gu­lar, crim­son-col­ored sails, the Nordlys appeared to have arrived from a pre­vi­ous cen­tury.

We need to take the organic and fair­trade move­ment a step fur­ther by clean­ing up all aspects of cul­ti­va­tion, man­u­fac­ture and trans­port.- Alex Geldenhuys

The boat had come along an his­toric trad­ing route, which was used to carry Port from Portugal to England. However, instead of import­ing wine, the Nordlys’ crew unloaded one thou­sand liters of extra vir­gin olive oil.

The olive oil came pack­aged in five-liter bot­tles, which sold for £50 ($66.51) each. Crispin Field, on the receiv­ing end of the Sailboat Project, had not even bat­ted an eye­lash at this seem­ingly expen­sive price.

Extra vir­gin olive oil sells for about £4 to £5 per liter in the larger British super­mar­ket chains, but Field said that the qual­ity of the oil rel­a­tive to the price made it an easy sell. Field and his col­leagues pur­chased the 1,000 liters and lined up buy­ers before the oil had even left Portugal.

The idea to import olive oil to Britain via wind power was the brain­child of Alex Geldenhuys, a ship­ping coor­di­na­tor and co-founder of New Dawn Traders. She had pre­vi­ously met mem­bers of the Sailboat Project at an annual meet­ing of the Sail Cargo Alliance, which she orga­nizes.

Geldenhuys had already been ship­ping rum and choco­late to Britain via sail­boat for five years and she thought the same con­cept would also work well with olive oil. She began look­ing for part­ners who shared her envi­ron­men­tally-friendly vision and found Marije van den Boogaard via Facebook.

Boogaard, an olive farmer and olive oil som­me­lier, liked the idea and agreed to source and trans­port the olive oil in Portugal from Geldenhuys to England where mem­bers of the Sailboat Project would dis­trib­ute it.

Photo: Sérgio Ferreira

With this task in mind, Boogaard met Emilia Reigado at a trade show in Portugal. The two chat­ted for a bit and Boogaard learned about Reigado’s sus­tain­able farm in the country’s north­west. Boogaard tried Reigado’s olive oil and loved it.

After dis­cussing the plan to trans­port the olive oil to Britain using only wind power, Reigado agreed to sell her last 1,000 liters on the spot.

Reigado grows an ancient vari­ety of olive and presses them to make olive oil on a small, fam­ily-run farm in Figueira de Castelo Rodrigo, a region of north­west­ern Portugal com­posed of moun­tains and val­leys. Due to its unique cli­mate, the olives and result­ing olive oil pro­duced in the region have a dis­tinct fla­vor.

Reigado and her fam­ily have been grow­ing olives organ­i­cally for more than 20 years in Figueira de Castelo Rodrigo.

When Reigado heard about an oppor­tu­nity to extend her sus­tain­able way of doing things to the sup­ply chain, she could­n’t say no.

I loved the idea of trans­port­ing the oil by sail­boat because it is a dif­fer­ent, envi­ron­men­tally friendly kind of trans­port,” Reigado said. Our effort was val­i­dated by con­tin­u­ing the all nat­ural process of trans­port­ing the olives only using wind power.”

Photo: Sérgio Ferreira

The olive oil was pack­aged into the same five-liter con­tain­ers in which they were sold and trans­ported to the coast where they met with the Nordlys, which had been char­tered by Geldenhuys.

This voy­age was a part of what she described as the sail­boat ship­ping renais­sance. Geldenhuys aims to rev­o­lu­tion­ize ship­ping by patron­iz­ing small, fam­ily-run farms and min­i­miz­ing the car­bon foot­print of trans­port­ing oil from farm to table.

Almost 90 per­cent of the world’s cargo trav­els by ship, which con­tributes four per­cent of global CO2 emis­sions. If the entire ship­ping indus­try were a coun­try, it would be the sixth largest emit­ter on the planet.

We need to take the organic and fair­trade move­ment a step fur­ther by clean­ing up all aspects of cul­ti­va­tion, man­u­fac­ture and trans­port,” Geldenhuys said. With our small wooden ships we will in no way com­pete with the giants of the exist­ing ship­ping indus­try, but on a human scale we can inspire greater aware­ness and a moti­va­tion for change through small prac­ti­cal actions.”


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