Cacao sails cross-Atlantic on carbon neutral boat

This carbon neutral sailboat delivered cacao to France, all the way from the Dominican Republic.

Brittany-based chocolate and coffee manufacturer Grain de Sail sent their own vessel - which functions almost completely on renewable energy - on a cross-Atlantic voyage via New York in a bid to make the movement of their goods by sea pollution free.

International shipping by sea transport emits around 940 million tonnes of CO2 annually, accounting for about 2.2% of the world's greenhouse gas emissions. That's according to a 2014 study by the International Maritime Organization (IMO).

Grain de Sail’s boat is more environmentally friendly than most cargo ships – featuring two hydrogenerators, two wind power generators and three sets of solar panels.

Its small diesel motor is only used for minor manoeuvres at harbors.

According to Jacques Barreau, the director general of Grain de Sail, the mission was partly inspired by tall ships – a type of sailboat dating back to the 18th century.

"It's about making maritime transport carbon neutral again, because we should not forget that in the past, tall ships, which were sailboats, had the capacity to transport cargo, and they didn't have motors. They were already carbon neutral. But we have lost this habit a bit, with the use of large cargo ships and container vessels, and what we're doing with this very modern ship, which really uses today's technology, is that we're reinitiating all of this. We're going back to a more virtuous maritime transport, and it's true that it's something that's extremely important considering all of today's environmental matters."

The sailboat started its maiden voyage in November 2020 and docked in New York City in December.

It then set off to the Dominican Republic, where staff collected 33 tonnes of cacao beans before heading back to France – making a total round trip of three months.

During the voyage, the crew enjoyed Brittany's trademark crepes, lying in the hammock, and spotting the occasional dolphin swimming nearby.

But it wasn’t all plain sailing, said the boat’s captain, Loic Briand.

"We took a route around the north, all while staying close to the Gulf Stream. We had a bit of depression, four anticyclones, we chose to test the boat in some depressions, meaning we crossed storms with wind speeds of up to 120 kilometers per hour and seven to eight meters of waves that came crashing, but the boat resisted quite well."

The company aims to develop an inter-Atlantic network of cacao and coffee producers in the future, with the implementation of more cargo sailboats.

"Little by little, we will develop, on both sides of the Atlantic, a manufacturing network, of roasting and chocolate production, both on the European level and in the east coast of the United States. Then, we will eventually link these sites together with one cargo sailboat, then a second sailboat, a third, a fourth, so that this group of ships could serve each site in a pooled manner."