Moving local goods by boat

SUBHEAD: In their CSA the Salish Sea Trading Cooperative uses nearly no petroleum to transport regional organic produce.  

By Janaia Donaldson on 7 March 2012 in Energy Bulletin - 

Image above: A sailboat used by the Salish Sea Trading Cooperative to transport produce to Seattle market. From (

“We are revitalizing an ancient form of transportation … using just the power of the wind and the tides … to move goods and people,” says skipper Fulvio Casali. In their CSA (community supported agriculture), the Salish Sea Trading Cooperative uses nearly no petroleum to transport organic produce and other goods from the north Olympic Peninsula to northwest Seattle.

By sea they use community volunteer sailboats, and by land an electric delivery truck. Come on board with cofounders Casali, Kathy Pelish, and Alex Tokar, who are patiently redeveloping the skills and infrastructure for the return of “a whole fleet of sailboats blanketing Puget Sound” in the post-petroleum era.

Video above: Janaia Donaldson interview with people connected to Salish Sea Trading Cooperative. From (

Video Transcript:

Janaia Donaldson: Deanna why do you choose to get your box of CSA produce from the Salish folks instead of from somewhere else?

Deanna Duke: There's two things that I really try to do in my life. One is to support local agriculture. The other is to lower my carbon footprint. So this fits both. Since the Salish CSA gets local food from organic farms and it's mostly carbon free. So that's why I choose Salish. And I like the idea of creating more of a community environment with being able to sail from Ballard over to Sequim. I just like the idea of that—it's pretty cool.

Janaia: Some folks in northwest Seattle are using sail to go across the Puget Sound to the north end of the Olympic peninsula to pick up boxes of organic produce from a farmer there, and bringing them back by sail, to members of their community supported agriculture group, using nearly no petroleum. Hi, welcome to Peak Moment. I'm Janaia Donaldson. My partner Robin and I, in honor of that, have used bike to tape several of their segments. Let's go meet them and see what they're up to.

Janaia: I'm sitting in the cockpit of a sailboat in a dock in Ballard, near Seattle, Washington, with the co-founders of the Salish Sea Trading Cooperative. I'm here with Alex Tokar, Kathy Pelish, Fulvio Casali, who is also the skipper of this boat, the Soliton. Fulvio, you guys are doing some kind of an interesting project, the first I've heard of like this. Tell us what it is.

Fulvio Casali: We are revitalizing an ancient form of transportation. 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 reestablish 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.

Janaia: So the particular form your project is taking is what?

Pelish: Specifically what we're doing this year as we start out is a small-scale CSA. Community Supported Agriculture program. We have about 30 customers, and we're delivering twice a month to Ballard. The boats go up to Sequim.

Janaia: What are you delivering? Let's go back to what a CSA delivers.

Kathy: Wonderful fresh organic vegetables from Nash's produce in Sequim.

Janaia: Tell us where that is relative to where Ballard is.

Alex Tokar: Seattle is at the lower middle of the Puget Sound. We go up the Puget Sound through Admiralty inlet and around the corner, around Port Townsend—that's about 30 miles or so up to that spot. And then another 15 or so along the Straits of Juan de Fuca, and then pop into Sequim bay. It's about 45 miles by water directly, with the wind behind us. When you're tacking it can be 60 miles. With mistakes, it can be even bigger.

Janaia: So you head out from Ballard and you work with whatever comes. Now, are you working with what the tides are?

Fulvio: Yeah, we have to time the departure. At every point we have to time it to make use of the tides, the currents, and the wind. Because otherwise the trip would take twice as long, easily.
Janaia: Describe a trip. If somebody were a mouse stealing on board, what would they experience?

Kathy: A lot of fun.

Janaia [to Kathy and Alex]: You crew, you two crew.

Kathy: Yeah, it's also great in terms of talking to the community. We have a group of about 13 people where we have different volunteers, skippers and crew. There's a whole backstory as well. You have the boxes come onboard the boat, and you do the provisioning.

Janaia: Let us depart with you.

Fulvio: Sure. We cast off from the dock. From this location, we first have to go through the Ballard locks, wait for the railroad bridge to open, go past the bridge, and then basically we're in the open waters of Puget Sound. At that point, we are free to sail and to make the trip as fast or as slow as we can. Depending on…basically we are out there and we see the conditions. What's actually right now here on the water? What's the wind doing right now? Based on that, we pick the right sail plan, the right sails to use, the right course that we can move as fast as possible. Right away we'll see porpoises and all kinds of fun sea life. Seals and sea lions and all kinds of birds. If it's dark—because we do sail through the night most of the time—especially in the summer we have some astounding luminescence. As the boat moves through the water, we see a spectacle that is almost….

Kathy: It's almost like having fireworks in the water.

Fulvio: Yeah.

Janaia: Like a light show.

Alex: It's a bit like "Avatar."

Janaia: When you say "we," usually how many people are joining you on a boat to crew with you.

Fulvio: Usually two other people; there's three of us aboard the boat usually. That allows us to take turns resting, and always having one or two people sailing the boat.

Kathy: I think one of the fun things to do, actually very technology-based, is we do Twitter. We use that technology so that people who have signed up can follow as we're going along on the trip. They can see as we pass through the locks, up past Admiralty, approaching Deception Island and getting into Sequim.

Janaia: How do people find you on Twitter?

Fulvio: Our Twitter name is @SalishSeaCoop.

Alex: A couple more things about planning that route. The route gets planned days earlier, like the week or four days earlier, by going through and looking at when the tides are changing. It's actually a fairly complex route to Sequim, because we have to catch the ebb out of Admiralty inlet, so when the tide's going out we need to be in at Admiralty Inlet. We need to follow that all the way as close as we can to Sequim. But then near Sequim we have to flip it and ride the flood into the harbor, because the currents in the harbor are too strong to go against usually by wind.

Kathy: It speaks to what Fulvio said earlier, which is that one of the larger missions is to reskill people. There are people who get on a sailboat and use the engine, and rarely sail. That's not what we're about. We're looking at this—as fossil fuel depletes more and more, and we as a society start to triage it, which we need to do—there are medical needs, for example, that are more important than people than filling up your diesel and going motoring. So for me, part of why this is exciting too, is that you're learning this skill. And I think it gives you a sense of what life might be like in a future that I think, going forward, our lives are going to slow down a little bit.

Janaia: I want to continue the trip so we can take our viewers with us. So we've got ourselves in the Sequim bay. What happens over there?

Kathy: It's a very protected bay, and a very narrow entrance. It is very much like threading your way through. So we slowed down considerably, took our time, did not run aground, did not run into anything.And we call ahead. We're partnered with Nash's. We call ahead to our friend there, Sid, who comes with the truck with the produce boxes. We meet him at the dock there, and then we go ahead and load the boxes. And then depending on the skipper and the plan, you would either turn around and leave. Or when I did it, we actually slept. We were tired and we decided we had enough time that we could sleep there.

Janaia: I'm with Sid Maroney, who's the Farm Share Coordinator at Nash's Organic Produce, who's just loaded … tell me what you're doing.

Sid: Well, we packed these boxes last night from produce that we harvested this week off the farm. They're going to Seattle by way of sailboat.

Janaia: Okay. We've just come from your farm. Let's follow this to the boat.

Janaia [to skipper Martin Adams and crewman Alex Tokar]: So tell us what's happening at this end.

Alex: We've just finished a 30-hour trip from Seattle. We left at 8:30 in the morning on Thursday, came in here about 2:15 pm.

Janaia: This is the sailboat. So, carry on. You're loading her up and taking her back.
Alex: Yup. We're loading her up and hoping to get back in time to make the delivery, which is Sunday morning 10 o'clock.

Janaia: Will it be tight, time-wise?

Martin: It's hard to say. We'll motor if we have to, to make that 10 o'clock time line.

Janaia: Since there's going to be another day or so before you go back, do you have to ice them? We're talking about older technology, right?

Fulvio: Yeah, we get a couple boxes of ice and we position them so the ice keeps everything else pretty cold in the cabin. On this boat, we use the aft cabin, which is really nice. This boat, as 99% of all sailboats built in the last fifty years, is not built for transporting goods. It's a pleasure boat. But the aft cabin, below where we're sitting right now, is a perfect hold for cargo, for boxes. One nice thing about transporting by boat is that the water here is so cold—it's under 50 degrees year round—and the boxes are so close to the water that it doesn't take much to keep them cold, even in the summer.

Kathy: There's a natural cooling action.

Janaia: So we're using, again, the natural elements to help you along here. So you navigate, you sail your way back.

Alex: I'd like to say a little bit. There are basically check points along the way, so that you know you have to be in the flood by the time you get to Port Townsend, to be coming in. Because if you're not there, and if the ebb starts before you get out of Admiralty Inlet on the way back to Seattle, you're kind of doomed, so that…

Kathy: Doomed in that you have to anchor. [Laughter] We haven't lost anyone yet.

Alex: I guess what I'm wanting to say is that we're not as pure as we could be. At certain times, if we have no wind, we can run the engine to make those check points. We're doing that this year when we have to, because we also have jobs, and we have limited amounts of time periods where we can actually be working on things. So on some trips we might have to run the engine for a half hour to forty-five minutes. So just little pieces to push us to check points if necessary. I wanted to say that so it doesn't look like we're perfect yet. Some trips we are, but not all trips.

Kathy: It's a work in progress. And we report it. We are logging it. I know with Fulvio, he notes the engine hours starting and the engine hours ending. But longer term, definitely as we reskill more and more people, the goal is to sail engine-less.

Janaia: So you do the reverse on the way back. You come into Ballard, into the dock. Then what?
[electric truck arrives at Ballard dock]

Janaia [to Kathy Pelish]: Cute car there, lady. This is Kathy Pelish who is part of the Salish Sea Trading Cooperative. She's the pick-em-up person.

Kathy: I'm the pick-em-up person, I'm kind of the back end, although I did go on the last trip. And a sailor, novice. So this is our little electric truck. It completes the journey in terms of low energy. No petroleum. It's electric.

Janaia: That's great, no petroleum.

Kathy: Uses batteries. Cool thing is it has a very nice flatbed, even though it's tiny.
[Janaia and Kathy walk down dock to the sailboat.]

Kathy: And here's our captain.

Janaia: Good morning. You made it!

Martin: Shall we do this, move veggies?
[everyone unloads boxes from boat to load electric truck]

Kathy: We are very fortunate to be partnered with Aster's Coffee Lounge, which has a great downtown Ballard location. It's on a couple of bus lines. We kept that in mind as well. We're encouraging people to bicycle to us, or take the bus. Then we set up a table outside of Aster's and we have our customers come between 10 am and 12.
For me, being kind of the back end person, it's been great—to use a gardening analogy, there's a lot of movement going on underground as you've built this network. I work with local restaurants like Ray's and get recipes from them, based on what's in the produce box.

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. They've turned out in pretty strong support.

In about ten minutes we'll be getting customers. They pick up their boxes. Then they go home with printed recipes.

So we have about thirty [boxes for customers]. For the Thanksgiving trip coming up, pre-Thanksgiving I think we can get about forty. I think that's a pretty good target, a good showing of support from the community, that is to say, people get this. They understand what we're doing.
Janaia: I'm with Jenny Helm, president of Sustainable Ballard, which is part of Seattle. [Why are you choosing Salish Sea for your CSA produce?]

Jenny Helm: Salish Sea was conceived in Sustainable Ballard originally. I would do it for that reason alone, because it grew out of the passion of some of our members. But in addition I like the idea and the impact of petroleum-free transport. The produce is always so fresh, and I like that it's something that the people who are doing it are having fun, as well as helping out the planet.

Janaia [to Fulvio, Kathy and Alex]: What do you envision, in our last couple of minutes…where do you envision taking this forward?

Kathy: Part of my larger dream is to share this out to the larger SCALLOPS communities. So for example, Whidby Island has indicated an interest in this. Vashon Island has indicated an interest in this. I'd like to be able to give them…you know, we laugh and call this "Sail Transport in a Box". It's much more complicated than that, but we have done some of the ground research. We have consulted with attorneys. We know how to do this. We can say, "Okay, here's how you need to research the tide tables. Here's what you need to expect. Here's the skill level to look for in your skipper—that's the most important." Alex and I are fairly beginning sailors. So we've taken crew that is not all that experienced. What it comes down to is the skippers. This program would not make it without the skippers that we've had.

Janaia: How many skippers do you have now, that work with you?

Fulvio: Three. Four.

Janaia: This is a lovely idea, but you look at the size and scale of the city of Seattle, and certainly bringing a boatload of boxes of veggies over from Sequim once a week is not going to feed more than a few people on your block. Have you thought of scale…what are you trying to establish here?

Fulvio: It's true, this is a—you could say this is a cute operation. Other than proving a point, it may seem like, it's hard to see what it's doing.

Fulvio: My vision for the future is to have a whole fleet of sailboats blanketing Puget Sound, going back and forth doing commerce. That is what I envision, having real working marinas all along the Puget Sound. There used to be a mosquito fleet, in the early years of the twentieth century. There used to be docks at every little community along the Sound operated, where boats, like mail boats….

Kathy: … that pull up with chickens and eggs or produce…
Fulvio: And have a whole new base of skills, basically a whole new trade, for people to have jobs in this endeavor. I'd like to see that not just here but all over the country, and all over the world. And the reason I think we are doing the CSA to begin with is not because that's the end-all of this venture, but it's because it's hard. It's a hard thing to do. It's hard to have perishable produce on a boat that has to be delivered on time. But at the same time, it also reaches a lot of people. It touches many, many people. Many more than, say, you would touch by carrying a whole boatload of supplies for one company.

Kathy: It's an opening wedge. If I can change from the practical to speaking a little more idealistically: I'm teaching a Transition Town course at my church. When I mention this program… 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 peoples' 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 again.

Janaia: why do you get CSA box from Salish Sea Trading Coop folks?

Andrea Faste': So many reasons. First of all it's a co-op, which is a great new—not new, but reviving form of organizing how we do business. It's great to know I haven't contributed any fossil fuel to the atmosphere in the delivery. I'm very concerned about climate issue. It's a way to stick it to the oil men. The people also are friends, they're engaged in supporting local agriculture, all of which is good. It's an old Scandinavian tradition to support sail transport around the sound. At one point there was a whole network, actually it was more steam, the little mosquito fleet. But the revival of that idea, that we can get our needs met within the Puget Sound area is really great.

Janaia [to Fulvio, Kathy, Alex]: What I experienced when people came to pick up their CSA boxes here, is that you have a really lovely sense of community. Folks proud to be part of this new kind of transport, sail, cooperative. There's lots of capital that you're building. Thank you for your entrepreneurial project. May you prosper and your vision come to fulfillment. Thank you.

You're watching Peak Moment. I'm Janaia Donaldson. I'm with the folks at the Salish Sea Trading Cooperative, bringing sail back into our lives. Join us next time.

See also:
Island Breath: The Future of ocean sailing 1/21/08
Island Breath: Rethinking the sail 12/25/07


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