PORTLAND — As she walked along the wharf at 400 West Commercial St. last Thursday, Leah Cook had a question.
“So who is schlepping?” she asked of almost a dozen volunteer stevedores helping to go back to the future of seafaring with Maine Sail Freight, a project designed to get consumers and producers to re-examine sustainable interstate trade.
Cook, of Crown O’ Maine Organic Cooperative and Fiddlers Green Milling, had just arrived with half a truckload of freight – beans, garlic, hops and maple sugar candy – all Maine made and grown, and bound for Boston by sail.
The next step in getting it from here to there was to load the cargo, valued at $70,000, on the Adventure, a 122-foot, refurbished two-masted schooner built in 1926 to haul fish to Gloucester, Massachusetts.
Cook wheeled shrink-wrapped pallets of freight to the lift gate of the co-op truck and then set them on the ground. Off came the shrink wrap and wooden boxes and barrels were toted by hand and hand truck to the schooner.
“This is great,” Cape Elizabeth resident David Whitten said as he and his son, Rowan, 8, carried the goods. “I’m proud to be supporting them getting their products to market.”
There was no chance the freight brought from the North Vassalboro distributor of vegetables, dairy products, sea salt and other products would fill the 25-foot-by-35-foot cargo hold.
Yet at least a third of the cargo was already sold, Abby Sadauckas estimated, and the rest would be on sale at the Boston Public Market through next month.
Sadauckas coordinated the project with Severine von Tscharner Fleming, director of The Greenhorns, based in Essex, New York; and Marada Cook, of Crown of Maine and Fiddlers Green.
The Greenhorns is a nonprofit established to attract and assist young farmers, according to its website.
Fleming said the project could have foundered before it started for lack of a vessel. The schooner Harvey Gamage was the intended vessel, but it is being repaired.
Enter Adventure, listed as a National Historic Landmark and captained by Stefan Edick, once captain of the Harvey Gamage.
“It was a very unusual set of circumstances,” Edick admitted about arriving in port the morning of Aug. 27.
The Adventure is fitted with an engine, but Edick expected smooth sailing for the journey that began the morning of Aug. 28.
“Given the forecast, we should be able to make the trip under sail,” he said.
The Adventure’s crew of 12 handled the on-board loading and stowing after rigging three planks.
“Nothing is going to happen fast,” first mate Bill Burke told the stevedores. “We are only going to lift one thing at a time.”
First came the pallets for the hold, then piece by piece, the freight was passed along from stevedores to crew. Soon the call went out for more shrink wrap.
“Never leave home without it,” Cook said as she brought a roll from the truck.
While freight was produced by Midcoast and Downeast businesses, Portland by necessity was the point of departure, Sadauckas said.
“At this time, there are very few points where you can load at this scale,” she said.
Fleming and Whitten hoped the maiden Maine Sail Freight voyage is a portent of more ventures.
“Being a part of restarting this lower-carbon form of transportation is a dream I have had for over a decade,” Whitten said.
Volunteer stevedore Jim Cornish tosses a blanket to Adventure crewman Richard Stamos on Aug. 28 before the maiden Maine Sale Freight trip to Boston. The ship carried $70,000 of Maine goods for sale.
Robert Ericksen, of Winslow, helps Leah Cook steady a load of Boston-bound goods steady Aug. 27. The freight was shipped under sail on the schooner Adventure.
The mackerel were missing from this box of candy and beans loaded on to the schooner Adventure in Portland for shipment by sail to Boston. Goods not sold before delivery will be available at the Boston Public Market.
Rowan Whitten, 8, of Cape Elizabeth, carries with care while helping load Maine products on the Adventure. The schooner delivered the goods by sail to Boston.