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Maritime non-fiction / Current affairs

Can we blow away maritime's carbon crisis?

Trade Winds, by Christiaan De Beukelaer

With mbook_Trade Winds.jpgaritime decarbonisation well and truly on the agenda, there has been a recent surge of interest in wind propulsion for cargo vessels. Christiaan De Beukelaer is a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society whose sailing hobby led him to explore the possibilities of using this old-fashioned method in modern supply chains, and he has written this fascinating account of what it is like to put wind power into practice.

Like our featured book in the previous issue of the Telegraph, Trade Winds focuses on a voyage that was unexpectedly disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic. De Beukelaer joined Avontuur, the world's largest sailing cargo vessel, in the Canary Islands for a voyage to pick up rum, coffee and cacao in the Caribbean and transport them to Germany. He was hoping to spend three weeks finding out more about the movement to bring back emission-free propulsion. Instead he found himself trapped onboard for five months.

This adds an element of tension and adventure to an account of how entrepreneurs and sailing enthusiasts are attempting to make a difference for the planet by transporting goods the traditional way, rather than relying on what De Beukelaer calls 'horrendously polluting, but frighteningly convenient, fossil fuels'.

The book is very well written, and it is interesting to read about the practical details of navigation, work and social life onboard such an unusual vessel. There are also maps, illustrations and images of the vessel during its voyage.

Potential readers who wonder whether this will book will be a lecture on environmentalism can be reassured that it is a fair account. It's clear where De Beukelaer's heart lies – he shows that the well-meaning attempts to transport goods by wind ship can inspire hope that a different kind of global economy is possible. However, he is also honest in his scepticism about whether a large-scale transformation to this planet-friendly propulsion system is ultimately possible. He doesn't shrink from the challenges involved, from the amount of timber required to build sailing vessels to the need for maritime professionals with particular specialist skills.

Still, the advocates for wind technology aren't going to give up. Only time will tell if they are successful in making a real difference to the maritime industry's carbon emissions.

Trade Winds: a voyage to a sustainable future for shipping
By Christiaan De Beukelaer
Manchester University Press, £20.00
ISBN: 978 15261 163097

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