January 23, 2022

The construction of a large modern cargo ship launched by the Bretons of the Towt

Change of scale for the Transoceanic Wind Transport (Towt). Launched in 2011 in Douarnenez (Finistère) by Guillaume Le Grand and Diana Mesa, the company is betting on rehabilitating the sail for the transport of goods. And this in the era of gigantic container ships, the largest of which are 400 meters long and carry more than 20,000 containers on a voyage… But which run mainly on heavy fuel oil, a fossil fuel, so that international maritime transport generates 2 to 3% of global greenhouse gas emissions and contributes significantly to atmospheric pollution.

For its part, the Towt uses the wind and the old rigs that Guillaume Le Grand and Diana Mesa charter for the occasion. In ten years, the Bretons counted nearly 2,000 tons of goods conveyed by the seas.

Old rigs that allowed us to test the waters

In the holds, we sometimes find coffee and cocoa from Mexico, rum from Marie Galante, wines from Madeira or Bordeaux, olive oil from Portugal, green tea from the Azores, beer from Cornwall . Towt transports these goods on both sides of the Atlantic, the English Channel and the North Sea on behalf of brands concerned with reducing the carbon impact of the products they import, and who therefore promote this approach. by affixing the Anemos label to their products.

“These old rigs are perhaps anachronisms, concedes Guillaume Le Grand. But they have the advantage of existing and of making it possible to transport, for the most capacious, up to 120 tonnes of goods in a carbon-free manner. They also allowed Towt to test the appetite of brands and the public for sail freight.

A state-of-the-art cargo sailboat for 2023

The Finistère company is now shifting into high gear. Since 2017, she has been thinking of acquiring a first modern cargo sailboat, taking advantage of the latest navigation technologies. This Wednesday, it announced that it would entrust its construction to the Piriou shipyard, based in Concarneau (Finistère still), and presented the contours of this future ship, whose delivery is scheduled for the second half of 2023.

The future schooner, 81 meters long, will be able to transport up to 1,100 tonnes of goods. This remains a drop in the bucket compared to container ships. But for the Finistère company, the change of scale is drastic since in two trips with this new ship, it should carry as much cargo as it has done since 2011. “We needed a ship that was neither too big nor too big. too small to meet the needs of chargers [clients] industrial, without being too expensive and therefore risky to build, ”explains Guillaume Le Grand.

The future schooner, 81 meters long, will be able to transport up to 1,100 tonnes of goods *. It’s always a drop of water compared to container ships. But for the Finistère company, the change of scale. – / infographic TOWT

Another detail that matters: speed. 2,500 m² of sail area will move the ship forward. They will be distributed over two masts. “We initially set off on three masts before realizing that the third increased the cost of the ship for a gain in” thrust “limited”, explains Stéphane Burgaud, sales director of Piriou. Her average speed will be around 10.5 knots [environ 20 km/h], “Which will allow it to go from Havre, where Towt now has its main districts, to New York in thirteen days and from Havre to Colombia in fifteen days,” explains Guillaume Le Grand. The Towt would then no longer be very far from the cruising speed of container ships, especially since the latter tend to reduce their speed (and are encouraged to do so), both to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and to save more and more expensive fuel.

America, South Africa … but also Shanghai

Otherwise, Guillaume Le Grand describes his future flagship as “smart”, “full of innovations and combining technologies from offshore racing, yachting, professional fishing” “It will be possible, for example, to master the air quality in the holds to ensure the best conditions for the transport of goods, he explains. Navigation will also rely on a semi-automated rigging system, so that a crew of seven sailors will suffice to operate the vessel. “

The schooner will also be equipped with a hydrogenation system, which will make it possible to use the energy of the wake [la trace qu’un bateau laisse derrière lui à la surface de l’eau] to produce part of the electricity used on board, from the rotation of the disengaged propellers. Because yes, this freighter will have two small diesel engines. “They will be used for maneuvers and port approaches for safety reasons,” explains Guillaume Le Grand. But 95% of the time, the sails will do the job. “

20,000 tonnes of goods transported per year

This cargo ship will reduce CO2 emissions linked to the maritime transport of goods by more than 90% compared to the traditional container ship option, says Towt. That is to say to save 20 g of CO2 per tonne transported and per kilometer, she says.

The ship is designed to spend 320 days at sea per year. Towt plans to make three routes to North America, three to Central America and three more to South Africa. “No longer a trip to Shanghai, in 55 days, on behalf of a Cognac house on the outward journey and a major French textile brand on the return,” says Guillaume Le Grand. Via these twenty crossings, Towt plans to transport 20,000 tonnes of goods each year, and save 3,000 tonnes of CO2.

Just a start?

Just a start? Until recently, Guillaume Le Grand and Diana Mesa talked about building not a modern cargo ship, but four. “This is still our goal,” says the co-founder of Towt. We have business proposals that provide sufficient flows and frequencies to operate four vessels. And operating in a “fleet” would allow us to better meet this need for frequency that some of our customers have. “

The Towt is not the only one to bet on a return in the wind of the transport of goods by sail. In France, the Morlaisiens (Finistère, decidedly) of Grain de Sail and the Nantais of Neoline are also on the spot, to name a few. The former have already launched a modern freighter and completed two transatlantic races last year (a third is underway). The vessel has a smaller capacity (50 tonnes) and is used in particular to collect tonnes of cocoa in Central America, which Grain de Sail then brings back to Brittany to transform it into tablets.