The Northeast Grain Race

A Blog Post by Derek Ellard

The Hudson River Maritime Museum, in cooperation with the Center for Post Carbon Logistics and the Northeast Grainshed Alliance, will be conducting a Grain Race in May of 2022. Contestants in four capacity categories will vie for the highest score when moving cargoes of grain from growers to producers and users such as brewers and maltsters across New England, New York, and New Jersey. Each Ton-Mile of cargo moved earns one point, but 5 points are lost for each liter of fuel, or 10 kWh of power taken from the grid.

Based on the Great Grain and Tea Races of the 19th century, conducted by ships sailing from Australia and China to England, but adapted to facing the current climate crisis, this race is designed to add some drama and interest to the topics of local food systems and food transportation.

Each contestant set can enter a single cargo voyage during the month of May 2022, using the indicated Google Form, which will be verified by a panel of judges. Winners will be published on the 15th of June, and prizes awarded thereafter.

The rules and current Directory of Participants and Supporting Organizations can be accessed here. Those interested in participating can have themselves added to the directory through the provided contact link in the document, while those with questions can contact the Hudson River Maritime Museum for further information.

Blog Post

The Northeast Grain Race is many things, a history lesson, an “all things considered” invitation, a competition and an opportunity to make a difference but it also highlights another race – a race against time.  The world urgently needs initiatives like this to make us sit up and take a good look at what we all take for granted – the food in our local store and how it gets there. To put it bluntly, we must find better ways to put food on the table without destroying the farms that grow it, and recent disasters are surely stark reminders that we’re rapidly running out of time.  The good news is this is a race we can win, we can come out on top if we apply ourselves to this, The Race Of Our Lives. In our marine team, we have access to the best of history, the best technology and the combined expertise of the best Maritime Minds and Lateral Thinkers so the odds are good – we can win this one!

This race could herald a new era as the seeds of a new ocean order come to fruition – history will be written. ) we are evolving to a point where we will wield real power. Power to initiate sensible change as we jointly reject the old obsolete ways of the past and embrace the new ways of the past – the abundant natural capital of wind and sun re-interpreted for the 21st century.

The power to commission a new generation of better cargo ships, clean, efficient and profitable ships driven by wind and sun, is within our grasp. Our time is now.

As an Australian member of this group of visionary minds, my own contribution is both modest yet my aims are global. The principles are simple – take the best of the old and press a big refresh button. Our small sailing ketches and cargo schooners would not, at first glance, look out of place moored to a 19th century wharf, but look closer and you will see that every single component of every one of our boats is upgraded. We’ll refine the time-honoured sailplans, upgrade all the gear and build in electric auxiliaries.  A new generation of sailmakers will weave their composite spells, new alloys like Scandium will be extruded for our spars and our underwater lines will cleave the waters with no oily scum in their wake.

Every aspect of the power delivery systems is designed for efficiency. Form Energy’s new generation iron-air batteries show great promise as ballast with benefits, new pumps and fridge compressors will cut power consumption by half – Magtor take a bow, and hats off to the Alpha 311 creators for their innovative roadside wind generators, we have designated spaces for them on board. There’s high-performance, self-lubricating bearings for props, rudders and dagger boards. All this and up to 36 TEUs in the holds, that’s 800 tonnes or 1,400 cubic metres (49,440 cubic feet) in our new Schooner. Food on the table without trashing the trade routes.

Our new wind ships are freighters, feeders and short sea traders with a good attitude, not afraid to exploit the best of the new but built on the solid, risk-averse foundations of the world’s maritime history, a history with a particularly rich vein running right through the North Eastern States

This business model only takes us so far however, you are not going to power a full-sized container ship with solar panels over the cargo hatches but our C100 Ketch will generate 12kW on a good day and power the inboard electric engines in the calms to help keep the owner’s accountant happy. And there’s the business case in a nutshell – free fuel, there for the harnessing.  I’ll gladly leave the development of the mega ships to those best qualified for the job but America and indeed the whole planet will always need small ships, new generation zero-carbon square riggers for the trade winds and new schooners, sailing barges and cutters for the rivers, estuaries and islands.

So what’s the big idea then? Where do we go from here?

Back to future I say, and I take my cue from the amazing World War 2 Liberty Ship program initiated by good old-fashioned US entrepreneurs and an enlightened government applying Henry Ford’s mass-production techniques to the slipways. The current war threatens annihilation so we’d better get down to it. We need mass-produced sail and sun driven ships by the thousand. We will need the discipline and strategy of the military, the precision of robotics and the hard work of the Nation’s best shipwrights and we need them now.

So what’s stopping us? Capital. Where there’s a will there’s a way and we have the will already. We need to pool our abundant resources, take a collective deep breath and speak up – loud and clear. It’s no longer a case of “THEY SHOULD DO SOMETHING!” Protest is past, action is present, WE will do something, our voices must ring out in the boardrooms of the powerful. The message is crystal clear, free fuel can no longer be ignored and the starting gun for the future-proof shipping race has already been fired – the winds of change are here!

The author:

Derek Ellard is an Australian boat builder and designer at Go Sail Cargo.  He has designed “purpose built” “electric clipper” sail cargo vessels ranging in size from 24’ to 180’.  Derek has been working with the Center for Post Carbon Logistics, The Schooner Apollonia, the Hudson River Maritime Museum, and Sustainable Hudson Valley as part of an effort to R&D. design, finance, and build 5 new ships including an ocean-going sail cargo vessel to be locally built in a Hudson Valley shipyard to complement the movement of goods and people to and from the Caribbean, New York Harbor, and the Hudson Valley in a carbon constrained future. Derek can be reached at

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