In More Support of Grassroot Experiments; Apollonia

Doing is learning, and I learned when I had the pleasure of doing some shore side support for the Apollonia effort.

Apollonia continues to move cargo by sail between Albany and the Port of New Jersey/New York and points in between.

Occasionally Apollonia loads coffee cargo at Carteret, New Jersey. Carteret is a very interesting town on the Arthur Kill (Right across the new Fresh Kills Park on Staten Island) that is reconnecting with its waterfront. It has built a lovely waterfront park and marina, and soon will be starting a passenger ferry service to New York City.



Immediately inland from the marina there are a number of warehouse/distribution centers. The upper warehouse in the picture is the Continental Terminal warehouse. This warehouse mostly moves coffee and this is where Apollonia picks up the coffee that they carry up the Hudson.

This trip they loaded 39 150 pound bags and transported them from a loading dock at the warehouse to the berth that is in the middle of the marina. The Apollonians are fully committed to sustainable transportation and use this nifty electric cargo bike that carries three bags at a time from the loading dock at the warehouse to the marina down the marina ramp to Apollonia.


Here I am following Capt. Merrett on his trip to Apollonia.


Once on the dock, the cargo gets loaded by hand into the hold.

The path is frustrating because the park has no direct route from the loading dock to the gate so the distance is about three times the distance a crow would fly. On the other hand, in the whole scheme of things the crew is happy that they can actually get this cargo from the warehouse to the boat.


There is the warehouse and the gate to the marina.


You can see the Apollonia masts immediately right of the piling with the sign.


I was there because Apollonia also had the chance to pick up an additional 6 bags of coffee from another coffee warehouse in Edison about 12 miles away. Yes, there are two huge warehouses in New Jersey completely stuffed with coffee. The coffee comes into the port, gets transported by trucks to these warehouses and then gets transported in various lot sizes to the roasters and packagers in other trucks.

Apollonia would love to carry the additional cargo too, but 12 miles is too far for the electric bike. I heard about the extra cargo and offered to use my Chevy Bolt EUV to carry that cargo to Carteret. Yes, I know that from an energy use point of view, it makes little sense to drive from Tinton Falls to Edison to move 800 pounds of raw coffee 12 miles to Carteret and drive back to Tinton Falls. But remember this is grassroots experimentation and in experiments you set standards and one of the Apollonia standards is EV before IC.


It was difficult for me to get any closer to the marina than the loading dock where the other 39 bags were, so Captain Merrett used the cargo bike to carry the Edison bags the last 1/4 mile or so.

It is not efficient, but doing provides knowledge, and there is so much that springs to mind with even this minor experiment.

1.  If we can find an EV truck nearby, the Edison warehouse becomes a full player in taking coffee up the Hudson or even across the harbor. Hopefully that is simply a matter of time.

2. If we properly design waterfronts for mixed use; cargo, recreational boating, ferries, fishing and just waterfront recreation, everybody will benefit. In the case, it would be nice to be able to move the cargo on the most southern pier, which already has a better arrangement for cargo (but will probably become a ferry pier in the future). That pier also should have a more automatic gate.

Capt. Merrett had to post one of his crew members at the gate to open and close it whenever he came up the ramp since stopping 450 pounds of cargo on the ramp is not advisable. The park has nice curvy paths, but it would be really nice if there were a direct path between the warehouse and the pier gate. That fix would be super simple and very low cost. The reality is that nobody up till now has thought of micro marine cargo revival along waterfronts. Until recently waterfront redevelopment has only been reconsidered for its recreational possibilities. In other words, the design standards for waterfront reuse need a completely new approach.

3. To realize that all that coffee sits in that warehouse and must include delivery locations more efficiently reached by water, really stirs the juices of harbor wide waterborn micro cargo distribution.

4. The above items are all futuristic dreams that come from doing, but doing also makes one realize that this type of cargo movement requires the reinvention of past efficiencies. Tricks that made life easier in the past, but have since been forgotten. Loading bags of coffee benefits from having a proper cargo sling for bags. Such a sling was sewn up for prior cargoes and was now being used to load the coffee. Each time the sling was laid out, a bag was loaded on top, and the crew used a bowline to attach a halyard that lowered the cargo into the hold. There the hold man untied the bowline, and the halyard was pulled up and the sling was tossed back on deck from the hold.


After a while I suggested that I will donate a proper cargo hook so there was no delay in tying and untying the bowline. The hold man suggested we use the carabiner from the bosun chair. And this is where things got weird. Just the use of the carabiner sped the whole process by a factor of three. Just one simple piece of equipment made all the difference. Yes, it saved the time to tie and untie the bowline, but there were other subtle improvements. Instead of disconnecting the sling from the halyard, the hold man only disconnected one of the loops on the cargo sling and now the sling stayed connected to the halyard when it was pulled out of the hold. That allowed the sling to be laid down faster without the risk of it blowing away in the rather strong wind. It also made it less likely that the halyard free end would escape and run out of the mast block. Once the bag was down on the sling, the loose loop would clip onto the carabiner in seconds and the next bag could be swung into the hold. There is actually another benefit in using two carabiners, one for each loop, but that benefit takes too long to explain here.

Was there a downside to this improvement? Well yes, Apollonia also trains crew and here there was one less opportunity to learn to tie a quick bowline. I suppose they will need to practice in the time saved loading cargo with the vessel underway. And remember, only a vessel that is moving makes money.