In 2020, Christiaan De Beukelaer spent 150 days covering 14,000 nautical miles aboard the schooner Avontuur, a hundred-year-old sailing vessel that transports cargo across the Atlantic Ocean. Embarking in Santa Cruz de Tenerife, he wanted to understand the realities of a little-known alternative to the shipping industry on which our global economy relies, and which contributes more carbon emissions than aviation. What started as a three-week stint of fieldwork aboard the ship turned into a five-month journey, as the COVID-19 pandemic forced all borders shut while crossing the ocean, preventing the crew from stepping ashore for months on end.
Trade winds engagingly recounts De Beukelaer's life-changing personal odyssey and the complex journey the shipping industry is on to cut its carbon emissions. The Avontuur's mission remains crucial as ever: the shipping industry urgently needs to stop using fossil fuels, starting today. If we can't swiftly decarbonise shipping, we can't solve the climate crisis.
Introduction: Annus pandemicus
2. What is wrong with the shipping industry?
3. Crossing the Atlantic
4. Coffee, rum, and chocolate
5. Point of return
6. The eternal frontier
7. Ship Earth
8. Where are we headed?
9. Sailing home
Christiaan De Beukelaer took up sailing to get away from his desk on weekends, which worked out well until he developed an interest in how to decarbonise the shipping industry.
He works at the University of Melbourne and has held visiting positions at the Institute of Advanced Study at Durham and at the universities of Copenhagen, Jyväskylä, Cape Town, Hildesheim, and Coimbra. He is a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.
– One of the Financial Times' Notable new books on climate and environment
"This book is both important and beautiful: important, in that it describes one of the best ways we can move into a post-fossil fuels civilisation, which is to say by sail; and beautiful, because it shows on every page how this bursting out of the cocoon of heavy oil that we have been living in will return us to a life in the real world, with the wind felt in the hands and on one's face, and every day an adventure. What a joy to read these pages and learn their news."
– Kim Stanley Robinson, author of The Ministry for the Future
"The story is original – a sailing ship undertaking a quixotic mission to deliver a tiny amount of cargo (in order to demonstrate that it can be done) when the pandemic descends, trapping the narrator – makes for a diverting narrative."
– Horatio Clare, author of Down to the Sea in Ships
"This is a book that should change the world. Beautifully written and brimming with bold yet careful analysis, Christiaan De Beukelaer has given the world a tremendous gift."
– Deborah Cowen, author of The Deadly Life of Logistics
"De Beukelaer tackles a subject that's growing in importance, giving us his perspective from the deck of a sailing cargo boat. No mean achievement."
– Tom Cunliffe, sailor, presenter and author of The Complete Yachtmaster
"Trade Winds is an absorbing account of a voyage that starts off as an effort to prove the continuing viability of sail, but becomes far more challenging than expected when the COVID-19 pandemic shuts off all access to the shore. It is also a thoughtful analysis of practical ways for shrinking the carbon footprint of one of the world's most polluting industries – shipping."
– Amitav Ghosh, author of The Nutmeg's Curse
"A truly fascinating account – of a voyage, but also of an idea that is counter-intuitive in a world based on speed, but revelatory for a planet that is going to have to start taking real care of itself. There's a bit of romance here, and a lot of reality."
– Bill McKibben, author of The End of Nature
"Simultaneously engaging and scholarly, Trade Winds combines sailing memoir and environmental analysis to provide important insights about the environmental effects of global shipping and about what plausible alternatives might be. De Beukelaer brings together personal experience with an impressive command of scholarly literatures across history, economics, philosophy, climate science, among many others, and brings them all together in an interdisciplinary tour de force that is realistic and yet ultimately hopeful."
– Elizabeth R. DeSombre, Camilla Chandler Frost Professor of Environmental Studies, Wellesley College
"Scientists, scholars, and sailors have long turned to the ocean to conjure futures that lie just beyond reach. In his dive into the quixotic movement to revive shipping by sail, Christiaan De Beukelaer leaves us wondering which is more of a folly: imagining that sail could once again be a viable technology for transporting goods around the world, or imagining that we can continue practicing business as usual."
– Philip Steinberg, UArctic Chair in Political Geography, Durham University
"Finally a book that delves deeply into the urgent need to decarbonise the shipping industry by connecting political economy and environmental challenges. Christiaan De Beukelaer poignantly describes day-to-day life aboard a twenty-first-century sail cargo vessel in its social and historical context. In doing so, this book raises essential questions about the future of shipping while offering suggestions on how to resolve them. This story of adventure on the high seas sketches a liminal space that will inspire realists and dreamers alike."
– Dr Lucy Gilliam, Senior Shipping Policy Officer, Seas at Risk
"The decarbonisation of shipping does not need to be a sacrifice. Instead, as Christiaan De Beukelaer eloquently shows, sailing to a sustainable future for shipping can be exciting and full of enriching experiences for both the author and us, the readers. Admittedly, I personally do not share all the views of Christiaan about open registries and the workings of the maritime industry, but I appreciate his sincere and enthusiastic voyage. I recommend reading this thought-provoking book."
– Jan Hoffman, Chief of UNCTAD's Trade Logistics Branch
"Trade Winds is a riveting book that talks about seafarers' workers' rights, sustainable trade that's fair and equitable, the human struggles of the lockdown and the COVID pandemic, the climate crisis, and the emissions of the shipping industry. It says all this in a beautiful story that emphasizes the need for storytelling and radically imagining the better world that we're fighting for. It puts practical solutions to take our first steps towards climate justice while simultaneously challenging us to think about how and where we're going next."
– Mitzi Jonelle Tan, Youth Advocates for Climate Action Philippines & Fridays for Future
"This book brings the environmental and social challenges facing the shipping industry to the fore. After five months at sea, Christiaan reveals how the radical changes necessary to decarbonise shipping will rely on the skill, tenacity and sacrifices of seafarers. This book rightly asks the big question, how do we build an economically, socially and environmentally sustainable shipping industry? An important contribution to the challenges facing shipping that exposes the work needed to ensure the fundamental rights of seafarers are protected."
– Stephen Cotton, General Secretary, International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF)
"As the famous quote goes: "If you want to build a ship, don't drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea." This is a book that does just that! Christiaan's intense interest and vast knowledge on this subject matter jumps out from every page, whether it is directly recounting his extended sail cargo adventure in lively detail or using those experiences to bring alive the fabric and challenges of maritime transport and trade past and present. A story of sustainability, shipping and a glimpse of a maritime future full of possibilities that will sustain your interest throughout."
– Gavin Allwright, Secretary General of the International Windship Association (IWSA)