Project: Cargo by sail

Our projects at the origin

Project: Cargo by sail

| 2022-03-15

Coffee by sail: Truly carbon-free transport!
Allow us to explain...


As a company determined to offer sustainable coffees from start to finish – from the producer’s plot to delivery to our artisanal roaster customers – we couldn’t possibly take a virtuous approach to sourcing and then turn a blind eye to how our coffees make their way to Europe.

We have chosen this more sustainable means of transport not as a sales argument or communication strategy, but because we have no choice. Business decisions cannot be based on profitability alone, sometimes it’s simply a question of responsibility, of common sense.

By 2025, we aim to transport at least 50% of our total coffee volume by sail.


(Sailing) Travel Diary: 

The meeting, 2019 :

It all began with a meeting between two men, Alexandre Bellangé, General Manager of Belco, and Guillaume Le Grand, President and co-founder of TOWT (sail transport solutions).

Both share the same vision of wanting to reduce our carbon footprint drastically, efficiently and effectively, while offering real added value for a product that must arrive from a faraway destination.

The commitment, 11 septembre 2021 :

Belco signed a sail transport agreement with TOWT, and committed to financing the construction of a sailing cargo ship and to transporting its coffees by sail from 2022 onwards, to ultimately use this mode of transport for at least 50% of its volume by 2025. 

A firm commitment, taken to assume our role in this industry by decarbonising the transport of our coffees.

The trial run, 29 novembre 2021 : 

Pending the construction of the first sailing cargo ship, and to prove to the industry that it’s possible, Belco and TOWT decided to ship their first coffees by sail on the Avontuur, the largest sailing cargo ship in the world (capacity 100 tonnes), a two-masted schooner built in 1920 by Otto Smit in Stadskanaal, in the Netherlands.

Our logistics and field teams were the first to embark on our sailing adventure, being responsible for reinventing and preparing this mode of transport for the first time. A lot of work was necessary before we could finally let our coffees go!

The first coffees shipped by sail were our Duni, Vallenato and Comuneros coffees. 

Boarding, 8 décembre 2021 :

The date they hit the sea! 

The Avontuur left from Santa Marta, in northeast Colombia, which is a strategic port for sailing cargo ships on account of its proximity to the Sierra Nevada coffee plantations. The boat carried some 22 tonnes of green coffee sourced from local cooperatives.

It was the largest lot of coffee loaded at a single port onto a transport sailing vessel in modern history, expected to arrive in the port of Bordeaux Bassens at the end of January for unloading.

The signature, 10 janvier 2022 : 

The French shipping company TOWT (TransOceanic Wind Transport) announced in January the signing of a shipbuilding contract for a new custom-built sailing cargo ship. The ship will be built by the French-based Piriou shipyard and should enter service in the summer of 2023.

The 260-foot-long sailing cargo ship will have a commercial capacity of 1,100 tonnes. TOWT expects the vessel to carry up to 20,000 tonnes of goods each year, sailing to various destinations around the globe. They already have plans to sail to New York, Shanghai, Abidjan, the Caribbean, Brazil, Colombia and Mexico, based on commercial demand and opportunities.

The ship will be driven by sails boasting a total surface area of over 23,000 sq. feet, offering speeds of around 10 knots. Atlantic crossings between Le Havre, France and New York should take about two weeks. Other journeys will take longer. In addition to cargo, the ships will be able to carry up to 12 passengers and operate with a crew of seven.

Unloading, 7 février 2022 : 

Watch our coffees as they arrive at the Port of Bassens, in Bordeaux – a unique morning in Belco’s history, our first coffees transported by sail!

A big thank you to all our customers for coming, to our dream team, to all the dockers for their hard work, and of course to our partner TOWT for making it all possible. 



Heading for 2024!

Remember the arrival of a sailing boat in Bordeaux in February 2022, with 22 tons of Colombian coffee on board? We're taking it to the next level!

This is it, in 2024, we will be loading about 1000 tons on a single ship: the first modern cargo sailing ship of this size ever built! 
  • In September 2022, the sailing ship entered the construction site
  • It is made of steel and is 81 meters long
  • It will carry up to 1000t of goods


Look at this chart: we were in green and we are going to blue scale!

Our challenges, October 2022:

Timing, cost, quality, responsibility  

  • We are working to meet our specifications, while scaling up: exceptional qualities, available, at a very low environmental cost with limited economic impact.
  • Over 90% reduction in CO2, nitrogen dioxide and sulfur emissions and limited noise pollution
  • A routing technology to take advantage of the best winds; Protected goods in ventilated holds   

Do you know who is working at Belco on this project?

Meet Louis Mayaud! And he's the one who tells you everything.

My name is Louis, I joined the Belco teams in March 2022. My two big passions are sailing and coffee. Indeed, I spent a few years in Latin America, particularly in Honduras, then on my return, I embarked on a solo transatlantic adventure, on the smallest ocean racing boat that exists.   

My job at Belco is to make the decarbonization of maritime transport possible. In particular by using sailing cargo ships.
On the one hand, the transport offer: the TOWT company is building the first modern sailing cargo ship in history, capable of carrying 1,000 tons of goods.

The 2nd TOWT ship 2  under construction 

On the other hand, 10,000 tons of coffee and cocoa to be transported to consumer countries with the smallest possible environmental footprint.   
In October 2022, I spent 2 weeks in Colombia and 2 weeks in Brazil, to share our project with our suppliers, to set up the first logistical bricks of pre-routing and port operations. I have to tell you what is involved in shipping a vessel for a company like Belco. 
  • We charter the entire ship. So we have to master all the risks associated with shipping.  
  • We do not load containers, but we have to pack the coffee on pallets. So we have to adapt our supply upstream 
  • We load 1,000 tons of goods at once, which is the equivalent of about 50 containers. We have to adapt our financing mode to match the cash flow evolutions.  

To be followed...

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