This year under the Christmas tree, certain presents imported from France just might bear the label “imported by sailboat.”

That’s because they would have made the crossing from La Rochelle, on the west coast of France, to the Port of Montreal aboard a sailing vessel powered by the wind and the sun thanks to its sails, two small wind turbines and solar panels. Not a drop of fuel oil was spent to import these commodities to Canada. They will be certified carbon neutral.

The holds of the Avontuur merchant schooner can carry the equivalent of four cargo containers. Last October, the schooner delivered 6,500 bottles of Nicolas Feuillatte champagne for Quebec’s liquor board, the SAQ, fabric for Cirque du Soleil, clothing for Simons department stores and products by French artisans.

The Avontuur adventure is part of the shipping industry’s effort to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and overall environmental footprint. Shipping is already by far the least polluting means of transportation compared to air and land. Nevertheless, the international navigation standards promoting respect of the environment are tightening and many actors have decided to play their part, alongside shipowners, terminal operators, port authorities, importers and exporters.

Montreal’s retail company Portfranc Logistique organized the pilot project for the Avontuur, with financial support from the Quebec government. Its mission: provide oil-free onshore and offshore transportation services to accelerate local and transcontinental sustainable transport. Clément Sabourin, co-founder with Fabien Loszach of Portfranc Logistique, is proud to have dared to take this first step, “There will be more crossings of the Avontuur as we await the super-sailboats.”

The Avontuur set sail back to Larochelle, France on October 19. Its crew consists of 16 members, six experienced mariners and 10 trainees, representing seven nations: Canada, France, Italy, Spain, Denmark, Germany and Poland.

The Avontuur is a schooner built in 1920 and completely renovated in 2016. Its homeport is Hamburg, Germany. It takes about 60 days to cross the Atlantic between Larochelle and Montreal, and about 30 days to do the opposite due to the prevailing winds.

Watch the Avontuur set sail for France


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