This section of our website contains technical documentation for Ceres and discussion of her design.


S/V Ceres Overview - part 1.

Erik Andrus, 5/11/2016

Vermont Sail Freight's first and at this point only vessel is Ceres, which you could most easily class as a spritsail sailing barge, or sailing scow, "barge" and "scow" being basically interchangeable terms for vessels with a broad flat bottom.  I was led to this design by my desire for a function-driven vessel--I wanted the greatest quantity of goods to fit in a versatile vessel of least cost.  The cost constraints were very considerable as we (myself and my organizational sponsor, the Willowell Foundation) wanted to launch the initiative entirely on donations and grants.

My personal experience in the boating and boatbuilding world was fairly limited prior to starting this project.  I worked one summer at the Rockport Apprenticeshop, and did some odd jobs at the Milwaukee Sailing Center.  Both in Maine and on Lake Michigan I got a few chances to crew on larger boats, and I enjoyed a close personal bond with my Sunfish.  Owning a sunfish and limited work experience decades ago hardly qualifies me to design a 40 foot sailing vessel, so I asked those with real experience.

Nearby in the village of Vergennes (actually Vermont's smallest city) lives Douglas Brooks, a renowned boatbuilder and an expert in Japanese traditional boats.  We had some conversations about the Vermont Sail Freight idea in 2011 and 2012.  While tentatively interested in the idea of a working vessel, Douglas generally seemed to doubt that the project could be pulled off for much less than $100,000.  He also believed that a professional designer would need to be involved to build a commercial craft, and that a design fee of $15,000 or so would be appropriate.

Neither of these dollar amounts were acceptable to what I had in mind, so I did my own research.  Ed Green is the inspections officer at the Burlington Coast Guard station, and he was the first person who alerted me to the existence of a category of "uninspected cargo vessel" permitted in the CFR (Code of Federal Regulations).  I found the CFR difficult to read, and rife with cross-references that at times seemed vague or contradictory.  Nevertheless, Mr. Green assured me that as long as the build was performed in the U.S. and I could prove it, and the length was under forty feet* and the gross tonnage below 15 Gross Register Tons, I could apply for Coast Guard documentation with the all important "coastwise" endorsement.

Gross Register Tonnage, or GRT, is a nominal, approximate and subjective rating of a vessel's cargo carrying capacity.  In the Middle Ages, vessels were taxed by port authorities based on external measurements, as the interior spaces of ships were often harder to access and measure.  Over time this has led to a kind of cargo estimation shorthand still employed by the U.S. Coast Guard.  It is subject to manipulation through the various loopholes in the CFR, as various sections of the interior can sometimes be "exempted" from the volume estimation and not count towards GRT, particularly with passenger vessels, so that sometimes very large vessels carry a small GRT rating (and therefore, less demanding qualifications for officers and crew).

Armed with this general information from the Coast Guard, I continued my design research.  Dave Zeiger, the man behind the Triloboat blog (trilobytes are simple organisms--triloboats are simple boats), responded right away when I reached out to him and declared that I could easily build the kind of boat I had in mind for $10,000 or $15,000.  This was very refreshing to hear as locally in Vermont, most people I was reaching out to were more of the $100,000 - $150,000 mindset.  So I began studying Dave's approach and deciding how to adapt it to my purposes.

Triloboats are designed with economy and ease of construction in mind, primarily for the liveaboard houseboat crowd.  While Dave had designed a T32 Cargo concept, nobody had yet built one.  So that left me wondering whether to build to that precise design or whether to change the design somehow.  Most of all I loved the affordability and simplicity of the Triloboat and wanted to preserve those advantages.  But other factors started nudging me in a different direction.

One powerful design influence was that the boat would need to hold enough cargo to make the time spent in transit worthwhile.  Eight tons of cargo takes about the same amount of labor to move along a route as twice that amount.  Dave's T32 Cargo, 32 feet in length and 8 in beam, carried up to about 8 tons.  I knew I wanted to keep length under 40, but I could increase beam.  Bringing the beam to 10' still allowed me to tow the barge around with my tractor, on a modified heavy farm running gear, but resulted in additional stability and carrying capacity.  Then I increased the length to 39'6".  With a depth of 4'6" from the hull underside to the deck, the resulting volume brought me just under the 15 GRT limit.

I submitted my paperwork to the USCG after the build was already underway.  Several times it was bounced back to us, but not for reasons pertaining to the design--mostly they were concerned with obtaining proof that the Willowell Foundation (which was to own a share of Ceres, and still does to this day) were not foreign agents.  When this matter was eventually settled, we were issued our documentation, and Vermont gained its first merchant vessel in probably 100 years or so.