Fifth Empire Company

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We are a sail cargo cooperative, transporting sustainable goods by sustainable means.

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The Fifth Empire Company is a sail cargo cooperative. Our mission is to offer a small scale, sustainable alternative to commercial shipping, focussing on environmentally friendly products, heritage handicrafts and the creative arts. We are currently establishing a network of artists and artisans, whose products we will eventually, potentially, transport throughout Europe by sail. If you wish to collaborate please go to the Join page for more information.

Let us travel for a moment to the sunset of the Golden Age of Sail. Sailing cargo ships have reached their technological zenith. Famous tea clippers like Taeping, Cutty Sark and Thermopylae, and gargantuan grain-shipping windjammers with names like Moshulu, Passat and Pamir, hold their own against the advance of steam. They race the oceans, competing for the fastest passage. By no means slow or inefficient, these ships represented the culmination of a technology used continuously for over 2000 years.

Contrary to common assumptions, which might lead one to assume that sail had already become obsolete by the mid-1800’s, commercial sailing ships continued to ply their trade for the next hundred years, despite the prevalence of motorised competition. The last grain race - the fiercely competitive seasonal passage of windjammers carrying Australian grain to England - took place in the year 1949, not so very long ago, up until which point sailing cargo had still been a viable commercial venture. In short, sail shipping did not go out of fashion because it ceased to work - indeed, those same trade winds still blow - rather, it became outmoded by the capacity, more than the velocity, of motor-transport. Slow-steaming measures, introduced in 2007 and now adopted by nearly all global shipping lines in an effort to reduce fuel costs, limit the speed of container ships to 14-18 knots, while the China tea clippers had an average top speed of 16 knots and no fuel costs whatsoever!

In the search for sustainable solutions to the demands of the modern world, there may once again be a place for masts and spars on the seven seas. 'Low-tech’ solutions, far from being irrelevant in today’s ‘high-tech’ world, can offer viable answers to modern problems. Rather than abandoning the knowledge and technologies of past generations in favour of the latest advancements, we might instead stand to benefit by rediscovering the tried and true solutions that already exist: by downscaling that which need not be industrialised, by simplifying that which never needed to be complicated, and by re-examining all that has been absentmindedly condemned to obsolescence - not with the aim of regression, but with the notion of achieving a technological equilibrium in which the best of the past, present and future can be drawn upon to solve the problems of today.

This story reaches further than sustainable shipping alone; it is also the story of what the world could be and what it must become in order to prevent a global ecological cataclysm. It is the story of Sustainable Degrowth.

To learn more, please enjoy the following pages and resources:




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