Organic Caribbean produce sails to Europe

~The Tres Hombres loads fresh Aloe Vera gel in Bonaire~

Published in All At Sea magazine July 2015

By Sanny Ensing

“…and hoist… one, two, slow-down,” the voice of return-journey Captain Lammert Ossinga booms across the ship as the latest cargo, that of organic Aloe Vera gel, is hoisted aboard the wooden brigantine Tres Hombres in Bonaire. With all hands on deck, and three in the hold below, the grey container of fresh aloe gel is lifted aboard by her crew from the dinghy that brought her to ship’s starboard. The gel will be brought emission-free to the docks in Amsterdam ready to be sold to the Dutch market.

Sailing vessel Tres Hombres has been slowly gaining fame in Europe and the Caribbean with its cargo-hold full of organic produce, its visionary principles of emission-free trading and its catering to the niche market of ecologically –aware consumers. This year, on her stop in Bonaire, she took on the organic brainchild of pharmacist Jaap Ensing, 100% pure Aloe Vera gel. Ensing’s gel is stabilized in such a way that the plant’s molecular structure and subsequently its particular healing properties are kept alive. It is the purest Aloe Vera gel in the world, according to the chemist.

Ensing: “Onima Aloe Vera has a low-profile plantation on Bonaire and works together with local farmers. For the past thirty years I have perfected the stabilization of the gel to a minimal organic preservation that keeps the gel 100% pure. That ensures that all the healing properties of the plant are kept alive. He smiles softly as he explains that his profession keeps him in close contact with people suffering from skin problems. Subsequently, his Aloe Vera hobby slowly turned into a line of natural healing products. “If you add an effective natural herb or oil like lavender or arnica to the pure aloe gel, it will take that component along and penetrate deeply into the skin. The gel’s healing properties and the properties of arnica, for example, now work from inside out.” He laughs and says: “Aloe Vera in its natural form is an amazing healer.”

Captain Arjen Van der Veen, who sailed Tres Hombres to Bonaire, agrees and explains that he was interested in transporting the curative Bonairean Aloe Vera gel for years. This year, Ensing is ready to send his Onima Aloe Vera gel on its way. Captain Van der Veen clarifies: “We carry organic produce from the Caribbean to Europe. Our hold is full of cocoa beans from Grenada for example. There is a chocolate factory in Amsterdam that makes scrumptious chocolate bars from these beans.” He laughs and says: “They even come to pick up the cocoa beans with carrier bikes, backpacks, horse and wagon or electric cars, so it is emission-free all the way from the plantation on Grenada to the factory in Amsterdam.” “You see,” he says: “There is a niche market for these products that come straight from the source. Our Dutch shipping company Fair Transport is good for the planet and that is what we believe in – as do others. This concept is growing.”

Envisioned by three friends (hence the name Tres Hombres), their Fair Transport shipping company has gained an admirable reputation over the years for a sustainable future with sailing freighters. Captains Arjen van der Veen, Jorne Langelaan and Andreas Lackner were dubbed slightly ‘crazy’ when they dreamed up their freighters under sail but today their ‘idea’ has taken flight with investors believing in their vision of emissions-free trade. The shipping company has recently added another old-timer to her fleet with the 1873 British fishing trawler Nordlys that is used to transport goods in European waters. Both ships are sailed with traditional rigging. Fair Transport’s future looks bright as they draw up plans of building the very first hybrid ship, the Eco liner, a Dynarig concept with a nineteen meter long steel hull weighing three ton and using high-tech sails. The concept is daring but so was the birth of Tres Hombres and Fair Trade.

The beauty of this sailing freighter is what it does to its supporters, who jubilantly await her at every port of call, and to the products she carries, aptly illustrated by the story Captain Lammert tells during their stay in Bonaire. “At one point Tres Hombres was transporting two barrels of bio-dynamic French wine to New York. The ship was not allowed to unload at the docks so had to return home with the wine still in her hold. Amazingly enough, the wine in those two barrels was superior to the barrels left at home– the journey made the difference. The wine from these barrels sold at 150 euros a bottle! Today we regularly carry some barrels of this specific French bio-organic wine in our hold, just for the journey from great wine to outstanding wine.”

Whether it is the slow rocking of the waves that matured the wine just right or the spirit aboard a traditionally rigged brigantine that seeped into the wine barrels remains a mystery. What is sure is that this great team of adventurers, ecologists and idealists aboard the Tres Hombres positively contribute to a greener planet by sailing the best organic Caribbean produce available to an appreciative European market. A winning formula!