Following the success of the Tres Hombres, Les Frères de la Côte have launched the renovation of a new ship, the Zeehaen, which will be able to transport, under sail of course, even more rum. Better still, you can become a shareholder: explanations with Raphaël Mangin (RM), co-founder, and Grégory Girardin (GG), financial and logistic manager of La Compagnie des Frères de la Côte.
Tell us about the tres Hombres and the beginnings, or rather the revival, of rum transport by sail
RM: It all started with the Tres Hombres, a ship whose hull was built in 1943 in Poland. In 2007, three passionate Dutch merchant navy officers, Arjen van der Veen, Jorne Langelaan and Andreas Lackner, bought it and renovated it. They parted with her engine and the boat became a 32-meter two-masted boat. Arjen, Jorne and Andreas wanted to show that it was possible to transport goods under sail and they founded the company Fairtransport Shipping & Trading.
Since then, the Tres Hombres has been transporting goods (cocoa, chocolate, rum, etc.) under wind power, but it is also a training ship that trains its own sailors. The crew of 15 people is composed of half professional sailors and half trainees who embark for the adventure. Some even join the crew.
And how did your partnership and the Frères de la Côte adventure start ?
RM: My brother and I were skippers and we met the Tres Hombres crew in the West Indies in 2010. My brother joined the crew on the boatyard, first as a sailor before becoming first mate and then captain. That’s when we launched the Frères de la Côte with our mother. People quickly loved the rums and the concept. But the French were mainly looking for raw casks, whereas Tres Hombres rums are reduced to 43%. So we started to charter the boat under our own company (Les Frères de la Côte) to have brut de fût rums from the West Indies bottled in France.
How much of the cargo carried by the Tres Hombres is rum ?
RM: The Tres Hombres can carry about 35 tonnes of goods, including 60 barrels of 225-litre rum, 10 tonnes of coffee and 10 tonnes of cocoa. This year 40 barrels were transported under the Tres Hombres brand and 20 under the Frères de la Côte brand in Brut de fût.
And you have plans to buy a new ship?
RM: The rum is sold before the ship has even returned to the mainland. That’s why we have started to rehabilitate another vessel to grow both Tres Hombres and Les Frères de la Côte. The Zeehaen, or ‘cock of the sea’ in Dutch, which in our country corresponds to the gurnard. It can carry between 100 and 120 tonnes. That’s between 150 and 200 barrels per year.
But you are still looking for financing?
GG: We have invested in this new project, as have our families, friends and Fairtransport. But to carry it out, we need more money, which is why we wanted to open up the capital of the joint stock company that we have created to all the enthusiasts who want to join. In concrete terms, we need a total of 1,350,000 euros. The fundraising is 1 million and we have raised 300,000€. We are therefore looking for €700,000, or 700 people with 1 share each!
So you’re offering enthusiasts the chance to become Zeehan shareholders with you?
GG: Each share is worth 1000 euros, and as in every company where you hold shares, this gives you the right to vote, to dividends, to participate in the general assembly (GA). As we are aiming for La Rochelle as our home port for the Zeehaen, the AGM would be held there. We are also thinking about discounts on rums for the benefit of the shareholders, about bringing out special vintages… Moreover, a vintage will be bottled for the current investors. Some of them are big rum lovers who like the way we work and the sailing enthusiasts, as well as friends and family.
How does a voyage of the Tres Hombres, and soon the Zeehaen, work?
RM: The Tres Hombres does an Atlantic rotation every winter and the Zeehaen will follow its pattern. She leaves her home port in Holland in November, stops in France to load products that do not exist in Martinique (so as not to compete with local products) such as Pineau des Charentes, Cognac, Armagnac… And we also transport second-hand barrels that have housed these spirits. Then it makes a stop in Portugal to load olive oil and second-hand barrels (port, Madeira, oloroso…). She then stops in the Canary Islands (La Palma) where we have a partnership with the Quevedo family. Then the Tres Hombres crosses the Atlantic, goes to the Caribbean, Barbados, the West Indies. Then it’s back to Europe in April/May where it unloads its rum, coffee and cocoa. Then the ship is chartered by a Dane to carry French wine to Copenhagen (in summer). And the cycle has continued every year for 13 years!
Can you tell us a little about the dynamic ageing you do on the rums?
GG: Rum is completely different. Initially, we took rum from the barrels and bottled it to compare it with the rum that had remained in the barrels during the crossing. We realised that the alcohol was much better integrated in the latter. We had the cellar masters taste the results of the experiment. The biggest factor according to them is the movement of the spirit in the barrel for several months. This creates over-oxygenation and better alcoholic integration. The rums are less aggressive, have a different aromatic palette and are more open.
Dynamic maturation also has an effect on the refining process, which is more complete. The rum is in constant contact with the different tannins in the staves from cognac or port, for example, and we try to anticipate this finish on the rum we select because we know that the previous alcohol will come out in the final product. For us, the finish is not there to decorate! Finally, rum ages more quickly. Especially the whites. For example, we transported a new vintage, Favorite 2022, and the rum worked so hard that it became an “old rum” in only 6 months. It is normally an ESB but it already has the gourmet notes of an older rum…
With the energy crisis and global warming, doesn’t the idea of transporting rum by sail make even more sense?
GG: The primary objective of Fairtransport was to find an ecological way of transporting rum. With the increasing scarcity of fossil fuels and the rising cost of container transport, this objective has become even more meaningful, the better it becomes an economic opportunity.
The Tres Hombres is now profitable and we want to duplicate the model. The cost of energy for sailing ships is stable, while the cost of energy for conventional transport is increasing uncontrollably. Soon the curves will cross.
To give you an idea, the price of transporting a bottle via the Tres Hombres is 2.5 euros, whereas before the crisis it was 15 or 20 cents for transport by container ship. Now it’s 1 euro and it’s only going up. There is no doubt that one day transporting by container ship will cost more than transporting by sail.
Is 100% wind-powered shipping possible?
GG: Everyone is bashing aeroplanes at the moment, but we should not forget that 90% of goods are transported by sea in container ships, and that this is responsible for 2.8% of global greenhouse gas emissions. However, it would be impossible to return to 100% maritime transport by sail. But going back to more circular trade and avoiding schemes where we send a fruit that has grown in Argentina in a container ship to China to be cut and packaged and sent back to the USA to be packaged and finally to Europe to be marketed…. This is possible and even desirable.
Finally, isn’t transport by sail the missing link in the sustainable development and organic sectors that are gaining ground in the rum industry?
GG: Yes, the great forgotten link in organic and fair trade is transport. Importing an organic banana from Ecuador in a container that pollutes makes no sense. Organic does not necessarily mean green.
To invest in the project: www.investir-lesfreresdelacote.fr