Vision to Lift Sails

by Jason Wettstein

Hoyle Hodges
Hoyle Hodges. Photo by Shauna Bittle ’98.

For centuries, the Pleiades, or seven sisters, star cluster has been significant for cultures from across the world. Legend has it that visual acuity was measured and tested by how many of the stars one could count from the Pleiades cluster in the night sky.

Hoyle Hodges is counting his stars, and testing his sustainable vision aboard his 59-foot pinky schooner Pleiades as he works to establish a sustainable sail transport business in Washington’s South Puget Sound.

It’s a dream with a detailed business plan.

Hodges, a 50-year-old retired Army paratrooper and Evergreen student, built his vision during his program, Business and Sustainability: Myth or Method?, taught by Bob McIntosh and Rebecca Chamberlain.

The business model is historical and revolutionary at the same time. Hodges is seeking to transport cargo, produce and passengers by sail in an effort to avoid rising oil prices, the clogged I-5 corridor, and the high carbon footprint of most forms of modern transport.

To do this, he employs a replica of an 1830’s era Eastport Pinky Schooner, a three-sailed boat with a heritage descending from East Coast fishing and transport vessels in the mid 1600s.

Hodges credits his education as inspiration for his efforts. “Evergreen is the kind of place that encourages something like this,” he says. “It’s a place to turn ‘out of the box thinking’ into a viable project.”

For now, Hodges is delivering produce and goods from vendors at the Olympia Farmers Market to locations from the South Sound to the Tacoma Narrows. Recognizing the consequences of unsustainable use of oil and climate change, Hoyle’s business team made a commitment to move local produce by bike and boat to test the feasibility of sustainable shipping.

As owner of Olympia Schooner Company Hodges’ next steps will be to establish regular routes with set dates and times. He needs 20 freight customers in ten locations in the summer season for the business to break even. And, keeping with his model of encouraging energy efficiency, customers who pick up their goods by bicycle, cart, or any fossil-free alternative receive a ten percent discount.

Sailing means using the shape of the sails to generate lift and create forward progress. For Hodges, the lift and progress he is aiming to achieve is a real-world demonstration of the business case for a return of the historic “mosquito fleet,” a system of water transport that was a foundation for economic growth in Western Washington.

“The mosquito fleet is what tied Western Washington together from the late 1800s to World War II, says Hodges. “Before autos, people could travel faster by boat than by horse. Without the mosquito fleet, we wouldn’t be what we are today in Olympia.”

The difference is that the mosquito fleet in the past was run on steam and diesel. “We are aiming to be more sustainable,” says Hodges. “As we innovate upon the past, we’re looking to adapt new technologies and provide solutions.”

The business venture is untried and risky, but Hodges is no stranger to risk after serving 24 years as a paratrooper in conflicts as diverse as Korea, Panama, the Persian Gulf and Afghanistan. In fact, his notion to sail developed in the dust of a Saudi desert during the Persian Gulf War. “All I had to read was British sailing mags in a sea of sand,” says Hodges. “I said to myself, if I get out of this alive, I am going to live next to the water.”

As for Evergreen, he also overcame some trepidation, “I did not know how I would fit in at a liberal arts college,” he says. “I did not agree with everybody’s opinion in my courses, but I would find that everywhere. I am going to be sorry to leave Evergreen when I graduate.”

Hodges’ business and sustainability studies have helped him fit his environmental ethic into his entrepreneurial activities. “The philosophy of the program is, if you’re going to make money do good, and if you’re going to do good, make money.”

Pursuing his educational and entrepreneurial dreams is also an integral part of Hodges’ service.

“I earned my GI Bill benefits by being shot at overseas, and some kids did not make it back,” he says. “I have to live as good a life as I can for them.”