ANDREAS LACKNER: Reality of nature is different to the reality of economy (Interview)
Published by on February 12th 2013

Andreas Lackner is a co-founder of “Tres Hombres”, the self-titled ambassador of fair transport. With Tres Hombres, Andreas and his team aim to make people aware of the issues modern transportation brings along. The ship moves with the power of wind instead of oil driven engines and transports organic fair trade products like chocolate and rum between Europe and America.

A few days after I saw Andreas’ talk at TEDxPannonia 2013, I catched him up before he headed back to the Netherlands, where the project is based. Andreas seems to always wear a smile on his face. His long blond hair and the sun-tanned face make him look like a role model of an adventurer. We met at Cuadro, a small bar  in Vienna’s 5th district, to talk about Tres Hombres, the real value of products and sustainable transportation.

Andreas Lackner, Tres Hombres

DD: Could you give us a brief introduction to your personal background?

AL: To keep it short, I can tell you I’m a nature boy, a son of the Steiermark (Styria, a province of Austria) and an adventurer that came out of me when I was around 20. I had the vision of going to South America at that time, so I hitchhiked to the Netherlands in search of a ship that takes me across the atlantic. Since the moment I was on a ship for the first time, I didn’t leave them anymore. I saw the other side of the fence, that was what I was looking for and since then I walk life in all directions, trying to keep my CO2 emissions low.

DD: So you went from Styria to the Netherlands to fulfill your dreams. Tell me more.

AL: First I didn’t arrive in South America, but in Philadelphia, I thought „At least I’m on the same continent now, so I can walk there at least“. I managed to come to Peru, where I fulfilled my plan to create a youth hostel and camping ground. When that was done, the next adventure was waiting, because two friends I met in between, Arjen and Jorne, two dutch guys I met on the ship when we crossed the ocean, they built the first sailing cargo ship without engine since a 100 years. They needed somebody to sail the ship back from America to Europe and that’s where we met again in 2001, we sailed it back from America to the Canary Islands. Later, in 2006 we thought time is ripe and went to put our plan to make a transport revolution on the chart. We kept working on this until 2006, when we started the project „Tres Hombres“.

DD: What is Tres Hombres about?

AL: Tres Hombres is the Ambassador of the new merchant sailing fleet. Merchant ships carrying nice goods from over the ocean (coffee and rum) by sail, no engine involved.

DD: What about ecnonomical aspects of shipping your cargo across the Atlantic for the long time of 6 months?

AL: We started out with only a piano as a cargo. At that time, we made a big show when entering a harbour, like on the bermudas for example, so this ship was a prototype, not really a working cargo ship.

We planned to make a bigger one and this is now the project Tres Hombres, the first really working cargo ship. It is a 32 meter wooden cargo vessel with a 35 ton cargo hole and space for ten trainees, people we train on our ship which can be people of our crew, but also people of any other ship.
At least we train them and if they work with us later, then we know what we have and can trust them. With them we can carry our little cargo – it is little compared to big international cargo movements, it’s about the amount that one truck can move, but the cargo we move is also to show people that it’s possible to do it with the wind and to show that you should not move everything. Movement of Cargo all over the world is not infinite. You should not just ship useless things back and forth. The damage caused by the products that they move from a to b is not included in the price. For example if you pay 3 euros for any plastic chip you buy from china, 2-5 cents is what you pay for the cargo. This is not right. Because moving this thing from China to Europe is destroying so much. The emission of the ships is 20.000 – 200.000 liters / day. If you count what these products do and how the crew is treated on ships like this, then it’s not right.

With Tres Hombres we state an example of what the real costs are. The rum and chocolate, we calculate the real price that you need to pay if they come from the other side of the ocean. Here it’s included, because we do not destroy the environment with what we do but it costed way more to build the ship for the size of cargo we can move. We have a lot more effort, we need a lot more people to sail that little bit of cargo – but this is reality. It’s reality of nature, which is different to the reality of economy. The reality of economy does not count with the next generation. What we leave them and what they have then. They will need to worry about where to get clean energy. They need to clean up the shit we make and we start already now to live in a more sustainable way which is not making dirt and cleaning it up later. This is what Tres Hombres does.

Tres hombres

DD: How does the shipment of cargo work practically on Tres Hombres?

AL: In every harbour we go, we promote ourselves. Actually we don’t really have to do much for it. We enter a harbour and the people come to us. People come and watch the ship. Our ship is full of details, it’s built like you would have built it in 1860, (which doesn’t mean that it’s nice, but it is). In the old days, when people made things, they made it practical, useful, and beautiful. You can compare it with old houses, most of them are beautiful. It’s the same with ships. We focused on building one of the most beautifully designed ships, every detail, everything is made by hand. Practical, useful and with style.

There was a reason for that. We want to present the products we carry in an impressive way. If the first impression is beautiful, it just makes mouths stay open and the products behind it let you taste the story. You don’t need to tell the crew to tell the story, they go out and do it. And the next day, people buy our products. The crew lives almost without money but the spirit they enjoy, they bring it out, thats the good thing, slowly it really begins to run by itself. What we also do in the harbours is to buy other products and make deals. We try to buy organic products, eg cocoa beans from organic, fair trade farmers, where the producers really get money for what they do. It’s the task of the captain to bring the right products on board. In all the harbours the crew brings out the mission and the ship attracts the media, we never had to pay for advertising or PR, but we have countless articles written about our project.

Tres Hombres - Andreas Lackner

DD: Do you think honest storytelling is the future of marketing?

AL (Smiling): Yes. For sure. As an example: yesterday night we had a rum tasting, the only thing I do at presentations is to tell the whole story. The project raised so much awareness and so much goodwill from people all over that it is easy to talk about it for me. And I keep smiling when talking about it.

DD: You mentioned that different artists worked on the ship?

AL: As I said, the aim with Tres Hombres was to create an artistical masterpiece that impresses people. There was eg a finnish Fair Trade ship, it just looked ugly and they had to stop the project. No crew, no people interested. For Tres Hombres every detail was made up by people who knew what they did and if it didn’t work out, they made it again. It was primarily built by people from Canada, the Netherlands and Austria and a few guys where really into woodwork. One of the guys grew up in the woods of Canada, a great carpenter, he lived without energy for years. Last year in Costa Rica he built a figure head for our ship which is a complete masterpiece if you look at it, with silver, stones, crystals in it. We love sitting on the ship and looking at a piece of art, and for that reason we also take much care about it.

Tres Hombres

DD: What’s coming up next?

For the future we want to encourage people to do the same that we do, that’s why we founded a merchant sailing foundation, to support cargo sailing all over the world. If a project in Japan starts out, they get our knowledge. No matter which size or material. We support all projects that want to transport goods with wind. Projects that try to be independent of oil.

In bigger measures we are planning an ecoliner (8000 tons), the kind of ships you see on television. With 4 masts and automatic sails. That’s the point where more economically thinking people realize, that it makes sense. It’s modern, more technology driven, needs less crew and you can save 50-90% on gas per voyage. The diesel costs are normally half of the costs of a ship, and we reduce them significantly. It’s amortizes after 2 years if you count that in. Basically, what we see is a step further, but we want to introduce the ecoliner to also make the conservative thinking people aware of the topic.

Our vision for the future is a different one: don’t use any normal freighter or ecoliner, use normal ships that can be built by communities. Where people can deliver their own goods. Think of it, it’s luxury goods we carry. We have enough stuff to survive. In Austria for example, we have Schnaps and Apples, why do we need coffee and chocolate? They are luxury goods. And if you want them, at least the transportation should be fair, which then gives the products their real price and value. Let them be produced organic and fair trade, which should be normal, like 100 years ago. A 100 years ago there was no, absolutely no damage for nobody.

Ecoliner - Tres Hombres

DD: Can you already see a movement evolving?

AL: Yes. So in France for example there are already a few ships that are bigger than Tres Hombres used for transportation, their problem is, that they still can not live of it. Tres Hombres is the only ship that does it only in the cargo and training purpose. In Japan there’s the greenheart movement ( , they announced to bring small practical steel ships where you can fold the mast and bring the kiel in, so they can go under bridges and go to shallow areas.

DD: What was the most beautiful place you’ve been?

There’s no one most beautiful place in the world. If I had to name one, it would be Panama. But I mean Südsteiermark is sometimes the nicest place in the world, today it’s Vienna.

Honestly on an open ship, when you sit on the decks in the middle of the night, the moon shining, a little breeze, no one else on the decks, that’s the most beautiful place in the world.

DD: How long will you be doing this?

AL: Until there’s no more cargo ship without sail or I’m dead.

DD: So you would say this is your dream?

AL: One of my dreams is taking time and just walk for a year, maybe to Himalaya and back, until my soul is empty again. But for the rest it’s alright, I see a lot of places, meet a lot of nice people. Sailing is also very healthy for you, I feel the difference, when I’m 3 weeks on the ship I feel really good. So yes, you could say I’m living my dream.

More information:

Tres Hombres offers the possibility to work on the ship and get educated in sailing, besides selling delicious rum and chocolate, organic and fair trade. For more information, visit their website:
Tres Hombres – Official Website

Contributed by

Manuel is an entrepreneur and journalist from Vienna, Austria and the CEO of DREAMA.TV. Besides he is running an online video agency and loves stories about inspiring people, projects and products.
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