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Clean Sailing with Emission-Free Cargo Ships
WT Interview with Danielle Doggett, Sail Cargo Inc.
WT: I have with me the co-founder of Sail Cargo Inc. on the phone from Costa Rica. Thanks for doing this.
Danielle Doggett: Thanks for having me, I’m really happy to share about our work.
WT: Ceiba is a neat idea, the idea of a wooden sailing ship today. You want to do more than just Ceiba. Can you tell me what you want to do?
DD: Our mission is to prove the value of clean shipping.
We want to do that by offering as many clean shipping options as we can. Ceiba is our flagship and our first vessel. She is near completion now, here in Costa Rica. We also propose to try to eliminate fossil fuels from our small vessel local fishing fleet. We have also launched a very large container ship project a little earlier this year.
WT: Tell me about this very large container ship, in the scale of your first ship, and then this new ship.
DD: The first ship Ceiba, which is nearing completion, is 150 feet, or about 45 metres long. She can carry the equivalent of nine, twenty-foot containers.
When Ceiba is launched she will be the largest emission-free cargo ship in the world, but still, a fraction of the size of the ships out there today, that carry twenty thousand containers.
What we wanted to do with Ceiba is to work with the small producers we know, that will support non-containerized shipping. As we have received so much attention from cargo companies around the world, we are also looking at container vessels. The newly launched company is called VEER. This vessel will be 100 metres, and we are also looking at one up to 160 metres that can carry 100 to up to nearly 500 containers.
WT: That’s incredible, when will that one go to sea trials?
DD: We are in early stages with VEER but a vessel from an industrial shipyard would take two years to build. We are nearing the completion of the design phase now. In three years, you should see several of them on the water if we are able to contract for them.
WT: After the Paris Accord it looks like not only have emissions not gone down, or even trying to reach the goals set. It looks like emissions have gone up, almost 50% higher. Can you speak about how much pollution these huge cargo ships really generate?
DD: Absolutely. So, many people don’t think about the shipping industry because they don’t see it, however, 90% of the objects around you right now have likely been shipped on an ocean-going vessel. So, it really affects every single thing we do. These ships burn the crudest, least refined fossil fuel of any grade that exists. For example, fifteen of the largest ships right now generate the same sulfur emissions as all the cars in the world combined. There are over fifty thousand such ships out there today.
Many people know or understand that gas is more refined than diesel, however, both are almost completely clear, you don’t see much difference. The fuel being burned by these ships at colder temperatures is solid enough to walk on. It’s like a thick, black sludge. This is what we are trying to address.
WT: That’s just about as scary an answer as I have heard today. Your ship is based on a Finnish design. Can you tell me how you were thinking about designing a ship? How does it work, how does one begin this design step? As an example, for other entrepreneurs that might be thinking about this, is this an impossible dream for most people? Did you go to Finland to look at designs?
DD: What I would say regarding entrepreneurs, educate yourselves as much as you can, but at a certain point you have to admit you don’t know everything. If you are willing to commit yourself for many years, just go for it.
I started sailing tall ships at Kingston on the St. Lawrence river when I was thirteen, so I have a lot of experience sailing vessels such as this. Our team came together and decided we wanted this size and type of vessel for many reasons, manoeuverability, ease of handling with the crew, relatively recent design in terms of working sail, so it was 1906. This was basically the largest wooden vessel we felt we could construct with our own team and not an industrial yard.
The vessel Ceiba that we are building is inspired by Ingrid, which was built in 1906 in the islands between Finland and Sweden. She is the perfect example of a coastal trading schooner; this is who we are basing our ships off. We did go there, but not until many years later.
WT: Let’s talk about AstilleroVerde, can you tell me a little bit about that?
DD: AstilleroVerde is Spanish for “green shipyard”. This is a registered non-profit association, an affiliate 501-C3, tax-deductible, and registered in the US as well. What we do here is a lot of tree planting, a lot of community work, free courses, and other things to develop the social fabric of our community. We can do that because we are located in a poverty-identified area. We are very happy to be able to contribute positively here.
WT: When you hire people, can you give me an idea, where does one put an ad out for recruiting people to build ships? Do you look for someone with a background in ships, or do they need shipbuilding experience?
DD: We essentially have two tracks of people that we hire. One is, people from our community that don’t have a lot of access to education or work experience, but we are committed to hiring or giving training. These come in with resumes, or we hear about them by word of mouth.
For our international crew, approximately 50% of the team here, we are hiring world-class shipwrights. Here in Costa Rica, there is not a strong tradition of wooden shipbuilding at all, so it makes sense to bring the skills in and share them here. We have no shortage of applications, we receive every day from all around the world from people who are doing timber framing, shipwright, boat builders, general woodwork, also engineering, and office types from all over the world and Costa Rica.
WT: When I look at a ship, they seem to go relatively slow, can you talk about how fast your ship will go/can go? Can you address the use of propellers on your ship to charge batteries?
DD: I am asked this question very often, people are always concerned about the speed of the vessel. It's funny because people don’t ask cargo container ships how fast they are going, and I find that curious. The inter-island cargo vessels can do 10 knots all the way up to 25 knots.
Our ship Ceiba will be able to cruise, pretty easily with correct conditions, 12-14 knots. We do calculate with built-in safety; we calculate the speed quite low just to build in contingencies as It's our first vessel. Having said that, sail itself is not slow. Some of the fastest vessels in the entire world would be racing yachts today. The thing is, “working sail”, something that is carrying cargo as I am describing it, essentially lost its funding about 100 years ago when the fossil fuel engine took over.
So, when we had thousands of years of investing and improving sail, it came to a really quick halt when we got motorized engines.
The interesting thing is that yachting, and racing sail technology continued. It kind of veered off in another direction, as they wanted light and fast vessels for competitions, these are extremely fast. What we are doing with the new company, for the container ship, is trying to bring the new technology, and taking it back to working sail technology, to bridge that hundred-year gap. With the large new container ship, we are proposing 20 knots sustained only under sail. There can be designs for everything.
WT: You have a turbine, propellers that charge a battery system, is that correct? You will use that power in a port to power the ship if I have that right? As ports are smaller and you can’t really use wind as much there, is that correct?
DD: Yes, that’s essentially right. Ceiba will have two 150kW electric motors and a pretty large battery bank. We can adjust the pitch or direction of our propeller blades. When we choose to, we can use that to charge electric energy. It would be like an electric car switching to regen mode when going down a hill or coming to stop, to capture the kinetic energy and can store it in the battery.
So, we anticipate using the electric energy primarily to manoeuver around port, but it’s also a great safety backup at sea. All our vessels are truly sailing vessels; the engines are auxiliary. We have already announced we are building a second one like Ceiba. With the container ships, we are also looking at green hydrogen.
WT: Do you see yourself doing this as a lifetime commitment, after one more ship, is there another ship, and another? Are you the Elon Musk of the sailing ship industry? Where are you going with the long term of this?
DD: It’s pretty much already been a lifetime thing, so I don’t anticipate changing now. There are so many vessels, so many types and designs from tugboats to small fishing boats, to sailing vessels like Ceiba, tankers... The range of designs is immense, people are really switching on, saying “I want my vessel to be emission-free too”. I absolutely do see many other ships coming, many other designs being produced by our team, hoping to make a very large change within this industry.
WT: I know that you are shipping coffee beans to New Jersey and Quebec, can you tell me about the freight you expect to haul, and if you are pulling ethical coffee up here, what do you expect will be going back?
DD: We are very happy to be hauling coffee for Café William, moving a significant amount of their product. We also have interest from companies all around the world, from avocado oil to bioplastics, bringing wheat down for beer production. We have letters of intent from shippers around the world that want to go emission-free. We are always looking for more, so I encourage anyone who imports or exports a product, write to our team. For more information, go to www.sailcargo.inc there is a form there, simply fill it out and let us know what you are interested in.