Change is Coming, Change is Real
by Chelsea Pyne
As a US citizen, I have a pretty dreadful view of our environmental situation. With current EPA regulations being rolled back, it appears we care more about coal and cattle ranchers than clear water and clean food. As a Caribbean cruiser, the intensifying weather systems also add to my concerns about where our future is headed. I truly believe we are in a crisis, not some political hoax. Environmental problems are real news. As irrefutable evidence by means of rigorous science shows: WE MUST DO BETTER.
Danielle Doggett, Chief Executive Officer of Ceiba Marítimas, brings hope to my dreary outlook. A glimmer of light as I begrudgingly get knocked around my boat from the wake of a passing cruise ship. She and her team aren’t just doing BETTER… that could be easy, after all. Just make a few changes here and there. Eat local, don’t buy single-use bottles, etcetera. Instead, she’s upended the foundation of the shipbuilding industry and decided she will do what’s BEST.
Doggett’s aim is to coexist with nature through a resurgence of sailing cargo ships. A 150-foot, three-masted wooden schooner, Ceiba, is being built in Costa Rica with aims for completion by the end of 2021. Named after the sacred tree of the Mayans, Ceiba will be the first vessel of its kind, not just carbon-neutral but the first carbon-negative cargo ship in business. SailCargo Inc, the umbrella company, is using a regenerative business model which is actually the next step above sustainable.
Doggett and crew started laying the groundwork in 2016. Since then, more than 75,000 hours have been contributed to the Ceiba project by more than 130 people hailing from 25 nations. “Our aim is to have half of our team members from Latin America. A standard of our program is that all team members from Latin America should be paid for their work and not asked to volunteer. Long-term shipbuilding crew come from around the world, primarily hailing from developed northern countries such as Germany, the Netherlands, France, the UK and Canada, and the Scandinavian countries. Our shipyard is an accredited workplace educational center, as recognized by the government of the Netherlands. To date, Ceiba has received eight official interns from three unique academies in the Netherlands and the United States. We have welcomed a combination of shipbuilding and business interns.”
The last update we shared on Ceiba was published in the December 2017 issue of Compass (see page 16 at caribbeancompass.com/online/december17compass_online.pdf). If you want the full story on where this idea came from and how they got started, visit sailcargo.org/media-stories.
Since our first visit with Ceiba, the crew has had their fair share of struggles and successes. “The most significant setback was when a strong windstorm hit the shipyard. We woke up from the stormy night to find all of the canvas roof panels had fallen down, and some of them ripped to shreds. Though we were thankful only the canvas ripped and nothing more, it felt like a big setback. Costa Rican grandmothers using a 1958 Singer sewing machine had just sewed the canvas, so the roof panels represented a lot of work.
“This has been the third abnormally strong tropical storm that we've experienced in the three years that I've been here. While I’m not one to jump to climate-change conclusions, this is significant, as in 2016 Costa Rica had its first-ever hurricane touch down in all the recorded history of the country. A positive' of this is that we were able to source our keel from the wind-fallen trees that the hurricane brought down, which is quite symbolic as our ship is being built specifically to help reverse climate change,” Doggett explained.
Beyond this obstacle, Ceiba has seen some notable progress. Here is a quick recap:
• Ceiba won the chance to present twice at the United Nations Convention on Climate Change in Bonn, Germany in 2017 (COP23).
• Recently, Ceiba became the first winner of the John Long Positive Legacy Award, winning a grant of $10,000.
• The innovative company was selected to be part of a business incubator, a seven-month development program provided by ParqueTec, which began March 2019.
Awards aside, a huge accomplishment is that their jungle shipyard is complete. The crew built a lofting floor, shipbuilding hangar, shops and an amazing tree house office. After years of efforts, the custom design of Ceiba is complete. From sawmills to tilting ship’s saws, they now own the most important shipbuilding tools. They’ve acquired all sustainably sourced wood: frames, keel, deck beams and more, which are sawn to dimension and dried at the shipyard in Punta Morales, Costa Rica. The keel and 20 frames are complete, as is the stem. More frames and the keelson are currently under construction.
“We have reached a significant achievement with the frames and stem, as it is such a technical and iconic assembly. We are thankful to source all of the spars (masts, topmasts, yards, booms, gaffs and the bowsprit) with environmentally and culturally responsible Sitka Spruce (Picea sitchensis). People from all over the world turn to British Columbia for superior ship masts. This will be the first timber sourced outside of Costa Rica, so it is important that it is the best quality, and that it hails from the highest moral standards,” Doggett says.
It’s safe to say the shipyard has had a busy few years. If you’d like to see them in action, visit their YouTube channel for amazing videos of the crew building Ceiba. In the video, “Assembling Ceiba’s Frames” you can watch the crew hoist the massive stem (the most forward curve of the front of the ship) by heaving ropes through pulleys. There’s something about this nitty-gritty, old school style of shipbuilding that is so natural, authentic and heartwarming all at the same time. But this dreamy way of living, building, and working is actually sustainable, in more ways than one.
In fact, Ceiba will have the largest self-sufficiently charged electric engine in the world. Yes, a US$700,000 engine worthy of all those adjectives. Having an engine that uses onboard battery banks that are charged by the ship’s propellers when sailing means there is no oil being burned or spilled. Moreover, Ceiba is designed to transport between 250 and 300 tons of cargo at speeds up to 14 knots, making her competitive in the shipping industry. Think about this: the 15 largest cargo ships produce as much sulfur oxide pollution as all the world’s 1.2 billion cars. So you can see that in numbers: 15 cargo ships = 1,200,000,000 cars. This is also due to the low-grade fuel ships use at sea, which is horrid for the atmosphere.
Beyond boatbuilding, the group is focused on giving back to local Costa Ricans through community involvement. “We’re really thankful to work with two women’s associations in the area who help us with the gardens and more. Our tree nursery and vegetable gardens are coming along nicely. We give fruit-tree saplings away all the time, which of course helps with carbon sequestration, but also with food security in our nearly impoverished area. We've also done a community beach cleanup and have donated materials to a national beach-cleanup and beautification effort. Last Christmas our whole crew came together to help build our neighbor's house, and we're already thinking of what we can do this Christmas. On top of that, we’re planning on offering a forging and tool making course so our neighboring communities can learn to make their own tools from readily available materials, such as trucks’ leaf springs, old oil drums, worn out saw blades, and more. I’m really looking forward to it, especially as we'll be putting our new educational center to good use.”
Ceiba’s crew is going full steam ahead now that they have secured grants, shareholders and donations to continue their mission. The current focus is to put up three frames a month, while working on all their other side projects, of course!
As our environment is in such a fragile position, there is no other option but to act our best, give back and protect the earth. We can all look to Ceiba as a prime example in how we can live and work with nature.
To stay up to date with their progress, join the crew yourself, or become a shareholder, visit sailcargo.org.
Ceiba is also on Facebook, YouTube and Instagram #SeaShippingChange.
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