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Forward To The Past!

November 29, 2020

By Paul Homewood

  h/t Philip Bratby



 Victory Portsmouth um 1900.jpg

HMS Victory was built from 5500 oaks

Demand for timber to construct British naval vessels in the 1800s and earlier seriously depleted the country’s forests. Some estimates say that England’s woodlands shrunk from an estimated land coverage of 15% in 1086, England’s forests and woods had dwindled to just 5.2% by 1905.

Fortunately thanks to the steel industry, our forest cover is back to 13%.

However, it might not be for long if the eco-loons get their way:



A view from the belly of the world's largest emissions-free cargo ship, under construction in Costa Rica (Credit: Jocelyn Timperley)

The shipping industry’s climate impact is large and growing, but a team in Costa Rica is making way for a clean shipping revolution with a cargo ship made of wood.

In a small, rustic shipyard on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, a small team is building what they say will be the world’s largest ocean-going clean cargo ship.

Ceiba is the first vessel built by Sailcargo, a company trying to prove that zero-carbon shipping is possible, and commercially viable. Made largely of timber, Ceiba combines both very old and very new technology: sailing masts stand alongside solar panels, a uniquely designed electric engine and batteries. Once on the water, she will be capable of crossing oceans entirely without the use of fossil fuels.

“The thing that sets Ceiba apart is the fact that she’ll have one of the largest marine electric engines of her kind in the world,” Danielle Doggett, managing director and cofounder of Sailcargo, tells me as we shelter from the hot sun below her treehouse office at the shipyard. The system also has the means to capture energy from underwater propellers as well as solar power, so electricity will be available for the engine when needed. “Really, the only restrictions on how long she can stay at sea is water and food on board for the crew.”….

With the hull and sail design based on a trading schooner built in the Åland Islands, Finland, in 1906, from the horizon Ceiba will have the appearance of a classic turn-of-the-century vessel, when the last commercial sail-powered ships were made. “They represented the peak of working sail technology, before fossil fuel came in and cut them off at the ankles,” says Doggett. Sailcargo also plans to explore the use of more modern sail technology, she adds, such as that used in yachts, in its future boats.

For her builders, one of the ship’s main attractions is to provide a much-needed burst of (clean) energy in an industry long dragging its heels on climate. The global shipping sector emitted just over a billion tonnes of greenhouse gases in 2018, equivalent to around 3% of global emissions – a level that exceeds the climate impact of Germany’s entire economy…..


Ceiba is small for a cargo ship – tiny in fact. She will carry around nine standard shipping containers. The largest conventional container ships today carry more than 20,000 containers.

She is also relatively slow. Large container ships typically travel at between 16 and 22 knots (18-25 mph/30-41 kph), according to Gilliam. Ceiba is expected to be able to reach 16 knots at her fastest, says Doggett, and easily attain 12 knots, although the team has conservatively estimated an average of 4 knots for trips until they can test her on the water. She will likely be significantly faster than existing smaller sail cargo ships that don’t have the added benefit of an electric engine….

Sailcargo’s focus on a holistic, truly circular system of shipbuilding may be praiseworthy, but for now it really is just a drop in the ocean. As pressure builds on the shipping industry to act on climate change however, projects like this could both offer an alternative to conventional shipping and help to influence the mainstream industry.

After a day spent at the shipyard watching Ceiba being built, I ask Lynx Guimond, another co-founder of Sailcargo, what he thinks is really needed to cut the shipping industry’s sizeable emissions. Perhaps surprisingly for someone in the middle of building a ship, he tells me that one of the solutions is simply less shipping. “At the end of the day we just need to transport less stuff.”


So, let’s get this straight. You would need more than 2000 of these wooden ships to replace one conventional container ship. And it would travel at a quarter of the speed.

And for that, the BBC think it’s a good idea to cut down millions of trees!

  1. Brian Richards permalink
    November 29, 2020 10:39 am

    That’s very interesting about HMS Victory. I live in Dartmouth Nova Scotia, Canada, and the Royal Navy used to send ships across to harvest oak trees for their ships. The place where they did this, is just about a mile away from us.

  2. November 29, 2020 10:39 am

    The BBC wants us to plant 750,000 trees.

    Then chop them down again to make ships? This is just another attempt from the greenwash camp to try and make their threadbare climate dogma look realistic.

    • Gerry, England permalink
      November 29, 2020 1:06 pm

      Unless they get chopped down and burnt first. Chatsworth Estate has got into trouble for planting eucalyptus for biomass thus creating a monoculture as nothing else will grow there. but the trees will grow fast if mine is anything to go by. Part of mine blew down and the other part was cut down but the stump remained. After 3 years I could already get a nice bit of firewood from the two shoots that grew out of the stump. In fact if I leave it another couple of years they will become a bit heavy and likely to damage other tress when cut.

    • Broadlands permalink
      November 29, 2020 2:15 pm

      Recycling trees (for any purpose) is little different… in the end… than recycling corn and sugar cane for biofuel ethanol. Ponzi schemes to “save the planet”?

  3. Joe Public permalink
    November 29, 2020 11:03 am

    Kill two birds with one stone – plant more windmills.

    And then use the felled trees to make boats. Win-Win.

    Click to access Scottish-Forestry-FoI-19-02646.pdf

    • Mad Mike permalink
      November 29, 2020 1:32 pm

      Nearly 14mn trees. I wonder what happened to them?

  4. MrGrimNasty permalink
    November 29, 2020 11:16 am

    0-60 in under four seconds but as slow as a 1960’s milk float!

    • November 29, 2020 9:00 pm

      Well now we know 25 super charges will wear out her battery prematurely and the EV, no doubt a major talking point to demonstrate woke virtue, may not be so attractive

  5. Stuart Brown permalink
    November 29, 2020 11:31 am

    Then there is the Sevmorput. Wikipedia says it can carry over 1300 tonnes at 2 knots through metre thick ice. In the dark, arctic winter. Or 20 knots all night long in a flat calm. And it was built in the 80s.

    Will they cover the bottom of the Ceiba with pitch? Tut, tut.

    • Stuart Brown permalink
      November 29, 2020 11:35 am

      Oh, and no CO2 from the Sevmorput, which was the point I wanted to make really. Doh.

    • November 29, 2020 11:57 pm

      Dear Mr Brown

      The cargo capacity is 1,328 TEU – twenty-foot equivalent units – nominally 20 tons each, so about 26,000 tons.


  6. November 29, 2020 11:49 am

    Sailing ships often foundered if they found themselves being blown onto a lee shore by a storm.
    I suspect the plans also include an enormous diesel powered generator to deal with this.
    Electric drive is the fad in expensive pleasure craft, they all have generators and large fuel tanks as well.

    • Joe Public permalink
      November 29, 2020 12:18 pm

      Like Greenpeace’s Rainbow Warrior3 with its pair of diesel engines.

  7. Dave Ward permalink
    November 29, 2020 12:36 pm

    ” Zero-carbon shipping is possible”

    But not during construction, if the (rather dodgy looking) electrical cables laying about the place are anything to go by! And I’ll bet that lots of modern (oil based) sealants etc, are employed.

    The system also has the means to capture energy from underwater propellers”

    Oh great… in order to recharge the batteries you increase the drag (and slow it down) by using propellers to power generators! There are currently stories in the UK press about how “Hybrid” cars are much more polluting than manufacturers claim. This is worst (surprise, surprise) when the engine is charging the battery…

    • Gerry, England permalink
      November 29, 2020 1:20 pm

      The manufacturer claims are made following the required tests but as with the hyperventilation over diesels not being the same in use as their test, the tests are just a comparison benchmark. And what VW were doing was providing their customers with what they needed for daily use by coming up with a neat idea to pass the tests.

      Motorcycles have long shown a ‘noise test’ flat spot where the performance of the engine is reduced when the noise meter is applied. With a bit of retuning – or remapping these days – you can get rid of it and have better performance.

      • Dave Ward permalink
        November 29, 2020 2:15 pm

        “With a bit of retuning – or remapping these days – you can get rid of it and have better performance”

        A few decades ago I was plotting the shape of various SU carburettor needles on sheets of graph paper – you could clearly see where the shape changed significantly in later versions, when emission regulations were introduced. These were “optimised” to give an artificially weak mixture at around 56mph in “top” gear – the speed at which fuel consumption figures were quoted in official documents. Of course, that also meant a great big “flat spot” in the engines response…

  8. November 29, 2020 12:52 pm

    So Lucy Gilliam grumbles “The problem that we have is that fossil fuels are still too damn cheap.” What an elitist snob.

    Cheap fossil fuels have led to an increasingly good and prosperous lifestyle for much of the world. It has allowed many who, in the past. would have been left behind to suffer a life of deprivation and poverty to flourish. Apparently those she views as lesser species, myself included, just should know their place and starve peacefully in some back alley.

    I’ve no clue who Lucy is. However, one of my ancestors, Edward Fitz Randolph, did come on a wooden vessel. He was on one of the 11 ships of the Winthrop Fleet which reached Massachusetts in 1630. One of my Revolutionary War Patriots is Robert Fitz Randolph. I would also add that Edward is my immigrant ancestor ticket to Magna Carta and the reason I was at Runnymede on June 15, 2015 for the 800th Anniversary of the sealing of Magna Carta. Oh, and 3 of my great, great uncles (the Brawley Brothers) were in the early oil business in western Pennsylvania. A year ago I took their ledgers to the Drake Well Museum in the area where they had prospered with that cheap fossil fuel.

    • Harry Passfield permalink
      November 29, 2020 4:39 pm

      First, Joan, your history: Wow!! Great ancestry.
      Second: (as you know) Cheap fuel – from whatever source – is the way to get people out of poverty and away from the need for large families. I bet Lucy Gilliam didn’t know that.

      • Dave Ward permalink
        November 29, 2020 6:21 pm

        “What an elitist snob”

        Who (no doubt) enjoys a comfortable lifestyle, thanks to affordable power…

  9. CheshireRed permalink
    November 29, 2020 1:15 pm

    BBC bark-ing up the wrong tree with this one, so no need to bough down to the eco-nonsense yet again.

  10. Tim Leeney permalink
    November 29, 2020 3:00 pm

    What’s wrong with wooden windmills anyway?

  11. ThinkingScientist permalink
    November 29, 2020 5:54 pm

    I remember the days when Greenpeace and other environmental campaigners were called “tree-huggers” and told us not to print things and think of how many trees were being saved.

    How times have changed. How long before Greenpeace embraces nuclear power to save the planet from the Climate Crisis? 10 years?

  12. TomO permalink
    November 29, 2020 7:05 pm

    BBC Future is crammed with fresh arts graduates…. and tbh – it really shows.

    Then there’s the progeny of the connected

  13. Alan permalink
    November 29, 2020 9:32 pm

    I remember reading that king Henry Viii planted thousands of oak trees for shipbuilding, thinking ahead for future generations. If wooden ships are required to save the human race, proponents should plant now, then wait 100 years for the trees to mature before wasting our time with mad ideas.

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