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Danielle Southcott | Veer Voyage

Danielle Southcott, is the founder of Earthshot Prize-nominated Veer Group and the award-winning SAILCARGO INC,. She is an inspiring leader who is on track to help transform the maritime industry. We were fortunate to visit Danielle on her locally built Schooner Sea Change, based in the Lunenburg harbour, where she resides with her husband. We learned more about her and discussed the future of global scale net zero shipping.


Hi Danielle, tell us a little bit about yourself? Where are you from? 

I'm originally from the Great Lakes region of Canada, just north of Kingston. At the age of 13 I began sailing on the brigantine St. Lawrence II,which is where I first fell in love with sailing. It's a program that I love and support now, and I'm excited that they will be here in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, this September! When I was 16 I had the opportunity to sail internationally on the TallshipSwan Fan Makkum, and since then I've been blessed to have lived & sailed in many places around the world, from Iceland to the West Indies.

You have recently moved onto a wooden schooner you and your partner just bought. Have you lived on a boat before? 

My husband Julian and I are the newest stewards of the beautiful wooden Westergard schooner, Sea Change. It's been such a nice shift, as she's the first boat ''of my own'' that I've ever lived aboard. Having said that, I've been lucky to have lived on well over a dozen sailing boats, including onboard the RNOVShabab Oman II during her first sea trials, for which I am the first woman to have even been signed onto a Royal Naval Omani Vessel in the history of Oman. Living on boats or ships can be really wonderful, but the conditions vary so much from vessel to vessel that it's hard to make generalizations... if your boat has a wood stove, you're doing well!

What is your first memory of sailing?

My memories from my four summers onboard theSt. Lawrence II all blend together - but one of my most memorable times was sailing bow-up to one of the small islands near Gananoque: we sailed directly towards the island's rocky shore, dousing the sails just at the last moment to let the 72' ship ghost in, pushing a stern anchor overboard as we glided forward until the bowsprit was just over the rocks - at which point someone would make off the rode (anchor rope) and stop the ship before colliding head-on. Precisely at that time a young sailor would leap off the end of the bowsprit with a mooring line and tie off the bow to a tree... a Great Lakes version of the ''Mediterranean Mooring"!

That sounds very exciting! You are an adventurer and work on equally adventurous projects. Currently, you are working on Veer Voyage, can you tell us about that? 

Veer Group is my focus right now. It's a different kind of adventure than I'm used to: I'm now navigating the legal jungle with multinational corporations! Veer will gain breakthrough momentum by deploying the first clean container ship to cross an ocean, and that's just the beginning. Our first ship design, which will be 100m (328ft) in length, will be able to transport cargo with ''absolute zero emissions'' as defined by the International Maritime Organization (IMO). By the time this is published, we should have begun our process of selecting a shipyard. We're going to build the largest clean, and - in my opinion - most beautiful container ship the world has ever seen. 

What inspired you to start this project? 

I have been dedicated to proving the value of clean shipping since 2011, when I was a crew member on the first cargo delivery by the infamous engineless brigantineTres Hombres. We sailed 18,000 bottles of rum from Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic to Calais, France. That trip marked a shift for me, as I began to learn about the damaging effects of fossil fuels. Since then I've contributed to several sailing cargo and clean energy projects on traditional sailing ships. Eventually I realized that, if I wanted to affect the type of change I was aspiring to, I had to embrace industrial companies and container shipping. I had to demonstrate that clean shipping can be delivered at scale.

What are some of the biggest challenges that you have faced with Veer so far? 

There have certainly been a few challenges! I feel as though one of the greatest challenges we continue to face is that, in the emerging ''clean maritime'' sector, there are a lot of tall claims being made. While I am happy to have healthy competition in the sector, such as the newly launched ship byTOWT, it can be harmful when other entities are shortsighted and publish claims that they cannot fulfill. It clouds the playing field and makes it really challenging for investors and future clients to know which ships to align themselves with.

Is there a secondary source of power on the ship? 

Yes! Our first design is recognized by the American Bureau of Shipping as a vessel primarily propelled by wind, with an auxiliary propulsion system powered by (green) hydrogen fuel cells. The motor itself will be a silent electric engine, and the energy source will be hydrogen gas. Contrary to accepted terminology, this propulsion system will actually have emissions: pure water. 

How are you funding this massive project and what stage are you at?

Veer’s movement is powered by globalimpact investors. We are seeking deliberate, catalytic capital for the next critical phase: formally engaging with a shipyard. If you would like to learn more about investing in Veer's movement, visit ourwebsite or write to us at hello@veer.voyage.

How can people get involved to help support this project?

90% of everything is shipped on the ocean, so you can have a big impact by encouraging companies to ship clean (feel free to tag us on social media @veer.voyage!). Or, if you represent a company that wishes to clean up the carbon footprint of your products, let us know. Veer’s service has never been offered before: moving containers across the ocean, completely clean. To power our mission we seek to collaborate with brands who want to demonstrate their commitment to the oceans and our planet. If this sounds like your company, get in touch!

Veer could start a movement towards new innovation and industry within the global shipping industry. Do you see this method of eco-shipping becoming mainstream?

Yes I do see ''eco-shipping'' becoming mainstream. What ''eco-shipping'' will look like exactly, I couldn't say. There's a great piece we're part of in theNew Yorker Magazine which shines light on the topic, envisioning possible futures. I will speculate that given the combined factors of the climate crisis, increasing desire for energy autonomy due to political strife, tighter focus on accountability from brands, andstronger policy from the IMO, a favourable regulatory framework is emerging... Clean shipping is in vogue, and we're going to see a lot of very creative designs in the years to come.

All photos by Anna Gilkerson

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