Seasteading and Survivalists

A little over a decade ago I lived in Leadville, Colorado.  It’s a small high-mountain town in the Rockies, originally making its fortune from silver mining at the end of the 19th century, surrounded by 14,000 ft peaks.   Once the snow had melted, a treat on Sunday mornings was to get into my Jeep and drive for a couple of hours over Mosquito Pass, a fairly challenging four-wheel-drive road, to the small town of Alma in the next valley.  Alma has two bars, one of which, curiously named Alma’s Only Bar, served great breakfasts on Sundays.  The clientele was interesting, as one would expect from a town in the real-world South Park county, the basis for the cartoon series.  Alma’s few hundred residents included a fair number of survivalists living in isolated cabins in the surrounding hills, and conversations over Huevos Rancheros at the bar often included conspiracy theories, praise for certain of the founding fathers (The Federalist Papers seemed to be the survivalists’ political bible), and discussions about their preparations for “when the government attacked”.  I didn’t find those kind of conversations in the conference rooms of New York and San Francisco where I wiled away my weekdays.  They were interesting Sunday mornings, jollied along by a couple of Bloody Marys, and followed by a gentle drive back home along regular roads through Breckenridge and Frisco.

I recently came across the idea of seasteading reading a blog.  The core of the concept is that, like homesteading, you are living at a kind of frontier, a place beyond, essentially unpopulated, and you are making your own world, your own reality.  Well, yes, there are elements of this that I imagine hit home to every cruising sailor, perhaps the idea of self-reliance when sailing on long passages, the self-sufficiency required for anchoring in remote parts for a week or two, or the high degree of autonomy that voyaging on your own boat has always offered.  But let’s not get carried away : we modern sea gypsies are nothing like the pioneers on land or the cruising pioneers of a century ago – with a few notable exceptions, most of us are doing something closer to dude-ranching.  Nothing wrong with that.

In looking for more information about seasteading I came across several books on Amazon, and an issue of Survivalist magazine dedicated to seasteading.  Now, from my earlier experience with survivalists in Alma, while they are generally a little “special”, the truth is that they are out there living a life that is a whole lot simpler and more self reliant than the life most of us live.  I thought there should be something to learn from their experiences relevant to living on a sailboat.

So ahead I went and bought the magazine issue for Kindle.  I expected some perspectives that were different to the usual yachtie writings.  Did that turn out to be true!

From the start, one has to admire the ambition of the survivalist writers.  Not limiting themselves to sailboats or power boats, one chapter addresses those who are “financially fortunate enough to consider purchasing a decommissioned nuclear-powered submarine”.

If that proves beyond your means another chapter helpfully details methods for “borrowing a boat, even without the intent of returning it”. 

Somewhere between these two extremes, the three page chapter entitled “Building your own boat 101”, after thoughtfully providing would-be seasteaders with definitions for key terms like deck, hull and keel, concludes that “building a boat as a DIY project can be a fun and exciting experience.  Individuals should have some working knowledge of wood and how to safely and effectively handle tools and equipment.”  Sound advice, that.

There’s an implicit assumption that while the government might attack them in a multitude of insidious ways, it would always leave their diesel supplies intact, so there’s not much support for sailing.  “Sailing a boat is by far the hardest method of traveling over water. The techniques and procedures are much more complex than using boats powered by inboard or outboard motors.”   This is caused in part, one assumes, by “the color of a sail having no bearing on its performance, name or position on the vessel.”  Furthermore, “sailing is slowly becoming a lost art, with fewer and fewer people appreciating the time and talent it takes to use skills combined with nature, to navigate across the water. It is considered by many to be a more hazardous form of boating, and there are certain risks present on sailboats that are not present on others, such as shifting sails and yardarms, as well as riding the vessel while it is listing to one side or the other, which poses a greater risk of someone being swept overboard.”

Abandon ship options are explored. Along with lifeboats which “someone should be in charge of deploying”, “non-traditional lifeboat options” such as “Personal Diver Propulsion Systems” are explored for those who enjoy hanging out on their boat in full scuba gear, and jet skis for those who conveniently plan to abandon ship near shore in calm conditions.

Seasteading improperly in Sal, Cape Verdes, without the essential
torpedoes and explosive harpoons

Security gets plenty of coverage, focusing on attacks against the seastead.  Defence against pirates includes the recommendation to have torpedoes and explosive harpoons, along with underwater mines which the author regretfully notes “cannot be purchased by the average seasteading citizen”.  Plenty of semi-automatic and automatic weapons are needed, of course.

I would have expected foraging and water purification to be strong points of the survivalists, and there is plenty about harvesting seaweed, as well as advice on not getting eaten by a shark or stung by a jellyfish while spearing fish.  As for producing drinking water from sea water, the survivalists eschew the modern namby-pamby reverse osmosis stuff and instead work with more robust techniques:
“In the summer, you can make a solar still that will produce drinking water from salt water by linking two bottles together with rubber or plastic tubing. Used plastic soda bottles work well. Use your knife to make a hole in the center of each bottle’s cap, and then force the tubing through each hole. The tubing may be sealed into the holes with duct tape, chewing gum, or tree sap. If you’ve made the holes skillfully enough, you may not need to seal the tubing to the caps. To distill drinking water, fill one bottle three-quarters full with salt water and screw the bottle cap onto the bottle. Leave the other bottle empty and screw its cap on as well. Heat the bottle with salt water by putting it in direct sunlight, and cool the empty bottle by leaving it in shade or weighing it down in a tidal pool. As the salt water in the bottle heats up it will begin to evaporate, and the salt and ocean minerals will be left in the bottle. The steam or evaporated water from the salt water bottle will travel through the tubing to the other bottle where it will cool and condense. This condensation will be pure, fresh drinking water. Fill your canteen with this water as it is collected.”
On the basis that I’d like to drink more than a thimbleful of water a day I’m sticking with Otra Vida’s small watermaker for now.  Perhaps the process with the bottles works better on a nuclear submarine.
Another guilty pleasure on Sunday mornings long ago in the US was watching TV evangelists and laughing crazily.  The first Sunday after I moved to Houston in 1991 included seeing Robert Tilton, a Dallas based preacher, place his open hand in front of the camera and tell his flock to put their hand on their TV screens and “feel the power”.  This was around the time that Genesis had released “Jesus He Knows Me”, and I assumed the TV show was a parody – until it became clear that it wasn’t.  (Presumably in recent years Tilton’s income has been dented by the spread of flat screen TVs without anything like as much static electricity).

In the same vein, I really want to believe this Survivalist guide to seasteading  is a parody. 

But it isn’t.

Oh dear.  Oh dear.

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