Thursday, January 31, 2008

Are You a Survivalist Eco-Freak?

Based on some checklist I ran across on the Internet recently, I am a certifiable survivalist eco-freak. Solar panels - check. Composting toilet - check. Rainwater collection - check. Efficient light bulbs - check. Doing all my own maintenance - check. Three months of food - check. So I thought I'd check in with my readers, and see how eco-freaky they are, and whether they aspire to greater eco-freakiness.

My eco-freak leanings are all motivated by the fact that I live on a boat. And the top reasons I live on a boat are:

1. It's a cheap way to live
2. It's a cheap way to travel
3. I like sailing

You see, the eco-freak survivalist motivation doesn't make the short list. Even looking at the specific components, their choice is motivated by something other than the eco-survivalist ethos. The solar panels are cheaper to run and quieter than a generator set. The efficient light bulbs are a must because the solar panels are not that powerful. The composting toilet is more convenient because it doesn't require regular pump-outs while living at anchor or at the dock. The food stockpile is because it is cheaper to buy in bulk. Doing my own maintenance is, again, cheaper than paying for labor. The rainwater collection system? Well, the cockpit awning drains onto the cabin top, and the cabin top scupper is right next to the water tank fill.

"So what's it like living on a boat?" people inevitably ask. Well, it's cozy, if not to say cramped, but really quite comfortable. Everything is within easy reach, and there is never any wandering from room to room in search of things. On the other hand, to cut down on clutter, everything has to be stored in lockers, and getting at any given item often requires extensive disassembly and reassembly of locker contents: it's sequential access, not random access. It is also a lot of work, because the combination of salty, moist air and constant motion causes everything on a boat to wear out faster than it would normally.

"But what's it really like?" Well, I could spin a yarn or two, in which I battle gales and fog single-handed, but let's skip that for now. There is excitement to be had, without even leaving the dock. A few nights ago was one such exciting episode. It had been blowing off the ocean quite hard all day, straight into the harbor. Eventually, a swell built up, which bounced off a shore on the other side of the river from our marina, right into the marina, and straight off our dock. By sunset we were bouncing up and down and doing figure-eights, snubbing at the dock lines. By 3 a.m. the wind clocked around (winds tend to shift clockwise in the northern hemisphere) and started pushing us onto the dock. I was awakened by the jolt. The boat was hitting the dock, so got up, got dressed, and went outside to take a look.

The boat was still bouncing around on the swell, but now it was also rubbing up against the dock. Once in a while, some combination of wind gusts from one side and wave action from the other would cause the boat to miss both of the fenders that were hanging off its side, and hit the dock. Thump! Since on the other side of our dock lies a stretch of open water, I did not have the choice of running lines to windward. The remaining good choice was having the boat chew away at the fenders. I stood on the dock for quite some time, observing and gradually repositioning the fenders for optimum protection. (It never ceases to amaze me that I can push seven tons of boat away from the dock, against the wind, with one foot.) It worked. I went back to bed, and slept through until dawn.

The next day dawned mild, windless and calm, with this annoyingly innocent way Nature often has immediately following a storm, as if looking at you and saying: "My goodness! What did you do last night?" There is probably a new spot of "dock rash" on the side of the boat, but I haven't even bothered to look for it yet. I try not to worry about cosmetics - to a point. I am not about to repaint the topsides flat black and start using old tires for fenders, because the neighbors at the marina might take an exception to that. It might label me as some additional sort of freak.

As far as being a survivalist sort of eco-freak, I might yet join their ranks some day. I have thoughts of hauling the boat out, putting it up on a couple of acres of land, and farming that land while continuing to live on the boat. (It has a flat bottom, and sits nice and level on some pressure-treated 4x4's.) But until that happens, I would prefer to be considered just someone living on a boat.


sv koho said...

Dimitry, I also live on a boat I rebuilt, not 100%. It's too hot in Mexico in the summer for me and Wyoming is so habitable in the summer. What amazes me is how little energy a liveaboard uses compared to say some slob in his McMansion.My panels on my little pilothouse provide enough light and power to run computers a fridge/freezer, lights, music.You have to buy bulk foods, packaging =trash. A bad word on a boat. Liveaboard boats and houseboats may be the only hope for the Dutch when the North Sea starts oozing over the top of the dikes. Maybe you should do a piece on the low energy utility of being a liveaboard!. I'm looking forward to your book! Hugh

Anonymous said...

Will you settle for a former wharf-rat? I'm sure you have heard the term, but for those that might not, basically it is those guys that live up to the standards of Gilbert and Sullivan's Ruler of the Kings Navy, they never ever go to sea.

Yes that's the life, banging against the dock till all hours at night, watching the drunken fisherman,an early morning set long done, crawl on all fours to his boat while the yachty, at that cocktail hour, has just started frying what passes for brain cells. Can't beat the ambiance. Especially when your big black Labrador doggy wog comes galumphing aboard after a good day rolling in the fish offal at the local fish plant. (She also came home one day stoned as a crow with a body that grinned and irises that challenged infinity).

Other than a good hearty life avoiding the open sea (as far as possible) the thing it prepares one for, with a vengeance but superbly, is living small, the way a survivalist eco freak should.

Anonymous said...

Am I a survivalist eco-freak? I don't feel like one, but looking at my list, well....
Maybe not a survivalist, but a survivor, yes. I refuse to be a victim of man made or natural disasters. It could happen, but not without a fight.


• No debt
• Blue water capable sailboat
• Multi year collection of heirloom seeds
• Gardening tools
• Homesteading and survival library
• Gold coins
• Potassium Iodide tablets
• Always ready emergency evacuation bags
• Practical gardening and fishing experience
• Written contingency plans
• Firearms licenses up to date
• Home shop with wood, machining and metal casting capability
• Lots of canning jars, too many pickles

Yet to do:
• Practical hunting experience
• Year's supply of food
• Move to a more rural area
• Practical food preservation

Incidentally, in my view, one does not have to be wealthy to prepare like this. It just has to be a priority. The most important preparation is in the mind, and that part is relatively cheap.

Anonymous said...

Oh I have just been reminded that the wharf rat is also somewhat of a male chauvinist beast, as my wife made clear while reading my comment and beating me with a stick, that it was the Queens not kings Navy that ruled the sea. Phooey!

Anonymous said...

If I was single I would probably be joining you out on the boatdock, Dimitry. I live in Cambridge in a somewhat pricey apt w/ my wife. It would be so much simpler (stuff-wise) and cheaper to live on a boat! Quicker commute to my job too! Unfortunately my wife would never go for that sort of life.

Anonymous said...

I live on a boat too and am very curious how you manage to install a composting toilet on a boat. We've got most everything else you mentioned - but don't tell my husband that we're survivalist eco-freaks. I probably really am one (well at least the "eco" part - I have some reservations about "survivalist"), but my husband just thinks he's an avid sailor.

Dmitry Orlov said...

grannya -

Look at Air Head toilet - - it works quite well, and fits into the same footprint as a Sanipotty. (Yes, this is what liveaboards talk about all the bleeding time - toilets!)

SabreKai said...

Theres no life like it to be sure. I spent 1 1/2 years living on a 26ft sloop in Lake Ontario. Froze my tootsies off that winter, but I wouldn't have traded the experience for the world. Many years and miles later, I'm about to be moving aboard my new boat, a 38Ft cutter, still in Lake Ontario. I look foward to being woken up by the Demented Children again, as my friend used to call the clatter of halliards on mast in a blow. It will be nice to get away from all the rampant comsumerism, knowing that you really don't need all the trappings n toys that "They" would have you trade your soul for. Peace of mind, and sunrises and sunsets off the water.

SY Brandy

Anonymous said...

I think I would miss gardening too much and knowing my neighbors. Otherwise it sounds heavenly.

Jon said...

Dmitry, being a baby boomer whose parents lived through the depression, I'm just frugal. Growing up we always fixed things and lived within our means. My garden is more cosmetic than survivalist. I’ve used compact fluorescent light bulbs for over 10 years because they saved money/energy, which is good practice, and I refinanced my small house to lower the interest rate and shorten the term (30 years to 15 and then to 10) without taking out 'extra equity'. Quite frankly it never occurred to me to take a long term loan on my house for a short term benefit. I'm more worried about young people today and tell my daughter to 'brace herself.' She lives in Oregon and is already looking into local gardens and that sort of hippy stuff.


Michelle In TN said...

The ocean is lovely and fresh
fish is amazing. I miss it still.
But where would I put my chickens?

Anonymous said...

Hi Dmitry,

Any ideas for solving the money problem while living the nomadic life on a sailboat? I'm not a writer...


Anonymous said...

As a live-aboard and a former "cruiser trash", I recently discovered a great benefit and a privelege of becoming a member of a yacht club.
Now, it is really a streach to call this one story, somewhat runned down little building, perched on the inland side of our marina a yacht club. But there it is, with several hundred members, code of conduct and a burgee. The dues are cheap and so are the drinks. I resisted for many years to join any clubs or organizations, partly because my former soviet born distrust of anything officially organized, as well as a real fear of becoming a quick alcoholic thanks to cheap drinks.
A year ago, myself and my girlfriend moved back onboard, after several years living on land. An official live aboard slip became available, so we sold the house and just about everything else we owned and rejoined once again a wonderfull life afloat.
Now, if I was living along, most likely I would not join the above mentioned organization. But women need and crave social interactions and so we joined together.
I must say it has been a great and rewarding experience. The club has become our living room, the spacious desk our porch but most important, it is the tight knit community and its members that became our family. Just like any family there are ongoing soap stories, constant rumorville, and as you know, living on a boat does not leave one too much privacy. But it is a small trade off in exchange for a wonderfull comradery and support that this community provides. After few parties you get to know just about everyone in the club, and most would go far out their way to help another member. It is really a small village, where everybody knows everyone else, it is safe for a woman to hang out, where you can barter for boat services and parts and listen to plenty of nautical yarns. In fact, I suggested the other day that we start the club's first vegetable
garden in front.
So, don't be shy, find such community near your boat, and you too will be amply rewarded with new great friends.
I enjoy reading your articles and thoughtfull postings by so many intellegent people who are not afraid to think for themselves.

Tak derjat. Uspehov.

zeyang said...

Im building me a sailboat (40 feet) in aluminium with junk rig. bascially when i build from scratch i can also fix everything. (finish summer 2010)
my plan is to say around world, and if you are intersted to join please send me an email.