Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Our Brave Experiment

Pete Revonkorpi
[This is the last in the series of three posts based on the talks I gave at the first annual Age of Limits conference in Artemas, Pennsylvania.]

Exactly six years ago—a year or so before my first book was to be published—my wife and I sold our condo in a Boston suburb, liquidated most of our belongings, moved the rest either into storage or aboard Hogfish—our 32-foot sailboat—and sailed off into the North Atlantic.

This was rather brave of us, since, up to that point, our seafaring experience was limited to a weekend sail from Boston to Salem and back, which is the nautical equivalent of dangling your feet in a swimming pool. I did have some prior sailing experience: I had sailed dinghies around Boston's Charles River Basin (a smallish expanse of flat water between the Massachusetts Avenue bridge and the Longfellow Bridge). Once that became too boring, I joined Courageous Sailing Center and went on to sail somewhat larger boats, including the sporty J-22, around Boston Harbor.

The typical summer afternoon excursion involved tacking out and around the nearest harbor island on the afternoon sea breeze, anchoring somewhere for a picnic, and sloshing back on the tide and the dying breeze just as the sun was starting to set. While this doesn't sound particularly courageous, just getting out into the harbor did take courage: Courageous Sailing Center is located in a deep, winded-in pocket between two piers, and the only way to get out of it and out into the harbor it is by short-tacking through an obstacle course of moored boats.

If you haven't realized this yet, the approach I am taking with this article is that too much information is generally a good thing; however, I am not setting out to write an encyclopedia of sailing, so I will throw a lot of terms around without pausing to define them. If you don't understand something, then let Wikipedia be your friend.

My decision to buy the sailboat was a long time in the making. I had started researching sail-based transport some time before then, having come to the realization that, once fossil fuels are gone, sailing will once again become the only way to navigate the planet. I had also realized that the world has changed since the world's last sail-based merchant marine (Finnish) ceased to exist (right around World War II). For one thing, there just isn't the supply of dense-grained old-growth timber from which to construct wooden ships using classic time-tested methods. The available timber is from new, smaller, fast-growth trees, which have loose grain structure with widely spaced rings, and even it is in short supply, very expensive, and weak. For another thing, over the course of this century sea-level rise associated with global warming will put most coastal port facilities underwater and out of commission.

If you don't believe this, that's fine by me, because I believe my own eyes, not you. Just last week a freakishly high tide put the floating docks at several marinas in the Boston area within a foot or so of floating off the tops of the pilings. If we are planning for one or two decades from now, let's do the reasonable thing and plan for docks and waterfronts that are awash at high tide and quickly washing away altogether. This means that the sailboats we build need to be beachable: they need to take to the ground safely and settle upright, instead of flopping over on their keels and holing their sides on rocks. Many other, similarly practical considerations occurred to me in the course of my research, and I spelled them out in an article I wrote at the time, The New Age of Sail.

I then found and purchased Hogfish, which is the type of boat I described in the article: a custom-built ocean-going sharpie. It is a shoal-draft boat, drawing only two feet when normally loaded. It is very solidly built; the builder, Chris Morejohn, who has built some 60 boats over the course of many years, had lost a boat in the Gulf Stream when it collided with something, possibly a submerged shipping container. The next boat he built was designed to survive such a collision without damage. The hull consists of over an inch of cold-molded, laminated plywood, with a very thick fiberglass hull built over that. Yachty people sometimes look at it and ask me whether it's ferrocement. I tell them that it's fiberglass with a wood core, and then they think that I don't know what I am talking about. Yachty people tend to have strong opinions, you see, whereas I couldn't care less. Hogfish could probably sail clear through a contemporary production fiberglass yacht, leaving two half-yachts foundering in its wake (but I will do my best to leave this hypothesis untested).

It is also uncapsizable: one of the initial sea trials involved sailing out into the Atlantic in a gale, with empty water tanks, and trying to get the mast to touch the water. It turned out to be impossible: Hogfish will wallow at about a 45-degree angle, with all sail up and sheeted in flat. This effect is achieved by using a low aspect ratio rig: 1 to 1.3 or so. The genoa is actually 1 to 1 (it's a fractional rig) and this means that it can be roller-reefed without adjusting the sheeting angle. At this point a typical snooty yachty person will snort and declare that this boat must sail like a pig. Not so; Hogfish does a perfectly respectable 7.5 knots off the wind, and 5 knots to windward, and points as high as most sloops.

Hogfish is designed to sail, not motor, and so the engine is rather underemphasized. It is an outboard that sits on a bracket under the transom, with the prop projecting to one side of the skeg. It motors at around 5.5 knots with a 10hp motor at full throttle, although I prefer a quieter ride and only go 4 knots when motoring. Where the oily, stinky inboard diesel would normally sit there is a large pantry.

The bottom is perfectly flat side-to-side (it has rocker but no deadrise) allowing it to settle upright at low tide. There is a very substantial centerboard, but it is used only when maneuvering (to make tight turns) and when sailing to windward. On other points of sail, chine runners (little lips sticking out horizontally from the chine) catch enough water to prevent leeway. The centerboard is ballasted so as to bounce easily off the bottom, making it the depth sounder of last resort: if I hear the centerboard tackle jangling, it's time for a quick about-face. The rudder is a kick-up rudder, its long blade normally kept down by a long nylon tensioner, but folding up and out of the way when encountering an obstacle. This combination of features makes running aground in calm waters a non-event: time to take a nap and wait for the tide to set you afloat again. I have done this on many occasions, both accidentally and on purpose.

In all, Hogfish has proven to be a versatile, safe and seaworthy design. Chris had spent 10 years living aboard and sailing Hogfish with his wife. They bore and raised their two daughters while aboard. All of the above still like sailing. And then we bought it, moved aboard, and sailed off into the North Atlantic... in mid-October, just to be funny, I suppose. Now, it may seem reasonable to buy an old sailboat to try an experiment or two, but what's all this about selling everything else, quitting the job, and going off sailing?

To understand this choice, you need to understand the economics of owning a sailboat in Boston. Given the prices that local marinas charge for dockage (almost same as rent or mortgage on land) there are just two purposes to which sailboats can be put here: ostentation (sport, showing off and so forth) and as one's primary residence. Most people manage to somehow make ends meet while owning a house and a car and holding down a job, but introducing a sailboat into the equation breaks the bank. The solution, of course, is to get rid of the house, the car and the job. Let us discuss these one at a time.

Just getting rid of the house and living on the boat is a giant leap in the right direction. The amount of stuff that can fit on a boat is much smaller, forcing people to get rid of junk they don't need and never use, and keeping them from buying more of the same because there is no place to put it. Entire categories of expense, such as furniture, home appliances, various collections of useless, nameless objects, simply fall away. Inevitably, the savings rate shoots through the roof, and, a short while later, it becomes unclear why having a job is all that important: you have more money than time to spend it. Plus, you hardly ever get to go sailing because this thing called “the work-week” keeps getting in the way.

And so, the next item to go is the job. Jobs interfere with sailing. You see, one of the most important facts to understand about sailing is that it does not happen on schedule. You set a general southerly direction and, some months and many adventures later, you find yourself anchored in a turquoise lagoon fringed by yellow sand and palm trees somewhere in the Caribbean; you set a general northerly direction and, a similar duration later, you find yourself anchored in a rocky bay fringed by granite cliffs and pine trees somewhere in Maine or Nova Scotia—unless you decide to stop on the way. But having to be somewhere by next Monday, or making sure that you are able to check your email at all times, or to join a daily conference call or two or three—these things all run contrary to nature's plan. You will end up fighting the elements instead of going with the wind and sitting out the bad weather, and will probably arrive late anyway.

Once your earthly possessions are down to a storage container full of stuff you will quickly forget is yours, there is still the car. The obvious problem with cars is that they don't fit on sailboats, and if you want to go sailing, it has to stay on shore. If you are intent on sailing away with no specific return date (see above as to why that is generally the case) then it's best to give up the car altogether. Bicycles are another story: they can be partially disassembled, bagged, lashed to the lifelines, and ridden anywhere you happen to dock next.

And so we got rid of everything that couldn't go on the boat, and set sail. In the course of a year, we sailed from Maine to Florida and back, with a long stop, haul-out and refit in St. Augustine. The refit was called for because, while we were sailing down to Florida, everything on the boat broke. The original design was sound, but Hogfish had a couple of owners between Chris and myself, who Mickey-Moused a great many things in a multitude of amusing but, thankfully, sublethal ways. Hogfish, it turned out, was not a beautiful and/or unique snowflake. It was a learning experience, by the end of which I had attained a level of expertise in all parts of the sailboat, from sail repair to engine mechanics. Along the way, I also introduced a long list of improvements that made life aboard much more pleasant.

Not that it was particularly unpleasant to start with. A sailboat, and ours in particular, makes a very good survival capsule. The constant motion takes getting used to (some of the sportier sailboats have horrible, lurching, unpredictable motion that will break your ribs; ours doesn't) but the cabin is a safe, cozy, thoughtfully appointed sanctuary from the elements raging outside. I was often amazed when, after dousing wet flogging sails or resetting a dragging anchor in a howling gale, I would descend the companionway, to find the cabin warm, dry and well-lit, my wife reading a book and drinking a cup of tea, and the cat napping on the bed. Most of the discomforts associated with life aboard have to do with being stuck in the wrong place at the wrong time: north during the winter, south during the summer, in the hurricane zone during the hurricane season. But if you avoid these pitfalls by unhurriedly sailing to and fro, life aboard can be positively pleasant.

Nevertheless, the pressures to make the experience even more pleasant are always there, emanating, as they do more often than not, from the female half of the crew. And so, I insulated the cabin, adding layers of foam, radiant barrier, and varnished plywood liner and trim throughout the cabin. I also installed a charcoal stove, for drying out the cabin on rainy, foggy days. I added solar panels and a wind generator, to make sure that we never run out of electricity for lights, instruments and other electronics. Lastly, I installed a propane-heated cockpit shower: the ultimate element of luxury is being able to take a hot shower aboard. But there are two things that make life aboard comfortable more than anything else: avoiding winter, and jobs.

And so, I have been able to validate the ideas I set down in The New Age of Sail. The boat design I described is a sound one; so sound that no amount of inexperience on my part or faulty workmanship on the part of the boat's intervening owners was able to destroy it or even damage it. Getting back to the idea of post-fossil-fuel-age sail-based transport, seasonal, personal sail transport to warm, sunny places and back is already a reality for those with more time than money. The wind is free, so are anchorages, it is impossible to spend money while underway, and there are desperate people giving away perfectly serviceable sailboats for no money at all. The impediments for executing such a plan are, as I mentioned, the house, the job, the car, and inexperience, although, as I have personally demonstrated, inexperience can be overcome as part of the process if the boat is solidly built and forgiving in its design.

Beyond that, small-scale cargo for inter-island trade is already a possibility. There are many islands in the world that are in dire need of transportation options beyond the big ships that call less and less often and the fiberglass boats with outboard motors that are their only other option. At some point it will become obvious that larger sailing cargo vessels need to be built (the world's current total cargo capacity under sail is approximately zero). These need not be gigantic ships; even a 60-foot schooner can provide a valuable service. In fact, only a hundred years ago Boston harbor was permanently clogged with such vessels.

When it comes to building such vessels, the choice of building materials is likely to be limited. Traditional wooden construction is out of the question; the old growth forests that were used to build the tea clippers in the mid-1800 in East Boston, where I am sitting now, no longer exist. Fiberglass is made using oil and natural gas as feedstocks; these are likely to become exotic along with transportation fuels. Steel, especially recycled steel plate from large, soon-to-be-useless diesel-powered ships, will be useful for a time, although welding does require a good supply of electricity, compressed gases and rare earths such as Chinese-mined lanthanum for electrodes. Beyond that, ferrocement, then fiber-cement, will be the remaining choices. Cement and short-strand glass fiber can be made using a solar concentrator from limestone and silica, in a process that can be made self-reproducing without the use of fossil fuels or advanced technologies.

I believe that the design that stands the best chance of success in an unstable environment of shoaling, unmarked channels, eroded or submerged docks and waterfronts and wild weather throughout the year is the design I have been experimented with: an ocean-going, heavily ballasted sharpie or cargo lighter that is beachable. Since Dacron (long-strand polyester) for sails is unlikely to be available, the sail plan must work with weak and stretchy fabric, such as reed or grass mat, and there is just one sail plan that fits: the Chinese junk rig. In fact, old Chinese naval architecture and practice have much to teach us beyond the rig. In fact, I would not be at all surprised if, when the time comes, thousands of Chinese sailing ships will show up out of nowhere and mop up all the remaining ocean freight business.

Sailboats, especially ones that settle upright and can be hauled out of the water, can be put to many uses beyond transportation: they can be used as libraries, as clinics, as factories or mills (anchored in a swift current, they can generate power using an undershot wheel) and as secure storage (with the surrounding water forming a moat for protection).

This brings us to the inevitable question about pirates. I would like to assure you that, since the invention of reliable, accurate firearms, mutual assured destruction has prevailed on the high seas: anything that floats can be sunk. A typical way of fighting off pirates now involves a drill similar to shooting skeet: toss a bottle in the water, and blast away at it with a shotgun. Sometimes a simple show of arms is enough: thrust a hand holding a rifle out of a hatch, and the erstwhile pirates say “Thank you, have a nice day” and move on to a softer target. Add to this the fact that one man's pirate is another man's freedom fighter/revolutionary. Piracy is and has always been about class warfare. If you are floating by in a well-appointed yacht, teak and bronze and your Rolex glinting in the sun, then it is a point of pride for a pirate to take you down. But if you are floating by in a shantyboat with patched sails, laundry flapping from the lifelines and a couple of goats tethered to the mast and trying to eat your sails, then maybe the prates will just want to be your friends. Finally, piracy is just another way of doing business: continuation of commerce by other means. And there is much more of a chance of that inland, where people can easily find you (on the road, most likely) whereas out on the water it is very much hit or miss, especially if you are in no hurry and sailing random courses far out of sight of land rather than shooting a beeline from headland to headland.

Having done all of this exploratory work, I am now contemplating actually getting started in the sail transport business. Just one sixty-foot boat would roughly double the world's overall sailing cargo capacity. It doesn't have to be built from scratch: there are many possible retrofits. These can sometimes pay for themselves, if one pulls and sells the engine.

But one thing I discovered is that it is best not to try to do it in the US. First, too many people here still have their heads up their asses, and they won't smell any better once they pull them out. (Pardon me for cursing like a sailor.) Secondly, there are too many laws here, and too many lawyers. Lastly, it's a big huge world out there, full of easy-going, friendly people who won't have too many issues with you not keeping to a tight schedule—which you won't be, because you will be sailing.


Lloyd Morcom said...

Brilliant, Dmitri. One of my (many) schemes is to build a 70 foot cement Chinese junk, fill it with cheap sheepskins in New Zealand or Australia, then sail it via the Roaring Forties to Cape Horn then up the Atlantic to the UK in time to flog the cargo before winter. Then load up with good single-malt scotch paid for with the cash from the sheepskins, back down the Atlantic and round the Cape of Good Hope to Australia to land it all on some quiet beach.

Roustam Ghizdatov said...

здравствуйте, Дмитрий! с интересом читаю, слушаю и смотрю вас, поскольку нахожу много здравого смысла в том, что вы говорите. было бы интересно узнать ваше мнение о следующей идее: http://www.yunitskiy.com/author/2012/2012_19.pdf я только на днях узнал про неё. спасибо! с уважением, Рустам

BrandFeelsGood said...

Once again Orlov you have produced an outstanding post. You are now EPIC + 1.

Just yesterday I was talking to our local chocolate bar producer about where they source their hazel nuts from - Turkey! It's half way across the world...
Now you've got me thinking :-)

BrandFeelsGood said...

What kind of ship do you want to retrofit? Ply? Steel? Bilge Keeler?

32 meter Brigantine Tres Hombres is still sailing cargo around the world, bit old tech though...

stevelaudig@gmail.com said...

would that the economies were as well designed for heavy weather and change as your boat.

John said...

Care to comment on the issue of food (for human and goat), especially post collapse?

John Puma

Allie said...

Great post Dmitry, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

As I'm sure you know, there are a few very nice schooners that operate out of Key West. They mostly do the sunset cruise run, but they are in good shape and some are 60 footers.

You could retrofit one or more of those and run trade amongst the Bahamas, Turks and Caicos and the Leeward and Windward islands.

In addition to the USA, I would add Cuba to your list of countries to avoid doing business in. Both of these countries have governments that like to get in people's business just a bit too much!

g-minor said...

In 1968, I had arrived by sail-powered fishing boat on an obscure island in the Bahamas (population about 60) after filming a race among hundreds of such boats. The village where we ate and slept was at the top of a steep hill looking over a dream vision of a small tropical bay. Our second day there, a Chinese junk--about 40 feet long, as I recall--sailed into the bay and anchored. The visitors came ashore in their dingy to join the perpetual party that is life on a tropical island as long as the fish hold out. While the ship's design was Chinese junk, the sailors were a bunch of Peace Corps graduates who, after serving their tour, had spent a year on the beach in Ecuador building the junk with local shipbuilders. It had cost them $3,000, although the interior was still unfinished. I never did get aboard so can't comment on the workmanship, but the Peace Corps grads were happy as clams.


Ian said...

Thank you for the post Dmitri

bluebird said...

A very good read, Thanks!

I believe in your 1/26/12 posting, you described biking to work in the snow. So have you finally left the job to sail full-time?

ph0rque said...

Ooh... is this the investment opportunity you alluded to earlier?

Glenn said...


As amusing and informative as I found this essay, you suffer from a syndrome I find common in writers from the East. You write as though the United States, and perhaps the world, stops somewhere between the Rocky Mountain Front Range, and the Alleghennies. While in the post collapse world there may indeed be a separation between the Eastern U.S. and the Western, with the Great American Desert and the intermountain west being a no man's land, both parts may still consider themselves the U.S. or the Former U.S. as you are wont to put it.

But, rest assured, in the west we won't need to revive wooden boatbuilding. Neither the skills nor the material ever went away. From Northern California to S.E. Alaska with British Columbia in between we still have plenty of good timber. And from Newport Beach to Kachemak Bay we still have wooden boatbuilders and sailmakers. A good percentage of the North Pacific fishing fleet is still wooden, albeit diesel powered.

So while you mourn the loss of all this in New England and the fished out North Atlantic, we are alive and well in the N.E. Pacific. I may recommend to you the blog at www.triloboat.com, they seem to be actually living the seasteading life that you describe in your essay on the future age of sail; complete with guerilla gardens. History sometimes comes before fiction, I don't think they read your essay before they built their boats.

Marrowstone Island

kollapsnik said...

Glenn -

Your thinking is regressive. Sure, you can be retro, clear-cut all of Pacific Northwest and build a few ships. You will go broke doing it. Do the math.

Plus, wooden ships seriously suck. They leak, the boards get sprung, the caulking is a pain, and there is 100 years of boatworm lurking in every tropical harboor and spreading north at the speed of global warming.

Plus, what sort of person wants to clear-cut what's left of the forests to build a few ships, when much better materials (steel, fibercement) are now available?

Eamon McDermott said...

All this description of your boat and there's not even a photo of it? Colour me disappointed!

Glenn said...


At the risk of turning this into an OT discussion I will attempt a response. No one is going to continue business as usual (BAU) with traditional wooden ships. Important questions involve what needs to be hauled, how much and how far. During the medieaval age of exploration long haul cargoes were high value items like spices of the Indies, short haul cargoes were low value commodities like salt cod, grain, and Baltic Naval stores (tar, hemp etc). How soon do we need these ships? What will the population be? What tonnage do we need to haul?

As for your assertion that steel and ferrocement are better boatbuilding materials than wood, I take violent opposition. They are both cheaper up front, but suffer greatly from maintenance and longevity issues. I have owned and maintained small, traditional and plywood boats all my life. I have maintained steel, fiberglass and aluminum boats for Uncle Sam in the form of the U.S. Coast Guard. Steel is by far the worst maintenance nightmare. Rust never sleeps. By comparison, rot and shipworm are relatively benign and easy to deal with. And wood is infinitely more maintainable in a post industrial society.

Currently your model of fiberglass over plywood, sealed with epoxy is extremely practical. Steel is quite cheap to build, but I would expect less than 20 years life from the hull, and not being able to replace it. In small vessels, welding an aluminum boat right now would be quite good, if expensive, and could be expected to outlive the steel boat with the caveat that you really have to take pro-active preventive measure for electrolysis. Converting an old fiberglass hull from the 60's or 70's would be a very cost effective way to go, if you found a practical shape. Ed Monks "Skookum" design from the mid-70's would be a good one.

In your area the Maine schooner fleet is maintaining both the sailing, building and maintenance skills required for a wooden fleet. Increased urbanization is also opening up woodland in the N.E. for re-growth. Your critique of available timber in the east is correct if you are building yachts for Hereshoff or Nevins engineered to the last ounce. If you're building a boat that works for a living, use more wood. The Piscataqua Gundalows in New Hampshire and Vermont were build during the winter by farmers to haul their produce to market. Wooden boatbuilding does not have to be rocket science.

I agree that we do not have enough wood anywhere to replace the current fleet of steel merchantmen with wooden schooners. We will do what we can with what we have. I don't think you're going to get any larger or more useful a fleet out of steel or ferro than you will with wood. But as our mutual friend, the Archdruid says, dissensus can be useful too. You build all you can out of your materials, and I with mine, and between the two of us we will provide more boats to the cargo fleet than we would have alone.

I think by the time it makes economic sense to move cargo by sail the 4 horsemen will have reduce the population to the point where we can build enough vessels out of wood without clearcutting. Falling trees with a misery whip and cutting boards with a pitsaw take labour and time. Before chainsaws the biggest fear for loggers here was that they wouldn't be able to get it all before it grew back.

Marrowstone Island

lamentforthetirnanog said...

I'm going to have to agree with Glenn (but then again I'm slightly biased, having gone to a wooden boatbuilding school here in the Puget Sound area) that ultimately boatbuilding will probably return to being done form wood. While the ferro-cement option is great, the amount of embedded energy needed to make enough cement to make a entire hull is pretty steep, though for repairing an existing hull a DIY kiln would probably work fine. One of the other big advantages to a wooden boat is it can be repaired just about anywhere you can find trees (history is replete with accounts of shipwrecked mariners even building seaworthy boats from the wreckage of their bigger ship). Since most of the current unsustainable uses for wood will likely be going away, I expect (at least on the west coast) that there will be a sustainable equilibrium between available lumber and the need for boat timber.
As far as design goes, I agree that the traditional Chinese junk has a lot to recommend it, and shoal draft boats will probably become much more common (though again on the west coast much of our shores are not fit to beach a boat on regardless of it being flat bottomed or not.

Hardmoney said...

Not sure of your age Dmitry, but one of the issues I have struggled with in my own preparations for the coming changes in our society, is that there seems to be significant opportunity cost associated with bugging out too soon, especially as I try to finish raising my family. As impressed as I am with your thought processes, it seems that making changes now in anticipation of the unavailability of fossil fuels seems a little premature. Do I have that wrong?

Squid said...

Check one of the last entries in Bolger's Boats with an Open Mind. A long narrow sharpie (schooner rigged) designed to carry cargo around the Pacific.

Benny said...

I think you are being just a bit too blase about the pirate threat.

"anything that floats can be sunk."

That's why modern pirates attack in swarms.

" simple show of arms is enough: thrust a hand holding a rifle out of a hatch, and the erstwhile pirates say “Thank you, have a nice day” "

True enough for the moment as not a single fishing boat or ship with armed guards has been successfully boarded off Somalia but pirates change their tactics and when all their potential targets have guns (there are legal problems with that at the moment) they will adapt.

"if you are floating by in a shantyboat with patched sails, laundry flapping from the lifelines and a couple of goats tethered to the mast and trying to eat your sails, then maybe the prates will just want to be your friends."

A white skinned yankee says "payday" like little else to modern pirates but happily kidnap dirt poor Yemeni and Egyptian fishermen in rusty tubs as well. If you're no good for ransom, they always need slaves. Sorry, pirates don't have class consciousness.

"than shooting a beeline from headland to headland."

Motherships (ie: hijacked fishing vessels with the original crew press-ganged into operating it for the pirates) now operate throughout the Indian ocean and the Arabian sea, from Suez to the Mozambique channel and that's just East Africa. You might not be worth the effort but they won't know that until they have you.

None of these are reasons to stay ashore but I would be thinking of acquiring something heavier than a shotgun (a light machine gun perhaps) and maybe a telezoom camera with IR. The pirates will.

kollapsnik said...

Benny -

Not sure what your experience is in fighting off pirates. I haven't met any myself, so I base my information on what's been told to me by a Navy captain who ran patrols off the coast of Somalia. He told me to have a rifle (an old SKS will do) and a shotgun for close range. Maintain a watch at all times (the most important part) and present arms as needed. Oh, and don't go sailing anywhere near the coast of Africa. Forget the Suez; go the long way around.

I think you are spreading piracy FUD.

lamentforthetirnanog said...

Once the gas starts to run short, the pirates are likely going to be sailing as well (perhaps retaining a motor for dashes towards their prey, much in the same way galleys would mostly sail, but could switch to oars to go against the wind or for bursts of speed. At that point, avoiding pirates becomes a matter of keeping a sharp lookout, avoiding a lee shore, and maintaining the weather-gage when an unknown ship is sighted.

DeVaul said...

I haven't read this entire article yet because I am visiting with my sons, but I was fascinated by the fact that the bottom of your boat is flat, and yet seagoing.

Is your boat constructed like a Viking Longboat, which was also "beachable"? If not, can you tell me the primary differences betwee your -- yacht(?) -- and a longboat? I would be interested in knowing, if you have the time.

Unknown said...

my choice is a 20 to 30 foot centerboard catboat with a 30-06 garand rifle.my cargo is whiskey and tabacco. good sailing,smoking, and shooting to all.

Greg Colvin said...

A friend is building guitars of laminated bamboo and carbon fiber. Don't know if that would be of any use for boats.


two meter troll said...

Fine article sir.
1. Wood boats: ferrocreate is not only a pain to build the lattice of chicken wire it requires is going to become hard to get real fast. our current skill level in manufacturing will not allow us the time to readjust for fine wire drawing. Rebar while junk is a drawn rod and running the rollers to get it in long lengths is costly.
The alternative is going to be wood. designs that are cheap for the average guy are junks and catamarans. both hull forms can take advantage of low cost woods and neither are outside the ability of a low skill builder with time.
that being said currently making boats out of sheet stock is a good idea (it will be long after steel goes away that plywood mills will stop working). traditionally built boats dont have to depend on old growth if the hull design is good; tea clippers where designed to be fast most cargo boats sailed along at 5 to 7 KTS (powerscows today dont do much better). tea clippers also had hull forms that required far more skill than we have in our modern wood boat builders.
the junk and sampan hull forms require minimal bending and take advantage of the natural flare found in trees. Easy to drive the rig can be placed where it does not interfere with cargo. A junk rig when set up will for the most part run itself and with very little "good" material it can be constructed or fixed. blocks and line will again be special items however: blocks can be made at home. line will have to be figured out again and fibers for that line sought out.

catamaran designs are faster than monohull and i would suspect if you want to be shipping stuff all over the place that the market for fast cargo hauling will fall to the cats. fast patrol/people transport will be trimarans. Sharpies will again be a part of the fleets but in its traditional place instead of out in the big water. Skows will dominate the shipping again along with the occasional junk. I would be surprised if the west goes to junks since we have our equivalent already. The S/V Alma is a good example.

2: pirates: Somali pirates are there because we made them. china and the west raped and polluted the fishing grounds, isolated the tip of the country and starved the people until they went to the fall back they have always had piracy.
make no mistake the Barbary pirates are back and not going away. the French where the first to shoot and the Somali pirates responded by becoming violent in return. Keep this fact firmly on mind.

South America on the other hand has no excuse and it pirates are generally protected from harm by the navies. most are small bands but there are some very high tech pirates in the gulf.

South china sea has always had pirates and always will.

From experience a pirate in any of these places will leave you alone sometimes if you flash a fire arm. but make no mistake these fellas have bigger guns if need be. A .50 mounted on the bow of a fast speed boat can ruin your whole day. A better idea is to make contacts with those who can speak for you, local fishing fleet, dock workers Etc. are better deterrents than guns. Small cargo's are valuable cargo's things like wine and spices can bring good coin on the market so unless you are planning to ship rice you will be a target.

I have more to add but space is short.
good writing and thought in this. Thank you for taking up the banner.

Frederik said...

A few thoughts
I enjoy some good doomer arguments on occasion. However, I find that ultimately what needs to be said about the un-sustainability of contemporary Western society has been said so many times, that it ought to blatantly obvious at this point. Time is better spent living according to ones conviction rather than arguing about it, with people who have a vested economical and emotional interest in not getting “it”. This is just an act of futility.

I think that for the vast majority of people actually collapsing ahead of time could lead to a substantial increase in quality of life. As I see it, the activities of preparing for "collapse" are themselves inherently more rewarding than most the activities of contemporary society.
There is intrinsic value in learning to grow food, working less, reading books, spending more time with friends and family or sailing a boat, and other out of fashion activities. All of which can be done to a greater extent if one escapes the Bermuda triangle of work, house and car, so frequently alluded to in this blog.

In this regard any question of timing the markets in order to collapse at a strategically favorable time seems of little consequence. A recent post by John Michael Greer argues to collapse now and avoid the rush: http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.dk/2012/06/collapse-now-and-avoid-rush.html

Of course all of this is easier said than done. As a student I am still going to be in school for at least another three years, and as such this offers little in ways of collapsing in the present.

Still, what I take from it is that I have no plan of pursuing the path my fellow student seem to be on: Money, big jobs etc. And also, I am trying figure out what to do when I am done with my studies.

I find the perspective of living on a sailboat as an ingenious way to collapse. The activity of sailing has intrinsic qualities and requires the acquisition of many worthwhile skills. In opposition to our contemporary obsession with learned helplessness eg. specialization.

Typically, the collapse narrative is associated with getting out onto the land. While living in a rural area has a great deal of appeal to me, collapse or not, it does mean getting hands on some land. Which where I come from means taking on huge amounts of debt. Something I want to avoid. Debt = slavery as far, as I am concerned. Boats is another story all together.

And so in taking this a step further, maybe the readership / Dmitri could elaborate a bit further:
What would be good resources (books) for a more thorough discussion regarding living on a sailboat?

- Types of boats, hulls etc.
- Selection of materials
- The practical aspects of working while living on a boat.
- Skills to acquire
- Budget for a boat, and for living on a boat


Shadowfax said...

I agree sheet plywood has it over cement.
Can't stand cement esthetically.
Doesn't work for multihulls anyway unless they are too big.
I firmly believe a boat no longer than 32 or 33 ft..anything bigger is too hard to handle with human power.
(well if a family maybe 36)
I live on a 32ft ply/epoxy catamaran.

Shadowfax said...

I think a boat is a good substitute for land which is priced out of my reach anyway.If you do run out of job or money you can at least cast off and cut dock fees.It's a lot of freedom when you think of it...no property taxes ..no BUILDNG CODES!!!
You can instal a composting toilet..(some municipalities/counties have no idea what one is and will insist you inject your solid waste into the fresh water system instead)

Jeff said...

I have nothing to add on boats, but on human nature, maybe.

Just as kollapsnik and others will take to the sea to reinvigorate trade, so will other unsavory types take to the sea to do harm. These 'new' pirates will be learning as they go also, so don't expect them to follow even common sense rules, as they may still be learning what target is profitable and what is not. That you are not a profitable target may be learned after you are dead; it won't help you much to be part of the pirate learning curve.

I have an SKS and it is a nice gun, but against two or more SKS's I will still lose.

Good luck.

Unknown said...

I have posted your latest article on our site, hope I have credited it correctly as I have never done it before.
We are working on reviving coastal shipping in the Hauraki Gulf, New Zealand. 3 goals are to revive boatbuilding industry on our island (there are a lot of boaties that build their own here), start training up our young people (so they don't leave looking for work), and position ourselves to ship cargo around the gulf when the petrol price goes our way significantly enough. By the time it does we hope to have a good boat and capable crew.

Frederik said...

While sliding, bumpily, down the far side of the Hubbards curve is going to be another experience than the going up it. I am also of the conviction that human "nature" will not change much. I am not convinced of any impending singularity. Or, of total anarchy.

Will going to sea be a safe haven? Of course not. However, the increase in mobility will probably not be a bad thing.

And while squatting might some day become the norm, until then, boating offers another possibility not at odds with the law. With-in reach of "ordinary" people. Still, where to start?

Kevin said...

Local CSA transport...


Kevin said...

Does anyone here present happen to know if there is any sail transport activity getting started or under way in the San Francisco bay area? How would one go about getting this started?

Paul said...

Wonderful, crazy photo of the driller! Dmitry excels himself again. You sure have an eye for savage humour, Dmitry!

Benny said...

Hi, there. Sorry for taking so long to get back to you on this but I was waiting until I had a chance to chat to some people in the maritime security escort trade, which is taking off around here in Cape Town. Local companies are doing things like repainting their offshore supply boats grey, reflagging them as Greek and sailing them up the coast to take on security charters out of Nairobi or Puntland.
Some of the people I chatted to are consultants or masters but one or two were actual “security contractors”/mercenaries/ guards on the vessels and toward the end of our interviews I asked them how they would rate a slow moving sailing vessel’s chances of fending off a Somali-style Pirate Action Group (PAG). I suppose you could be right if you say they are deliberately exaggerating the difficulties to blow their own trumpet but they were pretty unanimous: Even attempting to resist would basically be guaranteed suicide.

Under the absolute best of circumstances your death would go something like this. Firstly they would attack in daylight, which is the norm but not guaranteed. Your second stroke of “luck” would be spotting them at the earliest possible opportunity. Escorted cargo vessels traversing the Gulf of Aden and surrounds have a minimum of four guards (best practice is six) on board mainly so they can realistically guarantee to have at least one set of eyes scanning the horizon at all times. Nipping down to the galley for a cup of tea or a visit to the head could take minutes longer than the 90 seconds or so it takes at 30 knots for a skiff swarm to go from a few tiny white dots on the horizon till they on board.

Even if you did see them you probably wouldn’t necessarily be able to scare them away with your rifle. A boarding swarm could consist of anything between three and eight fast moving boats with 4-8 men each. Hitting even one or two of those men in the 60 seconds or so you have, after spotting the boats (not all necessarily coming from the same direction), deciding they are a threat and taking up your rifle would be beyond the skills of most special forces snipers. If you did open fire at a distance there is an excellent chance they wouldn’t even notice your bullets going into the water amid all the excitement and engine noise. The amazing shots by those SEALS during the rescue of the Maersk Alabama are famous because they were considered near impossible. Plus: None of the vessels involved in that were under power at the time.

The best time to hit pirates is when they come alongside and try to deploy their hooks and ladders. Most successful kills occur at this point by just emptying a magazine on them with an assault rifle on full automatic. Ideally your partner, also armed with his/her assault rifle is on the other side covering you ass. How far your vessel’s deck is above the water line?

Long before they come alongside of course, those 3-8 boats with their 4-8 men apiece can start firing back. Sure, Somali pirates tend not to be the best shots or have the most accurate or well maintained weapons but three or four of them spraying away at you (how do you reckon your average seasteader will cope being targeted by several assault rifles at once?) is at least going to make you keep your head down for the last few seconds they will need to get aboard and on you. And if you did actually manage to kill some of their buddies, well...
That's basically the executive summery of all those responses. I got lots of shaking heads and "no wayz- If you resist, you're dead"

As for my own 2c, all that above is Somalia but off the future coastlines of the Americas I’ll bet there be lots opportunities for folks that want to try new techniques and tactics. Folks with skills far beyond your average Somali pirate. Even those SEAL snipers are going to have to make a living somehow.Policing the open sea is hard. That's why it takes dozens of warships, drones, choppers and multi billion $ budgets to even mildly discourage guys in flip flops that navigate with GPS cellphones in plastic bags.

kollapsnik said...

Benny, 15nm at 30kt is 30 minutes, not 90 seconds. Your characterization is way off, and your entire argument is slanted in a particular testosterone-poisoned direction. The scene you set is like something from some dumb Hollywood action film.

I can't believe how many people there are out there who, like Benny, like to exaggerate the piracy threat to small boats. I think that they are non-sailors who get their thrills by scaring people.

First point to get through your head: if it becomes that dangerous to be on the sea, it would automatically become that much more dangerous to be on land, to the point that where being on the sea would be much safer. If you think that sailing by Somalia is dangerous, try driving through. With a sailboat you take your chances; with a land rover you are dead meat on a stick.

Second point: avoiding piracy is a question of avoiding certain areas at certain times, maintaining a lookout, having a radar perimeter alarm set and having some countermeasures ready. But most importantly, look like you have nothing that's worth taking.

Third point: so far the pirates have attacked many big ships but very few sailboats; of these, the vast majority were attacks on large luxury superyachts that smell of money, flying rich-country flags.

Don't listen to opinion; learn the facts.

Robin Jack said...

From my point of view, you have told about the past how people used to sail. Having said that, I think we have come so far as far as technology is concerned. But when fossil fuels will finish then we have to go back to the way our ancestors used to do the sailing. Scary but true.
Boat transporting

Garde said...

Hi kollapsnik and thanks so much for your sailboating inspirations:)

I've wanted to sail all my life, but since I'm the first in my circle to take up seafaring, I've never really had a go at it. But now, with collapse and all, the excuse I need to take action is finally here! So last month I started dipping my feet, sailing a wooden bathtub halfway around my island, learning and experimenting. It took days of harbour-hopping and I've learned so much in a short time!

Now I'm ready to get into the long search for a real seaworthy shoal-draft'er. Possibly a sharpie, or similar "elephant-shaped" design. And once again, I'm starting from scratch...

I wonder if you have any specific boat-searching tips?

I know that Denmark, being an expensive place, is not the best place to search. So I should look abroad, but where? And what should I look for? How common are insulated shoal-draft vessels, and/or what does it take to insulate one? What should I look out for or how could one go about checking the quality and safety of a vessel? (You seem to have had your own share of nasty surprises...unavoadable, but let's minimize!) Got any idea on the keywords, and where could I take up this conversation online?

So if you or anybody else have some ideas, please I'd be grateful to hear them.

And have a nice day!:)

Theresa Erickson said...

My husband & I are doing the same thing! What we bought is a 42' Colvin steel junk rig schooner. It is completely home-built; not by us, it's a bare hull that we will finish.
We're (dh) working on repairing, to HIS satisfaction, a 132 yr. old Victorian house, he already quit one job to get access to retirement (for finishing boat), sold one car, selling/giving away STUFF, then the other two cars, sell the house and OFF we go. Our small town and our kiddos think this is bazaar but, we agree with you, the shit is hitting the fan and we are going to be on water when it happens. Hopefully the kiddos will join us when said shit happens! Thanks for the wisdom, keep it up!

Robert Goad said...

Thanks for keeping this piece in the archives.... inspirational years later and yet more wisdom in sticking to flatties.