[This is a guest post from Ray, who sailed off from San Francisco some years ago and has been living as a sea gypsy ever since. Sea gypsies have a lot going for them: relative self-sufficiency and self-reliance, camaraderie, competence, mobility and plenty of free, open habitat where they can roam freely.]
“I believe that if there is a near extinction catastrophe, a sea gypsy tribe has the best chance of both surviving and replenishing the human population in the wisest manner.”
For those of you who may not have read that article, I encourage you to do so before continuing with this one. THAT piece provides the “why to” background information for my belief that economic, energy and ecological disasters are very possible in our near future. It then suggests that various sea gypsy tribes scattered about the planet provide an excellent survival and re-seeding option. THIS article provides the basic “how to” information for anyone who was inspired by my message, and would like to join our movement. My sense is that there are three potential types of candidates. I refer to them as Seekers, Converts and Recruits.
The Seekers are skilled ocean sailors who are already out there cruising, but who are searching for more meaning in their vagabond lives. The frenzied, hollow, shop-til-you drop, electronic doo-dad hologram that modern life has become, was no longer tolerable; and so they sought the comfort and authenticity of Mother Ocean. Hopefully, my essay awoke them to the probability that there are many other liked-minded sailors out there, who are also looking for their tribe.
The second category is the Converts. This group is also already out there enjoying the cruising life in their ocean-ready sailboats. But their basic philosophy is very different from that of the Seekers. Here is a good way to describe the conversion that would be necessary for them to be drawn towards the sea gypsy tribal value system. If they previously thought that The American Dream was good for the planet, but now realize that it is extremely destructive for the planet, then they are ready to hoist their Earth Flags and join our clan.
I classify the third group as Recruits. They have no sailing experience, but they are mindful of the lunacy of modern life and are searching for other, more fulfilling paths. Many of the core sea gypsy tribal values resonate with them. They understand that infinite growth on a finite planet is delusional. They sense that the vast problems caused by too much technology cannot be fixed with more technology. And they do not want to contribute their energy and vision to an increasingly more Orwellian police/surveillance State. They are fed up, and they wish they had a boat and knew how to sail it.
The main purpose of this essay is to convince those Recruits that they CAN learn how to sail and they should buy a boat. Also, I wish to reassure them that this can be done much more quickly and affordably than they might imagine. As for the Seekers and Converts, my purpose is to help them upgrade their cruising sailboats into state-of-the-art, ocean-going survival pods. Let’s begin!
LEARNING TO SAIL The vast majority of sailors are NOT wealthy yachtsmen. They are regular people who learned their skills without spending a fortune doing so. Your local Parks and Recreation Department will often have low cost sailing instruction. Don’t be put off if it looks like the lessons will be conducted in tiny boats, because it is actually best to learn in small craft, since they are so responsive to the moodiness of the wind.
There are also low-cost sailing clubs in many towns as well as programs offered through community colleges. The back of most sailing magazines will list programs where you can learn sailing. The costs range from reasonable to extravagant. Just hitting the docks at your local marina is a very inexpensive option. Most sailors are pleasant, easy-going people. If you express an interest in learning, and offer to swap some help with boat projects, you have a good chance of picking up some free instruction. Volunteering to crew on local racing boats is another option. You will initially be given simple tasks, but if you pay attention, you can swiftly learn a lot. There are many “how-to” books that provide excellent instruction on the basics of sailing. Many libraries will carry some of these. Otherwise, they can easily be googled up.
So, as you can see from the preceding inventory, there are lots of ways to learn basic sailing. Once that is achieved you will need to acquire “cruising skills.” In a way, this is even easier, because the sailing magazines run a steady stream of articles dealing with topics such as anchoring, dinghy selection, outboard motor repair, food provisioning, navigation and various potential emergencies at sea. A couple of inexpensive subscriptions to sailing magazines would provide you lots of valuable information. And many libraries have current and back issues of these periodicals. Another excellent, inexpensive resource is the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary. They offer many free and low-cost courses in such topics as safe boat handling, first-aid and coastal navigation.
BUYING A SAILBOAT Just as there are many options for learning how to sail, there are also lots of ways to find a suitable boat that can be both your joy and your protector. When friends ask for suggestions, I recommend fiberglass boats in the 30 to 45-foot range. My preference for fiberglass is because they are light but strong. They are also low maintenance and since they are the most prevalent on the market, they are reasonably priced. There are certainly merits to the other hull materials – steel, aluminum, wood and ferro-cement – so if that is your preference, indulge it!
My size recommendation is based on the fact that the majority of the sea gypsy community is likely to be couples. Less than 30 feet and things get a bit cramped. And when it is more than 45 feet, the vessel becomes difficult for just 2 people to handle because of all of that weight and power. Additionally, the 45 feet size should adequately take care of the needs of families with kids.
While you are learning basic sailing, you will probably start noticing boats that appeal to you. Owners love it when a stranger approaches them and says, “That sure is a fine looking boat…what kind is she?” By window shopping your nearby docks and by paying attention to the boats in the magazines you can become fairly knowledgeable quite swiftly.
Here is another important tip for quickly increasing your knowledge. Go to a website called www.yachtworld.com. Then click on their “brokerage” section and type in specifics such as “used, sail, fiberglass, 35 to 45 feet and under $60K.” Most of the listings that pop up will have multiple photos of the exteriors and the interiors as well as the “specs” or specifications for that vessel.
Once you have a better sense of your needs and wishes, you can get serious in your search. Start locally by walking the nearby docks and searching for boats with “for sale” signs. Check the classifieds in your local newspaper and also in any free “shopper” papers. There are also regional editions of Sailboat Trader which can usually be found at convenience stores.
Many sailboat designs have “owners’ groups” who find each other on the Web and exchange information about their boats. So, for example, if you found yourself desiring the venerable old Pearson 424 design, you could google up their owners’ page and see if they know of any sister ships for sale.
There are many listings in the back of the sailing magazines. Besides the glossy national publications, there are several regional ones that are published on newsprint that are also very helpful. Latitude 38, which originates from San Francisco is a good example of one of these. Almost all of these are free and almost all sailing magazines have complimentary online versions.
And, of course, there are also professional boat brokers. These folks are quite different from the typical used car salesman who is trying to close the deal while you are there on the lot. Brokers realize the magnitude of your purchase, and they don’t try to rush you into a decision. Most marinas will have some brokerages nearby or you can locate them in the yellow pages or online. And speaking of the differences between buying a car and a sailboat, you’ll be happy to learn about professional yacht surveyors. This is a specialist who carefully examines the vessel and then makes a thorough written report of its strengths and deficiencies. Banks and insurance companies require this. But for “cash and a handshake” purchases, this is not necessary. However, considering the value of the investment, a yacht survey is usually well worth the expense.
OUTFITTING YOUR BOAT Hopefully, my suggestions will help you find your dream boat. When that happy day arrives, your focus will then shift to preparing her for the rigors and joys of the open ocean. There are a few excellent books to help guide you through this process. My favorite is READY FOR SEA by Tor Pinney, because it is well written and contains a wealth of information that is understandable even to a novice.
It is important to emphasize that ocean sailboats are complex creatures. There are MANY systems that are vital to a sea boat that are not needed in your house, apartment, condo or yurt. Here is a list of some of them:
Anchors/autopilots/bilge pumps/diesels/dinghies/GPS/ham and SSB radios/life-rafts/outboard motors/radars/roller-furlers/solar panels/winches/wind generators/and windlasses
Now I realize that this might seem daunting, but most used boats on the market are already equipped with many of these systems. And more importantly, that less-complicated but stationary house will not help you escape in the case of a societal meltdown. Now I could devote thousands of words to arguing the merits of any of these pieces of gear, but it is far better for the novice to research this on their own. Pore through the magazines and “how to” books and ask other sailors on your docks. Another excellent source for information on properly outfitting your boat is the West Marine Catalog, which is available free of charge from this nationwide nautical hardware store. Scattered within its pages are short “advisors” on just about every boat system you would desire.
SPECIFIC SEA GYPSY TRIBE PREPARATIONS Everything that I have described thus far would apply to anyone who wanted to wander the wide waters on their own sailboat. Now I will outline some specific preparations for long-term self-reliance in case civilized society starts to unravel. I emphasize that my hope is that this will never occur, nor am I claiming that it will occur. But there is much wisdom in “hoping for the best, but preparing for the worst!” This is the portion of this essay that is directed not just to the “Recruits” but also to the “Converts” and the “Seekers.”
The most vital needs in a survival situation are probably:
WATER FOOD SHELTER PROTECTION
WATER A human can survive for weeks without food, but only for a few days without water. On a sailboat there are two basic ways to stay supplied with drinking water. The low cost option is to “catch” water directly from rain showers. I call this sky water and it is delicious. I use an awning that dips towards its mid-point and funnels the rain through a hose directly into my tanks. I let the first couple of minutes of rain wash the awning clean, and then hook the hose up to the tanks. Then a foot-pump down at the galley sends the water to a Brita pitcher which then filters it. In my decades of cruising I have never run out of water and that includes ocean passages of up to 30 days.
The second option is a reverse-osmosis water-maker that converts sea water into fresh water. There are both manual and electric versions. The electric ones only need to be run for a short period each day, in order to produce far more water than you need. They are low maintenance and some of them can also be pumped manually if there is a problem with your ship’s electrical supply. As for the problem of oceanic acidification, I have not heard any reports from my friends with water-makers, saying that this has become an issue. I also assume that the manufacturers are paying close attention to this and beefing up their filters.
FOOD Non-perishable foods are the mainstay of a survival vessel. Most sailboats do have refrigeration systems that can be powered by solar panels and/or wind generators. But these fridges are mostly devoted to lengthening the edibility of perishable foods such as meat, dairy products and vegetables. On an extended voyage, or if supplies ashore are cut off, there will be no food left to cool. So the fridge will just become a glorified beer cooler.
Nowadays, many more boats are using freezers, which greatly increase one’s perishable food capacity. These require far more energy, and usually necessitate running the diesel or generator for an hour or more each day. But since this essay foresees a world without readily available petroleum, a sizable solar or wind generation capacity is required to keep a freezer functioning.
Because I have always been on the impoverished end of the sea gypsy financial spectrum, I have mostly sailed without refrigeration. But I have not suffered because of this. A quick inspection of my ship’s cupboards reveals the following wealth of long-term foods that are readily available from any grocery store:
Almonds/beef stew/black beans/Bragg’s liquid aminos/brown rice/canned beef/canned chicken/canned clams/canned fruits/canned salmon/canned shrimp/canned soups/canned veggies/cashews/cereal/crackers/dried fruits/egg noodles/fruit cocktail/garbanzo beans/gouda cheese/honey/jelly/lentils/long-life bread/long-life milk /mac and cheese/mayo/nutritional yeast/oatmeal/paella mix/pancake mix/pasta/peanut butter/powdered/eggs/powdered milk/protein powder/red beans/salami/sardines/spaghetti/sugar/tea/tofu/TSP/whole wheat flour/etc
This inventory should demonstrate that eating aboard an ocean-capable sailboat is not just beans and rice drudgery. Furthermore, I supplement these supplies with freeze-dried and dehydrated foods. I have dozens of the large #10 cans filled with such treats as beef stroganoff, chicken teriyaki and dehydrated broccoli. A little water and a very short cooking time and you have delicious meals.
I also keep a supply of canned bacon, cheese and butter aboard. If you google up “survival foods” you will find contact info for purchasing these extremely valuable products. Growing my own alfalfa and mung bean sprouts has been a tradition aboard AVENTURA for many years. A large jar of these tiny seeds will provide you months of tasty sprouts that are alive with nutrition.
There are also old sailors’ tricks for extending the life of perishable foods without refrigeration. For example, potatoes, carrots, onions and cabbage will last quite some time if stored in cool, dark locations. Raw eggs can be coated in Vaseline to extend their usability and I wrap apples, oranges and zucchinis in aluminum foil to help keep them fresh.
An important component of the onboard, long-term food supply will be fishing and foraging. Fish, lobster and crab from the sea and clams, mussels, and oysters from the shore are all mighty fine and nutritious foods. Seaweed is also something that will prove very valuable although I personally need to learn much more about identifying and harvesting the best types.
Food drying, especially fruit, seaweed and fish is also an area that requires more of my attention. I look forward to increasing my knowledge and therefore my food independence as I research this. Thus far my web surfing has failed to locate a good, affordable solar food dryer. There are plenty of electric ones available, but since they must run for hours, they are a huge drain on the ship’s electrical supply. However, there are nice solar ovens and cookers already available and one of them is high on my wish list. Sun-baked bread is reportedly quite delicious.
In concluding this vital section, it should be emphasized that a well-provisioned sailboat can be an island of comfort and safety as the food procuring situation dangerously deteriorates for those stranded on the land during any severe catastrophe.
SHELTER A person in his or her sailboat is like a turtle in its shell – you bring your own house with you. This also allows you to bring along a nice supply of creature comforts as well. My library is a constant joy for me and positioned beside it is a nice selection of movies on DVD which I can watch on this very laptop. Plus I have plenty of music CDs on board as well.
And for high-end boats with water-makers and propane water heaters there are hot showers even a thousand miles from land. And if there is no longer any propane, they can shower as I have contentedly done for years, by using a very low-priced but efficient solar shower.
Being able to move your comfortable shelter is probably its greatest feature. If I was in the U.S. and some sort of societal meltdown began, I could depart in a matter of hours. I keep my diesel fuel, water tanks, propane supply and food always topped off. I would bid farewell to my local friends, email my more distant ones, go buy fresh fruit and meats and veggies, check the weather forecast online and get underway.
I would then set a course for one of my favorite Third World countries – probably in Central America. There are well-considered reasons for this choice. Because their basic infrastructure is LESS reliable than ours, they have adjusted to disruptions and can handle them better. Because of previous problems with the transportation of food, they usually have a supply stock-piled, so they won’t become violently upset by the trucks not arriving. And they don’t have the “entitlement” issues of the citizens of the wealthier countries that make them so dependent on governmental assistance. Essentially, these folks have always demonstrated a better capacity to fend for themselves.
PROTECTION In my Sea Gypsy Tribe essay I emphasized the tremendous danger that starving, heavily-armed MARAUDERS pose to land-based people. My belief is that the only real strategy for avoiding this life-threatening likelihood is to LEAVE. In my carefully considered opinion, staying onshore and attempting to win a seemingly endless series of firefights to protect one’s family and food is a fool’s mission.
But what about the hazards that might exist “out there?” Let’s begin by talking about piracy. Most of the attacks that draw a lot of media attention are directed towards large ships and not at small sailboats. When there are incidents involving cruisers, the word gets out so quickly through ham and single-sideband radio nets, that it is easy to avoid the problem areas. Essentially, there are only a few dangerous regions and since we know where they are, we don’t sail there. Would you vacation in Afghanistan?
Many, if not most, countries force you to surrender any guns that you have onboard when you clear in with Customs and Immigration. Failure to do so can result in fines, jail time and confiscation of your boat. But the likelihood of any sort of attack is greater when close to shore than it is in open waters. So, just when you might need your weapon, it is locked up in the Customs office. Some sailors deal with this dilemma by hiding things deep in the boat during the inspection process, and then moving them to a more readily accessible spot when the authorities leave.
There are legal forms of protection with less stopping power but still considerable impact. This would include flare guns, pepper spray, crossbows and spear guns. There are also adaptor kits available that allow a flare gun to fire a shotgun shell rather than a flare.
One of the hallmarks of my personal defense strategy is that I would NEVER use lethal force just to stop a thief. If someone is threatening me or a loved one with bodily injury, I would definitely respond appropriately, but I would not shoot my spear gun into the back of someone trying to steal my dinghy.
If I felt someone hop aboard my boat I would keep my hatches shut and blast them with my air horn from down below while switching my deck lights on and off. If that did not convince them to leave, I would proceed to more assertive tactics. One protective layer that I still need to investigate is a simple car alarm style horn that I could activate from down below if I sensed an intruder. The motion-activated ones are not ideal onboard because boats are often moving due to waves and wakes. But a manual one might be a very effective deterrent.
COMMUNICATIONS Often when there is a severe natural disaster such as an earthquake, the normal communication systems are completely disabled. The same would be the case in a “grid-down” emergency. In such situations the first on the scene reports are usually transmitted via Ham radio operators. The reason for this is because there is no intermediary infrastructure involved. There are no cell phone towers or underground cables or bundles of fiber optic strands. As long as the receiving and transmitting radios are functioning, communication is possible. And since these radios can easily remain charged up using solar panels and wind generators, the ocean sailor has a far more reliable communication system than people back onshore. In a potential collapse situation this is not just comforting but potentially lifesaving.
CONCLUSION In my two Sea Gypsy Tribe essays, I have attempted to convince whoever is willing to listen, that brutally hard times might await humanity. And I have tried to persuade those open to my message, that the best way to survive such catastrophes is by escaping on a well-equipped ocean-ready sailboat. But besides just evading these disasters, the various sea gypsy tribes scattered upon the wide waters, can also help repopulate the planet. Hopefully as they do so, they can avoid the horrible mistakes that techno-industrial civilization made. My dream is that they will create a Humanity 3.0 that will bequeath us Mozart without the mushroom cloud.
Read some of Ray's other essays at www.theseagypsyphilosopher.blogspot.com.