[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.
Nice article, well written, just a few remarks - the remarks are my opinions, not meant to hurt, flame or criticize, maybe just a request for deeper thought & more arguments?
When all hell breaks loose, your arguments about food will no longer be applicable: Canned food, pasta etc etc will become less and less available and it might become quite risky to go & get it somewhere. Also, what are you going to trade in to get these?
Protection: Yeah, at this moment, you might scare off a homeless guy with a lot of noise, car alarm, horn & lights. However, if "civilization" as we know it will cease to exist, people will become increasingly desperate. I think it is impossible to make any assumptions on piracy etc - yes, there are just a few regions affected now but what happens when food and everything else will become scarce? I think there will not only be armed mobs on land but also quite a lot well armed boats who will not really get scared by your light & music show ...
But I do agree with most of your article and would place myself in the recruit category ;-)
Provisioning and operating a modern cruising sailboat is a high tech proposition, dependent on many inputs from the technological world. Granted that the semi-independent sailing life gives some temporary insulation and distance from general collapse, but any sea gypsy would quickly have to shift into a primitive mode of operation once the supply chain for dacron, polyester resin, stainless steel fittings and freeze-dried food was cut off. The skills and tools for such a low-tech approach are very different from those with which most moderns are equipped. How do you think this transition would go?
It should be stated that one is not required to cross the pacific or Atlantic, one can stay as close to or as far away from the shore as one wants, and still have plenty of cruising areas.
What a fun series. As a former Navy deep water sailor (very deep, in fact), I've entertained the idea of making my home on the sea. Alas, life has led me to a place deep in the southern Appalachians. I also spent several years as a roving engineer, living in a self-sufficient RV (excepting the need for fuel). In the RV world it's called 'boondocking', not too different from what you discuss.
One notable item excluded from your list of systems would be the 'head'. Just thought I'd mention that. As for having a freezer, Sunfrost and some others are available that work well PV direct. These DC powered units are designed to run from a single 75-100 watt PV panel. Ice cubes are a comfort I hope to preserve ;-)
Most good PV/wind charge controllers have diversion relays that can divert power to different tasks once the batteries are fully charged. In our home, once the batteries are charged, the electricity goes to making hot water and/or air conditioning; all easily automated with simple relays; prioritized by system voltage and temperature sensors. Not as complicated as it sounds.
As for 'home defence', an old friend spent years cruising the Caribbean and kept an AR-7 aboard (the waterproof Henry version, see Wikipedia - AR-7). The 22LR rifle breaks down and stores in the plastic composite stock, very compact. His was stowed by magnets, in the bilge, attached to the bottom of the diesel. Just a tip...
Regarding fresh water availability; water can be made less acid with a calcium based filter medium (calcium carbonate, etc.) and activated carbon is a great final step in purifying water. It can also prolong the life of RO filters when used as a first step. Some of the best activated carbon is made from coconut shells. Learning to do this might provide one with a valuable trade product. BTW, activated carbon has a strong affinity for iodine; may be useful when all of those reactors start to melt down.
Very interesting. One thing you didn't mention is taking the tools of your trade with you in order to barter your skills for other stuff. I heard about a dentist who had a fully operational dental office aboard his sailboat.
I think the sea-faring vagabond life might have a certain appeal, but it seems to come with a LOT of risks, and doesn't sound safer than nomadic life or a small farm/bunker either. I think the best bet is a small community - perhaps tribes of the 150-person size living within close proximity to others, perhaps extended family groups living close to small towns where water is abundant.
On land you have a chance of pandemics, and tornado/flood damage, drought, or other weather anomalies, wild animal/pest damages... and conflicts over resources or stores.
It would be glorious to find ones self in close companionship on a boat with nothing better to do than soak up sun and fish, watch clouds, watch stars, fry up the fish and then sleep to the rocking waves, but the ocean is also scary; I've been to the Catalina islands on a glass-bottomed boat but you couldn't pay me to go on a cruise.
A houseboat on a lake or river might be a nice way to live, but certainly has the same kinds of vulnerabilities as a nomadic life.
Mauraders & the like will always be a risk no matter what, but on the sea, piracy is only one thing - there are rogue waves, freaky but powerful weather things, big fish and sharks... and a long way down, in the dark, to the bottom.
Having lived before in southern California, I agree with the reasons for 'getting out of dodge' (in time to practice another way of living), but I have some questions on your proposed boating life.
There is no way to secure needed supplies other than going ashore. You can't raise chickens or grow things, so you're never going to attain a chance at food security.
You are vulnerable to thefts and 'other bad things' when going ashore, because you would not be known in whatever community you land in, you don't know your way around the community, nor who to trade with, as well as the risk to the boat when leaving it.
Also, it seems the storage space is limited (for what might be needed other than food)-worse than a travel trailer which could store things on top and attached to (like bike racks). Would you attach little rafts like a motorcycle has a side-seat?
If climate change continues to affect the ocean then won't sea life be harder to harvest (fish, seaweeds)? And it looks like Fukushima will keep leaking radiation so fish might be poisoned anyway. (I think all the nuc reactors are at risk around the world at some point).
To stay warm in cold weather - you simply sail south? Hmm, Cuba, or Mexico?
I think the worst part of this idea is if you have a dozen family members you wish to help... and in a small community there are more hands to share the work burdens. What would you do as you age, or if you were injured or laid up a long while?
Maybe I'm prejudice against the ocean from m y fear of it, but it looks to me like there are some gaping holes in the boat idea- it just don't seem any more secure than other ideas should it all go to hell.
...it's called bucket & chuck it (currently unavailable in civilized moorings, but widely used away from such. Composting is awesome, particularly if you have some shoreside plantings...
...solar stills. Slow, but effective. No moving parts. No membranes. No flying an engineer to fix it...imho RO is in the same category as AC...
re. modern materials
...this is the biggie...
fibreglass is pretty resilient (I expect my boat to outlive me), and the patching materials minimal (though expect some expenditure of elbow grease re-fairing...) Like the idea of concrete-type moulding (maybe with natural fibre instead of rebar, given the latter's propensity to destroy the material it is reinforcing given time and moisture - of which there is plenty in a marine environment...) Wood products are pretty much out until the trees come back (after I will be gone, sadly)
for sails, look to Chinese "junk" rigging. Many benefits, not least that you can make sail with ANY fabric (research "China Cloud" for polytarp-sailed 40ft-er) as the bizarre nature of the battened sails means the sail carries virtually no tension in use - works more like the bee wing (physics as in "they can't fly" until pretty recently LOL) than the aerofoil
engines...meh...get more boats INTO trouble than they get out of it...learn to sail. and get oars/yuloh.
lines...more of an issue. I would grab a LOT of decent stuff and keep for the future. if I had the $$$.
OT: we need an account AND captcha? especially as captcha is so shit a REAL eye can no longer reliably read the shit you have to type...
RAY...responding to HONZA
Thanks for your comments.
I believe in carrying a year's worth of food to make it through the most violent transition stage. After that, one will rely on fishing, foraging and farming on uninhabited small pieces of coastal land. I carry a sizable seed bank in long-life foil envelopes. These are available at any of the survival sites at a reasonable cost.
For purchasing necessities I recommend U.S. Silver Eagles or any one ounce silver coins or rounds...junk silver would be good as well, but pure silver is better.
Piracy will be LESS of an issue as collapse proceeds. Brigands need fuel. Any sailboat 20 miles offshore is probably out of harm's way.
I have more than just "lights and music" onboard AVENTURA should the need arise!!!
RAY...responds to ROBO...
Thanks for your input.
I have a phrase in my Sea Gypsy Tribe essay which precedes this one that goes like this, "The road to the future leads to the past." Indeed, the high-tech sailing machines will not survive. But those who can adapt back to low-tech, will do fine. Let us not forget over 300 years of the Age of Sail without any of the modern materials and electronics. To me the two symbols of the Sea Gypsy Tribe are the Earth Flag and the sextant. The latter because it represents a return to more primitive but enduring technology. This will also weed out what I call Waterbago sailors who do not have the vital old skills, coastal piloting, celestial nav, marlinspike seamanship, etc. Kind of reverse Darwinism. An intriguing concept...
RAY...responding to GHung
Thanks so much for your great comment. Perhaps we can talk you out of your Appalachian hideaway, so you can come and join our tribe. I do believe you would make a fine asset. I'll be checking out some of those terrific suggestions.
Watch your six!
Thanks for your question.
Indeed, carrying the tools of one's trade is a superb idea. My hope is, as I repeat in my essays, that there is no collapse. But if there is, my guess aligns with Jim Kunstler, in that we are headed back towards the 19th century - pre-petroleum. So all of the pioneer skills will be extremely valuable. Some more modern technology might remain for a while. So, somebody handy with solar power issues will have more than enough opportunities for income or barter.
Thanks for your detailed comment. It allows me to emphasize that I am by no means trying to convince or encourage a huge mass of people to join the Sea Gypsy Tribe. My desire is to inspire small groups of sailors scattered about the planet, who are already inclined towards a life of simplicity, ruggedness, and self-reliance to find other like-minded folks. A future essay deals with where we go from there.
My wife and I are currently hunting a suitable boat in the pacific northwest after 5 years living aboard a dandy (but, alas, too small) sailboat in Alaska. After 7 weeks hunting the marinas of the Puget sound area the pickings are slim but definitely out there. We just missed a bang-up steel 39 footer, with no problems, that a out of work opthamologist was sacrificing for just $10K.... ready for sea with minimal modifications.
Port Townsend, Washington, our current haunt, is chock full of hulls in all states of fixer upper splendor. On the outskirts of this wood boatbuilding mecca resides what locals term "the boatyard of broken dreams" where some really nice possibilities lie.
If one desires entry to this tribe it is really not too hard. Not to pound the reality claxon button too hard but quickly assembling a sailing barge of plywood has been proven to work well coastally, some with extremely cost effective Chinese junk sails (we've sewn them up out of common polytarps and they work well and are very inexpensive). Check out the triloboat site for ideas.
Great tribe to belong too and a super pleasant way to live. As writer-sailor Tristan Jones wrote "When in danger, or in doubt, hoist the sails, and bugger off out!!!!!"
thanks for the guest post! this provides a good intro to a lot of the questions i have about living on the water, and provided good starting points for answers to questions I didn't know I had. I'm looking forward to more, as I'm decidedly in the "recruit" category.
Illoura: I don't have any experience with living in a small community or on a boat, but I would guess that a combination of the two would work better than either on its own. I have to agree with you that it would be difficult to be self sufficient as a single person or couple all alone on the water indefinitely. as for your comment on food security, it has been suggested (in dmitry's essays and elsewhere) that planting forest gardens in as many places as possible and revisiting them on a semi-regular basis presents a good chance of success as far as bolstering food supply.
I agree with the others about there being some gaping holes in your gypsy sea clan plan. Part of the problem is how you weave in and out of pre- and post collapse situations. You should have just confined yourself to how a gypsy sea clan would survive post collapse because that is all that really matters.
I will address that now. You have the water thing down pat, but the food supply problem is huge. You don't talk much about fishing. Your gypsy sea tribe will have to rely on fishing for 90 percent of your food supply. You will need to know how to catch, gut, clean and DRY your fish while at sea. Dried seafood is your longterm storage option. Look at any Asian market and that is what you will see the poor doing: selling and eating dried ocean food.
Now, your idea of foraging on land needs to be put into some perspective here. Namely, the perspective of those who live on the land you plan to forage on. To them, "sails on the horizon" will not be greeted with joy and anticipation. Instead, your sea tribe will be about as welcome as a longboat full of Vikings.
While you cry "Land Ho!", people ashore will cry "Sea People!", "Raiders!", "Marauders!", and will sound alarms to let everyone know to head to the blockhouse or fort or castle. What you call a "foraging expedition", they will call a "raid". You need to understand how OTHERS will view you, just as the Roma know that OTHERS view them as thieves, beggers, mendicants, etc. even as they view themselves in a whole different light. If you do not do this, you will not survive. Perhaps you should ask the Roma how they deal with this issue.
In the past, the marauders were sea peoples and horsemen because they can appear out of nowhere and disappear just as quickly. Land based tribes will view them both with suspicion and make preparations to deal with them. Their appearance will cause fear and alarm, not joy or excitement.
Now, if I were trying to organize a sea tribe, I think I would want to have a base of operations, such as an island fortress where we can put in our ships for repairs, retreat to during storms, and use as a storage base for food, boat materials, and trade goods. This is what most, if not all, sea peoples did in the past -- almost without exception.
Finally, anything "electric" should be shoved overboard early on. You won't have much power for these things, but I do think there is some merit in keeping a ham radio operating, if you can. That is a kind of early warning system that can be invaluable.
To me, you got the WATER, SHELTER, and PROTECTION sections right, but not the FOOD section for your gypsy sea tribe. You might want to consider the island fortress as a part of the SHELTER section as well. You also need to understand how you will be perceived by others. You cannot assume that land is unclaimed. All land will be claimed by the nearest tribe, clan, or warband as their territory, whether for farming, herding, or hunting.
You also need to read Dmytri's essays on "trust" and "trade", as your gypsy sea tribe will almost certainly engage in trade with total strangers over a wide area.
Serious people should check out the triloboats website and read everything Linn and Larry Pardey ever wrote.
RAY...responding to DeVaul
As anyone can clearly see from reading my responses to the various comments, I strive for a relaxed, diplomatic tone.
Your aggressive stance speaks of perhaps too much time spent watching action movies or superhero sagas. You might wish to get out and wander about in a sailboat for a few decades as I have done, before you attempt to shred my carefully argued contentions.
Right where I am at this moment there are many Indio families who will not even know that the grid has gone down. They carve their own cayucos, build their own houses and grow most of their food. They will not try to harm me and know that I won't harm them. They do not and would not view me as a raider or marauder.
If you link to my own blog and read the first Sea Gypsy Tribe essay (this one is the Start-up Manual follow-up) you will realize that aside from just surviving possible calamities, my vision involves retooling a future that eliminates and doesn't reconstruct the errors of techno-industrial civilization. The "us against them" mindset is one such example.
Candidly, I am pleased that you find so many "gaping holes" in my thinking, because I would not want you in my tribe.
This is an interesting essay and a tempting proposition. My own point of view is that there won't be any fast-collapse societal meltdown, and even if there is in one place, there likely won't be in others.
But by not heading back to the 19th century just yet would be to the sea gypsies' advantage! It would be very appealing to escape local collapse situations by sailing from one part of the world to another, perhaps holing up there for a decade at a time. The world is full of friendly and welcoming people, and as long as you turn up with a friendly smile, some useful skills and a sense of humour then you'll never be short of a berth.
As for the for planting food idea, I'm not sure how that would work out in practice. Growing food can be quite a pain and needs a lot of attention. While you are away animals, insects, drought and people will likely ruin your efforts. I wonder if floating gardens might be feasible? I've seen poor people in Asia and South America using these, albeit on fresh water lakes.
Finally, the one thing that would seriously deter me is the fear that I could lose it all in the blink of an eye. If the boat was stolen or if it sank then effectively you'd lose everything. Maybe sailing around in large groups - sea caravans - would provide some security in this matter. It would also provide more safety and resilience.
Reservations aside, I would seriously consider becoming a part-time sea gypsy - there are plenty of boats for sale round here where I live in the UK.
I taught myself to sail 20 years ago with a used O'Day Javelin (loved that boat) and a book by Alan Brown titled "Invitation to Sailing". Start a small inland lake with a good one-design/dinghy, it's really that simple if you try.
An excellent and inspiring piece. Count me in as a recruit - or at least as a serious wannabe recruit.
I'm the proverbial starving artist with no money for lessons or boats. I've sailed before but it's been far too long, so I need to relearn. However I do live in a perfect location to get started on what you propose: SF bay. I have at the moment but one other relevant asset: a copy of American Practical Navigator by Bowditch, 1943 edition. In your opinion, would I be wasting my time to begin to try to master its contents? I can't really think of any other way to get started, other than to wander down to the local marina while waving an Earth flag, which doesn't seem too practical.
I was enjoying your ideas, but seeing how poorly you responded to DeVaul's attempt to clarify and refine his conception of your vision... I don't want to be in your tribe either.
So rather than offering my viewpoint, I'll just go back to the ''indefensible'' garden you still hope to trade for food with, and say 'good luck, gringo.'
Thanks so much for those two inspiring essays... Always pumped to see the occasional sailing related post here at cluborlov. I and my wife and two boys are learning to sail this summer on our small 21 footer with swing keel. Just read "buy, outfit and sail" by captain fatty goodlander. Great warm and funny introduction to starting out as a sea gypsy. Looking forward to more thoughts/conversation on this topic.
Fascinating article and discussion. I was wondering throughout how you approach the weather piece of this life without the wonders of weather forecasting and technologies to warn you of coming storms. I also assume that a boat with only sail power would have a difficult time avoiding weather as opposed to moving out of the way.
Not criticizing because I am not a sailor (motion sickness badly) but I do find this interesting. I have envied from afar people who live on the water though mainly envying the trawler crowd with many amenities.
Lastly, I was wondering what ages some of you dedicated sailors are. I am not young and wonder just how much I could handle doing most of the tugging, lifting and watching by myself.
Cheers to all.
I have always loved sailing, it's the closest thing to space travel that I will ever experience.
RAY...responding to BeatsMe
There were 300 years of voyages of discovery way before there was a Weather Channel. There are many handed down through the generations methods of weather prediction that will stand a post-collapse sea gypsy in good stead.
As a professional 100 ton Captain with wide experience in all types of boats I can report that you will be much happier in heavy weather in a sailboat than in a trawler. Also a 40 foot sailboat has as many amenities as a trawler, but these essays attempt to deal with worst case post collapse scenarios.269
Most of the cruisers out here (the Converts) are retirement age. But I hope my message also resonates with younger people as well.
Don't over fret the motion sickness. The vast majority of humans get seasick. It usually passes in a couple days.
Thanks for your interest. I hope this was helpful.
RAY...responding to Kevin
I learned to sail in San Francisco. Here are some tips. Read my "how to sail" section again carefully. Read the local free magazine Latitude 38 thoroughly each month. Go to the library...section 910.4 You might find my book TALES OF A SEA GYPSY inspiring and helpful. Check the yellow pages for free or inexpensive sailing clubs.
Forget Bowditch for now...it is not entry level material.
Good luck...hope this helps!
“.... 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.”
I disagree with this statement. I would rate the survival prospects of most sea gypsy tribes as better than average (yes, they already exist). Sea gypsy tribes coming out of Europe or North America, I would not bet on. As for 'replenishing the human population in the wisest manner', that will happen wherever it is possible, at a rate the ecology will support, in the normal manner. That is, without a plan. What cultural ideas and artifacts survive, will be as it always is, a matter of chance.
Before you dismiss me as some nay saying ignoramus, please know that I am speaking as a life long sailor, a some time boat builder and designer, a summer time cruiser and full time boat nut. I own a small but capable ocean going cruiser.
As I see it there are two broad problems an intentional sea gypsy tribe will have: the boats and the people. Both problems share a single cause: the boats and the people are products of, and are almost wholly dependent on, industrial civilization.
The available boat stock is primarily yachts. Building hundreds or thousands of purpose built boats is not realistic. Most yachts, even the typical cruising boats are built to light standards. Gear failures are common, rigs are designed for high performance, not durability, and mechanical systems break down frequently, especially if not maintained. Replacement parts and materials are usually special purpose marine items, rarely hardware store items or natural materials. If the FedX trucks stop running on the mainland, you could have some serious problems.
Most modern cruising sailboats have deep draft, which is good for performance, but not so good for going to out of the way places to hide or trade. They have neither the space nor displacement for carrying any but the smallest cargoes. At best they are mediocre for fishing. In short, these boats are an economic drain. They don't pay their own way. They make money for their builders, the designers, the taxman, the dealers, the boat yards and the chandlers, but not for the owners.
As for the people, they too will be products of, and dependent on, the industrial civilization. Most cruisers now are dependent on investment income or savings. Many work ashore for several months at a time, saving money for the next leg of their voyage. That plan works now, but after a major collapse event would the plan work as well? A few are able to sustain themselves with specialized skills such as writing or manual arts, but how many are competent at skills that would be legal, in demand and well enough compensated in the places where cruisers will congregate? How many have adequate survival skills? I don't mean survival while waiting for a rescue. I mean surviving under the harshest conditions for years on end.
The learning curve will be incredibly steep. How many people in the cruising community could build a good-sized seagoing boat with basic hand tools while camped on a beach during the monsoon season? Close to zero I would guess, yet real sea gypsies do this all the time.
If you look up “Sea Gypsies” in Wikipedia you will come to a page that describes several seagoing tribes who are already 'communities that abide'. Granted, if the world march of industry continues for long enough, they will be gone too. The paradigm shifts described in the previous article are necessary for people transitioning from industrial cultures to sustainability. These will be very hard for most people to make, yet for the real sea gypsies, these points are mostly moot. They don't require adjustment. They only have to keep on surviving.
Having said all that, I don't mean to discourage anyone from going to sea in boats, short term or long term. If you think you will enjoy it, try it. If you like it keep doing it. You might even end up with a cool escape pod.
"Most modern cruising sailboats have deep draft, which is good for performance, but not so good for going to out of the way places to hide or trade. They have neither the space nor displacement for carrying any but the smallest cargoes. At best they are mediocre for fishing. In short, these boats are an economic drain. They don't pay their own way. They make money for their builders, the designers, the taxman, the dealers, the boat yards and the chandlers, but not for the owners. "
Seems like being involved in a business that serves gypsy sailboat operators could be an alternative too. Perhaps procuring boat parts for boat operators or growing veggies for trade might be a niche. If the neighborhood on shore gets too rough just book a passage from one of the "customers" to go somewhere else!
I have a vsion of a sailing tribe in the mediteranen sea living from beer making etc. The energy for beer making comes from methan via digesters not fracking... I talked yesterday with some people in the harbor here in Brač (EU-croatia) and they will rent me a harbor place for 2 Escargot (Triloboat powered with pedals) for 100 bugs per year. Two guys with good english speaking skills also have time Jan-Mar 2014 (after the olive harvest) to help a small group of people building two Escargots. Anyone interested to learn Triloboat building skills this winter on a beautiful island in europe?
RAY...responding to Jason H
Thanks for commenting. I enjoy your blog!
Fortunately, as dismal as some aspects of the modern world are, it has not yet fully embraced a "garrison mentality." You are correct that most places still welcome friendly, polite people willing to contribute their skills and energy.
In my earlier companion essay to this one called The Sea Gypsy Tribe, I emphasize that even if there is no abrupt collapse and if it is more staircase-shaped, that this life is one of the most free, healthy and fulfilling choices available.
As for gardening I have 2 nearby expats who have offered me land for growing a garden in exchange for a percentage of the veggies. Indeed, it will need considerable attention, but my vision is that the Tribe survives at sea offshore while the worst of the violence transpires and then returns for growing and foraging at either uninhabited areas or spots where there are friends.
As for losing everything in an instant, I call upon Zorba the Greek who wisely counseled, "Life IS trouble, only death is not!" Pull up the statistics and I suspect you will find that house fires far exceed boat sinkings. I've been out here over 20 years, know thousands of sailors and don't know a single one whose boat sank.
Hope this reduces some of your worries.
I consider myself too old for another lifestyle change. But - if any of you Sea Gypsies want to camp on terra firma in the Pacific Northwest, you are welcome to stop by my place. I live 3 miles from a small marina. Besides plenty of space, I got eggs and tree fruits in season to share.
Thanks Ray for your response. I've picked up the current issue of Latitude 38 from a local chandlery, and will hit the library soon. Clearly there's a lot to learn.
Pentronicus, an escape pod is what I'm looking for; also, freedom from what Dmitry aptly calls the iron triangle: the house, the car, and the job required to support them.
Kevin, what you will learn from Latitude 38 and its kin are exactly the wrong things necessary to become a Sea Roamer. Peruse "The Interview with a Cruiser Project" http://interviewwithacruiser.blogspot.com/ and you will see that the demographic for experienced cruisers is overwhelmingly over 50, retired and with a financial nest egg back home that supports their expenses. They are as dependent upon technology and the "economy" as their land bound relatives. And they are more likely to die from alcohol than pirates or storms at sea.
Still, even in the modern era sea gypsies do exist, but the skills they have cultivated are diametrically opposite of those necessary $$$ to keep the mechanical and electrical systems of a modern boat functioning.
And if you still want to dream, read Bernard Moitessier's* "the Long Way or Ron Falconer's "Together Alone". And then go cruising, not because you you want to be one of the thousand who passes his seed along to keep the human race alive, but because it is an immensely satisfying way to live.
* A girlfriend from long ago was the person who encouraged him to come to San Francisco when he became desperately tired of living on an island in Paradise.
I’m not sure I’d survive by myself or with just one other person. What about a larger sailboat with a dozen or more folks in a kind of floating community?
>> I'm the proverbial starving artist with no money[.] However I do live in [...] SF bay
Someone please explain to me, why I am feeli that this would be the worst possible type of person to have on board a survival mission?
Thanks for the article. It put me on a recent quest to further explore the sea gypsy option and I'm intrigued. I wonder about thoughts on Fukushima contamination (which continues to look worse/more worrisome over time). I wonder both about the decreasing viability of (relatively) safe ocean food in wide swaths of the Pacific (contamination fear) and the broader concern of servicing spent fuel during the era of diminishing resources/governmental integrity (Fukushima as a 'tip of the iceberg' scenario).
I am completely inspired by the life of a sea gypsy and your essays solidify my thoughts and intentions. This is something i wanted to do before discovering your work. However, you have enlightened me somewhat as i had failed to imagine that there would be 'tribe' of sea gypsies out there....this would indeed be the preferred way of living. To build an ocean dwelling community would be much more beneficial, combining a multitude of skills across the community would inevitably benefit this simple yet preferred existence.
I would like to communicate with you further and more directly as i am in the infant stages of planning my conversion to a 'recruit', as you so aptly put it, and feel i have so many questions and no where near enough answers. I have sent you an email to what i believe is your email address, if it was unsuccessful, i would appreciate you contacting me at email@example.com.
I look forward to your reply and hope that one day, on the high seas we can meet and share many stories...
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