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“We’ll Need Sailing Vessels”

Here's a new piece by Dmitry Orlov published here:


“We’ll Need Sailing Vessels”

About a year ago, I decided to try to make some positive changes in my life, and, if possible, around me as well. And so I became interested in sailboats. Sailboats of the serious, ocean-going variety are either a very extravagant hobby or a really cheap way to live and travel. Few people can afford to own real estate, but most people can afford to own a boat, provided they live on it. Even an expensive marina like mine (Constitution Marina in Boston) is cheaper than the cheapest studio apartment I can find within bicycling distance of my job.

A sailboat is a house that moves with you wherever you go, that you can own free and clear, that you can maintain and even build yourself. If you live and travel on a boat, owning a car becomes impractical. You can’t put a car on a boat, so you ride a bicycle instead. So there is one large category of expense gone. No rent or mortgage (a marina slip is rent of a sort—cheap rent), so there’s another large expense gone. Boats require more or less constant maintenance, and sailing is quite a lot of exercise, and so with that and all the bicycling you become physically fit, and your medical expenses go down as well. Lastly, the amount of storage space on a boat is limited, so it’s just not possible to spend money accumulating useless junk.

Sailing vessels predate industrialization by many centuries, and they will be around long after industrialization has run its course. Sailors and their ships run on food and water and wind—all renewable. Sailboats can be made from renewable materials as well: wood, hemp, flax, and pitch. The culture of sailing is rich, ancient, and largely intact. It is also a culture that fosters competence, fitness, self-reliance, and courage, which are all sadly missing from the world we see around us. If we want to make it to the future, we’ll need sailing vessels.

The trends that will once again make sailing a viable form of transportation are already in place but, for the sake of the argument, let us think a few years forward. Suppose it’s 2010, and you want to travel up or down either coast. You might consider driving, but gas is now very expensive and often hard to find. Also, the price of asphalt has gone through the roof, so the roads are full of potholes. You might consider taking a train, but Amtrak has been largely shut down because the country can’t afford it. And you might consider flying, but ticket prices have been driven up by the cost of kerosene; plus there is a new terror scare due to intelligence reports of a plan involving elderly al-Qaeda members with exploding dentures, so they make you check everything, including your false teeth.

Then you find out about the Sail Transportation Network. You go to the STN website and find several boats planning the passage you intend to make. You go look at the boats, interview the skippers, and decide on one. You then go back to the website and submit payment for STN’s finder’s fee. On the day of departure, you simply show up at the dock. STN has already provisioned the boat for the passage. You come aboard and sail off. If you are so inclined, you can take part in various quintessential sailing activities, such as baking bread, cooking stew, mixing drinks, and keeping a lookout.

The Sail Transportation Network is just a concept at the moment, but I remain reasonably assured that there are no legal or technical obstacles to making it work.

Boston, Massachusetts

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