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Mar 30 09 10:46 PM

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Hello Jay and other forum members. Though not able currently to live aboard, I do anticipate doing so in the future. I was a bit alarmed the other day when, whilst researching traditional sailmaking for my weblog 70.8%, I linked to a website advertised in the "Ash Breeze", newsletter of the traditional small craft association, only to find that the guy had gone out of business because he could no longer source egyptian cotton sailcloth, and being a purist, he refused to mae sails built on petrochemicals. So I began to research. Cotton. It is almost impossible to source. Most traditional sailmakers cater to the Tall Ship trade to stay in business, and it seems very few are able to use natural fibers. This got me thinking about not just sails, but boatbuilding in general, and especially small sailing craft, especially homebuilt, and lo, even though most of what I know about or am intersted in are wood built, there's a lot of epoxy and polyurethane and dacron etc. involved. Lots of oil. Forget about combustion engines, I'm just talking about the basic ingredients for making a small waterborne home or transport. The sustainability of wood as a boatbulding material is deeply questionable, with a 100 year growth period needed for many of the hardwoods suitable.
If seasteading is a co-mingling of sustainability and self reliance, it seems to me that anyone interested in this lifestyle, currently practicing or contemplating it, had better start to answer some of these questions. I have only begun thinking about this, but would like to generate some discussion in this area. Excuse me if I've rambled, but I'm basically just thinking aloud here. If the ideal of seasteading is to sever ties with mammon, how do we build our boats and how do we preserve them from the harsh enviroment they are exsposed to responsibly and effectively? 

thomas armstrong

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#2 [url]

Mar 30 09 11:00 PM

It's great to see you here, Thomas.  Keep up the good work on your Kayak history series.  I got half-way into building the forms for my Guillemot, then got too busy with life's necessities, but I got as far as buying the cedar for the strips, and felt immensely guilty.  I'm already considering building the next hull out of bamboo strips sourced from the invasive stand on the highway near Jay's house, and am exploring ways of milling the splits to be at least slightly less trapezoidal.  

At least for now, perhaps you can recycle some used sails, until you can source new.  Sounds like a role for bamboo as well.

Where's that water coming from?

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#3 [url]

Mar 31 09 9:05 AM

Picking up a good used plastic hull is probably a good start toward a sustainable seastead. The petrochemicals have already been used and it is well in-keeping with the sustainability mantra of: repair, reuse, recycle. Don't want all those disused hulls littering the place now do we?


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#4 [url]

Mar 31 09 5:15 PM

Abuwabu, I don't disagree, necessarily. Lots of plastic boats out there and we don't know yet how long it will last. I am associated with two hulls built in the early 60's and late 50's. Josie, my friends 32' Cheasapeake 32 was built in 1958 in Denmark and holding up remarkably well as is the c. 1961 O'Day which had been neglected and sitting outside, exposed, for 40yrs. Most repairs we've (I've, for the O'Day) done are due to normal wear and tear, not degradation.
In  this topic I am thinking about going forward. If and when I build it won't be 'glass, and I'm projecting into the future as an intellecual exercise. But, aesthetics aside, there will be reusable, repairable viable boats in plastic available for the rest of my lifetime, no doubt. But the questions I posed still remain. Whats next, whats the future . Are there plant sources for epoxy or epoxy like substances? What is the impact of  ferrocement? You get the drift. Thanks for the comment,

thomas armstrong

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#5 [url]

Apr 1 09 9:24 AM

It's worth thinking about. Certainly boat design and construction has always represented available materials, and I don't imagine that will change. I expect laminate/composite construction will dominate. It lends itself to second growth stock and small pieces anyhow. My understanding is that epoxy resin isn't a petrochemical, at least mostly, it comes from cashew trees. At any rate right or wrong about that good methods use little, and petrochemicals aren't going away, just going to get spectacularly expensive. They're just not going to be used for stupid things like aimlessly driving around.

The place where Seasteading really needs to be doing it's research, and I only got started with this sort of thing but would certainly be interested in more--was to apply permaculture kinds of techniques to the aquatic environment. Much of our reef and tide lands are in terrible shape, primarily from development and ag wastes ashore, and are in need of resoration. A little would go a very long way and there's a huge possibility in this sort of thinking.

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#6 [url]

Apr 1 09 5:27 PM

Jay, I've been doing a little research (surface) on epoxy and haven't come across any reference other than petrochemical, but the cashew thing is an interesting multiuse.

The permaculture direction of your thinking is even more compelling. Are you ready to expand on this a little?

readers might also be interested in this:

thomas armstrong

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#7 [url]

Apr 3 09 10:16 AM

Search "cashew nut oil" and you'll find a whole host of products.

It seems obvious that in the same manner that the health of damaged ecological systems can be greatly improved by intelligent stewardship, it seems that reef and stream systems certainly can be helped too. Of course some of this is done, but it seems to me that it wouldn't be too difficult to pick a random spot on the bottom of a degraded bay and to start building a reef system there. Most of those mudded in bays are just dead zones, and it's the lack of hard strata primarily that keeps life from forming. I don't expect it would take too long for things to move in. We need to re-create the habitat that's been destroyed by erosion primarily.

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#8 [url]

Nov 11 10 5:54 AM

New to this forum, but I read Jay's book a while ago.  Also, not from the prevalent time zone but a couple East of you.  (Actually Philadelphia, with roots NE of here.)

I have given some cursory thought to the topic at hand and I think that one approach is to stockpile some of the materials that you may need that will carry you through for some period. 

If you are contemplating a general economic crash then it might be reasonable to thing that as things progress alternatives will crop up, eventually.  We won't know how it will all pan out but the first trick is to survive through until the alternatives become available.  Thus, it might be good to stockpile some dacron, enough for a sail change or two.  Cordage also. 

As to hull material, I'm partial to steel.  But even there you need good petrochemical paints.  My bare steel primer of choice is made of zinc, cement, and epoxy, in that order. 

On the other hand, a well found sailboat should be able to make 20 to 40 years.  In 20 to 40 years the world will likely be a very different place than now.



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#9 [url]

Nov 11 10 11:23 AM

Most of the newer materials are much more durable than the older ones.  Plastic boats are a lot less maintenance than wooden boats.  Dacron sails don't rot like cotton ones do.  So even though you are using less sustainable materials - i.e. materials made with petrochemicals and such - you are using a lot less of them since one plastic boat will probably outlive four wooden ones.  Or perhaps if we went to only boats made of sustainable materials one out of three sailors will become cowboys since they won't want to do the amount of maintenance required to keep up a wooden boat.

I'm not sure about the underlying theme of sustainability not involving money.  "Mammon" has been around way before the industrial revolution.  It has it's uses if nothing else than to keep us from carrying chickens in our pockets.  I suspect a lot of the sustainability, homesteader, get off the grid, back to nature, whatever you want to style yourself type of folks are against money /finance /mammon /chase of the almighty dollar, etc., because there has been too much emphasis on the gathering up of money the past generation or two.  Money is nothing more than a tool, it should be used as a tool and not as a status symbol or some sort of achievement rating system, although perhaps it has it's uses as that, too, to some extent.

Oh, if you want cotton, the stuff is fairly easy to grow, ya know!  

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#10 [url]

Nov 12 10 6:30 AM

Not sure if you guys would get into this or not but............

There is this chap in Europe who is living on a commune and building a 40' atkins sailboat our of lapstrake aluminum. 

I think his heart and head are very much in sync with yours.

Check it out if you care. There will be lots of technical welding stuff you probably won't find interesting.  The way of life and the ideas, that is another thing.

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#12 [url]

Nov 12 10 3:38 PM

Well done corrosion should not be a problem if you take reasonable precautions.  We nearly bought an aluminum boat last year, but it had some welding issues that I could not reconcile in my mind.  So we ended up with steel - again. 

Strength is more a question of how the boat is put together, a very lightly built wood, or steel boat will be weaker than a heavy wood or fiber glass boat.  Not often that it happens, but we did see one steel boat that we would not buy (among other reasons) because its plating was only 10 gauge, for a 52 lod boat.  Steel should be over built so that you can tolerate some corrosion (rust) without it holing. 

There is a guy up in the PNW, Brent Swain, who sails to Hawaii off and on.  He builds steel boats from the origami method.  Quite interesting and fast.  About as opposite from the alloy boat as you can get.  Both folks are into sustainability.

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#13 [url]

Nov 12 10 9:58 PM

Hi Newfie,

Honestly, if I were to build today, I'd very likely be inclined to go steel as well. A gallon of epoxy resin costs about 150 bucks here in Hawaii. When I first started dabbling with building boats it was closer to 30. I can buy a sheet of hot rolled 1/8 plate for the same money in Hilo, and I'm certain I can get a lot more boat built out of that plate. Steel doesn't lend itself to nice curvy organic shapes, of course, but nice curvy organic shapes are in many ways the privilege of rich man's boats, which would not describe my condition. Still, length is cheap to build while developed shapes is not, and length is faster than curvy unless the curvy is pretty damn special, so steel seems pretty reasonable.

I'd probably build a 60 foot steel proa today if I were to take it on. . . something that draws about a foot loaded.

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#14 [url]

Nov 13 10 10:43 AM

Origami Steel?  You could almost name the boat that.  Sounds interesting in a sort of OMG sort of way.  Origami Steel has thoughts of nothing but straight lines, though.  Curved lines are much more sexy, but I dunno how much of a criteria that should be in boat design.  Seems pretty important in lots of car designs.

Does a sixty foot proa have interior space?  I kinda think of proas as canoes?  If it's only drawing a foot loaded, does this move by sail?  No ballast?  Personally, I find ballast extremely comforting when out on the big blue - especially places where one could be tipped upside down.

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#16 [url]

Nov 13 10 6:53 PM

The cheapest way to get into boating now is definitely buying a used one.  Cheap boats abound here in the northwest, and even cheaper ones are available south of the Mason-Dixon line as even a cursory internet search will show.  
I know of what I speak.  I built a Buehler   Emily in the late 80s (30' cutter about 6 tons displacement).  It cost we about 3 times more in materials (never mind labor!) over what I could have bought for the same money even then.  Now it is simply absurd.  Well-found, even exceptional boats are available for pennies on the dollar, with desperate owner many times willing to take payments are negotiate already low prices.
I know of one guy who acquired a decent 30 footer (with new Yanmar engine) for $1000.  He just told the elderly owner that was all he had.  
Moreover, it makes sense to refurbish older boats rather than let them rot or sink in harbors or on beaches.  The energy and resources that went into building the better fiberglass, metal, or wooden designs was significant, and the energy and materials to build something new will also be significant.
Albeit, sometimes a person just needs to build a boat - I did, but these days if your main concerns are cost and energy consumption there are lots used vessels that should be saved.  Of course to get a metal 60' proa you will have to build it!

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#17 [url]

Nov 14 10 7:44 AM

Moreover, it makes sense to refurbish older boats rather than let them rot or sink in harbors or on beaches.  The energy and resources that went into building the better fiberglass, metal, or wooden designs was significant, and the energy and materials to build something new will also be significant.


That is an irony.  In my book sailing we become more attractive over the years either as a way of life or to circumvent high transport costs.  Yet, in this transition time, folks still see boats as play toys. 

We are in the silly position of owning two steel sailboats, 1,500 miles apart.  Both older.  But I'm learning lots of new skills.

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#18 [url]

Nov 17 10 6:02 AM

Jay, most of my research experience is with nearshore water pollution, and I know this to be true: In order to clean up nearshore aquatic environments, you need to clean up the land which washed down into the sea...all the way up the mountain.

Hilo Bay watershed advisory group is a clearing house of sorts for just that kind of thing. (On the steering committee, but currently on hiatus). So here is a place to start.

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#19 [url]

Nov 18 10 6:26 PM

I took another step in simple living from living in my hobbit house in Earthaven ecovillage. I moved to Belize and settled in a  small village that had a large, no current river by it and had the local cabinet makers construct a houseboat 12X24 feet with two decks. It cost about $10,000 to build. The hull is of local, secondary cedar trees that were tounged and grooved. I have been living on it for about 2 years. I have a small plot of land by the river that I grow organically but buy most of my fresh food - about the only thing I eat - from the villagers who I encouraged to grow it. I love it. I catch fish when I want. My boat is powered by the sun with two trolling motors but also I have a backup 15 HP energy efficient outboard for when it is windy. I catch rainwater and use it. I do use propane gas for cooking but one tank lasts for 6 months. Four hundred dollars is all that I need to live nicely here. It doubles as a party and education boat so it can bring in some money too.  See my webpage and the link to my Belize and blog pages at if you are interested in more information. Rod

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#20 [url]

Nov 19 10 6:00 AM

Belize is an interesting place, very ethnically diverse with a large Mennonite/Amish population in some districts.  Good weather, low historic population levels.  Something like 95% of tourists only go to the few out islands and never stray inland or to the more remote regions.  Lots of protected lands in Mountain Pine Ridge.

Hard to find a good deep water anchorage, most river mouths have a shallow bar across them.

But there are some relatively undeveloped atolls on the southern end and the diving is really, really nice.

They do have a few mosquitoes.

I do hope to get back some day.

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