A new kind of good life
Jennie and I are changing gears. Pulling out on what Kipling so eloquently called the long trail. We’ll soon be on the road, coming to a place near you.
But there’s no tarseal for us – we will be on the sea road. Most people don’t think of the sea as a highway anymore, yet it was the only route our ancestors could get here by, the one they did most of their trading over, and it still goes to more places than any road ever will.
We can all repeat a daily routine until we pop our clogs, it can be reassuringly familiar, cosy, comfortable, and can even engender a feeling of ‘safety’. We’ve done those stints, the most recent for the last 12 years on our block just north of Dunedin.
But if we kept it up for another 12 years, it would make me 73 and that’s rolling the dice in self-sufficient-travel-ability terms. For us, if you’re going to ‘go’ (travelling that is, not clog-popping!) then now is the best time.
There’s another reason for choosing now and it’s the background drumbeat that I write about every month. We have spent many years researching, debating, writing and educating people about what inevitably lies not too far ahead and how we could cope via self-sufficiency. Irrespective of fierce media avoidance, almost total political denial and complete business ignorance, I think we are very close to what William Catton wrote about in Overshoot and Bottleneck, Stephen Emmott in Ten Billion, Ronald Wright in A Short History of Progress, Jared Diamond in Collapse, Joseph Tainter in Collapse of Complex Societies, and the inimitable James Kunstler in The Long Emergency.
People like us can coach the skills, do the mentoring, and facilitate the networking when society recognises the need to transition to sustainability. But the majority don’t seem to be able to admit to a need or will even notice it approaching until conditions force them to.
Logic tells us by the time they do, it will be too late to transition without angst. Essentially, our new journey is about us taking a breather and recharging our batteries before the game commences.
From a personal comfort point of view, our move is a retrograde step. We’ll miss the smooth warmth of our passive-solar house, the free (labour aside) fresh food close at hand, the circle of good friends, the bigger circles of activity-sharers. We’ll have to learn our way through where everything is, and do everything in a much smaller space.
We have no fixed schedule or planned route. In 2016 we will probably hop our way up New Zealand, stopping to replenish the coffers (fruit-picking or similar) and maybe being wwoofers now and then. We’re keen to meet folk wh are walking the sustainability walk and talking the transition talk, particularly if they don’t mind being the subject of a Good Life column! I’m going to write that long-threatened book, the first half detailing our compound predicament(s), the second listing the most practical
actions you can take in light of same, from a New Zealand perspective. Meet Sagamo. She’s 38 feet long – if you’re a landlubber unfamiliar with cruising yachts, imagine a house-bus with pointy ends and you’ll get an idea of our new ‘tiny’ house.
Her first owners took off for a five year Pacific sojourn with a 3-year old and a 1-year-old – there’s a child-size bunk – and the interior was fitted-out using recycled oak wardrobes. That’s a boatbuilder after my own heart.
Typically, telling people of our plans brings two disparate comments: “Cool!” “Rather you than me!” Having spent a year with our two boys in a small catamaran which had sittingonly headroom in its 1m-wide hulls, Sagamo is pure luxury: half the number of crew, twice the space and the added bonus of being able to stand upright. There are some striking similarities between our off-grid house and our boat. One is slightly more off-grid, both are 12volt, both are solar Pv-powered (the house from 200 watts, the boat from 150-170 watts), and both use the same model of solar controller. Both have top-loading, 12-volt fridges; both run LED lighting; both have been updated by Jennie using flat-wafers designed to replace filament bulbs in their original fittings; and both catch and store their own water. Sagamo uses a big, flat canvas cockpit cover with a sewn-in funnel to direct water into tanks. They also share the features of car stereos for audio, and car chargers for phones and laptops.
Jennie is already growing micro-greens on the cabin roof, has made fruit leather out of foraged apricots, and is working on storage techniques.
The biggest difference is the lack of space.
There’s very little room to walk past each other, or space to store stuff, or space to cook, sleep, sit, work.
One has to stand aside politely to allow the other to pass and it becomes a kind of waltz, even to the point of who passes on which side.
Cooking space – we call it a galley, not a kitchen – is almost non-existent by house standards. The cooker swings so it stays upright in a seaway, and there are pot retainers to keep them where they’re meant to be. There’s even a webbing belt to keep the cook where they’re meant to be, something that would not be tolerated on land I suspect!
Cupboards are smaller, drawers and trays are fewer, bench space is at a premium. The logical approach is to make things do two jobs so the chart table is also a work bench and the dining table copes with sewing. The same questions crop up from the curious. Do we stop and sleep at night? Are we are worried about collisions?
We keep sailing 24/7 and whoever is ‘on watch’ scans the horizon every 10 minutes to give you adequate warning of an approaching ship.
What about storms or falling overboard? The boat was designed, built and maintained with offshore conditions in mind. As for falling overboard, there’s a lot of talk about life jackets in the media these days, but the best life jacket you have is your boat and the best strategy is to be tethered to it.
Safety and self-sufficiency are compatible bed-fellows. While radios, epirbs (Emergency, Position-indicating Radio Beacons), life rafts and life jackets are mandatory, they are all ‘after the fact’ things, a bit like airbags in cars. It’s better to not allow a situation where they’re needed in the first place. Every pipe through our hull has an appropriatelytapered plug tied alongside it, just in case. New fire extinguishers hang in easilyreached places. There’s an alternative steering system, multiple pumps, and spare parts for just about everything except the kitchen sink. Anything we thought was off when we bought her has been brought up to scratch.
Most people are happy climbing into steel boxes in which they hurtle along while random folk come towards them in different metal boxes, passing less than 2m apart at a composite speed of 200kph. I know in which scenario I feel more in control of my destiny, and it isn’t in a car!
My overall philosophical approach hardly misses a beat in making the change. I’ve always tried to re-use, recycle, re-purpose, adapt. Afloat, you have no choice; it’s a small world and you can pretty much envisage all your available resources. You have to know as much about your systems as you can, have them in as good a condition as you can, but still be prepared to react to problems. It’s our kind of challenge.
All that said, Sagamo is a go-anywhere machine, which hopefully we will.