A new kind of good life


NZ Lifestyle Block - - The 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.

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