Sail Transport Community

Culture Change Letter #153 -
[Editor's note: This is by design a work in progress, starting from conversations between Paul Flowers and Jan Lundberg in St. Marys, Georgia, February 2007, on the schooner Wanderer. Dmitry Orlov and John Baker follow with their contributions.]

Sail Transport Network needs port facilities tailored to non-petroleum or
pre-petroleum techniques and materials. Rather than getting them from separate
business sources, these techniques and materials will be better offered within
the reliable network of a devoted community. In this endeavor a
post-petroleum culture will be nurtured.

A supportive place with services, goods and expertise for sailboats and
sailors will develop with strong bonds within and reaching
out to any potential members of the community. A sailboat and its crew
may be far away, but will still be able to rely on the sail transport community for
information, communication, advice, and eventual work performed with
ordered materials and products.

Comprising the sail transport community would be traditional artisans and
craftspeople as well as small industries that make sails
(out of hemp ultimately), haul out boats on rails with horses for power,
handle freight to and from the boats' holds, and manufacture items of fine

No power boats or recreational jet skis would be allowed in the marina. Besides the pollution and safety issues, we know we will all become virtually petroleum-free anyway. This could happen soon, so we must start learning and resurrecting traditional ways immediately.

Informal arrangements of barter and hire would naturally flourish,
offering employment. Family boating and onshore activities would be
encouraged. Pedal powered services would provide taxi service as well as
trucking. Bike carts and work-bikes carry amazingly large loads, as seen in places such as India today. One rider can move hundreds of pounds with ease.

Toxic petrochemicals and lead-based paints and other products would be
minimized on the boats and in the community -– assuming they were still available. This implies
fiberglass/epoxy boats would be discouraged or phased out, while these
expensive products are still available prior to petrocollapse.

Wooden boats would be the only kind constructed in the boat yards.
Engineless craft would be the usual design, even before the loss of
petroleum fuels. (Biodiesel and ethanol may be available but are not
expected to be in huge quantity or at low prices.) During the remaining days
of motor fuels, propulsion for harbor maneuverability can be met, for example, via yawl boats which
are skiffs outfitted with outboard motors. Oars would be common for small
craft as well as larger ones. Small craft can also be made of skins on frames
or of birch bark, for example.

A school for seamanship (or seapersonship!) and boat-building as well as
other supportive activities would be part of the sail transport community.
Certification for navigation, piloting, command and defense would be

Population size of the sail transport community could be from 100 people
living at the harbor or bay, to thousands when post-petroleum living draws more
participation from survivors of petrocollapse brought on by global peak
oil. There is no way to anticipate survival rates or population sizes
upon dramatic effects of climate distortion which has begun (even before famine from the demise of petro-agriculture).

Philosophy and particulars

The Sail Transport Network seems to attract people who aren’t only in love
with the sea and who take steps to live their dream, they are
independent-minded folk who have discovered the “American Dream” to be a

The beginning stages of this concept should be an intentional community
built around a harbor facility with an eye to self-sufficiency.

To begin this project, it ought to be independent of other people’s influential money, such
as from self-interested corporations and many foundations; hence, a reason for profitable sail freight business.

Fishing communities were always close knit anywhere in the world. The entire community was centered
around the harbor. Everything needed came from the sea, such as fish and
imported grain from afar sometimes.

For some larger ports, luxuries were brought as well, including tea and
alcoholic beverages. Sailboats have been used for worse, such as piracy. We hope there will be no return to the worst practices that have characterized our destructive Western Civilization.

Ship building communities must be strong and quickly constructed, such as of scrap
wood. Captains' wooden houses of yesteryear were well made. Cobb houses are too heavy for a
sand-based soil, causing settling and wall cracking. Ants can dwell in such
walls. Stone requires deep foundation and are not so insulatable, and are
heavy on the sand. But stilt frame houses not only are insusceptible to
flooding, but are also above the level of mosquitoes and no-see-ums.
Fifteen feet up means cooler temperature in the summer, and is above tidal
A stilt framed house will last for one's grandchildren; not so with a cobb
house if near the ocean.

The need for wood for housing and ships means protecting old growth trees.
The sail transport community will teach appropriate living with one's
environment. Although telephone polls may be requisitioned for masts and booms, this is not ideal, and old-growth logs are important also for making dug-out canoes.

Warehouse buildings can be made of wood as well, especially realistic when of resused and reuseable
wood. Sail-making lofts need to be made from wood and be high up, in a wide area for work.
Such warehouses are needed for making rigging as well.

Aside from obtaining whatever food fit to eat from the sea, everyone in the community should be gardening, and all available land should be used
for this. The skills need to be learned and followed. Many more people need to start doing
it instead of talking or dreaming about it.

Today, some back-to-the-landers have lived in what may be called squalor rather than
voluntary peasantry. One reason for this is the difficulty of surviving and thriving outside the dominant socioeconomic system. In future, perhaps soon, the community will come together to improve unpleasant and dysfunctional situations that prevent full development for success and sustainability. Even before the sailing community is built, much work is needed so that buildings, boats and
orchards are not neglected and wasted.

A sail transport network is all well and good, but the
on-shore infrastructure has got to have chandlers, bakers, blacksmiths, wood workers, bookstores, pubs, and more, to cater as a community to the resurgent Sail World.

* * * * *

From Dmitry Orlov:

1. Location: there are already many physical niches along the coast that STN (Sail Transport Network)
can occupy, either now or in the near future, such as:

- fishing villages,depopulated by the collapse of fisheries;
- resorts, depopulated due to the collapse of tourism, killed by high jet
fuel prices

- urban river fronts and canal fronts, unused because the cities and towns
shifted their focus to railroads and then to highways many decades ago
- uninhabited islands, which can be used in a number of ways, including
establishing permaculture plantations that are less likely to be disturbed
than on the mainland

2. Types of craft: well-founded sailing vessels are of many types, but other
craft can come into play as well:
- Makeshift rafts: these can be built out of all sorts of recycled
materials, with hulls that are designed to be swamped the entire time, and
buoyancy provided by plastic debris (foam insulation, mostly). [Coconut palm timber and planks are good for craft designed to get wet and even partially submerge. - ed.] A large raft
can serve as a platform for a makeshift shantytown, to carry people and
supplies down rivers and even across oceans by riding the trade winds (it's
been done quite recently by the Floating Neutrinos, who are now moored in
- Sea kayaks, skin boats: as the Russians quickly discovered while
colonizing Alaska, skin boats are much safer than large ships. After losing
a number of large sailing vessels, the Russians "went native" (a typical
Russian trick, by the way, and something West Europeans have always sucked
at) and used skin boats to cross the Bering Strait from Siberia.
- Repurposed industrial junk: There is already a lot of industrial junk to
be repurposed, and the inventory is going to become completely overwhelming.
Why kill trees when you can rip I-beams and steel pipe out of unused
buildings, "borrow" steel plate from the now nonexistent highway
departments, and run the cement works a little bit longer to pour a set of
ferrocement hulls?

3. Type of social arrangement. STN can "absorb" various groups of people:
- Sailors, obviously. Although a lot of modern skill sets are not
particularly applicable, some maritime experience is usually better than
none at all.
- Displaced persons: We should expect large numbers of people for whom it
will become pointless to try to earn a wage, because their debt burden is
staggering (credit cards, medical bills, what have you). A large percentage
of Americans have been busy planning a future of indentured servitude for
themselves, without realizing that that's what they have been doing. At some
point some of them will realize this, but it will be too late. Their
alternative will be to drop out of the mainstream economy, and STN can offer
such an alternative. A person signs up as "crew" in exchange for room and
board and a bit of pocket money during shore leave. An implicit part of the
informal contract is that, under normal circumstances, one remains a crew
member for life, whether on the water or on shore. To start with, you just
have to be able-bodied and have a valid passport.

- People who have some sort of control or access to resources that are
becoming economically useless within the mainstream economy, but that can be
of use to STN: these individuals should be considered for a leadership role
within STN.
- Children: runaways, ones in need of foster care, children born to STN
members. Normally, the local Human Services department tries to intervene
and impose its idiotic standards for child care, or take the children away
and into custody. This is where a migratory, nomadic lifestyle is key,
because it defies the definition of "local". Wherever you are, you can
always give some other place as your "permanent" address, which happens to
be in a different jurisdiction. This should allow STN children to escape the
predicament forced on most children in the US, and actually have a normal
- Animals: Ideally, STN would develop its own ecosystem of sorts, where
animals don't belong to specific people; they just belong. The dogs should
be reasonable guard dogs and take well to water; mutts, ideally, and
certainly not any of the overbred, sickly purebred varieties, some of which
can't even give birth without a caesarean. Cats are straightforward, and
seem to just happen on boats. Of draft animals, big horses are not so easy
to have on board, but donkeys and ponies (Shackleton took Siberian ponies
with him, which his crew eventually ate) seem a bit more reasonable.


From Paul Flowers:

I'd like to add that the idea of culture change is just that...CULTURE
CHANGE...I think the best way to do that would be to put our efforts into
existing coastal communities, rather than acquiring "our own land" and
starting an "intentioanl community." There are many coastal communities who
are suffering the ignominious death of the waterfront community.

St. Marys, here in Georgia,
has all the facilities for everything discussed in this draft, and a large,
unemployed workforce. The economy is still functioning, but people cannot be
expected to completely pull themselves out of something that they don't fully
understand is collapsing at the drop of a hat. The best way, I think, to
accomplish a sail transport community is to work towards revitalising
existing communities and teaching people skills that they need to support a
wooden- (and even steel-hulled...those boats still exist and will for a long with what you've got and don't reinvent the wheel) boat and
shipping-based community, and it will inure the STN into the hearts and minds
of people who would not have even considered it to begin with. It also will
doing things in a completely different manner than the failed intentional
communities who ended up spending thirty years talking about how cool it
would be to accomplish something while never actualy doing so.

Also, doing things in this manner opens us up to numerous resources such as
local community development organizations (CDO); the CDO here in St. Marys isn't
nearly as evil as the ones in bigger cities elsewhere... they actualy are
struggling to keep St. Marys waterfront undeveloped and historic. Other
such resources that can help this vision take shape and sail. True community is
working with real people, some of whom may not agree with you 100% in your
politics, but they like what you're doing....some of the people here in St.
Marys are a perfect example of that....that's community.

A utopian society
where everybody agrees with each other all the time is far too much to ask
for... pie in the sky... for now at least... and St. Marys is dying and
starved for jobs. How amazing would it be if the STN could be the anti-Wal
Mart -- instead of coming into a town and destroying it, we come in and
empower it to be self-sufficient by teaching skills ranging from ship and boat
wrighting skills to gardening and other forms of self sufficiency. Leading
by example out in front where everybody can see us, for both people who are
online, and people who are not, will mean that everyone wins.

- Capt. P.W. Flowers, Master
Schooner Wanderer
Port Canaveral, FL/Jekyll Island, GA

From John Baker:

1) Some of us *very much desire* to give up the risks and expenses and hassles
of car ownership and operation, but have very few desirable alternatives. Consider
this: An STN based community is first and foremost a **localized** community which
also possesss the profound *benefits* of regional and long distance transportation
provides access to a *limited* set of products (wine, oil, cocao) and services (advanced
medical treatment, ship restoration). Furthermore, these benefits are available via a
scalable, low impact, and very efficient and proven system.

We have to be careful not propose STN as Globalization By Other Means, but simply
communicate the notion that a STN-oriented sustainable community does not have
to be cut off and isolated after petroleum fails. On the contrary, it can flourish.

2) I'm glad you captured the notion of "non-sailor" participation in this community.
So much about modern (non-sustainable) sailing today is geared toward "the sailor"
and ignores the vast, vast infrastructure required to support it. Personally, I am
keenly interested in receiving grain from the sailboat and turning it into bread and
pastry and beer and selling it out my front door to the community. And this goal
only reinforces my desire to participate in STN, since I understand the
unsustainable process by which grain is sown, dried, harvested, distributed
and processed today. Northern Virginia doesn't grow much grain.

3) Life's activities flourish at boundaries - between sea and sky, land and water,
soil and air, buyer and seller, producer and creator, speaker and audience. STN
a means to live sustainably along richer boundaries.

4) The notion to ban motorboats, and yet to rely on yawl boats seems contradictory.
Let us propose learning to **really** sail (and thus learn which days *not* to sail),
and avoid the issue of ancillary propulsion entirely.

5) I like the "get busy and do it" advice. The problem for most folks is knowing
how to start and what useful and valuable activities they can contribute.
An STN oriented community can give them a practical reference point.

6) Pedal power is great. I think there is a place for animal traction as
well. Horse-based transport, with and without wagon, will work well as our
public roadways degrade from lack of repair. Global climate change will
require some parts of the coastal communities to build at high elevation,
and grass-fed horses and mules excel at hauling heavy loads up steep grades.

Let's find some coastal land and found an STN community!!! I'm ready
sell my McMansion and three cars and move yesterday. (I'll convert my
tractor to biofuel and donate it to the cause.) I imagine we'd get
international attention, participation and perhaps some serious donations
if we came up with a sensible plan and started tasking real estate buyers'
agents. Unfortunately I don't have experience in urban planning and
founding ecovillages, nor do I have the millions of dollars required to
purchase outrageously priced coastal land. But collectively we might
attact the resources, talent and experience that matters. One rule
I would strongly support: Keep Corporate interests and influence out of STN.

Consider what other groups have proposed for a desirable, realistic
and actionable plan for escaping suburbia. STN could be the first and
best so far.

Poem from a socioeconomic democracy activist:


What could be more majestic?
Those sturdy masts, reaching half way to heaven,
Graced with yards, booms, gaffs and furled or filled sail.

That intricate web of rope,
Efficiently dedicated to the integrity and ingenious usefulness
Of all those proud spars and eager sails.

Tall Ships!

Graceful and swift birds of the sea,
Delicately balanced at that magical interface between wind and water,
Capturing power from the one to drive through the other.

Magnificent spars -- slender, considering their assigned duty --

Colluding with the canvas to capture the lightest zephyr
Or withstand the strongest gale.

Running rigging -- running everywhere!
Keeps one reminded, if needed, that this is a Tall Sailing Ship!

Anchored in harbor, tied up at wharf,
Plying the coast or plowing the ocean,
Becalmed in the horse latitudes.

With her symphony of creaking timbers, stretching hemp and rhythmic waves,
A Tall Ship -- a many-splendored love affair.

© 1997 by Rob George

* * * * *

Sail and pedal links:

This webpage is part of
, and See these websites for more on sail transport and community. Included are articles by Dmitry Orlov, Paul Flowers and Jan Lundberg.

Pedal Power Produce:

Rob George's website:

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