At 6pm we arrived at the Benjamin Perry Scout Hut and started setting up. People were arriving, clustering round the dock and venturing along the wobbly jetty to marvel at Lexia, bobbing there covered in fluttering bunting. Our parents arrived, and to my great delight, all my Mum’s brothers and sisters, wearing huge smiles. We screened the roughcuts of our current crop of films, as one by one the pink-clad Ambling Band arrived in full pirate swing. Turns out a lot of them are boaters too. The Euphonium player in particular had a lot of piercing questions about our route. As soon as they kicked up their brassy party sound all the stress melted away. We danced. Suddenly it was 10pm. People started asking if we were really leaving. We probably were. It all seemed both too soon and just right. We ran a gauntlet of warm hugs and I found myself on the jetty with a bottle of Champagne in my hand and my nearest and dearest lining the shore. Sam was at the stern, revving the engine. I brought the bottle down on the prow. It bounced off. Embarassing. I raised it high and belted the metal point on the prow. An explosion of booze, glass and dim pain flew over my hand. I leapt on board to cheers and flashbulbs, pulling the prow line after me. As we pulled away, I sucked and licked blood from a deep slash on my right knuckle, hoping nobody would see. Within 5 minutes, we were sliding through the dark, quiet waters of the Harbour. Our exhilaration floated up into the night air, bounced off the underside of low bridges with our laughter. We’ve been talking about this voyage for 4 years. We are finally moving.
The day jolted me awake in Brislington at our friend Isobel’s house. I’d had 3.5 hours of sleep. The previous night, I’d had words to write, video to edit and files to transfer. I’d also had hours of deep chats with Isobel, a friend who is so constant and so ready to offer help and company in the happiest and darkest times that it’s more accurate to say she is family. And at the end of the night I just had to spend one last hour luxuriating in a warm, soft bed, on a solid floor, and all alone with a book.
I regretted all that luxury as I stumbled out of the house, but by the time I reached the boat laden with bags and found Sam nestled in a sleeping bag with the hatch open, excitement began to take hold. I woke him up and we spruced ourselves up in time for a sheepish BBC Bristol radio reporter to arrive with a piece of kit that refused to work. After missing our live morning slot he jumped into Lexia to perch between us and do an interview, focusing mostly on how small she is. At the end he asked if there was anything else to say and I launched into a lengthy treatise on the motivations of our trip, including the economy, climate change and peak oil. It became a 5 second news item, 1:28:24 here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio/player/p00whzjq Ah well, he tried!
After that the heavens opened and we sat staring at the walls, less than a foot from our faces. Trying to imagine this as our actual home. By the time we’d had two pots of coffee it all seemed possible, and when the rain slacked off we headed off for a crazy dash around Bristol- picking up parcels, dropping off the final remnants of our stuff, paying final bills, taking and making calls. At 4pm I met two friends at the Watershed and we put the final touches to the edits for the launch.
Now time for… The Launch Party!
I have written before about why I find sailboats an interesting preparation for the energy & ecological crisis we are facing. These thoughts are partly inspired by Orlov’s writings
A couple of years ago I put in a £500 ebay bid on a 22ft Junk rigged boat, at the time I didn’t really expect to win it but I did. So over the last couple of years I have been slowly doing the boat up whilst learning to sail in the Bristol channel.
Whilst spending time on the boat, enjoying the feeling of sailing and traveling without fossil fuels, feeling the awesome power of the seas, I have also been musing on boats as a place to live.
Naomi and I were becoming settled. We had a mortgage (from the French for ‘death grip’), we are at the stage of life where we are getting serious about having children. It seemed that once we had children we would become even more entrenched in our dayjob/mortaged existence. We would watch as the housing crash continues to accelerate towards something resembling sensible pricing, trapped in an urban house and lifestyle that left us ill prepared for the future we face.
Whilst learning to sail, and continuing with this office based life a seed of an idea to go traveling has germinated. Whilst a boat barely bigger than a dinghy might seem like a poor choice for a potentially dangerous trip across the seas, the more we talked the more sense it (seemed to!) make. Living in such a small space would give us the opportunity to really scale back on the ‘things’ which clutter our daily lives and at the same time exert such a drain on the earth’s precious resources. It would be easier to heat, and we could just about row the thing when there is no wind, or we are on inland waters.
The more we talked, the less sense living in a crowded city and manipulating and moving data for a living made.
At the same time we are keen to explore a more land based lifestyle, I love growing food and in the longer term would like to look for a land based community to settle in. It may seem counter intuitive therefore to set out as far as you can from the land into the seas!
But as we reach peak everything the opportunities to travel and explore are likely to reduce as we become poorer and have to work harder to keep ourselves fed and clothed. Moving into a community is a massive commitment and we are not sure what balance of collectivism vs personal autonomy will suit us.
It seemed like we should visit a good number of people who are trying to build resilient communities to see what land based lifestyles would suit us. Should we do Geese? Mushroom growing? Orchards? what kind of production would suit us? In what part of the country or world should we live?
If we were going to explore the myriad possibilities, it seemed like the time to do it was now. To have a period of rootlessness of having no strong connection to place is a luxury for the good times. At the same time the sea is one of the last wilderness spaces, a place where we will acutely feel our own insignificance and the power of nature, to go out and feel that, to feel that fear is enticing.
Gradually a plan to travel south through Europe on our tiny boat has emerged, as we go we hope to find communities and people who can inspire and teach us a more resilient life. Once we reach the Mediterranean next spring we shall try and become proper sailors, living at anchor and at the margins as much as we can to keep costs down.
The action of rowing, sailing and moving around the boat will improve our fitness, and by trying to step outside of the Mortgage/ rent paridigm we hope to reduce our expenses and reliance on ‘mainstream work’.
Living in such a small space will reduce our energy requirements, we hope to rely on wood/charcoal for heating and solar for electrical power. We hope to fish and forage as we go and acquire practical skills we are lacking.
We will attempt to live on a budget of £100 a week as we go, when we have spent this we will row instead of motor, reuse rather than buy, forage rather than shop. We will make exceptions to this only for reasons of safety, stocking up on fuel for a long passage, or a marina in a storm for example.
We plan to visit Spain and ultimately get to Greece and to see first hand what dealing with a collapsed economy is really like. From the raft dwellers on the Canal du Midi, barter economies on the Greek islands to the reclusive mountain dwelling spanish anarchists, we hope to explore and document peoples responses to the new paradigm of industrial contraction and the survival strategies people are developing.
We hope to learn new skills from the people we meet and become stronger more resliant people, we hope that in some small way our project and adventure will spark some conversations about resiliance and consumerism that we need to have as a society.
Naomi is a filmmaker and we will be making a series of short films for the web as we go, based around the characters and communities who we meet and the skills we learn.
Our route will take us through Wiltshire and up the Kennet and Avon canal towards London over the next few weeks. We are particularly keen to make contact now with people along this first stretch who might be able to show us a skill, offer some local knowlege of plants, teach us to make charcoal or offer an old story.
We will then be heading across the channel and down through the centre of France, through Paris, and down the canals to the Rhone. If you have any contacts for interesting people or places we should visit on this route it would be great to hear them.
Regarding the films we can of course offer as much privacy as people wish, not everyone will want to be filmed, not everyone will want to disclose their location or name and we fully respect that. We are not on a commission from anybody to ‘get a good story’, we are completely independent and interested in telling your stories and sharing your skills with the world in the way and to the extent that you are comfortable with. If you don’t want to be filmed, we still want to learn from you for our family’s future, so please do get in touch.
We won the pot at the third ever Bristol Spoonfed! Some great projects presented their ideas, including Stand and Stare’s show Guild of Cheesemakers who need to get to Edinburgh this August, an idea for a beautiful outdoor game presented by the lovely Jo Lansdowne with the aid of some charismatic turnips, and Mr Ydir who wants to award the brilliant people in life with an award to say ‘You’re doing it Right’. These were just my favourites but there were many more, so it was a great privilege and a surprise to get the vote and win the pot of £185. I was so knocked out I nearly forgot to thank The Collect who organised the event, and completely forgot to mention their lovely sponsors who provided the amazing bread, soup, cake and venue. For more info on SpoonFed for anybody who needs a small grant to get their project started, and to see what the 7 other great projects were on the night, visit: http://www.thecollect.org/projects/spoon-fed-no-3–june-24th/
We’ll be launching a bigger crowdfunding campaign via IndieGoGo very soon, so it was a great boost for us to see our first efforts bear fruit. We’ll be spending the cash on a great little waterproof HD camera so we can shoot hands free and sail at the same time, and bring you all the drama of the open seas.
Thanks again to The Collect and everybody who came down, whether you voted for us or not. All the best of luck with your projects and thanks for a brilliant evening. I leave you with our faces looking decidedly chuffed and clutching our newly won funds: