Preppers Afloat, by Captain Cathar

Thank you for creating your wonderful SurvivalBlog site; it is a much-needed voice of sanity in a world of foolishness and denial. We value your site for the shared experiences of your contributors and the working knowledge that many have volunteered. I hope we can also contribute in some small way, but maybe from a different perspective.

My wife and I have been full time live aboard boaters in the northeast for the last 20 years or so. The core tenants of prepping have always been near and dear to us – not just because we have a special interest in prepping, but because long distance sailors and other self-reliant mariners use the same pepper concepts, not just when the SHTF, but as constant concerns of every day life when underway.  Provisioning, access to potable water, communication, navigation, maintenance, weather, sanitation, protection from the elements, first aid, safety and physical security; expertise in all these areas is needed in order to remain self-reliant and maybe even to stay alive when cruising. The names and implementation for preppers and sailors may be different but the basic concepts are the same. For instance a preppers “G.O.O.D.” bag is our “Ditch” (boat sinking) bag. Maybe we can share insights between our different prepper/cruiser cultures and learn from each other’s experiences.

I’d also like to present a case that if you live near the coast in a congested area, then a well-found sailing vessel can represent an excellent bug out location, and in many ways it may be the only viable option for continued survival if some truly horrific event occurs. But first, let me give you an overview of where we live and some of the problems a typical prepper might face in our area.

The northeast where we reside is very crowded, with much of the population concentrated along the shore. In many ways it is a fragile place. Power is generated locally, but fuel and food have to be shipped in continually and the process can only be interrupted for a short amount of time. As far as I can tell none of the states in the region have any sort of rational, long-term emergency measures in place. Most of the people here, just like everywhere else it seems, do not have even a bare minimum of emergency supplies on hand. If some condition or event were to upset our delicate supply chain, electrical grid or communication system for more than even a few days, the resulting cascading “systems failures” would quickly convert our affluent and well ordered society into a chaotic, lawless place. Many of the cities here have rotting cores filled with thoughtless, brutal people, and these would be the first to take advantage of the situation. Concern would quickly give way to panic and even the typical law abiding citizen might be given to reckless and even irrational acts. The order of events in a severe emergency are not hard to imagine if you consider that most people would be living off of body fat and pond water within a few short weeks.

The fact of the matter is that there are just to many people here. You might be ready to bug out, but to where? The roads are often a congested mess even on a good day, let alone in an evacuation emergency (as an example, the Long Island Express is often affectionately referred to as “the longest parking lot in the world”). Unless you are in the northern parts of these north eastern states, such as upstate New York, your only other option would seem to be to bug in, not always the best option while the world is disintegrating around you.

So what could cause such a catastrophe? Many things, and readers of this blog probably already have a pretty good idea what they are. For me, a coronal mass ejection (CME) or a deliberate electromagnetic pulse (EMP) generated by a high altitude nuclear device heads the list of my nightmares; these are followed closely by a deliberate ground level nuclear event or a Category 5 hurricane hitting the coast (at high tide). Once the power goes out many of the nuclear reactors in the area, deprived of adequate cooling, would meltdown in the same fashion as Japans Fukushima Daiichi plant. This would poison vast areas of the most densely populated parts of our country. Deadly flu, economic collapse, social upheaval, loss of imported fuel – all seem tame in comparison, but experience has taught many of us never to underestimate the power of “chaos and cascading failures”. Especially in power, communication and supply systems created to work as cheaply as possible but with little thought to resilience or redundancy.

Because of these challenges along any crowded coastline. I’d like to suggest that your readers consider a small sailing vessel as your bug out retreat. The greatest advantage is that you could get away in short order and with a minimum of sophisticated technology. The power of the wind can take you anywhere in the world. There are many cheap, capable smaller sailboats out there, but just as one example I’d like to present the sturdy little Pearson Triton. At 28 feet this is just about the smallest boat one can use for long distance cruising. Designed by the venerable Carl Alberg this well built little boat is fully capable of safely crossing an ocean (if not quickly or comfortably), and is small enough that it can even be rowed under dead calm conditions. 750 Tritons were made in the 1950s and 1960s and most are still around. In almost every way these “classic plastic” boats are much better than their contemporary counterparts and much less expensive too. In good condition with useable sails and a fairly new diesel engine the Triton can be had for $8,000 to $10,000 USD and sometimes much less. Maintenance, dockage and haul outs might be another $4,000 a year. This isn’t chump change, but it is still much less than a land-based bug out retreat in this area.

So when and how do we use your little bug out boat? Well that depends. If the power is out and is not going to come back on as with a CME or EMP then you would have little choice other than to leave, and the sooner the better. If emergency conditions are less severe, then your choice of whether to leave or not may not be so simple. You can always stay on the boat until things settle out, one way or another. You don’t have to leave on an impulse, after all the open ocean can be an uncompromising taskmaster especially to the novice sailor. But at least you can leave when you want. Just as a side issue, a small sailboat like the Triton can be great fun to sail even if the world is not coming to an end.

So how would you prepare your little Triton for TEOTWAWKI and how might the order of events unfold? Lets run through a possible scenario. Imagine that one morning there was an impossibly bright spark in the southern sky and now nothing works. The power is off and the car wont run, even the radio is dead. The neighbors are all scratching their heads in confusion, where you understand what just happened along with the grave implications. You and your family fill your backpacks with essentials and then peddle your bicycles like crazy heading to the marina where the boat is kept. Once there you set your priorities and prepare to bug out.

First and foremost, the greatest overriding concern for all small cruisers (and preppers in general) is availability of potable water. Your little ship only carries 20 gallons of fresh water in an internal tank, supplies for a few days at best. On deck you lash an other half a dozen or so 5 gallon plastic jerry jugs, this is the tried and true method used by all small boat cruisers. Still not enough water, every drop counts. The wife sends the kids up to raid the trash for any other bottles, cans or buckets, anything that can hold water including ziploc bags and trash bags. You’ll sterilize everything later with bleach once you are underway. Finally fill the cockpit, bilge and galley sinks; even fill your old sea boots with fresh water. Better a pair of wet feet than a dry mouth. The scuppers (deck drains) have already been rigged to collect rainwater, but you can’t count on a rainy day to save your life.

At the beginning of the season you squirreled away dozens of cans of food in the bilge, but what exactly is down there now is a bit of a mystery, as the water and high humidity have freed up and dissolved away all the labels. No matter, the calories are still in there, even if you are not really sure what is what. You’ll have some interesting meals ahead, and not just because of the anonymous cans in the hold. There is almost always something to eat in and around the sea, especially in the biologically rich northern waters. Most people only think in terms of game fish like striped bass or bluefish, but for every large fish there are a hundred smaller ones. We are also surrounded by dozens of types of “unconventional” protein. Crabs, shrimp, clams, snails and other mollusks, as well as sea grass and seaweeds are all edible – palatability is another matter. Just remember, hunger is the best sauce. How about Minnows with rice and seaweed anyone?  A seining net and simple hook and line fishing gear are cheap and essential.

Food and water – check, now for security. Instead of buying something like a single AR-15 you spent your gun budget on three AR-7s. This is the survival rife that you first read about as a kid. The barrel, receiver and even two 8 round magazines all stow within the stock, and most of the parts are even Teflon coated, a great plus on a small boat in a salty ocean. When you first picked them up you thought that maybe the gun dealer was playing a trick on you. Each gun weights only two and a half pounds and is a little over 19 inches long when the parts are stored in the stock. The AR-7 looks a bit like a toy but it will kill just like any other .22 rimfire gun. Chambered in .22 LR, you can hold a thousand boxed up rounds in the palm of your hand and those thousand rounds are easy to stow in a watertight container. (Now just where did you put that spare ammo?). The philosophy here is that three small semi auto weapons firing at close range will trump a single weapon of higher caliber. Longer-range weapons would also be much less of an advantage while pitching and rolling about in the open ocean. Frankly, anything beats fending off desperate pirates with a boat hook and harsh language. [JWR Adds: Another advantage of the AR-7 is that it is is one of the few guns that float if it is dropped in the water.]

Suitable clothing and foul weather gear are already stored aboard and the meds kit is ready including a good selection of fish antibiotics and a minor surgery kit. You are ready to go (a relative term), but go where? Your first thought is to head toward Bermuda. At 700 nautical miles away it is relatively close. But on second thought, perhaps not. An EMP powerful enough to take out the eastern seaboard would probably get Bermuda as well. Maybe you could head north. The Canadian Maritimes are far enough away that the power is probably still on. There is only one problem, if the nuclear reactors along the eastern seaboard begin to meltdown, then he prevailing winds will carry this nuclear material to the northeast. You would be sailing into clouds of radioactive smoke and dust. The wife consults the Pilot chart for the north Atlantic and places her finger on a tiny dot that is two thirds of the to the way to Europe. “The Azores? That’s over 2,000 nautical miles away!” You give her a sick grin. The GPS is properly packed away in a shielded box, but if it didn’t make it you’ll have to find your way using the sextant (and luck). Many of the GPS satellites have probably been destroyed in any case. “How is your celestial [navigation]?” you ask. “About as good as yours,” the wife replies, with the same sick grin. Celestial navigation is not one of our competencies and we don’t even have a working timepiece in any case. “Well, you always wanted to have a sailing adventure” the wife continues.  True, but this isn’t exactly want you had in mind.