Letter: Feedback on Mobile Retreating

Jim, great blog!
Another issue you might mention with regard to sailboats – piracy is currently an issue on the seas, particularly off the coasts (in the Americas) of Nicaragua and El Salvador. It’s a huge issue in the Indian Ocean.

Also, most foreign governments have very close to a zero-tolerance policy on weapons of ANY sort. A bluewater sailor who put into Mexico after suffering storm damage a few years ago was thrown into jail for having an AR-15 onboard. His original plans were to sail to the Canal Zone and then to Florida. It took more than a year to get him out of jail, the boat is now a trophy for the corrupt local authorities.

However, it’s quite possible to blend in on a sailboat. Just equip the boat for long-distance bluewater cruising. Solar panels don’t have to be very large, a small wind generator can be hung from the backstay to provide sufficient electricity to keep the batteries topped off from daily use of lights, radios, etc. Water makers (reverse osmosis units) can make water, but require running the engine at a least a bit. Storing sufficient food and spares can be accomplished, but you’ll get quite tired of freeze dried foods.

However, the main reason to stay away from a boat is simple: Where do you go? In case of any serious emergency, you’re on your own. If the boat catches on fire, hits a shipping container (and they’re out there, floating just below the surface of the ocean), hits a whale or log, or whatever, you’re in a raft. And the Coast Guard probably isn’t going to even look for you, in an emergency. At least with a properly designed retreat you have a hope of Escape and Evasion (E&E) in an emergency, and if you’ve cached supplies and weapons, you might be able to return to your retreat and evict the aggressors. At least it’s a hope. Dying in a raft isn’t much of a survival option.

As far as retreating or E&Eing with large vehicles, you’ll be out of fuel in a day or two. Not terribly practical. A 5-ton towing a fuel pod is an option but it’s a big, slow, relatively fragile target. The best (theoretical) option I can think of is something like a 1-ton long bed pickup with a turbodiesel engine, and a 100 gal aux tank in the bed. Combined with the standard tank this will provide on the order of 1500-2000 miles range at highway speeds with a load, less if negotiating poor roads and a lot less if going off road. Not great. Biodiesel is an option once you’re at your retreat but options like burning scavenged cooking oils strike me as being both uncertain, and risky to the hardware.

Again, good work on the blog. Good luck! -“Foxtrot”

JWR’s Reply:

Mr. Foxtrot’s points are well taken. He obviously speaks from experience. OBTW, anyone that is seriously considering living abroad (or living aboard and living abroad–pardon the pun) should sign up for a free subscription to The Sovereign Society’s Offshore A-Letter.

Note from Jim:

I just added a seventh Retreat Owner Profile. (For “Mr. and Mrs. Yankee.”) I’d appreciate getting some more profiles to show greater diversity of geography, finances, and retreating approaches. How about someone from the South? Or someone from overseas? Send ’em in! (I’ll handle the editing and fictionalizing/de-attribution.)

In Town Versus Isolated Retreats

There are two distinct modes of fixed location survival retreats: ”In Town” and “Isolated.” The former depends on some local infrastructure while the latter is designed to be almost entirely self-sufficient and self-contained. Isolated retreats are also often termed “remote” retreats.

Not everyone is suited to tackling the tasks required for self-sufficiency. Advanced age, physical handicaps, lack of trustworthy family or friends, or chronic health conditions could rule that out. If that is your situation, then you will probably want to establish an inconspicuous “in town” retreat rather than an isolated “stronghold” retreat.

If opting for “in town,” buy a masonry house with a fireproof roof on an oversize lot. (Make that wood frame construction if you live in earthquake country.) Carefully select a town with a small population—somewhere between 1,000 and 3,000 if it has a true “end to end” gravity fed water supply, or from 200 to 1,000 if the water system is in any way dependent on the power grid. (The 1,000 upper limit is for fear of sanitation problems.) IMO, towns and larger than 3,000 lack a cohesive sense of “our community”, and any town with a population smaller than 200 would lack a sufficient mix of skills and the manpower required to mount a sufficient defense in the event of a true “worst case.” I believe that it is best to avoid larger towns. At some point over the 3,000 inhabitant threshold, the “we/they paradigm” will be lacking, and in a true TEOTWAWKI it could be every man for himself.

In Town Versus Isolated Retreats

The late Mel Tappan wisely opined that if your house is at the end of dead end of a road at the edge of town with no close by neighbors, then it might just as well be five or ten miles out of town–since it will be psychologically outside of the invisible ring of protection that will constitute “in town.” Post-TEOTWAWKI, the “we/they” paradigm will be forcefully if not painfully obvious. If you are “in town” you will benefit from a de facto Neighborhood Watch on Steroids. Make sure that your retreat is either clearly “in town”, or not. A property that is halfway in between will have none of the advantages and all of the disadvantages.

Tappan championed the concept of “small town” retreating: owning a mini-farm that is physically and psychologically inside of an existing small community. This approach has several advantages. Before making your decision, consider the following pro and con lists:

Advantages of “In Town” Retreats:

Better for a slow slide scenario or a “grid up” depression wherein the local agricultural and industrial payrolls may still be viable.
You will be a member of the community.
You will benefit from local security arrangements.
Ready access to local barter economy.
Ready access to local skills and medical facilities.

Disadvantages of “In Town” Retreats:

Privacy is very limited. Transporting bulky logistics must be done at odd hours to minimize observation by neighbors.
Fuel storage is severely limited. (Consult the local ordinances before you buy a home.)
Poor sanitation in the event of “grid down” situation, unless your town has a truly “end to end” gravity fed water system. (More on this in a subsequent post.)
You can’t test fire and zero your guns at your own property.
You can’t set up elaborate antenna arrays or your house will look out of place.
You can’t hunt on your own land.
You can’t keep livestock other than perhaps a few rabbits. (Consult the local ordinances before you buy a home.)
You can’t make substantial ballistic and anti-vehicular barrier retreat upgrades.
Greater risk of communicable diseases.
Greater risk of burglary.
Greater risk of having your “hoarded” supplies confiscated by bureaucrats.

Advantages of Isolated Retreats:

More room for gardening, pasturing, and for growing row crops.
Lower house and land prices. (More for your money.)
Better for a total wipeout “grid down” scenario when virtually everyone will be out of work. (Hence the local payroll will be a non-issue.)
You can stock up in quantity with less fear of the watchful eyes of nosy neighbors.
You can test fire and zero your guns at your own property.
You can build with non-traditional architecture (earth sheltered, for example.)
You can set up more elaborate antenna arrays–and other things that would look odd in town.
Better sanitation in the event of a “grid down” situation.
You can hunt on your own land.
A place to cut your own firewood.
You can keep livestock.
You can make ballistic and anti-vehicular upgrades. (As described in my novel Patriots.)
A “dog run” chain link fence around your house won’t look too out of place.
Virtually unlimited fuel storage. (Consult your county and State laws before ordering large gas, diesel, heating oil, and propane tanks.)
Much lower risk of communicable diseases. Particularly important in the event of a biological warfare attack—but only if the bug is spread person-to-person rather than airborne.

Disadvantages of Isolated Retreats:

Impossible to defend with just one family.
Cannot depend on much help from neighbors or law enforcement if your home is attacked by looters or in the event of fire. You will likely be entirely on your own to resolve those situations. If and when a gang of looters arrives, it will be you or them–no second place winner.
Isolation from day-to-day barter/commerce.
A longer commute to your “day job”, shopping, and church.

A careful analysis of the preceding lists (plus specific localized considerations) should lead you to concluding which approach is right for you, given your family situation, your stage in life, and your own view of the potential severity of events to come. Pray about it before making a decision of this gravity.

Count the Access Roads

A town situated in a hilly or mountainous region is preferable to one on open plains in the event of a worst case. Why? If and when roadblocks are needed to turn back the tide of refugees and looters, then towns on plains simply have too many vehicular ingress routes. By comparison, hill or canyon towns are typically limited by terrain to having just a few ingress routes. If the situation dictates that each ingress road must have defensible roadblocks, each manned 24 hours a day 7 days a week by three to 10 armed men, then the manpower requirements will jump considerably in towns with level terrain. Count the access roads and do the math!

Practical and Tactical Vehicles

Buy vehicles that will blend in day-to-day, but that will be eminently practical WTSHTF. Say, for example, a crew cab 4WD pickup with range tanks, towing package, and a camper shell. Select one with both the body and camper shell in flat earth tone colors–like a forest green body with a tan shell. Do not get a vehicle in a camouflage paint scheme. That will instantly brand you as the local whacko. Stock up on some cans of flat brown, green, and black paint to use to paint over the chrome trim, but only do so after the balloon goes up. Buy a military surplus camouflage net and support system for each vehicle. Why? Read my novel Patriots and it will be abundantly clear.

Modifying Your Retreat House: The Basics

Before I go into detail on how to make you retreat/home nor defendable (as I will in subsequent posts), here are a few basics:

Buy a house with at least one more bedroom than you currently need, preferably with a full basement. (Proviso: A basement only if the local water table level will allow this without aid of an electric sump pump. It must have a “dry and tight” basement!) Stock up on extra tools, sturdy clothes, food, guns, web gear, and necessities for family and friends that will surely show up on you doorstep on TEOTWAWKI+1. Don’t do anything externally visible that might tip looters that they can “get your supplies here.” Put in an oversize vegetable garden, preferably out of line of sight from the street. Ring the garden with flowerbeds and some tall flowering shrubs to make the garden look more decorative than practical to the casual observer. Get a big, quiet, mean-looking (but obedient) guard dog. I tend toward Airedales (the largest of the Terriers) and Rhodesian Ridgebacks. Both are fairly large breeds with loyal, and highly territorial temperaments. Note , however, that selecting a dog breed is a very personal choice. Your Mileage May Vary (YMMV). BTW, I’d love to get a “review” letter from anyone who has owned either breed for an extended period of time. (I’m the first to admit that I’m too biased to write anything about dog breeds dispassionately.)

Plant several rose bushes or thorny Bougainvillea vines beneath each window. (“Don’t those look lovely!“) Bush roses and climbing varieties can be used in various ways to defend your home. Use your imagination. If you buy defensive wire (military surplus concertina wire or civilian razor wire), keep it stored discreetly in your garage out of sight and put it up only in the event of a true “worst case” situation where the town must be barricaded. When you donate that wire to the local security committee you will be looked at as a forward thinking life saver, not a whacko!

Replace all of your exterior doors with sturdy steel ones in steel frames. If your house has a connecting garage, pay particular attention to beefing up the door that connects it to the house. Turn your garage into a mini-warehouse, with lots of heavy duty shelving. And then avoid opening your main garage door unless absolutely necessary. Train all of your family members to never let visitors see the interior of your garage. Pick up your mail in town, and don’t subscribe to controversial publications in your own name.

The “No Paperwork” AR-15

A tip of the hat to The Rascal for pointing me to this URL for 80% complete AR-15 receiver kits and completion tools/jigs/instructions. This could prove useful if you live in a State that has registration requirements for “private party” gun purchases, but not for home built guns. Consult your State and local laws before ordering! You should also order through a drop box to avoid a paper trail.

To U.S. readers: Resist the urge to drill an extra hole above the selector switch hole. With practice, you can squeeze your trigger finger very rapidly with just semi-auto. There is NO REASON to risk a five year stay at the Gray Bar Hotel and the permanent loss of your gun ownership and voting rights! I’m dead serious about this.

OBTW, I’m not a great fan of Mouse Guns. However, they do have their purposes, most notably for use by children, the elderly, and anyone confined to a wheelchair. Also keep in mind that AR-15 receivers can be used for more than just building a .223 AR-15. For example, the Ferret .50 kit (.50 BMG single shot) requires NO FFL. Nor does the BRP Guns MG-42 (semi-auto belt fed) kit. Both use AR-15 receivers. Parenthetically, a strange quirk of U.S. law makes the lower receiver on an AR legally the receiver, rather than the upper receiver. It is a good thing that Eugene Stoner set the precedent of stamping the serial numbers on the lowers of the first AR-10s, some 40+ years ago. The rest is history.

Letter: A Book Recommendation

Dear Mr. Rawles;
Nice to see your Blog.
As a recommendation, try an older book, titled “Five Acres and Independence ” by M.G. Kains, B.S., M.S. It was first published in 1935, updated in 1940 and 1948, But still very relevant! You can find it on Advanced Book Exchange for very low prices. It outlines exactly what your wife has advised for breeding livestock, as well as similar programs, even for corn and vegetables, as well as fruit trees. Well worth the low cost as a second hand book. – P.W.

Jim’s Quote of the Day:

"A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, and die gallantly. Specialization is for insects." – Robert Heinlein

Note from Jim:

I have considerably expanded the SurvivalBlog Glossary. You may find a few of the entries entertaining as well as informative.

Batman Fantasy Land (SA: Retreating Options)

You should discard any fantasies that you might have had about strapping on a backpack and disappearing into nearby National Forest to “live off the land.” IMHO, that is an invitation to disaster. Too many things can go wrong: You will lack sufficient shelter. You will not be able to carry enough food reserves. Your one rifle and your one pistol, and your one axe, once lost or broken will leave you vulnerable and unable to provide for your sustenance or self defense. Any illness or injury could be life threatening. Even just a dunking in a stream in mid-winter could cost your life. Also, consider how many thousands of urbanites will probably try to do the same thing. Even if you manage to avoid encounters with them, those legions of people foraging at once will quickly deplete the available wild game in many regions. Furthermore, on your own you won’t be able to maintain sufficient security. (You must sleep, after all!) For countless reasons, playing “Batman in the Boondocks” just won’t work. So forget about the “one pack” solution, other than as a last resort–for example, in the event that your retreat is overrun. Also note that any of you that do not live at your intended retreat location year round should have a “Get out of Dodge” (G.O.O.D.) pack ready at all times. Keep it in the trunk of your car in case circumstances force you to hike all or part of the way to your retreat. (A sub-optimal situation, as described in my novel Patriots.) Be sure to inspect your G.O.O.D. pack regularly and rotate any first aid supplies, chemical light sticks, jerky, dried fruit, or other perishables.

Vehicular Retreating

“Land mobile” retreating in a recreational vehicle (RV) is another invitation to disaster. In a TEOTWAWKI situation, a fixed location retreat is vastly superior to going mobile. IMO, the myth of ”Road Warrior” mobility and firepower is in actuality just an expanded opportunity to wander into ambush after ambush. No vehicle short of a $70,000+ Cadillac Gage V100 wheeled armored personnel carrier (APC) would have both the cargo capacity and the ballistic protection required. (A little Ferret scout car just doesn’t have the capacity. I speak from personal experience on that!) Also, consider that you would need a pair of APCs to provide mutually supporting defensive fire. And then of course you will probably want a belt-fed for each. With spares and accessories that is an additional $3,000 per vehicle. If by chance you already have a fully stocked retreat established and have $150,000 in cash laying around for a couple of ultimate G.O.O.D. vehicles, see: Dave Uhrig’s website and then click on “Armor”. (I should mention that I have done business with Dave Uhrig on two occasions. He is quite reputable.) Note: I will discuss survival vehicles in greater detail in blog posts later this year.

Here is a dose of reality for you: If you choose to go entirely vehicle mobile eventually you will eventually lose a battle–most likely in a roadblock ambush–or your RV will break down. Or it will run out of fuel–with some likelihood that it will be on exposed terrain in an untenable situation. Also, since the logistics that you could carry would be limited, you will start out with an inherent disadvantage to fixed location retreats. This also creates the prospect that once your food supplies are depleted you will be tempted to take what you need from others. To paraphrase John Dibari (my high school chemistry instructor) when he described troublemakers: “If you aren’t part of the solution–you’re the precipitate.” (That is, someone who precipitates trouble–part of the problem, not the solution.) Scratch that idea!

Sea Mobile Retreating

A live-aboard sailboat or motor cruiser is another frequently touted retreat option. Unless you are an experienced blue water yachtsman with many years of experience, then I cannot recommend “sea mobile” retreating. I only know a few yachtsmen with this level of experience–most notably Mark Laughlin and Matthew Bracken. (BTW, Some of the characters and descriptions in Matt Bracken’s recent novel “Enemies Foreign and Domestic” shed some light on sea-mobile retreating.) IMHO, for a long term Crunch with anticipated fuel shortages, only a sailboat with an auxiliary engine makes sense. If you do choose this route, then by all means select the largest sailboat you can afford (and that can be manned by a small crew) with the following features:

A minimal radar cross section.
A retractable keel so that you can navigate shallows.
A very quiet auxiliary engine.
The largest fuel and fresh water tanks possible.
A full suite of communications gear (marine band, 2 Meter, CB, and HF.)
At least two Global Positioning System (GPS) receivers, plus a sextant in case the GPS satellites ever fail. (Or in case the GPS constellation is destroyed or significantly degraded by anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons.)
A hull and rigging design that will “blend in” with the crowd of seasonal yachtsmen.
Plenty of spare parts.

Be forewarned that your inevitable desire to add a large photovoltaic array will be in direct opposition to blending in. If you buy photovoltaic (PV) panels, buy canvas covers to make them less obvious when sailing near shore. A sailboat moored at night is vulnerable to sea-going looters. Even today, piracy is a problem, particularly in the Caribbean and the waters around Southeast Asia. This threat will surely expand by an order of magnitude WTSHTF. So plan your landfalls carefully!
Mobile approaches to retreating have too many drawbacks to recommend them, except perhaps in a few cases for someone with a huge budget. Pragmatically, you will need a defensible fixed location with a deep larder, tools, weapons, barter goods, and friends that you can count on. In essence, the only tenable “mobile” approach is for the very short term: a reliable vehicle that gets you to a well provisioned and defendable fixed retreat. (But I highly recommend living at you retreat year round, if at all possible. I will articulate this fully in future posts.)

POST REVISION: A Special Note for Commonwealth Readers

In yesterday’s post I should have been more specific when I used the term “British Commonwealth.” I had intended to direct my comments mainly toward the United Kingdom which is heavily urbanized and has a low quotient for self-sufficiency. A reader from Australia kindly pointed out my lapse in articulation. To clarify: I do believe that some of the more remote areas of Oz (particularly up at the fringe of The Wet), much of Western Canada, and perhaps parts of New Zealand that are well removed from major population centers could be a good places to survive WTSHTF. See my revised post, under the August 8, 2005 divider. Mea culpa. OBTW, a recent poll of Canadians showed that at least 35% of residents of the Western Provinces favor secession from the Ottawa government. Let freedom reign!