Seasteading

Seasteading Starts Small Off Coast of Thailand, but It Is Starting

Chad Elwartowski sees the spar beneath his seastead as a floating middle finger to those who "want to control other people's lives through force."

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A 20-meter tall spar floating in international waters off the coast of Phuket, Thailand, is "my big finger…to all those out there who want to control other people's lives through force," according to Chad Elwartowski, who with his partner Nadia Summergirl are now the inhabitants of the first seastead sitting on top of that spar. "You know where you can stick this," he adds.

Ocean Buiders

Elwartowski says this in the second video in a four-video series The First Seasteaders documenting the launch of their very first deliberate seastead—a home in international waters where ways of living and governance can be experimented with outside the reach of terrestrial governments. Part one was discussed last week at Reason. The two new videos that rolled out this week are "Raising the Spar" (embedded at bottom of the post) and "Lifting the Stead."

The videos are a bit promotional in a sense, made by the Seasteading Institute's "seavangelist" Joe Quirk (co-author of a book touting seasteads as the key to solving the world's environmental and governmental problems, Seasteading: How Floating Nations Will Restore the Environment, Enrich the Poor, Cure the Sick, and Liberate Humanity from Politicians). Despite this they contain, despite their brevity, mostly details that might scare off the average tourist (though likely excite people eager for a more challenging existence).

For example, the second video ends with Elwartowski lamenting that a wave caused a hammer to slam him in the face when it hit their seastead while he was holding the tool. In the third video of the series we see Summergirl noting the huge poisonous jellyfish lurking near Elwartowski as he swims off to get their seastead rooted to their spar. We also see how hard it was shoving the spar's summit down in the water to get the seastead to mount it.

The general feel is genial chaos and difficulty, not a lark, which again might be exactly the right message to attract exactly the right people to adopt seasteading as a potential lifestyle.

In chapter four, "Living the Life," which premiers tonight on YouTube and which I saw a preview of, you see Summergirl admitting to being a little bit nervous after their first night alone on their new seastead, but praising the unbelievable view of "a thousand million stars." We also see the couple dancing merrily atop their new 6 meter wide, two-story octagonal home. (We do not see any discussion of how they get provisions out to their remote floating home.)

Elwartowski, in that fourth video, hypes the extraordinary value of the seasteads being sold by Ocean Builders (they hope for 20 seasteading neighbors when 20 people come up with the money to build them; theirs cost around $150,000) compared to other ocean-view property. He also promotes the advantages to business of escaping the irrational strictures of earthly government and using the blank slate of seasteading—like a real blank slate has the promise of creating great art—to create great governance.

While the chatter around seastead planning had shifted over the years to things like floating medical service tourism or mini city-states off the coast of Tahiti, what Elwartowski and Summergirl are doing here is exactly the original vision of how seasteading would start, as reported in my first Reason feature on the topic a decade ago:

Seasteading can start small, and in fact [Seasteading Institute founder Patri] Friedman is sure it will start small, with tiny family-sized platforms called "coaststeads" near the mainland serving both as proof of concept and a laboratory for working out the kinks before community-sized seasteads are ready to sprout in international waters. Friedman figures the cost of such starter sea homes won't be too out of line with housing costs on land…

Elwartowski and Summergirl, then, are right on target with Friedman's original vision. While to an outsider it might just look like a couple of bitcoin-rich folk larking about on a raft, Elwartowski declares that they are looking forward to more "freedom loving people to come join us out in the open ocean." Whether they end up being a libertarian curiosity or the founding fathers of a flotilla of freedom remains to be seen.

Chapter two of the video series The First Seasteaders:

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  1. Hey, pirates! Here we are! Over here!

    1. Pirates want to steal up, not down.

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          1. That was before we had Netflix to keep everyone entertained.

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  2. This structure does not appear very seaworthy. The sea gets angry from time to time and few structures survive its wrath, unless they are a certain size or shape. The best way to live on the ocean is still the same it has been for hundreds of years: a seaworthy monohull sailboat.

    1. The first settlements in a new world may not always work out, but sometimes they do. Here is hoping that this one is more like Plymouth than like Roanoke.

      1. I also hope they make it, but why not just build a 50ft boat? Something that big, with a proper shape and keel can take most storms and you can move it easily to a different location. If you want to build a community, just raft the boats up during calm weather and separate them when a storm is coming.

        1. Maybe you are right. As a sailor, I cannot dispute the wisdom of a sailboat. With that said, I applaud their effort, and I sincerely hope they succeed. Sometimes the trick is just doing it, regardless of whether one has optimized the situation. And then improve.

        2. A proper boat would have been more expensive.

          This is basically a barge – stuck on the top of an anchored spar. If they’ve got a boat, worst case scenario, they could drag the barge off and tow it away.

          I doubt they’re experienced enough to know when that would be necessary though.

        3. I also hope they make it, but why not just build a 50ft boat?

          Or buy an old 100 ft boat?

        4. The answer to the boat question is sovereignty.

          In international waters a boat most always be moving to be stable.

      2. Here is hoping that this one is more like Plymouth than like Roanoke.

        With only half the population dying the first year. Life without charity the second year. Then a witch hunt were the accuser gets to keep the wealth of the accused. *Sigh* And that’s America’s success story.

  3. By the looks of that photo, I was seasteading on Lake Clementon about 35 years ago.

    1. Seasteading involves sovereignty, which requires international waters.

  4. Ghost Wave has an interesting account of an attempt to seastead off the coast of California in the 1960s. It turns out that putting a landlubber in charge of getting a ship ready to be scuttled is not a good idea.

    1. Fortunately this “ship” was put together by a naval engineer.

  5. Good for him. I hope this really works out.

  6. As the Democratic primary field expands to dozens of retards, it’s getting harder to stand out from the crowd. Liz Warren’s strategy is to go full retard:

    “Ms. Warren’s proposal contained two main parts. First, it called for regulating dominant tech platforms like Google and Facebook as utilities and prohibiting them from both operating the platforms and owning and operating related businesses that run on those platforms . . . . Secondly, the senator said she would appoint regulators who would unwind “illegal and anticompetitive tech mergers” that the government has previously blessed.

    Deals Ms. Warren targeted for attack included Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods.”

    http://www.wsj.com/articles/el…..552065735?

    1. “Today’s big tech companies have too much power?too much power over our economy, our society and our democracy,” Ms. Warren said in an online post.

      “Why, those fuckers have almost as much power as the U.S. Government!”

    2. More fascism from Sen. Warren.

      1. Her central planning of the economy is certainly socialist. I suppose it’s important to remember that although AOC and company are openly advocating socialist, the rest of the Democratic party is doing so, too–they just aren’t honest enough to call it that.

        1. I am quite impressed with her notion that Amazon acquiring Whole Foods is illegal and anticompetitive.

          First, I wasn’t aware that Amazon was a major player in the upscale, overpriced, virtue-signalling supermarket arena prior to the acquisition, but whatevs.

          Second…. Uh…. Whole Foods isn’t really all that much of a major player in the grocery business anyway. Most localities have several chains competing hard for your grocery dollars. And then there’s WalMart. They are the 900 pound gorilla in this story.

          But finally…. I’m a bit flummoxed at the inability of politicians of the left to see change happening. I thought you guys were all hopey-changey. Amazon has taken disintermediation and logistics to the next level, cutting costs and changing the world. Old retail is about to become the buggy whips of the 21st century…. and you’re going to plant your flag in protecting the upscale, suburban, virtue signalling grocery market from the march of progress? That’s where you plant your luddite flag?

          sheesh.

    3. Just when I thought that cunt couldn’t get any more cunty.
      There is not one single thing to like about that nasty bitch.

    4. “Trust me. I was a Harvard law professor!”

  7. “International waters where there are no laws [so long as people respect that law]”

  8. What’s up Peanuts?

    Looks like you H&R conservatives will have another wish come true.

    Roy Moore is running again for the Senate!

    Roy Moore, a conservative lightning rod who cost the Republican Party a Senate seat in deep-red Alabama, is signaling fresh interest in mounting another campaign in 2020, sparking alarm on the Right that Democratic Sen. Doug Jones could be gifted another unlikely victory.

    Moore, 72, a former state judge, made the rounds at last Friday’s Alabama Republican Party dinner gala. A few days later, a new political action committee run by Moore’s son, Caleb Moore, issued an email fundraising appeal.

    Examimer

  9. “(We do not see any discussion of how they get provisions out to their remote floating home.)”

    Or materials to maintain and repair them. Or how to pay for them. They’ll either have to go ashore and be subject to some nations laws or have supplies brought out to them. Either way, they’ll need to be independently wealthy or have the proper skills to work remotely and have internet access.

    When they run into trouble who can they call for help? The closest nation to whom they owe no allegiance? The nation that they are (were?) citizens of?

    I’m sure an angry frustrated commenter will answer these questions and call me an idiot. Or more likely, post a rant on some unrelated subject, and call me an idiot. My expectations are low.

    1. 1. Having to go into another nation to resupply is not a problem. Its just international trade. A nation doesn’t need to be able to make everything inside its borders.

      2. Is remote work a problem?

      3. If they get into trouble – can they not call on friends? People living nearby on the shore? If you were standing on one side of a border and saw someone dying on the other would you just stand there and do nothing? And its not like other people won’t be coming by – its only 12 miles offshore, there will be other traffic out to fishing areas, etc. Otherwise its like going camping in some remote wilderness. If I get into trouble in the middle of Alaska I really can’t expect the Alaskan government coming by to rescue me, I had better be prepared to be pretty self-sufficient or die.

      1. And you sound pretty angry and frustrated that someone decided to take the risks associated with leaving the warm embrace of the state.

        1. Actually, I more here a conflation of “not a part of any state” with “apart and separate from humanity”.

          The libertarian ideal isn’t to be free from all human interaction. It is more to live free from the coercion of others, particularly of state actors.

          I suppose that is what distinguishes these folks from Idaho survivalists.

    2. Iirc they made their money in bitcoin. So they have enough money to do this and they think they are smart and will therefore get themselves killed.

    3. Aquaculture and telecommuting can sustain a seastead’s economy.

      1. That has been proposed for the big project concepts but you need infrastructure for aquafarming and high speed lines for any meaningful computer work. If you had the resources an offshore server farm could turn a lot of money. You could also serve as a tax haven if you had the resources for all that. Of course getting the governments to leave you alone for any of that could be a problem.

        For a big project tourism could be another source of income. You could have a luxury hotel as part.

        One reason I am skeptical about all this and think it might be a scam or ripoff. These are just small shacks in the water. A real aqua city would take a huge investment. I think Peter Thiel was involved with one concept which went nowhere. You need someone like that to do anything meaningful.

  10. Chad Elwartowski sees the spar beneath his seastead as a floating middle finger to those who “want to control other people’s lives through force.”

    Then he’s stupid. Because all he’s done is remove himself from the grasp of people who might possibly be limited to controlling people through the rule of law and placed himself right smack in position to be preyed upon by those who want to control other people’s lives through force.

    And that’s fine. Its just naively dangerous to pretend that moving 12.1 nms offshore puts him out of anyone’s reach.

    1. And believe me, get a few thousand people living just outside of national waters on what are glorified house-barges and you’ll see those national governments agree to move national waters out a few more nautical miles – and then ignore any claims of ‘but I was already here’.

      Just like the UK did to Sealand when we changed from 3 to 12 nm territorial water limits.

      1. Is that what happened to it? I was wondering about that.

      2. How are the Somali pirates doing these days?

        1. Not so well since over a dozen Naval forces including big guns like US, China, Russia, European, and others have coordinated and deployed to stop them. One of the stories not told much.

          They are deployed to keep international shipping open. A small shack on a pole like this is below the radar screen.

  11. Thank you for all of the comments. They inspire us to continue living at sea.
    For answers to your questions on things like pirates (yarr) and more, check out https://ocean.builders/faq

  12. I have three kids. I want to raise them in a place of freedom, but then I don’t want to raise them like some of my family raised their kids- now in their 20s, leaving a struggling commune that could not support additional mouths. They now eek out an existence in the nearby town, working in restaurants and gas stations because they did not get even the basic education necessary for success.

    This is why I pine for privatization of space- to live there, you have to develop skills more marketable than an aboriginal Polynesian.

    Ultimately, a colony- on water or in space or on some unclaimed tract of land- will need to trade to flourish. And I see much potential in an economy un-blocked by the heavy hand of gub’mint. It is fine to build your spar in the ocean when you have retirement savings or some windfall to sustain you, but at the end of the day you must produce something. Japan has industry. Hawaii has tropical tourism. Yes, the US was built on homesteaders farming the land, but there is no plan (that I see) to start farming these seasteads. At best they are a tribe who have migrated to unclaimed territory to either buy from other countries or subsist as hunter gatherers in the ocean. This, I’m afraid, is not a future- or at least a future I want to inflict on my kids.

    What will they produce, that will yield trade and an economy? If that can be answered, I will be more eager to learn more.

    1. If I had any advice to these seasteaders, it would be to figure out their business plan. Local fisheries around the world are stressed because they treat the ocean as a hunting ground. Could some investment turn their spar into a fishery that could sell their bounty to Thailand? Or could they advance towards tourism? To do that will require much more than a spartan octagon in the ocean.

      I truly do wish these people luck. For now, perhaps they can sustain their existence on the youtube proceeds. And I hope that if they do create something permanent that they can figure out a way to keep the authoritarians- both outside their borders and in their hearts- at bay. It would be a great accomplishment.

      1. There may never be another time when anyone is as far away from the government as the early European settlers were and yet still have an abundance of resources and land available. To achieve something like that today, we’d need to look to someone like Branson or Musk to build an interstellar ship that offers a higher standard of living onboard than what most people have today on earth–something better than sea-steading offers, certainly. The people who leave would probably never find a planet like earth in their lifetimes, but life aboard a ship of people committed to freedom might be better than what we have here. The people who leave, though, probably won’t be the well to do. The ones that came to America were religious fanatics, slavers, slaves, indentured servants, etc. Hell, Georgia was a prison colony. There were plenty of German speakers fleeing the atrocities of the 30 Years War.

        When people leave their homeland, I think it’s often because they don’t have much of a choice. It isn’t just that there are more opportunities here. It’s also that there weren’t many opportunities back home. It just isn’t that bad here yet.

        1. Apart from interstellar travel, I don’t think there’s any substitute for persuading our fellow Americans to want more freedom–including fiscal discipline and lower taxes. Seems like a longshot, but, in my lifetime, I’ve seen China go from the cultural revolution and communism to embracing international trade. I’ve seen the USSR disintegrate. I’ve seen Americans embrace marijuana legalization and gay marriage. I never thought I’d live to see any of that happen. Point being, our fellow Americans don’t need to be an eternal source of frustration and authoritarian impulses. They can be persuaded to want better than what they’ve got. We’ve just failed to persuade them. Jesus of Nazareth started with 12 guys, and one of them was a traitor. He didn’t have the benefit of the printing press, mass media, or the internet. We should be at least as effective as he was at changing people’s minds, and we have the truth on our side.

          We just gotta find better ways to preach the libertarian gospel.

      2. A few initial thoughts on industry, in keeping with the ancap strategy:
        Health: manufacture and/or sell drugs out of the reach of pharma regulators or narcotics enforcement. They already mentioned gripes with the FDA.
        Finance/fintech: banking and services that ignore KYC/AML laws, incl. crypto, identity manufacturing, etc. One participant is an early bitcoin buyer.
        Energy/food/housing/entertainment: all are going to be inherently expensive out there, so you’ll be importing them.
        Security: assuming some success in either health or finance, governments are going to crack down and if the seasteaders can defend themselves a couple times, they may be able to charge for protection to others, although I didn’t see any turrets on the first build, so that may initially be an import, too.

    2. Our small proof of concept prototype was certainly not meant to be an industrial powerhouse.

      There are many potential businesses on the seastead. One couple who we have been talking to that is putting together the funds for a seastead is learning a way of doing tuna farming on the open sea. Fish farming close to land tends to make the fish unhealthy and not as good as open sea fish. Some techniques developed in Japan would allow for a thriving tuna business.
      Another low hanging fruit is medical tourism. This has been on the minds of most seasteaders.

      Initially I believe most of the economy will be centered around the economy of building more seasteads. We will be doing much of the manufacturing from the seastead site so we will need workers living there who will be paid for building more and more seasteads.

      Singapore and Hong Kong started as just small little tracts of land, but once some free market was allowed they thrived into what they are today. My expectation is that when the first 20 seasteads are built we can demonstrate that we can have a community. From there the next 100 will be built which can demonstrate that we can have an economy. From there…

      1. Water water everywhere and all the boards did shrink
        Water water everywhere and not a drop to drink

        Singapore only thrives because it can import its drinking water from Malaysia. Hong Kong drinks Guangdong. I don’t know any thriving economic enterprise that doesn’t have ready access to potable water.

  13. Summergirl? Quirk? Are those real names or pseudonyms?

    1. Quirk definitely sounds made up.

  14. So, does this place have borders? If a caravan of socialists want to live there, can they just sail on over and come aboard?

    1. Well, at this point it’s literally a lifeboat scenario.

      1. Hmmm … I’d hate to be guy who pulls the short straw when the food runs out.

    2. We are having some socialists for dinner next week actually.

      If a caravan of socialists want to buy their own seasteads they are more than welcome to. They can find out more at https://ocean.builders

      1. Socialists for dinner.

        Are they coming to Thailand just to meet you? Tell us more. I want details. Socialists are yummy.

        Just gave you another chance to promote your website. Click here to invest.

      2. In a caravan yet. C’mon.

  15. Too bad these folks didn’t do a bit more research into the reach of law enforcement in international waters.

    Drug Interdiction

    1. Thailand also claims a contiguous zone out to 24 nm

      2. In the contiguous zone, the Kingdom of Thailand shall act as necessary to:
      (a) Prevent violation of customs, fiscal, immigration or sanitary laws and regulations, which will or may be
      committed within the Kingdom or its territorial sea;
      (b) Punish violation of the laws and regulations defined in (a), which is committed within the Kingdom or its
      territorial sea.

      1. contiguous zone out to 24 nm

        How do they measure that?

        1. From the nearest land.

        2. 1. The contiguous zone of the Kingdom of Thailand is the area beyond and adjacent to the territorial sea of the Kingdom of Thailand, the breadth of which extends to twenty-four nautical miles measured from the baselines used for measuring the breadth of the territorial sea.

        3. Y’all missed the joke from Juice.

          Nautical miles is abbreviated in caps NM.

          Nanometers is abbreviated as nm.

          A nanometer is one billionth of a meter for reference.

    2. We didn’t do research?

      Perhaps you should have researched “these folks” before making that claim.

  16. my big finger

    Phuket

    I’ll allow it.

  17. Hate to say it but the whole thing is rather…fishy.

    My first question would be how do you know this is not some kind of scam?

    You get enough people to give downpayments for one of these in bitcoin or something then just disappear.

    It does seem like the perfect setup for something like that. Hard to believe that these folks are posting these videos, following up on the comments here with links to the website which has a click right to “presale” all from that little thing in the ocean.

    1. “Hate to say it but the whole thing is rather…fishy.”

      The ancestors of our hippos decided to give up the comforts of dry land and take up permanent residence in the seas. They turned into whales!

    2. Money will be held in escrow. Ocean Builders receives nothing until the buyers’ spar is actually in the water. We have the funds to front run most of our business but we’re not going to get started if this is not a viable business with willing customers.
      Most people involved in seasteading have known me through some channel or another. I’ve been involved for 10 years. It wasn’t a 10 year con just so I could build a seastead then take peoples’ 1% earnest money (for the first 20 seasteads that would garner me about $30k for my long con, after spending over $150k for the seastead).

      1. Have you put on any weight since this seasteading thing?

        1. Quite the opposite. Seastead life involves a lot of exercise.

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  21. Wow, after reading up on Right of Boarding and UN law of the sea conventions, I think this endeavor would have been better off on land, in remote territory, armed to the teeth, rather than attempting to appease regulators and enforcers who have no intent of keeping their hands to themselves unless it suits their own interests. Congrats, your attempts at civility have branded you as terrorists in the eyes of the government and anyone else who doesn’t sympathize with your cause.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m sympathetic. However, I think this sea colony is going to wake up in the shadow of a US Navy Destroyer blasting “we are boarding your vessel, stop resisting” at 160 dB.

    Maybe request foreign aid like the conch republic?

    What flag are you flying?

    1. So many people scared of the US.

      They are doing their job quite well.

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  25. There is to my knowledge, only a single large cruise ship that operates in the US. Norwegian’s Pride of America which sails the Hawaiian Islands.

    As someone who’s cruised to multiple locations within and outside the US and her territories across multiple lines on multiple ships, either you’re going to have to be more specific, or this says more about your lack of knowledge than anything else.

  26. Your confusion is understandable, but this blog is called The Volokh Conspiracy.

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