Why Ephemerisle Matters To Seasteading

by

Seasteading is creating permanent dwellings on the ocean – homesteading the high seas. For a brief intro to seasteading, click here.

This post is being written to supplement our [announcement of the First Annual Ephemerisle Festival](http://seasteading.org/stay-in-touch/press-releases/the-seasteading-institute-announces-first-annual-ephemerisle-festival-p). Some people may wonder why Ephemerisle is an important initiative for seasteading, and why it is worth devoting some of our limited resources to. Since the event was my idea, I thought I’d post a bit on why this is a key strategic path. If you’d like to see a video on the subject, [here's my 30min Ephemerisle talk at the 2009 conference](http://vimeo.com/10912197), just before the first Ephemerisle.

### Ephemerisle Is Incremental

A key part of the seasteading philosophy is [incrementalism](http://seasteading.org/book_beta/Why%20they%20should%20be%20approached%20our%20way.html#whyincrementalism): breaking our huge vision into little steps. Ephemerisle is a perfect example of this strategy. In fact, I first conceived of the festival back in 2001, before even encountering Wayne’s seasteading paper. I figured that if all nation-founding attempts so far had failed, perhaps instead of trying to start a permanent country, we should start with a temporary one. And my experiences at [Burning Man](http://burningman.com/), and [Pennsic](http://www.pennsicwar.org/penn38/) (a festival started by my dad 38 years ago, which draws over 10,000 people a year) showed me the power of festivals to build community and grow over time.

Ephemerisle lets us take this enormously difficult problem and make incremental steps along many axes:

* Length – start with a weekend, and grow over time.
* Regulation – start in inland waters, eventually move outside EEZs.
* Ocean conditions – start in calm waters, eventually move to the deep ocean.
* Size – grow and attract more people each year.
* Frequency/Location – hold more than one a year, in different places around the world.
* Sustainability – increase the number of local businesses, size of the internal economy.

As we solve the problems for each step along each axis, we can push farther and farther.

### Ephemerisle Is Experiental

Printed words, discussions, talks, ideas – all of these things are abstract. Powerful though they can be, direct physical experience has enormously more power to open people up to a greater sense of what is possible. When all of your life is lived under a small set of political and social systems, it is difficult to imagine other possibilities. All this is changed if you can experience, even for just a weekend, a completely different system, based on freedom of association and autonomy for small groups to live the way they want.

While there are some brave pioneers willing to leap into an uncertain future based only on the power of an idea, I believe that far more can be converted by experiences. This is a major benefit of Ephemerisle: Far more than a book, article, or even a baystead, it will give people the direct experience of political autonomy. This will grow the core part of the seasteading community who are committed to someday moving to seasteads, which is crucial to our success.

Not only is Ephemerisle experiential for the participants, but also for TSI. Throwing this festival involves actually getting out there on the water and arranging for safety, comfort, infrastructure, transportation, and the myriad of other logistics required for seasteading – not just talking about them. This direct experience is also crucial to our success.

### Ephemerisle Can Grow Into Seasteading

In some senses, Ephemerisle is an old idea. It can be thought of as a revival of medieval trade fairs, which were a major part of commerce in the Middle Ages. Back when you couldn’t order things over the internet, [trade fairs, held at major crossroads, provided a central place to gather for commerce](http://everything2.com/title/Revival+of+Trade+and+Towns+in+Medieval+Europe). Some of them even grew into permanent towns (this is the origin of [Troyes](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Troyes) in the Champagne region of France, for example).

Like trade fairs (but unlike most festivals), Ephemerisle is designed to allow for an incremental path from temporary gatherings to a permanent way of life. It is not the only path to a seasteading future – designing small seasteads and launching profitable ocean-based businesses) qualify as well. But it is one of a small number, and it has the virtue of being fairly independent from the others – Ephemerisle offers its own incremental, experimental steps towards finding locations, solving the engineering challenges, and has its own, very standard business model (a festival).

Thus we can see another part of the enormous value of Ephemerisle: Even if all our other engineering and business efforts fail to gain a foothold, Ephemerisle represents a parallel, independent path which could plausibly bring about full-time ocean settlements.

### Conclusion

As you can see, Ephemerisle is a crucial event for the seasteading movement. It profoundly embodies our incremental philosophy, will give community and TSI direct experience with living on the water, and offers a realistic, independent path to our desired future. We hope you will [join us each year](http://www.ephemerisle.org/) to take this important step towards a better world.

### UPDATES

* Ephemerisle 2010 will be July 22-25, again in the Sacramento Delta. More info at [http://ephemerisle.org/]()
* I have also written about [engineering parallels between Ephemerisle and Seasteading](http://seasteading.org/blogs/main/2010/01/26/engineering-parallels-between-ephemerisle-seasteading) and [Progress from Ephemerisle 2009 to 2010](http://seasteading.org/blogs/main/2010/05/03/how-ephemerisle-2010-will-bring-us-closer-seasteading)
[Coverage of Ephemerisle 2009](wiki.seasteading.org/index.php/Ephemerisle2009Coverage), including this 9-minute documentary:

Ephemerisle Documentary by Jason Sussberg from The Seasteading Institute on Vimeo.

17 comments

  1. vincecate 3:45 am

    >Ocean conditions – start in calm waters, eventually move to the deep ocean.

    What will be done this year  that would let you  move to  any bigger waves next year?      This year is 0 foot waves.  Is there some experiment this year that will make you comfortable locating next years ephemerisle someplace with 1 foot waves?    Are any seastead models going to be tested?

  2. DM8954 5:45 am

    I think floating is as good a place to start as any, Vince.

    I know participants are encouraged to build and test their own designs, but will TSI have a design of their own present, to at least get the ball rolling and make sure there’s at least 1-2 designs there for the big kick-off, no matter who else gives it a try?

     

    Good information, though. I hope you get a nice turnout. You can probably expect the first year to be a bit bumpy but go in prepared and you’ll get through it in one piece. Good luck!

  3. vincecate 2:18 pm

    >I think floating is as good a place to start as any, Vince.

    Not arguing with that, just think there should be some plan to encourage seastead progress.  Otherwise it is may just be people playing on the water with a TSI subsidy at the same location year after year.   Some ideas are:

    1) People who sleep on a home-made structure that  is deemed safe for sleeping in waves 2 feet more than the average  at that Ephemerisle get that years and next years registration free.  Must float for more than 36 hours without major repairs.  Testing with powerboat wakes.   Opinion of judges final.

    2) If at Ephemerisle someone builds a seastead model/prototype judged better than any other at that Ephemerisle and any previous model/prototype they get $2,000.  I submit that the current champ is http://wiki.seasteading.org/index.php/User:Vincecate/WaterWalker2

    I think contests and prizes could make Ephemerisle more  fun and productive.   But without some  forcing function I would not expect progress towards seasteads, or movement of Ephemerisle toward bigger waves in following years.    Any other ideas for how to ensure Ephemerisle has incrementalism and not stagnation?

    – Vince

     

  4. jhogan 6:15 pm

    I think if we make Ephemerisle awesome, and generate sufficient community excitement and commitment in the process, their enthusiasm will drive things forward. Look at all the engineering ingenuity and effort that Burning Man has spawned — just by creating a space where people can have the time of their lives.

    Prizes/contests might have a role at the festival too, I think (and we do have a grant program). But I think the primary driver for Ephemerisle will be community enthusiasm.

    DM: TSI has a central platform that we are providing, so yes, we’ll have a structure. It’s unclear whether it will be Bay-worthy, but it’s probably upgradable to be Bay-worthy for a future Ephemerisle.

    James

  5. vincecate 7:25 pm

     

    I made a table with some of the different strategies for advancing seasteading and examples.  It is missing an argument in favor of floating city seasteads and also for cruise ship seasteads.  Anyone know of links for these, or willing to write up one?  

    http://wiki.seasteading.org/index.php/Seastead

     

  6. Jeff Chan 8:22 pm

    I’m going to agree with Vince that Ephemerisle generally doesn’t advance living on the ocean.  However I also agree with Vince that an exception would be model testing, but that will be pretty informal at best.  A floating platform that works in the delta probably has little bearing on something that would work on the open ocean.  Take a houseboat for example.  A houseboat that works reasonably well on lakes and calm rivers, fails in the ocean.  It actually fails before it gets to the ocean since it’s swamped by the first significant wave.  Ships work in the ocean, but larger ones are better than smaller ones.  A sailboat works marginally well where storms aren’t too energetic.

    On a personal level, I view Ephermisle as a vacation.

    On a practical level, Ephemerisle is a test to see who can get along, and who can not drown.  In other words it’s an exercise in safety, common sense, and social skills.  If a sense of community can begin to emerge, then that could be a good outcome.  Whether such community is meaningful to seasteading or can meaningfully persist may be interesting questions.

    It’s really hard to drown in the desert, but people manage to die at Burning Man.  People drown in the Sacramento delta probably more often, usually related to alcohol and lack of safety precautions.  Drugs, darkness, water and lack of life vests is probably not a good combination.  I’m starting a separate wiki entry on personal safety equipment.

    Incrementalism is an excellent concept, but the physical characteristics of protected waters like lakes, rivers, bays, etc., are so very different from open ocean waves that it’s not clear how strongly it can apply between these fundamentally different cases.

  7. vincecate 4:09 am

    I have another idea for a contest to make Ephemerisle more focused on seastead models and incrementalism, so that it is more than just fun on the water.  People would build large models and then they would be tested by towing them toward the ocean and larger waves.   Judges would see who could last the longest and have the least motion.    Say you build a platform the first day, 2 people must sleep on it the first night, and then the second day models are towed toward the ocean.   Judges could stop or turn back any model they ruled was not seaworthy to go further.

    For this to work you would have to start within a few miles of some bigger waves.  Models are probably not going to tow fast.   Maybe tow at 2 or 3 MPH, so within 10 miles.   Could not start so far up the delta.

    Riding along on a model, or on a boat watching the models, going out toward the ocean could be the main event. Could easily spend $1,000 making a large model, so probably takes some incentive/prize to get people to spend that kind of money.  

    As models got better they would be going out further into the ocean.   In a couple years I bet they would be through the Golden Gate.  So you would have incrementalism, and not stagnation.   Even if you started at the same location each year, as long models could be towed to big waves you could get better and better each year.  Groups could go on to Hawaii after some years (a downwind run so kites could be used).

    I don’t think grants work nearly as well as prizes.    I think of grants as the central-planning/government/socialist way and prizes as the more anarchist/capitalist/libertarian way.    Along with being much less efficient, grants also miss out on the fun of the prizes/contest.   Engineers like engineering contests.  

    Part of the reason for building my large model was to show what kinds of things could be done for something like this.    http://wiki.seasteading.org/index.php/User:Vincecate/WaterWalker2

      — Vince

  8. Jeff Chan 8:28 am

    Vince has an excellent idea, and it does seem to work with incrementalism.  I would suggest that people should not be allowed on them when they are at risk of destruction or large motions, i.e, when they are in or being moved to larger waves.  (In the U.S., you probably would not want the judges to be repsonsible for putting people’s lives at risk.  There are way too many tort lawyers.  The situation may be better outside the U.S.)  The idea of seeing which ones survive longest and/or have smallest motions in similar waves is a very scientific way to approach things.  It’s a differential test where the waves in principle are similar and the design varies.  Excellent idea.

    I should say again that platforms designed for calm waters won’t work in waves.  They’d need to be designed for waves, built in calm waters, then towed into the waves.

  9. Patri 10:08 pm

    Vince – My plan for the forcing function is an actual forcing function – locating the event in more and more difficult places each year. It seems somewhat artificial to me to test structures on their survival in some potential future conditions. Having structures optimized for the local conditions each year is not a barrier to incrementalism if we keep changing the local conditions. The point of Ephemerisle is experiential realism – have people meet real challenges, not artificial ones.

    Your comments seem to make the strange assumption that we have no power to locate Ephemerisle in tougher conditions next year. It isn’t going to be “people playing on the water with a TSI subsidy at the same location year after year.”, because we have no interest in subsidizing events that don’t make progress. I can imagine us trying to repeat Ephemerisle in the same location as a fundraiser and community builder, but I can’t imagine us repeating a subsidized version. And if the rougher conditions of an incremental step cause a big decrease in attendees, well, that’s a bummer, but the important thing is to keep moving.

    Anyway, I can imagine other strategies for incrementalism, like testing designs each year for harder conditions and only moving the festival if a design passes. But if we aren’t going to make advancement to tougher conditions dependent on finding a winner (and I don’t plan to), that seems to me like a distraction rather than a benefit. Let’s solve the problems of each set of conditions in context. If it’s a disaster, then we can halt the advancement.

  10. Patri 10:17 pm

    Jeff: “Incrementalism is an excellent concept, but the physical characteristics of protected waters like lakes, rivers, bays, etc., are so very different from open ocean waves that it’s not clear how strongly it can apply between these fundamentally different cases.

    There are plenty of differences between building a platform for shallow waters, and building one for the ocean. No disagreement there. But I do disagree about whether they can be linked through an incremental chain which preserves some value at each step of the way. That is, I think that building for the delta provides some learnings for the bay, and building for the bay will provide some learnings for a less-protected bay, and so forth. (For example, we could model that each year’s designs will span a range from overengineered to underengineered, centered approximately on what is right for that year’s conditions, and the overengineered ones provide the seed for the next step).

    (One thing to remember is that we can locate Ephemerisle, even offshore, at a time and place where there is no likely storm, and cancel it if there is a storm. A temporary festival can plan for much smaller waves.)

    This incremental chain has lots of wasted engineering work along the way – designs that work in one environment but not another. It is “inefficient” in that sense. But in another sense, the greatest challenge of seasteading is to connect the distant difficult future to the present through a series of small steps. A solution which spends a lot of time going sideways but keeps inching forward is really valuable. Especially given that building community and letting people w/ day jobs and lives recharge their energy and spreading the word and things like that do take many years.

  11. jhogan 12:01 am

    On a practical level, Ephemerisle is a test to see who can get along, and who can not drown. In other words it’s an exercise in safety, common sense, and social skills. If a sense of community can begin to emerge, then that could be a good outcome. Whether such community is meaningful to seasteading or can meaningfully persist may be interesting questions.

    You expressed doubt as to whether Ephemerisle advances ocean living, but isn’t what you wrote above a really important part of advancing grassroots ocean living?  

    Community is a very powerful thing.  Look at Burning Man… they have an entire 50,000 person city spring up from the desert each year, fueled largely by the power of community.

  12. vincecate 12:29 pm

    Patri: "Your comments seem to make the strange assumption that we have no power to locate Ephemerisle in tougher conditions next year.  [...] If it’s a disaster, then we can halt the advancement."

    You can wing-it in 0 foot waves and things will probably be ok.  However, if you locate in 1 foot waves next year without plans for how structures will be built, how they will raft together, how they will anchor, then it will probably be a disaster.   Some structures with people will go floating off in the night, maybe never to be seen again.  Ephemerisle will be halted for good by the authorities.   Probably lawsuits for "gross negligence" or something.  Really.  Even 1 foot waves need some clue.

    In the USA I bet you could not get permits or insurance if you are really clueless as  to how people are going to make it through the night alive in 1 foot waves.  So these two things would probably make it so you have "no power to locate Ephemerisle in tougher conditions".  You may think this is the "nanny state" but  waves really do have a way of breaking things.

    I doubt you can find people who would rent you boats knowing that you were going to tie them together in 1 foot waves (probably the fine print in the contract forbids it so if you try it and smash the boats up you are in big trouble).  I would not want my boat tied up to any others or a floating platform in 1 foot waves for a night.

    Try asking the permit people, the insurance people, and the boat renting people if you could locate in 1 foot waves and just have people show up and see what happens.

    I think for 1 foot and bigger waves you need everyone rafting together to be on seastead prototypes.   If you don’t use this years Ephemerisle to test out things for bigger waves next year then I don’t think it would be reasonable to try to locate in bigger waves next year, or you are asking for disaster.

    In good incrementalism each step reduces the risks and unknowns for the next step.   I don’t see people on houseboats or flat wooden platforms in 0 foot waves really helping you get ready for 1 foot waves.    If you make it to 2 foot waves, then those should help you get ready for 3 foot waves, and so on.  But 0 to 1 is a really big jump.  But if you go 0 foot waves to 3 inch waves, it is going to take many years to get to open ocean. 

     

  13. Jeff Chan 1:58 pm

    A much better use of time and effort is probably to build models and put them in a wave tank or test them from a boat in open waters.  That and developing software in parallel to model them well.  

    Software is a really useful lever.  Though fluid dynamics modelling is anything but simple, having good simulation software could be a major boost.  Do we know anyone good at software and/or fluid dynamics or someone who can improve open source programs, or someone who can research what’s available commercially or otherwise?

    Trying to camp on the water isn’t really interesting. That can already be done using houseboats in calm waters or ships in waves.

    Patri makes a good argument for incrementalism, but what’s really needed is some sound engineering of new structures (or using ships), and a lot of funding to actually get them built (or buying a ship).  In other words a revolutionary jump to a new kind of structure, or starting with ships.

    Vince’s comments are excellent, as usual.  Ask the Coast Guard what they would require for "burning man on the bay" or outside the bay.  If they stop you or put up difficult requirements, it’s probably not because they’re assholes, but because they trying to stop you from killing yourselves.  Their job largely consists of rescuing people who get in over their heads, or recovering their bodies, if they can find them.

    When I asked the nice lady from MI&T at the first Seasteading conference what she thought ot Vince’s model testing, she indicated it was a good approach.  I agree that model testing is excellent.  It could be improved by software simulation, but model testing is one of the best ways forward.

    A contest comparing how models perform in waves could be an excellent approach.

  14. Jeff Chan 2:11 pm

    jhogan wrote:

    Jeff wrote:

    On a practical level, Ephemerisle is a test to see who can get along, and who can not drown. In other words it’s an exercise in safety, common sense, and social skills. If a sense of community can begin to emerge, then that could be a good outcome. Whether such community is meaningful to seasteading or can meaningfully persist may be interesting questions.

    You expressed doubt as to whether Ephemerisle advances ocean living, but isn’t what you wrote above a really important part of advancing grassroots ocean living?  

    Community is a very powerful thing.  Look at Burning Man… they have an entire 50,000 person city spring up from the desert each year, fueled largely by the power of community.[/quote]

    Community is certainly a good thing, but it’s less than clear that viable structures that can survive waves can be built by a community, unless they’re making ships.  Camping on a flat desert is orders of magnitudes easier than surviving in waves.

    A community could help build a ship or new structure, but it would be a waste of their time and insult to their intelligence if they were asked to build a structure that had not at least been tested as a scale model and in software.  Time and resources are scarce; they should not be squandered.  We’re smarter than that.

    We should use every tool at our disposal to work intelligently.  That’s progress.

  15. vincecate 4:34 am

    Vince:   "But without some  forcing function I would not expect progress towards seasteads, or movement of Ephemerisle toward bigger waves in following years."

    Patri: "Vince – My plan for the forcing function is an actual forcing function – locating the event in more and more difficult places each year."

    Patri: "Your comments seem to make the strange assumption that we have no power to locate Ephemerisle in tougher conditions next year."

    Nothing you did demonstrated any ability to handle waves?  Nothing to advance the seasteading "state of the art"?  No interesting experimental results relating to seasteads?

    I understand that you have now decided that you can not locate Ephemerisle in tougher conditions next year?

    So is the forcing function broken or non-existant?

    I predict that if the second year also focuses on art, instead of seastead engineering, that you still won’t be ready to move toward bigger waves even for the 3rd year.

      — Vince

     PS  Yes, it looked like lots of fun and there was some cool art.

  16. Patri 9:27 pm

    Vince writes:


    Vince: “But without some forcing function I would not expect progress towards seasteads, or movement of Ephemerisle toward bigger waves in following years.”

    Patri: “Vince – My plan for the forcing function is an actual forcing function – locating the event in more and more difficult places each year.”

    Patri: “Your comments seem to make the strange assumption that we have no power to locate Ephemerisle in tougher conditions next year.”

    Nothing you did demonstrated any ability to handle waves? Nothing to advance the seasteading “state of the art”? No interesting experimental results relating to seasteads?

    I understand that you have now decided that you can not locate Ephemerisle in tougher conditions next year?

    So is the forcing function broken or non-existant?

    This entire line of analysis assumes that “tougher conditions” and “waves” are identical, that the only tougher conditions are waves. Our site had no waves, but it did have wind and currents, and we did not succeed in dealing w/ the wind and currents to create a stable anchorage. Hence, this year consisted of a test of our ability to deal with this year’s conditions, which we failed. Hence we will repeat. When we succeed, as I expect we will, we will then move to tougher conditions, just as I said.

    It seems rather strange to use this year’s experience as evidence that we are not trying to “force” to tougher conditions, given that we attempted to do something tougher (anchoring in the middle of the channel) than we accomplished (anchoring to shore)!

    We did not attempt to demonstrate any ability to handle waves. We haven’t gotten there yet.

  17. vincecate 2:49 pm

    Your comments seem to make the strange assumption that we have no power to locate Ephemerisle in tougher conditions next year. It isn’t going to be "people playing on the water with a TSI subsidy at the same location year after year.", because we have no interest in subsidizing events that don’t make progress. I can imagine us trying to repeat Ephemerisle in the same location as a fundraiser and community builder, but I can’t imagine us repeating a subsidized version.

    [...]

    If it’s a disaster, then we can halt the advancement.

    Turns out it was not such a strange assumption after all.  Not only was there no advancement you could not even locate in the same location.  Perhaps the combination of  experimenting on the water, beer, and insurance just do not mix. 

    If you want to get some new engineering done prizes seem to work better than parties. 

     

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