The purpose of this project is to design and mass-produce kits for a floating tiny house that can sail. It combines high-tech modeling and fabrication and low-tech assembly that can be carried out DIY-style on a riverbank or a beach. This boat is a 3-bedroom with a kitchen, a sauna and a dining room. The deck is big enough to throw dance parties. It can be used as a river boat, a canal boat or even a beach house. Oh, and it's rugged and stable enough to take out on the ocean. Kits will start at around $50k (USD). The design has been tested in simulation and prototype; full-scale production will begin next year.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

World's Largest Playground

Lake Baikal
Quite a number of people in the world have taken up a nomadic lifestyle by living aboard boats. Instead of cooperatively running in the rat race, they have escaped and now work some vague and sketchy internet-based job while sailing around the islands of the Caribbean or around the Mediterranean, with the Greek islands a particular favorite. Other favorite cruising grounds, for those who don’t much care for the open ocean, include the canals of England or Canal du Midi in France. The Inside Passage which runs up the coast of British Columbia from Washington state to Alaska is another favored playground. The Intracoastal Waterway that runs along the Eastern Seaboard (and is lovingly called “the ditch”) is said to start in Boston, Massachusetts, but can really only be said to exist between Norfolk, Virginia and Brownsville, Texas, on the Mexican border. The more adventurous go through Panama Canal and go island-hopping among Pacific atolls. There are many others. But there is one truly gigantic cruising ground that is charted, dredged, has plenty to see and plenty to do, but remains almost entirely unexplored.

The boats used depend on the application: the seaworthier sailboats—keelboats and catamarans—for the ocean, while motor boats are restricted to the coasts, the canals and the rivers. There are exceptions: plenty of keelboats try to get through the Intracoastal and often end up running aground, and every autumn a steady stream of sailboats and catamarans arrives from Canada via the Erie Canal and Hudson River with their masts down (to make it under the bridges) and their decks a mad tangle of rigging.

There is a lot to like about cruising: the relaxed, unhurried lifestyle (you move at your own pace with no schedules to hurry you along); there is the chance to explore new places that are not easily accessible except by water and therefore not likely to be overrun with tourists; the intimate contact with nature and the chance to observe it daily at close range.

One of the biggest problems with cruising is that it’s boring: virtually all of the cruising grounds have been mapped out, with detailed cruising guides telling you where to go and what to look at. Essentially, when you go cruising, you are signing up to do something that’s already been done.

Another problem with cruising is rich people. Now, there is nothing wrong with being rich, and a good quote to remember is Deng Xiaoping’s 致富光荣 (zhìfù guāngróng): “To get rich is glorious!” The problem is with people who try to act rich around you while you are trying to ignore all of that competitive nonsense and just have a good time. To quote me: “To act rich is in bad taste.”

An associated problem is that cruising tends to be expensive: the industrial sector that supplies the boats is competitive, and it competes on the basis of ostentation—in sportiness and luxury—while catering primarily to those who want to act rich. And what sits at the intersection of sportiness and luxury is a financial black hole: the boats that result from this process are maintenance nightmares, and the most common topic of discussion among cruisers is getting their broken stuff fixed, wherever they happen to end up.

And the offshoot of all this is that most cruisers happen to be over the hill. The vast majority of those I’ve seen are baby boomers squandering their children’s inheritance on expensive toys, marina transient fees (which cost as much as hotel room stays) and lots of trips to local restaurants. Most of them are reasonably friendly and personable, but what they mostly talk about is insipid: the quality of the food and the service, the weather and, of course, what broke and how they fixed it or are planning to. If this doesn’t sound too adventurous or exciting to you, then perhaps you are right.

And then it occurred to me that there is a cruising destination that hasn’t been explored at all: Russia. Russia has the largest network of navigable waterways in the world: over 100,000 km long. The European part of it is 6,500 km long, all of it dredged to 4 m (13 feet). A system of canals connect it into a single network of waterways that reaches from the Baltic to the Ural mountains and from the Arctic Ocean to the Black Sea. The following map shows all of the navigable waterways in light blue.

Click to enlarge

Of particular interest is the area just inland from St. Petersburg, which is on the Baltic Sea. River Neva, which is short and wide, connects it to Ladoga Lake, which is the largest lake in Europe. It has islands, fjords and plenty of good sailing. From there is the somewhat smaller Onega Lake, and rivers and canals then run on to Moscow and a ring of cities around it, which are some of the most spectacular travel destinations in Russia, featuring medieval fortresses and monasteries, most of them accessible from the water. South from there, the mighty Volga River takes you through most of the rest of Russia’s historical heartland. Then, via the Volga-Don Canal, you can cross over to River Don, which takes you to the Black Sea.

There are a few logistical problems with going on such a cruising adventure. One is that no foreign-flagged vessels are allowed on Russia’s inland waterways. Another is that a local skipper, who speaks fluent Russian and knows the local regulations, is an absolute requirement. Also, any small craft that goes on this adventure has to be maximally self-sufficient: there are few to no marinas offering yacht repair services to be found. Lastly, the cruising season runs from May through October. It can be stretched by a few weeks each way further south, but nobody in their right mind would brave River Neva before the end of April, when Onega Lake has dumped its load of winter ice into the Baltic. But none of these problems is insoluble.

Specifically, it has occurred to me that Quidnon, by its design, makes it a splendid choice as a platform for such an adventure. It is simple, rugged, quickly and cheaply constructed from commonly available materials and parts, is safe in both deep and shallow water, and can be set up for comfortable living in a harsh climate. I will explain the details of this in the next post. Meanwhile, please enjoy the scenery!

Caspian Sea
Volga Delta
Yenisei River
Ladoga Lake