There are few frontiers left in the world these days, but the vast oceans are enticing when you want to get away from it all. Some would like to get away from it all forever. These are the proponents of “seasteading,” or living on the ocean, close to nature and away from laws, taxes, and mortgages.
The first attempts at open-ocean habitation were obvious larks. In 1964, Ernest Hemingway’s brother, Leicester, declared that a bamboo raft, little bigger than an oversized parking space, was a sovereign nation, New Atlantis. One record shows that the “country,” which floated off the coast of Jamaica, had six founding citizens: Hemingway’s family plus a public relations specialist and his assistant. When the raft sank in a storm a few years later, no one seemed to be on board. In 1967, an engineer built a platform the size of a basketball court off the coast of Italy, added a restaurant and souvenir shack, and called it the Republic of Rose Island. The Italian government deemed it a tourist trap designed to evade the local tax laws and destroyed the structure the next year. (This story was the inspiration for Rose Island, a recent Netflix comedy.)
A retired British army major named Roy Bates proved more successful. In late 1966, he climbed aboard an old antiaircraft platform 11 kilometers off the coast of England, declaring it the Principality of Sealand and his family its royalty. Despite efforts by the British government to reclaim its property—and a few attempted coups by rivals—the Bates family still claims the platform, which supports a 10-room compound. As of 2019, its sole occupant was a full-time hired guard. Bates’s son, Michael, now the reigning monarch, lives in the more convenient country of England, where he runs a fishing fleet.
There are recurring problems in building an ocean utopia: international laws mean that a truly free community will have to be fairly far away from land, building a platform to live on is very expensive, and getting supplies will be difficult. Chad Elwartowski has been chasing the dream of living on the ocean with a community of like-minded individuals for years, which has involved spinning off corporations, becoming a fugitive from Thailand, and settling in Panama for now. Read his story, and more on the seasteading movement, at Hakai magazine. -via Damn Interesting
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