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Sailing Away From The Apocalypse

 

Part One: The Pros And Cons Of Spending The Rest Of Your Life At Sea

Part Two: Your Choice Of Vessel

Part Three: Kitting Out Your Vessel

 

Part One: The Pros And Cons Of Spending The Rest Of Your Life At Sea

 

Whether it's atomic devastation, killer viruses, terrorists, rogue governments, wayward comets or just a good old-fashioned zombies uprising, the chances are if you are reading this you've wondered what you would do the day the apocalypse comes and we are all left fighting for our lives. When it happens (and can you really be sure it won't?), it's those who have a well-thought out plan, honed through many late-night, and often alcohol-fuelled, discussions, who will have the best chance of surviving. 

Some may choose to hole up in the nearest shopping mall (did you learn nothing from Dawn of The Dead?), secret military bunker (been reading Day By Day Armageddon have you?) or football stadium (as pointed out in Dying To Live, this its actually a rather good idea), while others are just planning on running for the hills (hardly original folks!). Yet, for me, there has always been an obvious option few people ever seem to consider. This is to do what so many young men have done for centuries when things get a bit too hot at home, and run away to sea. In particular, a sailing boat has always been my preferred escape vehicle. Engine runs out of fuel? Just unfurl the sails and carry on. Roads jammed with cars? Not a problem, you just cruise on by. Running low on canned food? Nothing to worry about, there are, quite literally, plenty more fish in the sea.

This was the position I started from when I began writing For Those In Peril On The Sea (the first book in the For Those In Peril series). It was going to be a jolly romp about how easy life would be, riding out the apocalypse on a yacht in a tropical paradise, laughing at all those who'd not been so clever with their planning for the apocalypse. Yet as I wrote and re-wrote each draft, it gradually became apparent that I hadn't actually thought this idea through properly. That, or course, is the problem with basing your bugging out strategy on drunken discussions - what seems logical in the alcohol-fogged darkness of the night doesn't hold up in the bright, and sober, light of day. By the end of the writing process, I'd realised that it wouldn't the easy life I'd originally thought it would be. While I still think that life on a sailing boat would give you as good a chance as any to survive the apocalypse (whatever its cause), there are a number of pros and cons you need to consider before relying on it as your main escape plan. I provide them here in the hope that they will help you decide whether a life at sea should be an important component of your own post-apocalyptic survival strategy. 

First the pros. Here's the big one. Unlike cars, trucks, buses, motorbikes, planes, helicopters, segways, Sinclair C5s and almost every other modern mode of transport, sailboats don't need fuel to move around. Instead you can harness the power of the wind. If the wind stops, you can just drop anchor and wait for it to pick up again. There are other ways to travel that don't need fuel, such as walking, or horseback (nicely used in the first episode of The Walking Dead), but both you and a horse will still need food and rest. As long as there's wind, a sailboat will carry on. I think the record is something like one and a half times around the world non-stop.

Next on the list, modern, ocean-going sailboats are specifically designed to be self-sufficient during long cruises. This means that are pre-adapted for surviving for long periods away from shore, and whatever troubles might be there. Most will have large fuel tanks to run the engine and the diesel generator when needed. Many also have solar panels and small wind turbines to charge the banks of batteries that are used to run the electrical equipment and lighting. Similarly, there are reverse-osmosis machines that can turn seawater into freshwater for drinking and cooking, meaning you don't have to worry about running out. 

After this, there is the fact that you can carry a reasonable number of people onboard (often comfortably between four and eight, maybe ten at a push), certainly more than a car, and if you are careful about who you pick to join you on your escape from the apocalypse (make sure that they have useful and complimentary skills - one mechanic, one doctor, etc), you can create a nice little self-sufficient community. 

Finally, boats often have a surprising amount of space. This means that you can carry plenty of tinned, food, ammunition, guns, or whatever else you might need. If you are forced to run, you don't have to worry about packing it all into a truck before the zombies break into your camp, you just pull up your anchor and leave.

So with all these advantages, why wouldn't everyone choose to escape on a sailboat? Well, this is where the cons come in. Firstly, and this is a big one, you need to know how to sail. Properly sail that is, not just take a dingy round a lake once a year on your summer holidays. If you don't, you're unlikely to survive long enough to learn. And it won't necessarily be the after effects of apocalypse that will kill you, it may well be the sea itself. The same goes for navigation. There's no road signs at sea, and you need to know where you're going to avoid running aground. For this, you need to know more than how to turn a GPS receiver on, you will need to be able to use a sextant and navigate by the stars. After all, when the end of the world comes, it's unlikely that the satellites of the global positioning system will remain in space for long. 

You also need to be very careful about who you choose to take with you. Once they are onboard, you will find it very difficult to get rid of them and it's not like there will be enough room for you to avoid them (in For Those In Peril On The Sea, being stuck on a yacht with people you don't like when the apocalypse descends on you plays a pivotal role in the plot).  On land, you can always strike out on your own and leave others behind. At sea, you don't really have this choice (unless you're willing to maroon unwanted people on an island or cast them adrift in a life raft).

Similarly, life at sea is not easy. It's physically demanding and dangerous. If something happens to your boat, you can't just get out and try to find another one. Instead you are well and truly screwed. This makes boats a poor prospect in the longer term where damage and decay will start to become a factor. There's also the problem of staying healthy. While you can get enough food out the sea to survive, you can't get all the right nutrients and without them you will risk scurvy and other horrific diseases that result from mal-nourishment. Also, while you can move around without any fuel, your movements will be very much determined by the local winds and currents. If they are not going in the right direction, you may find you cannot go exactly where you want to. 

Finally, and this point cannot be stressed too strongly, escaping by boat is only a viable strategy if you are near the sea when the apocalypse happens. There's no point in having a life at sea as your bug out plan if you have to travel through hundreds of miles of land infested with zombies, or radio active mutants, or radio-active mutant zombies, or ... well, you get the picture, to get to the nearest ocean! It's also going to be a slow get away. There will be no out-running bombs, or meteors, raining down on the nearest city if you're too close when they start falling. This may limit the usefulness of sailboats as a get away vehicle.

In summary, if you live close to the sea, if know how to sail and navigate (or are willing to start learning fast now), have access to a good boat, if can bring together the people you want to spend the rest of your live with at a moments notice, and if can solve the problem of scurvy and other diseases of mal-nutrition, a sailboat may help to survive in a post-apocalyptic world, at least in short to medium term. If not, you'd better start thinking about alternatives, and you'd better start now.

 

Part Two: Your Choice Of Vessel

 

So you've decided that riding out the coming apocalypse at sea is a strategy that will work for you (see above for a discussion of the pros and cons of this option). Now all you need to do is select an appropriate vessel, and then make sure that it is close at hand when the apocalypse strikes. I know what you're thinking, a sailboat is a sailboat isn't it? Can't I just take the first one I find? If this is what you're thinking, you might want to choose another escape plan as it sounds like you don't know enough about sailing to make it a viable option and it's likely you'll sink and drown long before you start wondering which of your crew members it would be okay to eat simply to break the monotony of all the fish you've been living on. If, instead, you're thinking, 'Which would be better, that gaff-rigged ketch I've always had my eye on at the local marina, or that new yawl my next door neighbour just bought and keeps tied to the dock at the end of his garden?' then maybe you've settled on the right way to survive.

There are three main issues you need to think about when selecting your vessel. These are its size, its type and its age. In terms of size, I wouldn't recommend anything less than about thirty foot in length, they're just too small to live on for any extended period of time, especially if you have to cram it full of food and supplies. I also wouldn't recommend anything much over fifty feet. This is because such large boats will be difficult to handle on your own, and its important that you can still operate the boat single-handed, just in case something (disease, mutiny, they all get turned into zombies, that sort of thing) happens to everyone else onboard and it turns out you're the only one left. Also, larger vessels are likely to have a deeper draft, restricting where you can go. This means that as tempting and impressive as that tall ship tied up at the docks might seem, unless you have a well-trained crew of thirty or forty people and are only planning on sailing through deep waters rather than coming close to shore, it's not really a viable option.

In terms of type, well this is really up to personal choice. However, I would tend to go for a multi-masted vessel, such as a ketch, a schooner or a yawl, over a single-masted one since you have more options in terms of sails, and if something happens to one mast, you have the other one to keep you moving. The only exception I would make for this would be for a catamaran. Their faster speed, the extra space they provide as well as their relatively shallow draft more than makes up for the fact most of them only have one mast. In fact, a catamaran would almost certainly be my vessel of choice for these very reasons, and this is why I selected a catamaran for the main vessel in For Those In Peril On The Sea. However, catamarans are not necessarily common, and you may not have this option. In this case, I would recommend a nice ketch as something that's easy to sail as well as being flexible and roomy.

Finally, there is the issue of age. You would have thought that the newer the better would be the rule here, but it's not as clear cut as that. Sure new vessels will be in better condition and will probably have newer equipment onboard, but often they are not nearly as strong. In particular, modern technology allows boat-builders to work out what the absolute minimum thickness the fibre-glass needs to be for a yacht to be sea-worthy, making them more vulnerable to the occasional heavy knock. In contrast, in the old days, boat-builders tended to take a belt and braces approach, making the hulls much thicker and stronger than the minimum needed. This can make some of them as close to indestructible as it is possible for a sailboat to be, and so a better choice for surviving the apocalypse in. For this reason, it might be worth considering a twenty year old ketch that looks like an old tub over the brand spanking new yacht next to it.

What ever vessel you select, choosing it is only half the plan. You also need to kit it out properly. That will be covered in the next section.

 

Part Three: Kitting Out Your Vessel

 

Once you have selected your vessel, you need to think about what you would need to have on it. For this most part, this will be the same as for any long-distance voyage. This means you will need the usual collection of water makers, extra fuel tanks, a nice supply of canned food, a wind generator, solar panels, spare sails, spare parts and tools for your engine and so on. 

You will also electrical equipment such as a radar, a depth sounder and a GPS receiver, to help you navigate and move around. However, you will also need charts, a sextant and a plumb line (and know how to use them) for when your electrical equipment finally gives out. For communication, you'll need a shortwave radio, a VHF radio, and an AM/FM receiver. These will help you keep in touch with any other groups of survivors as well as any communications from what's left of the government or security forces. 

In terms of safety equipment, you'll need harnesses and running lines (to stop you falling over the side when its rough), a flare gun and flares, a high-powered spotlight and a well-stocked first aid kit (including pain killers, antibiotics and the tools for minor surgical procedures such as amputating a limb or two - hopefully not your own, but it's possible if you have to). A life raft is probably optional, after all if the worst happens and you end up in it, you are probably pretty much done for and your death is likely to be long and drawn out over many weeks, rather than being over in a matter of minutes if you go down with your boat.

You will find a small fast runabout invaluable for going out on foraging and scavenging trips as it will let you get to places you simply cannot get to on a sailboat. You can also cover larger areas much more quickly. This runabout can either be a small rib that would otherwise serve as the tender for your sailboat or a larger dedicated runabout that you have picked up from somewhere. However, remember runabouts will use a lot of fuel very quickly and you will need to be careful when you use them or you will soon run out.

Finally, we get to the subject of weapons. This is a tricky one. Most people would recommend carrying a veritable arsenal of guns and ammunition. However, unless you actually know how to use them, I say keep clear of them. In the close confines of a boat, you will find they are probably more dangerous to you and your fellow survivors than they are to anyone (or anything) that is attacking you. Similarly, while crossbows have a certain attraction (mostly because the ammunition is reusable), if you don't know what you're doing, you're likely to accidentally pin your foot to the deck with a bolt as you try to reload it, leaving you as the zombie equivalent of candy floss (a soft, gooey treat wrapped around its own little stick!). As such, they are best avoided by the novice. Instead, I would concentrate on ensuring that you have the types of weapons you can use to stop people, or zombies, or plague survivors, or whatever might be out there, getting onboard. This might include machetes, clubs, baseball bats, swords and so on. This will ensure that you can fight off any attacks when people get too close. If they are any further away, your best bet is to try to out-manoeuvre them rather than take them on.

So that's my advice for sailing away from the apocalypse. I hope you find it useful, and Bon Voyage! Oh and if, in the event of the apocalypse, it turns out this advice is of no use, I can only apologise, but you can at least die safe in the knowledge that I'm likely to have followed it myself and so to have met a similarly gruesome end!

 

 
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Last modified: 04/30/14