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Anke and I live aboard WAYWARD, and wrote about it's design and construction at

Access to the net comes and goes, so I'll be writing in fits and spurts.Please feel free to browse the archives, leave comments where you will and write... I'll respond as I can.

Fair winds!

Dave and Anke
triloboats swirly gmail daughter com

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The SWiss Army Boat

All the tools, all the time!

The SWiss Army Boat

The way I look at it, sea-steading is staking a way of life to the sea. It doesn't have to mean at sea, or even on-board a boat. But the sea is part and parcel of the homestead's environment, resources and possibilities.

Anke and I choose to live aboard, loving the mobility and access to a thousand corners of our vast archipelago. The shoresides and intertidal zones, in our approach, are every bit as important as the sea itself. For our tastes, one without the other would be a sore diminishment.

But we've nowhere near arrived at our goals.

Here's the kind of fantasy we are working toward:

We pull into this year's autumn camp, one of a hundred options, in time for the late summer run of salmon. It's a place we know and love, having returned many times over the years. The full moon is rising, chasing the sunset, as we drop anchor in the protected cove - proof against equinoctial gale and storm. In a few minutes we're rowing  ashore, eager to check on the garden.

We listen, on our way, to the plash! of salmon pooled and leaping off the flats of a small river. They're females, it's believed, slapping down on their sides to loosen their eggs. A faint echo returns off the steep mountain face bordering one side of the meadows, mingling with the sounds of a freshet cascade.

Spawning salmon will soon fill the river. Dying, their bodies nourish a complex chain of energies. But we're evolutionary newcomers, here... for us the water is tainted. We chose this place in part for the waterfall, close at hand. Too steep for salmon, it supplies us with fresh water for drink and the work ahead.

Our guerrilla garden is thriving, though you couldn't tell, to look at it. In fact, if you can spot it at all, you've got an educated eye. It's diffuse, spread out over the alluvial fan and into the fringes of the woods. Most of the plants are indigenous to SE, though we've concentrated and encouraged them, here. Others, here and there are select, hardy exotics, known to fare well in this clime. They need occasional help to keep going in the long run, but can fend for themselves for years. Potatoes, rhubarb, kale. We've had some loss to deer and bear, but there's plenty to go around, and nothing special to attract them.
At next morning's high, we slide the boat ashore, neaping her for Swiss army maneuvers; from the hold, we unfold an array of contraptions. Some have been flattened for storage, their hinges and pins letting them collapse from three to two dimensions.  Assembled, the following tools are at our disposal:
  • Big Tarp - This gets pitched over the small clearing near the cascade, and among convenient trees. It will let us work in all weather without having to 'gear up' in PVC bibs and jackets.

  • Big Table - Cobbled together from the boat's sliding seat/workbench, table, and hatches (now open under biminies) and fixed along lashed up supports from on-site spruce spars. It'll serve to process fish or game, or as a workbench for this or that project (carpentry, say, or metalwork).

  • Food-Dryer - This is the biggest item, and took the most ingenuity. Unfolded, it's 2' x 4' x 4', with a single, pitched roof. Inside are up to 32 shelves of stainless steel, perforated sheet metal. These make easy to clean, non-degrading drying racks. 

    The whole affair is reversible; with the clean side in, it dries fruits, vegetables, seaweeds and seeds en masse. Smoky side in, it's a smoker for salmon and maybe venison.

    A collapsible, wood-burning campstove provides heat to both in the cool, often damp autumn weather, and smoke for the smoker. Plus it handles our small cooking needs while in camp. Coffee! Or maybe by now we're addicted to roasted dandelion root?

  • Firepit and Oven - This is our chance to do some real baking... stone and clay or mud form the body. Some years it's more involved, some less. This year, it's a simple cavern; we make a fire in the oven, heat it up, scoop out the fire and bake. The firepit will produce a steady stream of coals for pressure canning at consistent heat.

  • Laundry Station - At a wide distance from the creek. Our huge stock-pot, wringer and drying lines let us do the bedding - a big job that's hard to tackle when on the move.

  • Greenhouse? - A small greenhouse helps get some fall starts going, babysits a batch or two of wine, keeps us in sprouts in the cooling weather.

By afternoon, we're all set up. We spend the afternoon cutting wood for the coming days. 

By the end of a couple of pleasant weeks, we'll have topped off our stores for the approaching winter, with dried or canned fish and venison, and dried berries, mushrooms, greens and tubers half- and wholly wild. The garden's been expanded, perhaps, and fertilized with kelp and mulch; ready for another spell on its own. Several pending projects on the boat have been seen to.

We break camp, cleaning and collapsing down to its shadow phase. Like the blades of a Swiss Army knife, we fold them back into the holds. The oven is broken up and dispersed along with most signs of our presence here. When spring tides run high, we float again and sail on under the new moon.

None of this fantasy runs too much different than what we're already doing, but the scale would be ever so much more efficient. And efficiency means that more and more of our needs are met locally, from sea and shore.

As it is, we throw money at legumes and grains, oils, cheese and peanut butter. We've a small, on-board dryer for wild forage, light fishing gear and pickling jar. One carboy and a few bags for young wine. Relative to our sea-steading hopes, we're living hand-to-mouth, supplemented by Costco.

But we dream...


  1. Huge positive feedback to the "paleo" or "primal" eating plan these days: no refined sugars, no grains, no beans. Massive meat and veggies. Carbos are almost eliminated for overall goal of insulin stabilization and primary fat burning for fuel. Tentative results for my wife and I bear this out: increased energy, low body fat, much better nights sleep. The tlingits and haida must have been quite "cut" and essentially had a "primal" diet. Carbos in Alaska may actually be of minimal need and dovetail nicely with natural food sources. Except berry season!! And.... berry WINE time. Wonder if the natives had wine here? If it came down to a apocalyptic situation nice to envision sustenance via this well crafted scenario you posit here. Thanks for the vision.

    1. Interesting... I've been hearing about this plan, but haven't had a chance to look into it. It would sure be a boon for our area... those starchy carbs being hard to come by.

      The few glances I've taken haven't explained a big question for me... in this diet, what is the source of blood sugar? Is there a path between fats and sugars? Or is there sufficient sugar metabolized from vegetable sources?

      If you have references, it would be great if you posted them as a comment!

      The other question is, after so many generations on the 'agro diet', can we still handle a high fat diet?

      In "The New Age of Sail" (available on-line), Dmitry Orlov suggests the Vegan diet as the only viable alternative following hyper pollution in a world following the last throes of 'cheap energy' economies.

      Pollutants concentrate upward in the food chain, and AK fish and sea mammals are already registering levels from ranging from alarming to critical. That info is political, and therefore subject to spin.

      We'll see, we'll see!

    2. Quite a bit of material from the bodybuilder/athlete crowd, who tends to refer to the meat, leaves, and berries diet. Some of the raw foods people get into this also, especially the raw meat folks. The raw meat folks make the point that it's important to eat much more of the animal than just the muscles, in order to get plenty of vitamins and minerals. I think this is true regardless of cooking or not, and the survival folks say the same thing. Like, skin the mouse, perhaps take out intestines, and otherwise stew the whole thing, so that the broth includes much more of the available nutrients. High on the ick factor, but eyes are incredibly nutritious, for example. Fish head soup from Asia comes to mind... To avoid the colossal toxic overload, eat really low on the food chain -- the fish that most people use as bait, for example.

      As for sugars, there's a surprising amount in meat, as well as simple carbohydrates in both leaves and berries. It's the complex carbohydrates that mostly go away when you ditch grains. Nuts, if you can get them, also have a good bit of carbohydrate, but I wonder how many grow in AK.

      Dietary issues have kept me away from cooked grains and legumes for extended periods of time, with some forays into various sprouts. I find that I eat a tremendous amount of nuts and coconut to compensate, even though also nowadays eating a small amount of soaked but not cooked oatmeal regularly. But an alternative would be to eat more meat and fewer nuts. Presently gaining weight (which was a goal) but fewer nuts and coconut would/will level this off. I point this out just to say that not eating complex carbohydrates does not have to mean losing weight.

      Not that it necessarily sounds like fun, but another major source of low on the food chain protein and fat is insects and other crawly things -- considered delicacies in some cultures, and clearly quite nourishing to bears. High in B12, among other things, but then so is all that other meat. Okay, so yes, I've made a couple of forays into bugs as food...

      Oh I'll stop now! But the point is that there really are quite a lot of people being quite successful with pre-agriculture diets. The bodybuilders are relying on supermarkets and freezers for this, but it seems adaptable to fresh caught and drying and smoking... clearly, because we all got here somehow!


    3. Hi Shemaya,

      Alas, low on nuts - especially COCOnuts 8) - in our neck o' the woods. But we've considered ranging further down the Cascadian Coast toward Desolation Sound, where I hear filberts and possibly walnuts from old homesteads can be found.

      Good points all. Eating the whole mouse was a pivotal point in NEVER CRY WOLF by Farley Mowat.

      It's interesting to see the order that animals target a kill. Eyes go first. Bears often lick out the liver of salmon and leave the rest. And the grubs, too... we don't seem to have many of the fat bugs (grasshopper and larger ants, say) that I've seen targeted. Sand fleas (a small shrimp) are easy to catch in abundance and fry up like popcorn (taste test approved... haven't tried subsistence amounts).

      Yes, subsistence is not just a matter of widening tastes, but the mind as well!

      One cautionary tale re wandering off standard (wild) cuisine is seen in Cristopher McCandless' story (INTO THE WILD by John Krakauer)... many suspect that he confused two wild look-alikes, one of which was toxic (inhibits the ability to absorb nutrients from food). Whatever his case, I've known people to mix up even well documented foods. So approach new foods with research, caution and focus!

    4. Whoops, got distracted...

      Animals appear to target eyes, organ meats, sometimes entrails (possibly depending on what the prey had been eating and stage of digestion?) and THEN the meat, marrow and connective tissues last.

      In lean years, bones are all that's left in very short order.

  2. As I heft a huge, greasy leg of venison and swill some berry wine.... well... not really. Tons of excellent feedback from common folk at marks daily apple website. Downloadable books and info there, some free. Apparently works wonders for most folks. Timeline wise humans have been eating most of genetic history this way and MDApple posits these ancient patterns reassert themselves after a week or so of diet change. Goes on to posit wild insulin swings, and horrible health attributes, have worsened the more sugars have been refined. Orlov is probably about right but until the big radiation kicks in I'll keep on with my meat. New Age of Sail is a delight to read BTW. Fellow almost square boater sharpie kinda dude.

  3. Thanks for passing this on ( Lots of... AHEM... FOOD for thought. Sometimes I just slay myself -- 8)

  4. Tried for a reply after "in lean years..." but maybe the webpage thinks I've met my quota... here's where it started:

    Yeah, it's all about how much there is to choose from, what you leave on your plate! Interesting about the bears and the livers -- African predators are the same way. Zookeepers finally got a clue, after watching the wild lions go straight for the livers of the animals they caught, and started feeding the zoo lions organ meats instead of just muscle, and they finally started having successful litters of cubs. (Although unfortunate for the lions stuck in zoos...)

    And it's so true about the coconut -- not exactly getting that out of of the backyard in Massachusetts either. If food transport goes to bits, it's gonna be squirrels, grubs and earthworms :-) so far I've only tested intentionally eating aphids and cabbage worms... since we know those are getting eaten all the time inadvertently, with no apparent damage, and it's so easy to just scrunch them up in greens. And black flies in the spring, which fly right into your mouth anyway. Funny thing is, for something so tiny, New England blackflies (really gnats) are distinctly sweet! But like you said about the sand fleas, never have tried enough to actually make a significant portion of a day's food. Still easing into the concept.

    I so agree about caution in eating wild things. Forgot to say about eating whole animals, the raw meat people do talk about making sure to not eat the gallbladder -- that small green sack that housecats leave on the porch so delicately, after finishing the rest of the mouse.

    And thanks for the note about the sprout seeds, in the comments of that other post. It's encouraging to think that a better source is likely to last longer. On the growing front, do potatoes overwinter on their own in a guerrilla garden? What a treat that would be!

    -- Shemaya

  5. Hi Shemaya,

    I read a comment somewhere, that traps account for 99% of 'hunted' biomass, principally small rodents. Snares hunt 24/7, with very little energy output.

    Amusing story from a Tlingit friend, re : When kids, the went out commercial fishing with Grandpa. When they got hungry, he'd send them to an open box on deck for some 'stinkhead' (fermented, raw salmon heads). Kids HATED it, but it was a delicacy to the older generation.

    One more food source from out of the bubble: Washington State has at least one banana slug festival. These are huge molluscs, from the same group as snails, clams and oysters. Apparently, they have recipe contests. The same slugs are prevalent, here, though an invasive Japanese black slug is competing for their niche. Maybe they've got some recipes, too?

    Potatoes do overwinter. Some gardeners leave them in the ground for storage, either as they grew, or gathered and reburied (sometimes with carrots and jerusalem artichokes). But if they go unfertilized and without some clearing around them, you might get only spudlets.

    I should say that most of my gardening feedback is hearsay. We haven't gotten to guerrilla gardening, ourselves, though we've stumbled upon remnants of old homestead gardens. Hand trollers used to plant GGs around the archipelago, and when they were in the area, pulled in for some fresh produce. We often pitch in with gardening friends, and are slowly absorbing bits and pieces.

    For better, SE AK info, check out my Brother Mark's Blog (right hand sidebar). He and his wife, Michelle are the gardeners in the family.

    1. Hey, I had wondered if people eat banana slugs! I used to see them a lot when I used to live on the coast in California, and again when visiting on Vancouver Island. Fascinating, the various directions that all this information comes from... recipes do sound like an improvement over the idea of chowing on a plain raw banana slug :-)
      -- Shemaya

  6. If I had this info 30 years ago...