There are a growing number of preppers, survivalists, off the grid and homesteading families in America. While the ranks of those concerned with possible man-made or natural disasters or focused on living a more sustainable lifestyle are swelling, nautical preppers still remain a rarity. Off The Grid News recently sat down with Captain William Simpson to discuss his unique choice of abode and the intriguing path that led up to the purchase of the Iron Maiden.
National Geographic’s Doomsday Preppers has featured a multitude of survival-minded individuals, but only one is ready to ride out disaster on a boat. Before Simpson became the captain of the Iron Maiden and wrote The Nautical Prepper, he was a successful entrepreneur.
Captain Bill began developing his skills first as a youngster in the Boy Scouts and then later as a teen who took advantage of the eight different types of industrial arts classes his Los Angeles school offered. While hiking the Sierra Mountains as a young man, Simpson had no idea that his life experiences would one day be highlighted on a hit television show.
At the tender age of eight, Captain Bill’s father started teaching him hand-to-hand combat tactics and how to safely handle weapons. He also began studying Jujitsu with a local martial arts expert. While such training during boyhood might seem a bit extreme to some, Simpson grew up during the Cold War Era. Living under the looming threat of attack prompted bomb drills in schools around the country.
Captain Bill helped his family work a 100-acre farm after a move to the Applegate Valley region of Oregon during his teen years. It was here he garnered ranching and timber logging skills. Before Simpson graduated high school, he was more technically trained than many adults are today.
It was the summer of 1970 when Bill first spent some extended time on the water. He utilized his survival skills and some extremely basic tools to exist along the wilderness area on the Rogue River for several weeks. He built his own shelter and hunted, fished, and scavenged for plants and berries to put food in his belly.
When enrolling at Oregon State University, he majored in science and had plans to become a surgeon. While at OSU, Captain Bill was on the varsity Judo team. During summer breaks he worked in the commercial salmon fishing industry. He rebuilt two boats to use in his journeys along the Oregon coast searching for salmon.
During his OSU years, he met his best friend, Laura – who ultimately became his wife. After college he invented the Electro-Catch device. Commercial fishing boats used the device to increase catch rates. Captain Bill later got a private pilot’s license and a federal firearms license and dealt in various types of handguns and rifles. In his spare time, he taught martial arts classes and competed in local tournaments himself.
Simpson had the opportunity to travel to Brazil and work in the gemstone mining industry. He eventually started an off-shoot business that involved going into the mountain regions to buy gemstones and exporting them back to the United States. The additional flight hours and training which evolved from this endeavor led the Oregon native to obtain a commercial pilot’s license. Several years later, Simpson returned to his fishing roots and opened up a business in Hawaii. He also took classes at the Pacific Maritime Academy and earned a USCG captain’s license. Realizing the emerging tourist charter opportunities in Hawaii, he went back to school once again and earned an Associate of Science degree in Flight Technology. Degree in hand, Simpson opened a charter aviation business on the islands.
He also opened a jewelry store in Maui and began traveling back and forth to Thailand to acquire gemstones. Simpson ultimately supplied major retail stores with gemstones and served as an acquisitions agent for the Lyman Museum.
OTG – Living off the grid on a boat cannot be an easy task. What prompted you to embark on such a journey?
Capt. Bill – Actually it’s easier than it sounds. I guess looking back we took small incremental steps. After earning my way through part of college as a commercial fisherman off the Oregon coast, my wife and I started out as recreational boaters back in the mid-70s, cruising around the San Juan Islands during summer vacations using a 28-foot powerboat. Then I found myself working as a field gemologist and flying around the mountains in northern Brazil and loving it. I guess I was becoming somewhat of an adventure lover.
A few years later we found ourselves living in Hawaii and in the charter sailing, fishing, and diving biz in Hawaii. When we weren’t booked, we would go cruising around the islands using our charter boats, staying days at a time in different unique and spectacular locations, fishing, snorkeling, and diving. Each time we went, we found ourselves wanting to stay longer and longer on location. I suppose this was where we fell in love with the concept.
During the latter part of the ‘80s, I had been running several businesses and traveling extensively when I realized that I had not been spending enough time with my family. So we decided to find a boat and head out on a family sailing expedition into the Sea of Cortez. People always tend to assume that only the wealthy can accomplish something like this, but that is not the case. However, we couldn’t afford to just go out and buy a boat ready to go. Instead, we found a 57-foot sailboat in Oregon that was essentially salvage and bought it cheap.
We moved from Hawaii back to Oregon and then I spent about a year and a half fixing it up … what you might call “sweat equity.” In 1991 my wife and I, our 11-year-old son and 8-year-old daughter, and two dogs left Oregon heading out to sea on our first sailing expedition. By the time we returned to Oregon in 1994, we had sailed about 12,000 miles and learned a lot about ourselves and about living totally off the grid.
OTG - How did your experience as a U.S. Merchant Marine help prepare you living off largely uninhabited and remote islands?
Capt. Bill – As the master of passenger carrying vessels, you are responsible for everyone onboard your boat. This is a huge responsibility, at least for me. Life is a fragile thing, so there is no room for errors that can jeopardize or compromise the safety of passengers who place their faith in you as the captain of the ship; safety relies heavily upon shipboard discipline. Things must be done properly and timely, including safety drills with crew. Over time, the discipline and drills develop a level of mental preparedness and tenacity that lends itself to other areas in life, including prepping.
Living in remote areas requires confidence based upon experience, as well as a touch of wanderlust. Even with my past life experiences, it was with some trepidation that we found ourselves heading into the remote areas of the Sea of Cortez on our first voyage in 1991, far from family and friends, and more importantly, from any reliable help. But as with all things, I found that on this first voyage, we all rose up and met the challenges.
The discipline led us to organization. Each person had an assignment, and by breaking down and distributing the workload according to ability, we found that we all had plenty of free time to share. We accomplished all of the things we needed to do to as far as maintaining our ship, which was our home, as well as gathering and preparing food. Water was never an issue as a result of us having a commercial water maker or desalination plant, which did require timely maintenance.
On the second voyage, it was just Laura and I running a much larger vessel, the 70-foot Iron Maiden. Of course, by this time, Laura had become more “salty” and instead of the feeling of trepidation as we had in 1991, it felt like we were returning home as we anxiously headed up into the Sea of Cortez, returning to the islands where we had previously lived with our children.
I guess all things considered, the ability to maintain personal discipline to manage and oversee maintenance and operations was the greatest benefit stemming from my experience as a Merchant Marine Officer.
OTG – You have said that you did not realize at first that you were a “prepper.” How did that realization evolve?
Capt. Bill – I think it might have been when Alan Madison and I started talking about having us on the show; he said that we were some of the best prepared people he had ever seen and that he wanted to do a show with us. And when Alan started calling us “preppers,” that got me wondering—what exactly is a prepper? So I started my due diligence.
OTG - You recently starred in an episode of Doomsday Preppers. How did your appearance come about?
Capt. Bill – I had made a couple guest posts at a blog and the casting director apparently took note of my comments and contacted me from that blog. After a telephone call with her, I received a call from the executive producer of Doomsday Preppers, Alan Madison, who wanted us to appear on the show. We debated the value proposition of doing the show and weighed the value of bringing new ideas into the prepper community via our potential show and possibly a book, versus the hard work and privacy trade-offs that would be required to do both. Alan made the suggestion that with our experience and the novelty of nautical prepping, there would be many people who would love to learn how to use a boat as part of a prepping lifestyle. And that, in addition to the show, he could think of no better person to write such a book, which could be a possible offshoot of the show.
I also considered the fact that the show is an important forum that allows ideas to be shared with a massive public audience, and even if those ideas are only shared in part, it’s certainly better than no show at all. It also seemed important to try to help others to understand what prepping is about and help to make it more mainstream. I believe that regardless of what some critics think or say, the show and the dialog it creates does intrigue many more people to consider some level of disaster preparedness.
Having more of the general population properly prepared helps to minimize initial chaos, as well as competition for key resources, at the onset of any disaster and thereafter in post-disaster scenarios. In many post-disaster scenarios, some of the problems that many people face are as a result of their own failure in basic disaster preparedness. And through their own lack of preparedness, these same people become the desperate victims of the event. I call these people the “un-prepped.”
And it’s the “un-prepped” who become the greatest post-disaster burden upon first responders and public resources and services. I believe that educating the general public, not scaring them, is the key. And that it’s important to encourage people to prepare for unexpected events so they do not become panic-stricken desperate victims.