(This is the second part of a two-part interview with Captain Bill Simpson. Click here  to read part one of this interview.)
OTG – Rarely does a featured prepper agree with all of the Practical Preppers critique on Doomsday Preppers. Is the process a bit flawed by the lack of time available to thoroughly become familiar with all of the specific details of each prepper’s skills and gear?
Capt. Bill – That is a tough question, only because there are several interrelated issues that affect the judging process as it relates to the show. First of all, all judging is subjective and is based upon the knowledge base of the judges. Secondly, how does anyone do a show like Doomsday Preppers in less than 18 minutes and meet everyone’s expectations? I don’t think it’s possible. Nonetheless it’s done, otherwise there would be no show at all, and that may be even less acceptable to everyone concerned.
I think that most, if not all guests on the show, realize there are timing constraints in producing and presenting such a show. Every prepper I have met has dozens of preps, concepts, and ideas that they want to show and that the audience might want to see. But there is just not enough time to show everything, which can make any prepper look like they may have missed something important or have failed to include some mission critical items or preps, when in fact, they haven’t.
This makes it hard for both the audience and the “experts” to judge the “prepper.” What it comes down to is, you do your best in a snapshot of time. From my own experience at least, the NatGeo team fairly portrayed the preps we showed, in the context of providing “edutainment” that reaches a very broad audience base. If the show was merely a “this-old-house” format, it would likely lose a large share of the audience that tunes in for the drama aspects as opposed to the “how-to” aspects that preppers want to see.
And if you lose audience share, it’s hard to pay the bills and have a show. So out of necessity, the show has to have a little of everything. I think it’s a compromise that works; the show has many people engaged in a dialog about prepping for the first time and I think that’s an important first step in a much larger process.
OTG – What should readers expect when picking up a copy of your book, The Nautical Prepper?
Capt. Bill – First of all, they may be surprised that it’s not chock-full of paramilitary acronyms. I wanted to write an accessible book that anyone could read and understand. Readers will be surprised to learn just how easy and affordable the nautical prepping lifestyle is! And it is a lifestyle that combines family-oriented recreation (sailing/boating) with highly-effective preparedness. Instead of forking over nearly $100K for a bunker full of guns and supplies, a family can acquire a suitable boat and then take small interval steps into a new world that will bond family and friends together as a team working together for common goals, one of which is just plain fun!
Speaking for myself, I don’t think I could realistically invite my friends over for a weekend “in the bunker,” whereas I could expect them to show up for a weekend of sailing! Nautical prepping provides the utmost in versatility and flexibility in your lifestyle.
Many nautical preppers live aboard their boats, which is a financially sound paradigm that allows great economic advantages at a time when the economy is hard on personal budgets. Boats in the 36-to-40-foot range and up in size are like small apartments inside, with all the amenities. By combining “a home” into the prepping proposition, you save on rent or mortgage payments (property taxes), and a monthly rental payment can easily become a boat payment. Another beauty of living aboard is that if for any reason (let alone a localized or national disaster) you decide you don’t like the neighbors (or your job or the weather), you can simply sail to a new location.
Some nautical preppers will in fact do the “snow-bird” thing and live and work in the northern locales (Seattle area) in the summer, cruising the San Juan Islands on weekends, and then before the cold winter sets in, sail south to sunny, southern California to live and work there, sailing at the offshore islands there on weekends.
And it is affordable! We found our 57-foot sailboat, which needed a lot of work, in a boatyard for $5,000.00. And then we restored the boat over time and within our limited budget. And by employing “sweat equity,” we ended up with an excellent boat that became our home and expedition platform for many years.
OTG – Why do you think a growing number of Americans are engaging in some type of prepper, survivalist, or homesteading activity?
Capt. Bill – I think it’s because many Americans are looking around and don’t like what they see. I have read that there are about five million active preppers in the U.S. alone, and that number may well be much larger. Americans have witnessed one disaster after another where victims are stranded waiting for help while FEMA and politicians jockey for media coverage and job security. We now live in a world that has become more dangerous than at any time in the past. There are many bona fide threats to modern civilization that are not operating on geologic time frames.
Speaking for myself, I am concerned about the risks posed by events that we have seen happen every 20-50 years. Those risks are encompassed by man-caused and natural events, such as conventional and nuclear war, and catastrophic industrial accidents and pandemic disease, as just a couple examples. There are several reports that have been commissioned by the U.S. government that clearly state there is a very real risk to the national energy grid from EMP and/or technological attack (computer viruses/hacking). Coupled with that and included in the same reports are the risks posed from solar storms, which happen on a greater frequency than is being admitted publicly. Anyone can Google the term “frequency of solar storms” and become enlightened in minutes. It’s a very real risk on the near-term basis.
If you are one of the lucky ones who is already pre-positioned and living outside the congested cities in the event of a grid-down situation, your odds of survival are much better than the people in those congested areas, many of whom will not make it out of the cities. There are major differences between a localized disaster, where hope and accordingly, morale, are buoyed by the fact that people understand that authorities in a nearby city or state are coming to their rescue, and a national disaster, where everyone is in the same disaster with nobody coming to the rescue.
When a majority or all of the U.S. is in a state of disaster, as in a national grid-down event, and there is no hope of help coming, the psychological landscape changes greatly. It may only take a day or two after such a catastrophic event where people who are no longer supported by the highly leveraged infrastructure will become seriously desperate and will act like “the drowning man.” This type will pull another person under to stay afloat himself. Basically, the survival instincts will kick in and people will no longer act the way they do under semi-normal circumstances, and for the most part, morals will be ditched in lieu of self-preservation, which is a basic instinct in all humans. It’s important to understand that I am speaking in general terms; there will be those few people who will adhere to their high moral standards, but given the desperate masses, they stand little chance trying to help others … they will be overcome. Anyone who has worked or seen the crowd mentalities at U.N. food distribution sites has seen the reactions of desperate crowds who would readily trample anyone to death for a bowl of rice. That’s what we are talking about here.
OTG – You came of age during the Cold War era. During that time period children played outside, used their imaginations, and joined the Boy Scouts (or Girl Scouts) organization. Do you think the children of today acquire fewer useful skills and a decreased sense of independence due to the large amount of time spent playing with techno gadgets and at the mall?
Capt. Bill – I think that children develop based upon the leadership of their parents and secondly their teachers, at least that’s how it was for me. Today, I see people around me who are struggling to keep their heads above water and to pay rents and mortgages and to feed, clothe, and educate their kids.
Adults today have heavy burdens placed upon them by increased government taxes that are levied at multiple levels, as well as being built into the costs of all goods and services that have become the necessities of living in society today. The pressures on people have required some mental compromises in many areas, including in the thinking that addresses our school systems today.
Schools are no longer teaching children to think. Instead kids are taught to memorize standardized information that is consistent with the needs of the socio-technological system of society that exists today, which was not in existence 20 to30 years ago. For a portion of our children’s education, my wife and I home-schooled our children aboard our sailboat while we were at sea and in remote locations.
The demands of the adventure excited them to learn many things about the world around them: geography, language (Spanish), meteorology, navigation, oceanography, and marine biology were just some of the things that they wanted to learn. Today our children are grown adults, and even discounting the fact that I am a proud parent, our peers constantly tell my wife and me that our children are amazing!
OTG – Living long term on a boat seems like it would be far more challenging for couples with young children and pets. What tips and advice can you offer to such individuals planning on long-term boat living, either as a prepper or to enjoy the pure sense of freedom such a moveable abode could bring?
Capt. Bill – Actually, once you have mastered the basics of sailing and boat operations and maintenance, it’s not much different than living on land in a house with kids and pets.
Houses require all kinds of maintenance and repairs to the roof, HVAC systems, plumbing, electrical, yard, etc. Boats are the same, only the equipment is a bit different, so it seems more complicated than it really is. If you can do home repairs, you can manage a boat. And once you have the boat under control, the family stuff is the same as on land. Doggies learn to use the bathroom where you teach them; we have a place on deck. Kids learn new games and sports related to being on the water.
In my book, The Nautical Prepper, my advice is to avoid trying to take in the entire paradigm all at once, instead breaking it down into manageable pieces. First, the boat—learn how to afford and manage a boat, which includes sailing. There are many clubs that offer boating lessons. Then look into homeschooling programs. They are most important because by administering the programs yourself, you will have a chance to bond with your children in the ways that were only in existence in past generations, when families were very tight units.
The prepping part is easy, because a boat is a natural prepping platform that is fully self-contained and can travel at a moment’s notice to almost any location in the world safely. I have spent a considerable amount of time detailing manageable steps in my book that will allow most people, including families, to easily migrate into the lifestyle.
OTG – Is there a particular man-made or natural disaster scenario that causes you concern?
Capt. Bill – Only the one that kills instantly, like a direct hit from a nuclear weapon or similar. Other than that, boats are so versatile and allow so many unique options that you can, for the most part, effectively address and deal with almost any disaster using a suitable sailboat or powerboat. My book The Nautical Prepper details how to effectively deal with a host of potential disaster scenarios and even details how to choose and equip the proper boat for this purpose.
OTG – What are the top hurdles live-aboard preppers are most likely to face?
Capt. Bill – It seems that based on most everyone I know who is already living the lifestyle, there were actually two key hurdles. The first is the money issue and how can someone afford to get into the lifestyle. And the answer is actually much simpler than one may surmise. If you are already paying rent or a mortgage, then you can easily afford a large sail or power boat.
The mechanism for the transition simply involves using your boat as your primary residence, and instead of paying rent or a mortgage, you make boat payments. The beauty is that most people can afford a better boat than they think through this process. The other method in making ownership affordable is as I have previously alluded—buy a fixer-upper and over time, bring the boat back into live-aboard condition.
The second hurdle, in my opinion, is that most couples face the “nesting instinct” that some women have. My advice to the men is to bring your gal with you to look at boats and, if she likes the boat you’re considering, that’s a real clue. Some boats have more (or can have more, with some work) creature comforts than others. I strongly advise that. The more creature comforts, the better! My wife is one of those women who loves hearth, home, and family. So when you are a free bird, sailing the seas, there are compromises regarding family and being away from some of the people you love and miss.
This is the key reason why our family is looking to upgrade to a much larger boat capable of carrying 4-6 families comfortably (about 100-foot ship). That said, when you have your children and pets with you onboard, it’s not as bad as when you are cruising alone at sea, and here I am speaking for myself. Some people enjoy the pristine isolation of the natural world and the wilderness, and I can also identify with that. In my book, The Nautical Prepper, I detail how to take small incremental steps so that there are no hurdles to deal with. Instead, there is an easy, gradual transition into the lifestyle.
OTG – What are the advantages of a boat prepper lifestyle?
Capt. Bill – Maybe I am prejudiced, but there is a list of advantages from my perspective, all of which are compelling, depending on your personal desires and needs. Many people say the feeling of living off-the-grid, even in the city at a marina, and knowing you can head to the open sea in a moment’s notice is an unprecedented feeling of freedom. I have to agree.
We just happened to be in San Diego, California when they had a huge power outage on September 8, 2011 that left thousands of people stranded all over the city, some in traffic and even in elevators! Today it’s called the Great Blackout of 2011. Our ship was at anchor in the bay and we were walking around town when the event struck. We could visibly see that people were frightened as all the buildings went black and traffic was completely stopped in all directions of the city.
Seeing this, we walked back to the dock, got on our shore boat and went back to the ship, where we proceeded to cook dinner as we listened to the news. The feeling of being impervious to what was happening back on shore was priceless. And if we had felt any concern whatsoever, we could have easily pulled anchor and headed to sea within minutes.
Another value that people relate is that they can quickly relocate their entire apartment to a new city if they need to find a new job, or just to experience a new area. Unlike going on vacation and forgetting something important back at home, with a boat as your home, you will always have everything with you because you take your home on vacation with you!
Living on a boat is easy on the budget as compared to living in a house or apartment on land, and most people who live aboard can save enough money to go on an extended cruise (expedition) after about 5 to 7 years of gainful employment. Most marinas include water, garbage, and electric into the slip-fees, and there are significant savings over those same costs on land. Many marinas offer additional amenities as a part of the package including parking, pool, laundry, and even gyms in some cases. Additionally, some people will anchor-out to save slip fees during the summer and use those savings to add to the kitty for an expedition.
Another advantage is that sailing with your family or friends is a binding experience that provides a lifetime of memories. My children still speak fondly of the days we all sailed together in the Sea of Cortez.
And I believe that is what has made our family a much tighter unit. A boat is unique in that it allows a host of people to have a mutual experience together, as opposed to other sports that are more individualistic in nature. When you are at sea, passing the days and nights in the company of family and friends, it’s an unfolding adventure of amazing proportions!
OTG – What was your biggest trial-and-error experience during the early stages of boat living?
Capt. Bill – On our first expedition boat aboard the 57-footer, I tried to save money by acquiring value-priced equipment, which I have learned doesn’t last long-term without intensive maintenance. The better quality equipment, which costs more, not only lasts longer, but in most cases, requires less maintenance. I have cited the equipment that I have found over the years to be dependable and long-lasting. The Nautical Prepper should provide interesting reading to anyone who is intrigued by the concept, and will provide a step-by-step “how-to” guide for anyone wanting to give this lifestyle a try.
Parting Thoughts From Captain Bill:
Thank you for the opportunity to share! I wish everyone the very best with their prepping! Fair Winds and Seas! Capt. William E. Simpson – USMM