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A Most Stupendous & Audacious Undertaking

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Ephemerisle Adventures
Epehemrisle is truly maturing.  I recently came back from our four-day floating-city-building adventure with a warm glow from new connections, new accomplishments, and the excitement of an ad-hoc community coming together and *working well*

Some thoughts in no particular order:

- I love the people who showed up.  The people really made the event.  We had a great mix, from hardcore engineers to yoga instructors. 

- Having a more complex city design that focused everyone's attention onto a central area was great.  It had a much stronger community feeling than the lines of houseboats from past years.  In the evenings, the central focus was intense and wonderful.  The only downside was that it was hard to have more than one loud event going on at the same time.  Maybe in the future we can create an S or T shaped city with two community areas. 

notephemerisle city v1.1

We made some effort to put the quiet boats at one corner of the city, but that effort was not well-coordinated and we ended up with quiet boats next to loud boats.  Next time it will be better.

The city's flexible design allowed us to accommodate other boats in a semi-ad-hoc fashion.  It also allowed us to not have to reach total consensus about the city structure -- so long as we had a group of people committed to comprising the core of the city, we could accommodate all kinds of changes over time.

- Ad-hoc decision making went relatively smoothly.  The nature of the people at the event definitely helped with that -- the boat captains were all rational, reasonable, and flexible.  It did also help that there was a small group of decision-makers that collectively could speak for most of the houseboats at the event.  These were mainly people who had rented multiple houseboats. 

- We really need to learn how to anchor the city properly as we build it.  We've screwed this up every year so far, and a little planning would definitely help.

- The community platform came together extremely well.  Ratha's rapid assembly system allowed a team to assemble a 20x24ft floating platform capable of holding around 50 people in only five hours or so. 

Not-Ephemerisle 2011  Not-Ephemerisle 2011

- The game board / cuddle tent that Kate and I built worked really well.  It was very popular and in frequent use throughout the event.

Not-Ephemerisle 2011  Not-Ephemerisle 2011

Sadly one of the balls Kate made for the board was lost by careless players, and the other one was too nice to put in there (see below) so I borrowed a contact juggling ball from one of the other attendees.

Not-Ephemerisle 2011

- My pool noodle sculpture designed to highlight the motion of the waves only worked for a few hours before being damaged.  In part this is because I threw this project together in about four hours; I could have done some things to make it more durable.  Joe's pool noodle tetrahedron (on the right) was a lot of fun.

Not-Ephemerisle 2011

- What to do about the drunk?  One first time attendee had way too much alcohol and passed out.  We had to watch him to make sure he didn't injure or drown himself, and eventually a nurse who was attending the festival decided his state was serious enough to merit taking him to shore for ambulance pickup at 1am.  Generally people out at the festival are very good at taking care of themselves, and we don't have a system of rangers like Burning Man does.  I resented having to spend time on a perfectly good Friday night dealing with the situation.  I do know however that there are people who enjoy keeping events like this safe for people who do stupid things or don't know their boundaries, so perhaps it's just a matter of finding the right volunteers to handle this.  It does raise the question of what sort of expectations people should have about the event -- I would not want people thinking that they could just show up and be taken care of.  I like the spirit of true radical self-reliance that pervades the event, and I wouldn't want to lose that.  I think that self-reliance bar helps create the culture at the event that I enjoy.

- There is some debate about growing the event further.  Current attendance is around 200.  Some people think that if we grow it much further, it will lose its character.  I think that potential danger is outweighed by the possibility of introducing more cool people to the event.  I think that due to the limited resources available (you have to build your own land!!), we will not experience a period of explosive growth like Burning Man did in the 1990s.  It will be difficult to grow at all with the current strategy.  We already rent out all the houseboats in the region.  Some alternatives:
-- Convince more boat owners to come.  I do think we'd want to be somewhat careful in doing this; we want boaters who care about seasteading and community-building as opposed to ones who are just coming to get drunk and party. 
-- Get really good at building floating platforms.  This is somewhat limited in that we would still need a way of getting the platforms to the event, and we'd have to eventually purchase a barge instead of continuing to squeeze heavy construction materials onto houseboats. 
-- Buy/rent a barge.  Surely there must be some ratty barges somewhere that we can buy or borrow to expand our footprint.
-- Invest in inflatable platforms.  One of the attendees was telling me that the technology exists to build very heavy-duty inflatable floating platforms.  Storage and transport of such platforms would be very easy relative to other alternatives.

The connection from Ephemerisle to seasteading is more symbolic than literal.  The engineering problems faced on the open ocean are very different from what we're tackling.  Even the social ad-hocracy issues we have explored will be at a very different scale out on the open ocean.  To some degree the event is just a chance for a bunch of smart and resourceful people to solve interesting problems in an unfamiliar domain while community-building, and that in and of itself has value.  However, I do feel that the event helps us psychologically wrap our minds around what life at sea might actually be like. 

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Great summary, Matt. I agree that Ephemerisle's problems are very different from those on the open ocean. I also agree that it's still a very valuable experience despite the differences.

Even the toy problems of Ephemerisle have made me appreciate the magnitude of the difficulty of seasteading on the open ocean, far from civilization. I'm certainly glad to be learning with a few rented houseboats, placid delta currents, and paramedics a 911 call away.

I'd also like to attract more boaters as well. It seems to be happening naturally to some extent. There were at least four people who owned their own boats there this year, even with no advertising to the boating community specifically. Are there mailing lists for libertarian boaters?

Jungle Jim said that hundreds of boats raft up over July 4th in the Delta and watch the fireworks launched from Conrad Hilton's barge. Perhaps a future Ephemerisle could be held to coincide with this?

I think coinciding with the July 4 celebration is *not* a good idea. It will be much harder to get houseboats, and the selection function for the July 4 event is "people with boats who want to party and watch fireworks". I don't think we should broadly target the boating community as that will change the character of the event.

My friend Mike invited me to this but I'm still traveling, sounded completely awesome though and I would have loved to go. Next year!

i was thinking... in regard to trying to anchor everyone down and together properly, perhaps look into the battle at red cliffs?

cao cao's analyst had essentially done just that in the harbor. That was an interesting read. I think we mainly just need to apply a little planning -- once we got together and made a plan for proper anchoring, everything worked fine.

there's also an amazing film about it - a condensed version and the uncut one, both called red cliff and directed by john woo. the international version is the long one. it's actually pretty historically accurate in accordance with the romance of the three kingdoms, if you're interested.

Oh, fabulous, and I'm so sorry to have missed it this year. I agree witih you about the value of Ephemerisle -- problem-solving on the water and experiencing boat life, and community building!

These are interesting problems to have. I have to admit, I felt a certain pressure to invite only people I thought would mesh in well and want to take care of themselves (or even contribute to the community) rather than sell it as just a 'cool event', and inspire a bunch of tourists.

It seems like we can avoid scaling problems by motivating the right people to join as best we can. When I was talking to potentials, I played up the group work factor, and felt best about the people who expressed enthusiasm about ad-hoc marine carpentry involved, and the solar station I was putting together.

By growing largely among the right people, I think we can control the character of the event to some extent, and increase say, the amount of artificial land and community projects, and not just the number of rented houseboats.

But the motivational filter isn't a complete answer. Like the drunk issue, that guy (ANONYMITY!) is someone whose actually way more enthusiastic about seasteading than I am, and is doing real projects to test and develop tech for it, he's just not great at managing himself, and me and Clive didn't even realize we needed to keep an eye on him until it was too late.

Re: virtues of practicing in an "easy" setting

Speaking as a total noob, if Ephemerisle were held on the open ocean, I don't think there's any way I could have come. The barriers to entry would have been far too great.

As it is, Ephemerisle was an amazing chance for me to learn so, so much in just a few days. For example, I had never driven a boat before. It was also super inspiring in terms of making me want to learn more about life on the water. Next step: learn to sail.

Re: virtues of practicing in an "easy" setting

Agreed. The sandbox element is useful. Thanks for sharing!

One thing I was disappointed to learn- the drunk kid who was sent to the hospital woke up with out a cell phone, identification, or money. And, he was by himself... I would be terrified in a strange city by myself with pretty much no way to get to where I need to go or to contact people who could help me... no matter how much people piss us off and ruin our party, we should never put them in a potentially dangerous situation like that... We are a beautiful community of caring people and we should maintain some level of responsibility for those who are with in our walls/floaties.

We are a beautiful community of caring people and we should maintain some level of responsibility for those who are with in our walls/floaties.

I think it would be a good idea to have some sort of medic/comfort corp. to handle people who have medical issues at the event. As it grows, it's inevitable that we'll have more people who get too drunk/have a bad trip/injure themselves. Perhaps you can head up organizing the medic/comfort corp. next year? It may even be worthwhile to raise money to hire professional medics to be on hand. (TSI hired a paramedic to be on hand the first year.)

I would also note that Matt, Laura and I took hours of time and a dangerous boat trip in the middle of the night to make sure he got proper medical attention. The speedboat is not equipped to handle night boating, and there was some risk to us of hitting underwater hazards. No one knew who he was, nor how to easily find his id/money, and timeliness seemed more important. While we may not have done all that we could to make sure he was safe and comfortable, I for one feel no "disappointment" in how he was treated.

Knowing very little about what happened.........yeah, seems you did the right thing.

Sure it may have been scary for this person, but we live in a time where... our system is "good enough" that the odds were he was safe.

FWIW (which may not be much), later, turns out said guy iterated that he was happy/preferred the fact that he'd woken up without ID, at least. He claimed to only speak spanish with hospital/ER staff, didn't want to get charged with drunkenness. I don't know how old he was. He found out about the thing because his older brother knew someone at Ephemerisle.

getting more houseboaters

I've been thinking about this a lot since last year. TSI put in a lot of time and effort reaching out to various houseboat communities, and while we think we reached people's eyes and ears about Ephemerisle (finding the correct mailing lists was key), we really didn't make a dent in their consciousness.

I think the correct outreach message has not yet been found, and it's largely because we still don't have any "typical" houseboat people in the Ephemerisle or seasteading crowds. This matters a lot if we really want the houseboaters' attention, because they seem to be a little suspicious of (or perhaps mostly nonplussed by) the whole Ephemerisle "thing".

"Oh, yeah, we do that. It's called a raft-up."

Trying to convince them it has a vision behind it, that it stands for something bigger, appears to be counterproductive. It seemed to me they were hearing a lot of pointless intellectualism that had no bearing on the kind of events or lives they wanted to be a part of.

Getting houseboaters' involvement will take some cultural sleuthing. Or it may simply be more trouble than it's worth, at least at this stage.

It's useful to note that many Reno-ans (Reno-ites?) I've met have seemed basically uninterested or even opposed to ever going to Burning Man...

Re: getting more houseboaters

Thanks for the info, Naomi. If they're not private, perhaps you could put the mailing lists of the boating communities you contacted on the wiki?

That said, I'm personally not too concerned about marketing for Ephemerisle. I think it will grow organically, as friends of friends find out out about it. In fact, I don't want to see it get too big, too fast, as it gives us time to learn how to handle various issues (anchoring, Triton/medics, inter-boat conflicts).

I do think there's value in seeking out training and advice from the boating community, and inviting like-minded boaters to come to the event. I think there's a lot we could learn from them. One of the reasons I'd like to go out on the fourth of July (or similar event) is so that I can see how experienced boaters "raft-up". For example, it'd be cool if we could build a raft-up like this one next year:

It would also give us a preview of what it will be like when Ephemerisle gets much bigger (and the problems we may have).

Re: getting more houseboaters

Here's a preview of what Ephemerisle could become: a 1651 boat attempt to beat the Guiness Book of World Records for largest raft-up:

Re: getting more houseboaters

I think it's okay that the houseboater community hasn't engaged. I think if we get too popular among casual boaters, we'll simply turn into a big houseboat party, and there's nothing special about that.

We're trying to create something different. The small number of people with actual boating experience who were engaged this year is sufficient to help us tackle our challenges.

I think we should not pursue houseboater lists / marinas and instead focus on organic growth via people we know personally and enthusiasts who read about seasteading online.

(Deleted comment)

Re: getting more houseboaters

Shorter version: it is easier to teach a skill than an ideology.

Did I see you post something a while back about not-Ephemerisle 2012, btw? I'm starting to work on my travel schedule for next year.

Personal responsibility and community

I'm going to disagree with you on the bit about how having rangers or caretakers would detract from the spirit of self-reliance. I think that as a culture we have this idea that people are inherently lazy or stupid, and we ascribe this characteristic to many folk who fuck up by our standards, from the fat to the artistic [rather than the academic] to the poor.

The gentleman who drank too much and was ill felt much remorse at putting people out, and while his action may have been slightly irresponsible, the fact of the matter is that shit happens; he didn't drink too much because he's a moron, he drank too much because he mistakenly misjudged his tolerance. It could have happened to any one of us, just as any one of us could have fallen and broken a leg.

It's far more important that as a community we have an infrastructure to take care of those people who require it, through their own fault or piss-poor luck. Especially if the festival continues to grow; both the chances of an accident and the chances of deliberate malignant action increase. What if next year a girl gets a date-rape drug slipped into her drink?

So long as we keep preaching self-reliance, we will get self-reliant people. Sure, some shirt-cockers will slip through, especially as we increase in size, but overall, I feel safe in assuming that the general spirit of the festival will remain the same.

If our mission, to quote the Seasteading website, is to "further the establishment and growth of permanent, autonomous ocean COMMUNITIES," we must behave like a community and create a safety net for our members.

Re: Personal responsibility and community

If Ephemerisle 2010 had gone off under TSI's auspices, we would have HAD rangers (we called them Tritons), and we were going to make damn sure that they were culturally integrated into the scene, i.e. not overbearing buzzkills. We had a Triton leader lined up who talked a good deal about how the job is to be watchful to PREVENT tragic (or simply douchey) shit from happening and to act to guide it in a better direction before it became damaging to anyone.

Essentially, the point would be to strategically place people into the scene who weren't trying to protect people from ultimate consequences so much as engender and hopefully inculcate in the community culture an ability to steer situations correctly.

Because let's face it: as antithestasia stated above, horrible consequences often do befall people who, yes, act a little foolishly but don't necessarily deserve death or permanent disfigurement.

And effects on any one individual are just as much a result of environmental (societal & physical) conditions as they are a result of the individual's own actions. People need to be aware that they always have some effect on the "mood" of any given situation and can always help shift things from bad to good.

Re: Personal responsibility and community

Oooh, that sounds brilliant! Let's do this next year, please. I volunteer.

I suppose we'd need some kind of training program for these folks... and to try to spread them out so there's at least one [preferably two] per boat.

(Deleted comment)

Excellent sumary!

Excellent summary, Matt! Added to the wiki.

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