Open Sailing

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= developing open-source technologies to explore and study the oceans



"In order to live at sea, we’re pioneering an entirely new form of marine architecture. Open_Sailing acts like a giant organism, a cluster of intelligent units that can react to their environment, change shape and reconfigure themselves. They talk to each other. They’re modular, re-pluggable, pre-broken, post-industrial and self-sufficient. Open_Sailing is a project that is well underway. We are a constantly growing, international team of around 15 people designing and engineering a prototype that is being built now in the UK, France and Morocco – under the mentoring of numerous experts. We will set sail in May from London to Rotterdam. You can see the results of the test journey in July at the Royal College of Art and track our progress online at"


Eric Hunting:

"The notion of marine colonization is, perhaps, almost as old as the legend of Atlantis that so often seems to inspire it and, energized by industrial prowess and stimulated by Modernist idealism, the 20th century saw the emergence hundreds of different visions of marine settlement, though for the most part focused on urban megastructures in designs ranging from the straightforward (like the well known Sea City showcased in TV21 Annual in 1971 to the ridiculously fanciful. (like the Principality of New Utopia Even the famous oceanographer Jacques Cousteau once had his own vision of a floating marine colony he hoped his Cousteau Society might one day build. But towards the turn of the century visions of marine living began to shift towards the smaller scale, driven by the general cultural perception that everything big is now impossible because social consensus is now virtually impossible and a compulsively self-serving 'establishment' (governments and corporations) has become a permanent and automatic obstacle to damn-near everything good, fun, pleasurable, empowering, and progressive. We now instinctively see as more plausible solutions, concepts, and plans that work from the bottom-up rather than the top-down and which offer some prospect of being accomplished entirely on the level of the individual. As a result, in recent years the notion of homesteading the ocean -at the scale of the individual household- has begun to displace the idea of colonizing it en masse through megastructures. Unfortunately, the sea is a tough environment that imposes great physical and logistical challenges for which no ready technological solutions are at-hand at modest scales. On the face of it, self-sufficiency at sea at the scale of the household is utterly impossible and even the cost of the basic architecture untenable to all but the ultra-wealthy. The viability of the concept of homesteading at sea may be contingent on technologies that are still 50 years or more in the future. But, lured by the romance of the sea, imagination remains undaunted by practicality and so a steady parade of new sea homestead concepts continue to emerge.

Open Sailing ( represents one of the latest of these and, though it shares many of the basic flaws common to these concepts with its proposed structures and systems quite nascent in design, it is remarkable chiefly for it's pragmatism. Typical concepts for marine homesteading are presented as turn-key solutions in the here and now when they most obviously are not. They seem rooted in the old American business adage of 'selling the sizzle and not the steak' -especially when you don't have any steak. But nice CGI renderings and models, as important as they are to mass communication of an idea, are not themselves a working plan. Though perhaps less sophisticated in presentation than other concepts, Open Sailing is much more sophisticated in essential concept itself and its participants seem to be far more cognizant of the actual challenges their dream is confronted with. And so they seem to not be 'selling' a packaged solution so much as offering the prospect of participation in a big adventure revolving around _learning_ how to make this concept work. That sort of attitude I have no fault with whatsoever. That's the kind of attitude you need to actually accomplish things rather than just talk about them -because with serious projects it's ultimately never really about the end results but rather enjoying the process of getting there. And, given what they are starting out with, such pragmatism is wise because their initial habitat designs will probably be about as comfortable to live in on the open sea as a pup-tent on Mt. Everest -and that's OK when you aren't trying to push this as some ultimate form but rather a starting point for experimentation. I'd suggest they look beyond the examples of simple buoys to the more stable neutrally buoyant structures such as the SPAR or pylon buoy -based on the same principles of the FLIP research ships and able to support either integrated habitat structures or Dymaxion style structures. (where a series of radial decks are support by perimeter tension cables from the top of the pylon)

Getting to the more technical aspects of the Open Sailing concept, the sub-concepts of Instinctive Architecture, Nomadic Ecosystems, and Swarm OS are intriguing and further demonstrates their pragmatic point of view. They are looking beyond the notion of the all-inclusive hermetically self-sufficient personal spaceship as home to communities of dwellings and systems in dynamic networks of mutual support. This is a much more rational way of thinking about marine living that takes its cues from nature (colonial organisms like jellyfish and coral) as well as traditional nomadic lifestyles where the focus is portable 'encampments' and not all-inclusive houses. I have my doubts about the viability of some aspects of the architecture they propose. They may be assuming a much more placid general marine state than is the case on the open sea. But the principle is promising. Too often sea homesteading proponents are inspired by the cultural myths of the American frontier and the notion of solitary households living in total independence in the wilderness. (a concept long promoted by the establishment because it reinforces the anti-social concept of the Nuclear Family as primary social unit -and conveniently 'fungible' worker unit) Even if this nonsense were remotely historically accurate, that sort of lifestyle isn't all it's cracked up to be in the first and only seems attractive to people who live alienated by -and frustrated with- a dysfunctional contemporary society.

The Nomadic Ecosystems compliments the core Instinctive Architecture concept with a tethered and self-mobile collective of life support systems in the form of deployable and largely independently floating modular units -again borrowing the analogy of colonial organisms. This remains largely undeveloped by the group so far and will be the more technically challenging due to the necessary deployability of some complex systems. Free range fish farming may be one promising addition to this. One of the key parts to this, the Energy Animal, has seen more development but remains a highly speculative design. A deployable energy tower may be a more workable option.

The Swarm OS concept is also interesting. As a way of managing the automatic positioning of marine structures as a functional collective, it makes sense, though, having first-hand experience with what passes as 'state of the art' satellite Internet communicates today, I wonder about the specific telecom infrastructure they envision. New technology may be needed here. But the Swarm OS also has interesting implications for social organization and group activity on land. We generally have very poor situational awareness in our lives. Open access to diverse, dynamic, geographically mapped condition and situation information could radically change the way we think about space, property, and the sense of place.

One of the most glaring omissions with the Open Sailing plan is one shared by all these sea homesteading proposals and which represents one of the key technological challenges of the present; transportation. An over-emphasis on self-sufficiency tends to lead proponents of the marine homestead to underestimate the importance of transportation and thus overlook the very critical problem of a lack of cost-effective options in the area. The Open Sailing habitats are intended to be slowly self-mobile but this won't suit the needs of routine or emergency travel. We don't yet have such things as volantors (flying cars), let alone ones with an intercontinental range, helicopters are inadequate, and sailing yachts both extremely slow and not well suited to being 'parked' in the open ocean for extended periods of time. To meet its sustainability objectives, Open Sailing would need vessels that can employ energy produced at sea.

Another great but overlooked logistical challenge is industrial sustainability -the ability for this marine settlement to source materials for and manufacture most, if not all, the systems and structures it needs from those same types of systems and structures on location. Here you have a problem similar to that of the permanent space habitat which must deploy structures of great size yet cannot actually precision fabricate on-orbit anything larger than it can fit through a pressure hatch.

Overall, Open Sailing is by no means the most robust or well-heeled of sea homesteading projects around today but it is most definitely smarter. It may be a very long time before they realize their goals, but I suspect they will, thanks to their more advanced concepts, produce a lot of promising technology in the process and, with their better attitude, have a lot more fun along the way."(p2p research list, July 2009)

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