Brad Templeton Home
Ship of Modern Nomads
(This was written back in 1998. No progress since then...)
One of my current wild dreams is to build a ship and sail around the world. But not the typical solo trip in a 40 foot sailboat that you often read about, something far grander.
My goal is to build a large ship and put around 100 decent sized condominiums on it for co-owners. The ship would maintain lots of internet connectivity for net and telephone. Mostly via local radio links, but with satellite as a backup.
It would be peopled not by guests, but by residents, who would live and work on the ship as it wandered the world. Not meant for the retired, I would aim to have 80 to 100 couples in their 30s to 50s who are all capable of working anywhere in the world via phone, fax and the internet. I call these people Tech-Nomads.
The number of people capable of this is growing constantly. I expect this idea will become more popular with time. See the world but never have to pack. On board would be high tech and internet people of course, but also doctors, lawyers, chefs, wall street workers, consultants etc. Perhaps even one or two small software companies whose owners and employees are aboard.
While the residents could ply their trades to the people in the towns we visit (reminiscent of the old-time riverboats that came into towns with shows and services) it is more likley that their clients would be all over the world, and the visits would not be for business people.
I am estimating the condos would cost around $600,000 on average, within range of upper middle class "DINK" couples. Monthly fees would of course be higher than typical condos, to account for fuel, docking fees etc. This would have to be for the reasonably well off -- but there are interesting tax issues that can alter that.
A few other people are doing work on residential ships. One, called the orld of ResidenSea has been built by the former chairman of Norwegian Cruise Lines is a serious project with 250 condos costing from 1.5 to 5 million dollars. This ship is more aimed at the super wealthy (who often are absent) and the retired, not the working nomad. After operating for a while, the residents bought the ship from the owner.
An overly grand venture called the Freedom Ship is also in the planning stages. It's a dream, a whole floating town with 50,000 residents and an airport. However, I remain unconvinced it will ever get "off the ground" and I feel it has some serious changes to undergo before can. It's had broken promises for so long that many worry it's a scam.
Another venture called the America World City planned to build a 6,000 passenger cruise ship with possibly some residents. They plan to do it in the USA, and are lobbying hard for the maintenance of the protectionist Jones Act to lock out non-US ships. It seems to have vanished.
I'm aiming for a ship that is what they call "Panamax" width -- about 100 feet, and thus able to go through the Panama Canal and other waterways. If about 350 feet long with main decks, that's about 160,000 square feet of deck, plus storage below. I would expect the condos to average about 800 square feet (the size of a small to medium two bedroom apartment), with 80,000 sq feet for homes and another 80,000 sq feet for common areas and ship facilities.
If it makes economic sense, the ship would be an ocean going barge, without major engines of its own. (It might have small engines for docking, and of course generators for power.) It's goal would be to spend several weeks to a month in every destination. It's in no hurry. To move from town to town, it would use an ocean-going tugboat.
It makes no sense to pay for engines and keep around sailing crew when the ship rarely sails, unlike a cruise ship that tries to go to a different town each day. It's less romantic, but it's vastly cheaper and leaves more room for the residents. (If a ship doesn't carry passengers, it is considerably cheaper.)
Condominiums would be around the outside, with optional balconies or doors to promenade decks. Small office condominiums would also be on the outside, or inside facing interior courtyards. Residents would pay for square footage and linear feet of exterior wall, with of course minimum widths for their units.
Inside would be communal meeting rooms, a library, living spaces, games rooms, exercise rooms, sauna, party rooms, hot tub, business centre, computer workstations, several communal kitchens and a moderate number of well equipped "home theatre" TV rooms. The kitchens, TV rooms and other facilities would be for both shared and by-reservation use.
800 square feet is small, especially for the wealthy who will be residents. However, one would not need a special TV room, and would probably build in only a small efficiency kitchen with microwave, 2-burner range, small fridge etc. taking up very little space. One would have one's own TV (flat-panel, probably,) but to watch a movie or other big screen experience, book or share one of the common rooms. Entertaining of many guests could be done in the shared rooms. People who might normally insist on 3 bathrooms might direct guests to the well maintained corridor guest bathrooms.
Offices would be kept distinct from the home, but since they would be just another deck or two away, the need for a home office would be minimal. As such, the 800 sq foot condo might be as useful as a 1400 sq foot single family dwelling. For those with no children or just 1 or 2 young ones, the space should be good. Or for the wealthier, more will be available.
Staff would also be shared -- housekeeping, cooking, maintenance, gardening etc. Some staff would live on board, either permanently or temporarily, through probably in more cruise ship cabin sized staterooms. Some staff might be recruited through reliable firms from the towns we visit.
One main staffer, the concierge, would go in advance to each destination to arrange internet connectivity, fuel, electricity, waste disposal and other services, a pool of rental cars, local tours, telephony, suppliers etc.
The ship would also have shared small watercraft for water taxi and pleasure, plus Scuba equipment.
I also hope for an interesting community of people who will be good friends to travel with. Diverse people from different countries, perhaps one or another a local to many of the towns we visit who can be our introduction.
In addition, as we visit a new town, the residents will discover the wonders of that town and share them with their onboard friends. New restaurants, the best sights, the coolest stores.
I expect a community of people more interesting than the typical land based community. It may make sense to have it be a screened community, the way some urban upscale apartments are, to assure people will get along.
I would expect this ship to become famous for a while. It would have a web site, of course, and get lots of publicity. In fact its arrival in a town would ideally be a big event, with advance publicity in local papers. I would expect people interested in the ship to greet it when it docked.
The ship would throw parties in its party/conference rooms, inviting the most interesting people from the local towns. As noted, I expect the members of the community, who already were probably heavy travelers, to likely know various people in the towns we visit. This will allow immediate connections to local circles of friends and interesting people, as well as invitations to residents to attend interesting local functions and meet new people. This is the best way to travel, with local, interesting guides.
Over time, the idea might become popular and its novelty wear off. But at first, I think it will be high.
Some residents will be able to avoid taxes. If the do their work for clients in other countries, particularly countries other than the one they are a citizen of or the country being visited, they may be able to take income tax free. The ship will spend no more than 3 months in any one country per year, which will mean its residents will not be deemed residents of any country. (Though the last country they lived in may claim them.)
The USA taxes its citizens on worldwide income no matter what, which is bad news, but 75,000 of foreign earned income can be taken tax free every year.
This can mean that for many, the tax savings may equal the cost of the condominium, making it free.
Nonetheless, unlike the Freedom Ship, it is not a goal to make a libertarian dreamship. I want the ship to actually visit the towns and dock there, which will put it under the laws of the countries it visits. People will not be in it while it is at sea.
Ships are expensive, and construction on board them is also expensive. There are also legal problems with such travel, customs etc. In the USA, the Jones Act forbids any ship that is not US owned, flagged, built and crewed to carry passengers or cargo between two U.S. points, though with luck the owners of a ship would not classify as passengers. This means either the ship is much more expensive, or has to always stop off in Canada, Mexico or other ports in between U.S. cities. (There may be an exemption when there are no passengers, only crew and owners.)
Buy land. They've stopped making it.
The value of real estate is in the location. Our ship will travel to great locations and perhaps stay at downtown piers, but it won't get any value from its location, or appreciate in value with the neighbourhood. That means unlike ordinary real estate purchases, this one might depreciate instead of the reverse. Indeed, if the condos become more valuable that will mean the building of more ships, to a point. However, certain ships, with interesting character or famous names may go up in value.
At first, ordinary banks will probably not finance these condos due to the risk involved. That means original owners will need to finance themselves, or buy condos with cash. Still, I anticipate there are more than enough tech-nomads out there able to handle the financing.
Insurance, dock fees and other items will be expensive, particularly in some areas.
The ship will be expensive, probably about $40 million to build, and only some of that will be able to get ordinary marine financing.
An ocean-going vessel can't explore major rivers very far. For example, standard ocean-going ships can only go to Baton Rouge on the Mississippi, though a ship that draws only 9 feet can go almost all the way up.
I have (as may be obvious from reading this) no experience in large shipbuilding. I know there are people who would share this vision and who have the money, and the things they want. I welcome input from those who do know more about maritime contstruction and law.
As noted, it may make sense to build an ocean going barge. It may also make sense to buy an existing ship and convert it. Standards for passenger vessels are much higher than for cargo ships, so it's not easy to convert one to the other. Used cargo ships of the size needed are just a few million.
Assuming the Jones act is not a problem, the ship and interiors can be built anywhere in the world, where the labour is cheapest and raw materials have the best value. To a limited extent, repairs can also be done this way and even fuel and non-perishable supplies can be bought at the cheapest locations.
It's also probable that since travel will be the exception, nobody but crew would be on board when the ship is towed from one port to another. Other than the ocean crossings which probably would occur only once or twice a year, the ship moves should take no more than 1-2 days. That would be a great time to get off ship, visit inland destinations, or go back ot the old haunt.
Naturally we'll want a doctor in residence. But we'll also be in big towns most of the time, with access to their hospitals.
I would like to recruit some top chefs to live on board. Aside from earning their keep cooking for residents, they might create famous "traveling restaurants" by finding, in each town, a restaurant where the chef wants a vacation for a few weeks and renting it. I think there could be a cachet to the famous "traveling restaurant," with people wanting to eat at it while it's visiting town. It might be possible to also have a small restaurant on board, if the cost numbers work out.
One could rent out one's condo when one is not using it. Take a vacation from travel. Or even have it as just one of several homes. However, we would want to limit the number of units that are under regular rental or commonly vacant. Some Ship-owned units might also be available for rental or timeshare.
Satellite connectivity is fine but has long delay times. For better connectivity, spread spectrum short distance 802.11g 50 megabit links are possible. All we need do is find some local ISP willing to drop our box on their ethernet and stick a small antenna in the window pointed at our ship. This will also hook up telephony.
The ship can also, where licence permits, possibly operate a low power 2-way radio system or PCS system, for communications onboard ship and when within a few miles of the ship. In some cities this won't be possible due to communications regulations. (In some even the normally licence-free spread spectrum may be a problem.)
Some of the ones I have in mind include:
And many others -- all over the course of several years. The ship might even meet the other resident ships or regular cruise ships. It might sail to interesting conferences or events, like the Cannes Film Festival or the Beijing Olympics.
The Freedom Ship City
I noted above that I do not yet have much faith in this project. Here are the reasons why:
It's too big. The project is much too ambitious as a startup venture. You need to start smaller, and demonstrate the concept. The design is one you could easily add to, or chain ships together (except for the need for the airport.)
It's too enclosed. 70% of the units are windowless cubes. Nobody wants to live in those, even on the most expensive real estate on the planet. Even those who can afford windows don't want to live in a place where most people live like that. It needs light and air, and an open roof that brings down courtyards. Which means the airport has to be curtailed. Even the windowed units, forever over 12 miles from shore, will never overlook anything but blank ocean and somtimes distant shore.
The airport is a cool idea but will bring noise, risk to those units that might get hit by a low approach, and the sealing off the roof. Even 4,000 feet can't handle serious commercial jets, only business jets and puddle jumpers.
It's not going into the towns. Nobody will see it, which will hurt its publicity. The people on it won't get a sense of temporary residence in the towns. They will be tourists, just as they can be today. They will need to take a water taxi or plane for 12 miles or more to get to the airport (further trip into town) or docks. And go through customs each time.
It's unproven. Which doesn't mean it won't work, but a six billion dollar first experiment seems extravagant.
I also have doubts about the organizers. Their website is unreadable in some browsers, and my attempts to contact them to discuss their ship have met with not even a peep of response. They claim that huge numbers of people have signed up but only a handful have ever gone public about it, which makes the claim very doubtful. If it's the case that they're lying about that, it doesn't bode well.