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The wonders of cleaning up. After the presentation of Control Of The Commons at Burning Ice in Brussels in June 2012, Pippa and I sat down with the ideas that were bubbling around from all the discussions and sketched an outrageous project that we called Slow Boat, for want of a better term.

Here is the mind map that arose:

A collection of the ideas that could make up a Slow Boat project.

A collection of the ideas that could make up a Slow Boat project.

The main problem that we had with the CoC project is also one of the core ideas of it. It was a short term project that aimed to upcycle itself into nonexistence. We collected ephemeralities (conversations, hopes, hears, memories, desires,…) using a machine that was recycled. We were just surviving, we had no roof, so were glad that we had strangely good weather, even in Belgium. But by no means was CoC going to be an ongoing project of any sort.

So Slow Boat aimed to be something more ongoing, something that could exist beyond a few weeks. In the essay composed for the Resilients Handbook (CoC was partially part of Resilients), I tried to talk about the amount of energy (as in time, material, mental and emotional effort, etc) that can be put into something for it to be “worthwhile” in some sense. An example would be one of our plans to use throw-away pallet wood for building a vessel: the amount of effort to make it waterproof would mean that it was more investment than would be reasonable for a vessel that, made of the lowest quality wood, could not have any permanence. Into this continuum, the position of the CoC project as taking a certain amount of effort is uncertain: was it really worth the effort? Perhaps not. But probably yes. And if the things we learnt there can be taken forward, then definitely.

So the Slow Boat idea grew in this idea. It took a lot of ideas from The Resilients with its guild structures (including a takeover of the Freemasons structure, currently falling into disrepair), mixtures of high and low tech and food issues, the Feral Trade courier network with its slow deliveries, direct trade and exactly followable trade routes, as well as our experiences in and around CoC. So let’s try and untangle this mind map a bit.

The vessel itself should be big enough for 2-6 people to travel and sleep on, to transport from 1 up to 6 cubic meters of cargo, should be happy on inland waters, flowing rivers, large lakes and even coastal waters (thus the note about Dutch leeboards). It should be moved by large, low sails, human power as well as biodiesel (i.e. waste food oil – with Belgian Frites as a major source!).

The basic functionality would be as some kind of slow arts/produce delivery system. It could and should fit into the slow food movement, fair and feral trade. Small amounts of artisan products being delivered and or traded, delivery of artworks, transport of small groups of artists and cultural workers, a travel / transport mechanism. This could work well for high quality foods and those who see extra value in a clean transport, such as is the case with some Williamsburg chocolate deliveries, London wines and the Tres Hombres trading vessel. The Delhaize comment at the top left refers to a planned use of the Belgian canal networks to deliver foodstuffs by the supermarket chain Delhaize in Belgium. Around that are some other vague ideas about funding possibilities.

The clod of places on the left tries to look at some of the possibilities for destinations: The Hanseatic League might be a reference point, with the Baltic Sea being only slightly tidal. The inland waters and their canals have become much better since then, so that would exist as a way to move more effectively and safely. The English Channel crossings to Bristol (the “home” of Feral Trade) could be a next stage of development, as could be Nantes and the Bretagne. But there are probably canal networks that are safer than the Bay of Biscay. Perhaps trading along the Mediterranean coast, a sail powered ice cream delivery to small islands off the Croatian coast (now part of the EU) is a way to go.

It should be functional as well as interesting to see. It will move slowly, so it needs to be able to work and create value en-route. This might be by being a mobile “gallery” space, but more likely as a way of and reason to be talking about the problems of travel and transport and possible solutions. Maybe something like the SAIL regional low impact transport network, but from below. And without the emphasis on single use specialization of transport. The vessel should carry on the CoC project with the collection of stories, hopes, desires and fears around the water. Other money generating enterprises on the mindmap include a mobile distillery and carved driftwood. We are sure there are better ones.

We know there are similar projects emerging in places such as the hipsterville of Portland, around Seattle, and even the area around NYC and Vermont (I like their boat in this video). People like to know what is going on, and having a story to tell about the things they have. A bottle of handmade regional schnapps, rum or whisk(e)y that was sail and oar delivered to the end of your street is a lot more interesting than just another bottle of Stoli. Who wants to place an order?