04 December 2021

The Guardian: “The disastrous voyage of Satoshi, the world’s first cryptocurrency cruise ship”

The difficulty in starting a new form of government, said Friedman, was simply a lack of space. All the land on Earth was taken. What they needed was a new frontier, and that frontier was the ocean. Let a thousand nations bloom on the high seas, he proclaimed, with Maoish zeal. He wanted seasteading experiments to start as soon as possible. Within three to six years, he imagined ships being repurposed as floating medical clinics. Within 10 years, he predicted, small communities would be permanently based on platforms out at sea. In a few decades, he hoped there would be floating cities with millions of people pioneering different ways of living together.

The final entry on the FAQ page, regarding the possibility of having pets on board, gave a bracing insight into the tension between the idea of freedom and the reality of hundreds of people closely cohabiting on a cruise ship. The answer linked to a separate document, containing a 14-point list of conditions including one that declared no animal should exceed 20lbs in weight, and any barking or loud noises could not last for longer than 10 minutes. If a pet repeatedly disturbed the peace – more than three times a month or five times in a year – it would no longer be allowed to live on board. Any pet related conflict, instructed point 13, shall be resolved in accordance with Section V (F) of the Satoshi Purchase Agreement or Section IV (F) of the Satoshi Master Lease, where applicable. Dogs would only be permitted in balcony cabins, and it was advised that owners buy a specific brand of “porch potty”, a basket of fake grass where your pet could relieve itself. (Pet waste thrown overboard would result in a $200 fine.)

Sophie Elmhirst

This bizarre and unlikely story initially remined me of Jules Verne’s novel L’Île à hélice – mostly the general outline, as I read the book decades ago in my youth and I wouldn’t consider it one of Verne’s best works. But I doubt some of the characters mentioned throughout the piece ever encountered his books. One of them recounts how he used to work 17 hours a day – that doesn’t leave much room for reading, or anything else for that matter. If they had a more diverse education, maybe these people would reflect a bit on planning and consequences before launching such projects doomed to failure. The idea that a pocket of people could exist completely isolated from modern society and without a set of rules regulating the community is utter fantasy. By the end, I was happy to read that the cruise ship they bought survived this whole adventure and is awaiting better days for tourism, whenever the pandemic finally subsides.

The Pacific Dawn, the cruise ship which later became the MS Satoshi
The Pacific Dawn, the P&O cruise ship which later became the MS Satoshi. Photograph: Dale de la Rey/EPA

The concept of leaving human society behind and starting a new form of government from scratch is relatively common in science-fiction, featured in great novels from The Dispossessed to Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy, but reading them only emphasized the difficulty of organizing a genuinely novel and fair society. Not that this is a concern for other “visionaries”, such as Elon Musk, who also floats wildly impractical ideas about his future Mars colony. Seasteading itself may become a part of life in the coming decades, if climate change starts affecting large areas of land, displacing cities on the coast and rendering some regions too hot during the summer, but it will hardly be a utopic floating paradise.

One Reddit respondent – maxcoiner on Reddit, Luke Parker in real life – was as close to the target market of the Satoshi as it was possible to imagine. A longtime follower of the seasteading movement, he was also such an early and successful bitcoin adopter that he and his wife were able to retire early thanks to their investments. The Satoshi was the most plausible idea for a seastead he’d ever heard. I did not buy a room during the Satoshi’s sale window, he told me over email, but it was hard to keep my hand off that button.

A variety of considerations held him back. The wife, as he put it, had her doubts. He wasn’t sure about the ginormous leap down in luxury from living in deep residential comfort on land in the US midwest to living in a very small cabin on board a 30-year-old cruise ship. He was worried, too, by the limited facilities – No kitchen of my own? Tiny bathrooms? Tiny everything? Also, the constant rocking of the ship on the water: I just can’t stomach that life around the clock. He preferred the idea of the SeaPods. If Parker was going to live on a boat, he concluded, he’d prefer to buy his own luxury catamaran.

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