February 5, 2012

The bountiful sea

THE NEWS from Africa is sobering.  In the continent's most advanced country, South Africa, there are rural areas where landline telephones no longer operate.  Thieves have brazenly stolen the copper wires and sold them to illegal dealers in scrap metal.  At the same time, the fledgling cell-phone network is on its knees.  Reception is erratic because of the recent fierce geomagnetic storms on the sun.

According to my friend Crystelle Wilson, a former newspaper reporter in Durban, "Last month a massive storm led to fears that airline routes, power grids and satellites would be disrupted. Scaremongers speculate that these solar flares can lead to irreparable power outages. And when electricity dies, so will the human population. The majority of people will be unable to maintain their current lifestyles without fuel and electricity. Subsistence farmers may fare better for slightly longer."

All of which makes me think that people with sailboats may fare even better than subsistence farmers if the worst really does happen.  The human race managed to survive for many thousands of years without electricity, of course.  It also managed to survive quite well without radio, TV, e-mail,  text messaging, Twitter, and Facebook, although the current, digitally obsessed generation might find that hard to believe.

Cruising sailboats are able to generate all the electricity they require, one way or another. They have wind generators, dragged-propeller generators, solar generators, and engine-driven generators and alternators. And sailors didn't suffer too badly in the days before generators, either. They certainly managed to keep the human race going in a manner that required no reference to  what was happening on the sun.

And there is always something else available to the cruising sailor: the electric eel.  This creature has been much overlooked, but a pet electric eel in a small aquarium might be a wonderfully clean source of energy for a small boat.  These eels put out some 600 volts, about five times the voltage of an American household electrical outlet.  If you hooked one up head and tail to a 12-volt battery you'd have an awful lot of amp-hours at your disposal in exchange for a few meager scraps of electric eel food.

As for human food, the sea is one of the Earth's greatest suppliers.  I have a fascinating little book somewhere that explains how you can live entirely off the sea, gathering and catching and eating everything from seaweed and barnacles to rock cod and geoducks. If I remember right, it's called  Living off the Sea, by Charlie White. I really must dig it out and have it ready for the next round of solar flares.

 Today's Thought
Nature has endowed every species of living creature with the instinct of self-preservation.
— Cicero, De Officiis

Now that Iran is in the nuclear reactor business, all the savvy businessmen in Tehran are moving into the catering field. They're opening fission chip shops.

(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)

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