The purpose of this project is to design and mass-produce kits for a floating tiny house that can sail. It combines high-tech modeling and fabrication and low-tech assembly that can be carried out DIY-style on a riverbank or a beach. This boat is a 3-bedroom with a kitchen, a sauna and a dining room. The deck is big enough to throw dance parties. It can be used as a river boat, a canal boat or even a beach house. Oh, and it's rugged and stable enough to take out on the ocean. Kits will start at around $50k (USD). The design has been tested in simulation and prototype; full-scale production will begin next year.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

World's Largest Playground

Lake Baikal
Quite a number of people in the world have taken up a nomadic lifestyle by living aboard boats. Instead of cooperatively running in the rat race, they have escaped and now work some vague and sketchy internet-based job while sailing around the islands of the Caribbean or around the Mediterranean, with the Greek islands a particular favorite. Other favorite cruising grounds, for those who don’t much care for the open ocean, include the canals of England or Canal du Midi in France. The Inside Passage which runs up the coast of British Columbia from Washington state to Alaska is another favored playground. The Intracoastal Waterway that runs along the Eastern Seaboard (and is lovingly called “the ditch”) is said to start in Boston, Massachusetts, but can really only be said to exist between Norfolk, Virginia and Brownsville, Texas, on the Mexican border. The more adventurous go through Panama Canal and go island-hopping among Pacific atolls. There are many others. But there is one truly gigantic cruising ground that is charted, dredged, has plenty to see and plenty to do, but remains almost entirely unexplored.

The boats used depend on the application: the seaworthier sailboats—keelboats and catamarans—for the ocean, while motor boats are restricted to the coasts, the canals and the rivers. There are exceptions: plenty of keelboats try to get through the Intracoastal and often end up running aground, and every autumn a steady stream of sailboats and catamarans arrives from Canada via the Erie Canal and Hudson River with their masts down (to make it under the bridges) and their decks a mad tangle of rigging.

There is a lot to like about cruising: the relaxed, unhurried lifestyle (you move at your own pace with no schedules to hurry you along); there is the chance to explore new places that are not easily accessible except by water and therefore not likely to be overrun with tourists; the intimate contact with nature and the chance to observe it daily at close range.

One of the biggest problems with cruising is that it’s boring: virtually all of the cruising grounds have been mapped out, with detailed cruising guides telling you where to go and what to look at. Essentially, when you go cruising, you are signing up to do something that’s already been done.

Another problem with cruising is rich people. Now, there is nothing wrong with being rich, and a good quote to remember is Deng Xiaoping’s 致富光荣 (zhìfù guāngróng): “To get rich is glorious!” The problem is with people who try to act rich around you while you are trying to ignore all of that competitive nonsense and just have a good time. To quote me: “To act rich is in bad taste.”

An associated problem is that cruising tends to be expensive: the industrial sector that supplies the boats is competitive, and it competes on the basis of ostentation—in sportiness and luxury—while catering primarily to those who want to act rich. And what sits at the intersection of sportiness and luxury is a financial black hole: the boats that result from this process are maintenance nightmares, and the most common topic of discussion among cruisers is getting their broken stuff fixed, wherever they happen to end up.

And the offshoot of all this is that most cruisers happen to be over the hill. The vast majority of those I’ve seen are baby boomers squandering their children’s inheritance on expensive toys, marina transient fees (which cost as much as hotel room stays) and lots of trips to local restaurants. Most of them are reasonably friendly and personable, but what they mostly talk about is insipid: the quality of the food and the service, the weather and, of course, what broke and how they fixed it or are planning to. If this doesn’t sound too adventurous or exciting to you, then perhaps you are right.

And then it occurred to me that there is a cruising destination that hasn’t been explored at all: Russia. Russia has the largest network of navigable waterways in the world: over 100,000 km long. The European part of it is 6,500 km long, all of it dredged to 4 m (13 feet). A system of canals connect it into a single network of waterways that reaches from the Baltic to the Ural mountains and from the Arctic Ocean to the Black Sea. The following map shows all of the navigable waterways in light blue.

Click to enlarge

Of particular interest is the area just inland from St. Petersburg, which is on the Baltic Sea. River Neva, which is short and wide, connects it to Ladoga Lake, which is the largest lake in Europe. It has islands, fjords and plenty of good sailing. From there is the somewhat smaller Onega Lake, and rivers and canals then run on to Moscow and a ring of cities around it, which are some of the most spectacular travel destinations in Russia, featuring medieval fortresses and monasteries, most of them accessible from the water. South from there, the mighty Volga River takes you through most of the rest of Russia’s historical heartland. Then, via the Volga-Don Canal, you can cross over to River Don, which takes you to the Black Sea.

There are a few logistical problems with going on such a cruising adventure. One is that no foreign-flagged vessels are allowed on Russia’s inland waterways. Another is that a local skipper, who speaks fluent Russian and knows the local regulations, is an absolute requirement. Also, any small craft that goes on this adventure has to be maximally self-sufficient: there are few to no marinas offering yacht repair services to be found. Lastly, the cruising season runs from May through October. It can be stretched by a few weeks each way further south, but nobody in their right mind would brave River Neva before the end of April, when Onega Lake has dumped its load of winter ice into the Baltic. But none of these problems is insoluble.

Specifically, it has occurred to me that Quidnon, by its design, makes it a splendid choice as a platform for such an adventure. It is simple, rugged, quickly and cheaply constructed from commonly available materials and parts, is safe in both deep and shallow water, and can be set up for comfortable living in a harsh climate. I will explain the details of this in the next post. Meanwhile, please enjoy the scenery!

Caspian Sea
Volga Delta
Yenisei River
Ladoga Lake

37 comments:

  1. Cant wait for the next chapter! Beautiful!

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  2. Another vast and beautiful destination to daydream about. Beautiful pictures!

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  3. How much are these Quindons? Does it come with anything that elaborates on how to pilot & live on such a vessel?

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    1. I costed out materials using North America marine plywood prices at around $50k, then figured out that in Russia it's 1/9th to 1/10th for same quality material. So, it will have to be recalculated, but I am pretty sure the final price will be less.

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  4. Sounds like a better idea in Russia! How about guides for doing things with this? I'd be very interested in something that elaborated on an ocean voyage.

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    1. Stay tuned for the next few posts when I go over the do's and don'ts and go over the numbers. The opportunities here are fantastic.

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  5. I've been thinking of making the journey from St. Petersburg to Rostov on Don and then on to Crimea. Unfortunately, I don't speak Russian but I'm looking for a First Mate that does! The different legs of the voyage are described at the following link: http://www.european-waterways.eu/e/info/russia/index.php
    :D

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    1. And of course, I need to build my Quidnon first!

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    2. Great idea, I am thinking about that too... but for now it remains just a topic for daydreaming for me :) I speak Russian native by the way)))

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  6. That sounds great! Will be looking forward to it.

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  7. Do you have an updated testing and production schedule that you can provide us with, Dmitri? I would like to build one as soon as possible, but it looks like next year won't be the year, as originally planned. I know that you want to do another fundraiser . . . so what's the plan?

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    1. I have bad news and good news. Bad news is that Helder, who has been absolutely instrumental in getting the 3D model worked out, won't have time to work on Quidnon. The good news is that I have made the time available to finish the modeling work myself. So, the plan is to finish the 3D model before the end of this year, then make study plans available, have them reviewed by a marine architect who can determine such things as materials thicknesses and fastener sizes and spacing, and then move on to making production drawings and g-code for milling out the panels. That's where it stands now, and the funds already raised will allow us to complete this work. The next round of fundraising will be for equity investors, not crowdsourcing, and will probably happen next year.

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  8. Dammit Dmitry,,,
    Quit teasing us with your beautiful clickbait-worthy-sans-T&A facts and photos--this Quidnon offering has been dragging on for years, it seems, and with every post becoming even more desirable and tantalizingly doable.
    ICW--check; Gulf coast and Caribbean--check; west coast from Panama through inside passage into Alaska--check; some almost-unbearable snotty a**hole cruisers--check.
    And now this latest tease--cruising Russia.
    How does one flag a newly-built-in-the-US vessel as Russian?
    And to then become licensed to cruise Russia?
    Specifically for a non-wealthy USian?
    Keep 'em coming, Dmitry. I have no doubt this is going to take off like a big-assed bird--that there are many others eagerly awaiting your certain Quidnon success, and many times more buyers, when they finally get to hear about and see its magic.
    (If you're not getting money from some Russian tourism bureau, you should be. Beautiful!)
    Best, john

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    1. I don't like the characterization "dragging on": what's been happening is consistent refinement of the design with input from many people. Good ideas take time.

      To answer your question: it would be foolish to manufacture kits in the US, where marine-quality fir plywood is 9 to 10 times more expensive than in Russia. And if kits are milled in Russia, why not assemble them right in Russia, in some scenic rustic village on a riverbank? Then flagging it as Russian is automatic. Once you've had your fill of cruising Russia and have sailed it out through the Baltic or the Mediterranean, you can reflag it as anything you like. If you then import it into, say, the EU, you pay the VAT based on the Russian price, discounted because the boat is now used property.

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  9. My grandfather was born and mostly raised in Russia. He was eventually sent to a Jesuit school in Japan and then to US. He was more American than any one else I ever met. Refused to speak Russian even when I expressed a great interest and knowledge of Russia. Pity.

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  10. Really ? The last real adventure is inland waterways of Russia ? That's sad.

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    1. Just because others have gone before you does not mean you will not have your own adventure sailing known waters. Meanwhile, nice to learn more about Russia. Our ignorance is appalling.

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    2. A very traditional way to defray the costs of cruising is by writing articles for sailing magazines, sailing travelogues and cruising guides. If your sailing destination is the Chesapeake or the Adriatic, there won't be much demand for them. If your destination is Lake Baikal, then the world will beat a path to your door. Compared to much of the rest of the world, Russia is still quite exotic. It's a country where it takes longer to fly across it than to fly from Moscow to New York and where a day with 1m of snow and -40 is just another workday, with schools open.

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  11. Anyone ever read Matt Bracken? Castigo Cay & The Red Cliffs of Zerhoun both include a type of ship that seems interesting, but I don't know what to make of it (I'm not real nautical-savy). Seems like a good idea if you're going more toward a utility vehicle than something primarily a mobile home.

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  12. Dimitry,have you consitered steel for a hull material? There are many whose first choice is something as durible,and easy to repair...the entire concept of "Q" has reset my retirement plans as being a plan b worthy of investment.
    I have just finished reading your latest book"plan"...Dimitry,please dont think me simply a nationalistic simplton for believing the US miltary has much longer,sharper teeth than you do.(When you use a rangefinder as a hammer,it hard on the tech,and bends the nail).Much of the warfighting ability is hidden,both from the public,and from those who have a "professial"interest.
    I expect at some point soon,the carefully created american dream, most live in still,will be stripped away by circumstance.Trump has shown a willingness to kick apple carts over,that many politician still cling to.I have never seen such hated from"the state"openly directed to a president from his own party,as well as the attempt to gut the federal governments true power,the departments whose regulations impact all citizens lives.They have survived,in the past,by keeping low,and keeping track.I expect the same,if we as a people,luck out...
    All of Reagans staff,and most of the heads of all depts.did hard prison time.....the last time "government was the problem"...(he escaped in dementia).
    I truly hope your timing is still way off,(like 20 year)as my life is reaching the point of semi-comfort,and I dont have my fallout shelter quite done....you thoughts of some in power useing "the samson option"in the face of loss of the empire match my own,and have been the source of nightmares for years.Keep writing...your wit and evaluations provide much food for thought for those who are paying attention to the worlds lurching to a uncertain,unhappy future..snuffy

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  13. Dmitry, the Russian Federation apparently changed the rules for foreign flagged pleasure craft on internal waterways in May 2012. See http://www.sailinginrussia.org for one couple who sailed from Arkangelsk all the way to Kerch. Also http://www.european-waterways.eu/e/info/russia/index.php for European Russia waterways.

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    1. This is excellent news! It looks like clearing in at St. Petersburg and then cruising all the way down to the Black Sea is now possible for foreign-flagged recreational craft.

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  14. Dmitry,
    Would you consider the possibility of setting up a non-profit to assist folks wanting to come to Russia to build their Quidnon? Something like a work-camp, where folks would come in to build their boats, but assist others equally before leaving. Basic shelters could be built by the volunteers, maybe a communal farm? Perhaps set up an English school/tutoring center to bring in additional income? (all the expat websites say this is -THE- thing for native English speakers to do...) In the meantime I think a mailing list or forum would be useful for discussion and planing.
    By the way, I have been following your blogs for the better part of a decade now. You have been integral in informing my worldview on the coming economic/social/environmental collapse and furthering my interests in sailing/living aboard and Russia. My many thanks!

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    1. These are all amazing ideas. But the fact remains that we have worked diligently on this project, then held a fundraiser, and after covering various project costs (software licensing, computer equipment, other expenses) we ended up with less than the price of a dinghy motor. So we'll do what we promised, which is finish the design work, and then we'll see.

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  15. Dennis, without being rude, you've never been to Russia. Pull a bodgey and you have 90 days to build a boat, outfit her and leave the Russian Federation. A bit unlikely. A bit more likely is to take out Temporary Residence Status, forget about Moscow or St Pete unless you find a Russian woman to marry, you won't meet quotas.

    Kazan is a good possibility, it's on the Volga and is "very open" to foreigners.

    To tour the Russian Federation waterways except as a once off will require dedication, but if you learn to love Russia, she will love you.

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    1. Dennis, beware of people who volunteer their extreme opinions. FYI: A 3-year Russian visa will cost you around $400. It will require you to leave and reenter the country every 6 months. There are lots of light industrial locations along waterways where a boat can be built indoors, with heat (which is cheap). Stephen is only right that Moscow and St. P. shouldn't be on the list of build sites, but the surrounding regions should be.

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  16. What about building it on the Black Sea somewhere with materials FROM Russia? Or whatever area this is being built? I would think that the shipping wouldn't cost you too much more, but I could be completely wrong about that.

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    1. The fir plywood and timber is best purchased where it's most plentiful, best-quality and cheapest, and that's Russia. Compared to prices in the US for Douglas Fir marine grade, the price difference is around 80-90%. The best place to mill kits out of it is probably still Russia. Then it can be shipped flat-packed to anywhere in the world for assembly.

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  17. And what about living on the coast or one of the rivers? I don't know what would attract unwanted attention (which is important), but I'd think that it'd be cheap & fairly easy to live Romania/Bulgaria/Ukraine (if it ever gets better)/Russia in a circuit.

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  18. Dmitry, a three year visa is only available to US citizens AFAIK, permits stays of up to 180 days per year but does not permit working. Dennis spoke about tutoring to bring in extra income, that requires a work permit. OVIR and the Politsas are going to consider the construction of a boat as "working". The three year visa does not permit that. That visa violation attracts an administrative penalty (not much), deportation and a five year ban on re-entry to Russia.

    If someone wants to hire local labour to help in the construction then you need a tax number. Depending on where you are in Russia, the local police can be very sensitive about working visa violations. Where I live in Sverdlovskaya the Politsas regularly check on all registered foreigners for working violations. It's not a shakedown, but an attempt to keep control of workers from the 'Stans.

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    1. "OVIR and the Politsas are going to consider the construction of a boat as "working" "
      Really? I would indeed be "working" to build the boat, but not in an income-generating sense. Or is this some bureaucratic notion?
      And nevermind the English teaching/tutoring; I threw that out as a somewhat tongue-in-cheek idea. But for those who might consider it, wouldn't they just need a Russian biz to sponsor them?

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    2. "a three year visa is only available to US citizens"
      Wha??? Why? We've only caused them nothing but trouble. Why would they do us the favor?

      Yes, I had heard that St. Petersburg and Moscow are expensive cities to live in. What about Crimea? Or the eastern coast, perhaps Vladivostok?

      The more I consider this endeavor the more questions I have...

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    3. Inaccurate and misleading information, such as you get from this character Stephen, is worse than none at all. You need a permit to do paid work. Whether or not you even need a visa depends on which passport(s) you have. And you can tutor English for cash without a work permit (lots of people do it).

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  19. Dmitry: I have an unrelated question that I hope isn't too personal: How do you manage raising a son with all the bouncing around & avoiding the pitfalls of living in the US today? I'm looking to do something similar, but can't figure out how the kid is supposed to socialize & learn how to handle things if homeschooled.

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  20. Dmitry,
    I'm sorry I missed your fundraiser back in the spring. I hope you might consider giving it another shot at some point. Perhaps as you are building the first Quidnon? In my mind, that will be the point at which this project is "real" (as in, fully-realized). A coffee table book filled with actual photos of Quidnon, hopefully with the landscape and waterways of Russia as background, might be a better sell than a book of renderings.
    Also, I truly believe that your recent remark in these comments that Quidnon could be built in Russia for 1/9 to 1/10 the cost of building in the US, is, forgive the buzzword, a gamechanger. That is the moment when building a Quidnon for myself went from a distant possibility to something to put my best effort towards. I plan on learning Russian, and more about Russia, in the coming year. I don't speak any other languages, nor ever been outside the US, so I have a lot to learn.
    I don't suppose you'd consider taking someone on as an apprentice, of sorts, for the first Quidnon build?
    * wink wink, nudge nudge *

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  21. Beautiful location. The images are so appealing that I am so keen to visit this place as soon as possible. Thank you for sharing.
    Marine foam sheets

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