Ephemerisle, Seasteading, and Unknown Waters

With a 12-pack of beer and pillows loaded in the car, we left San Francisco around 9 in the morning to begin our journey. I had called my friend, Skye, two days earlier with a strange proposition, “Want to go camping on the water?” We were heading to a festival called Ephemerisle. The only promising information we had about Ephemerisle came from a Facebook group and an email chain my friend had forwarded me.

The Facebook event read, “Ephemerisle is an experimental floating celebration of community, learning, art, seasteading, and differing forms of governance.” There were no tickets, no official rules, and no groups in charge. We had no official accommodations plannedonly hope that we’d figure it out when we arrived. With these few details and a spirit of adventure fueling our eagerness, we headed towards the Stockton river delta.

“There were no tickets, no official rules, and no groups in charge.”

100 miles might not seem very far to someone who has a normal car. However, when you’re driving an electric Smart car, 100 miles quickly turns a normal 2 hour road trip into a 6 hour trek. Halfway there, we had to stop in a parking lot in Concord to charge my car. The dense summer air was unforgiving and instantly had us sweating through everything we were wearing. In the distance, a Panda Express taunted us with advertisements of genetically modified orange chicken and the promise of air conditioning. As we walked in, we spotted peppercorn shrimp samples sitting above steaming vats of pseudo Chinese food. To pass the time, we ate our rice bowls grain by grainall the while, hoping we wouldn’t be asked to leave for loiter for two hours. I cracked open my fortune cookie. “Ask your mother,” it read. Crunching half of the cookie in my mouth, I pondered what fortune my mother could possibly tell me was in store.

After a few hours of charging, we continued on our journey. Bumping down a back country road dotted with produce fields, we came upon the river where a ship sat in the distance. The 300-ft cruise ship docked on the edge of the river was a relic from WWII. It looked like it had been abandoned decades ago and would be impossible to move. We parked the car and spotted a group of men sitting in a motorboat next to the ship. It was one of the ferries taking people to Ephemerisle. The men barely acknowledged us as they huddled around the dock lugging supplies into the boat. “Can we catch a ride?” we asked.

The youngest of the men looked at us indifferently and muttered, “Bring everything you’ll need to be comfortable overnight. This is the last trip.”

Skye and I exchanged nervous glances and ran back to the car. In less than 10 minutes we were back at the boat with our arms full of duffle bags and beer. We tossed our stuff into the back of the boat and jumped in with the three men.

We’d come this far and this seemed to be our only option for getting out to Ephemerisle, so we took it.

After cruising along the river for 20 minutes with the sun sinking in the distance, the roar of the motor ceased and a colony of houseboats came into view. A massive platform made of black inner tubes and wooden walkways floated before us. The man next to me, a Ephemerisle veteran, chuckled at our astonishment. “Where do you ladies want to go?” asked the captain.

We hadn’t completely grasped how difficult it would be to navigate between Ephemerisle’s man-made “islands” without a boat of our own. I had heard there was a tug boat hosting a conference and asked to be dropped off there.

We were met with a confused, but warm welcome (probably because we brought beer) and had to sign a liability waiver. The tar black tugboat was made up of three decks that were all covered with tents and sleeping bags. The main deck was set up for the conference with a projector, chairs, and a BBQ in the back.

Time felt distorted on the water. As the sun set, we watched a series of amazing speakers present on everything from the ethics of artificial intelligence to saving marine life from illegal fishing. Talk after talk went by and the full moon illuminated the slick black water surrounding us. In the distance, party boats with thumping music and flashing LED lights began to ferry festival goers between each island.

    The night slipped by in a blur and we managed to haggle a ferry ride back to the old cruise ship to spend the night. Our seasteading lifestyle was short lived, but the whole experience was not. We met some of the most incredible marine activists, scientists, artists, and boating enthusiasts who taught us about the possibilities of building a community on the water. To have been a part of this aquatic village was an unforgettable experience that reminded us to embrace the unknown on any adventures we pursue.