National Geographic’s Doomsday Preppers has featured a multitude of survival-minded individuals, but only one is ready to ride out disaster on a boat. Before Simpson became the captain of the Iron Maiden and wrote The Nautical Prepper, he was a successful entrepreneur.
Captain Bill began developing his skills first as a youngster in the Boy Scouts and then later as a teen who took advantage of the eight different types of industrial arts classes his Los Angeles school offered. While hiking the Sierra Mountains as a young man, Simpson had no idea that his life experience would one day be highlighted on a hit television show.
At the tender age of 8, Captain Bill’s father started teaching him how to safely handle weapons and taught him hand-to-hand combat tactics. He also began taking Jujitsu by a local martial arts expert. Captain Bill helped his family work a 100-acre farm after a move to the Applegate Valley region of Oregon during his teen years.
It was here he garnered ranching and timber logging skills. Before Simpson graduated high school, he was more technically trained than many adults are today.
When enrolling at Oregon State University, he majored in science and had plans to become a surgeon. During summer breaks, he worked in the commercial salmon fishing industry. He rebuilt two boats to use in his journeys along the Oregon Coast searching for salmon.
Captain Bill later got a private pilot’s license and a Federal Firearms License and dealt in various types of handguns and rifles. In his spare time, he taught martial arts classes and competed in local tournaments himself.
Captain Bill Simpson recently sat down with The Inquisitr to discuss being a nautical prepper and the journey which led him to the liveaboard lifestyle.
IQ – Living off the grid on a boat cannot be an easy task. What prompted you to embark on such a journey?
Capt. Bill – Actually it’s easier than it sounds. I guess looking-back we took small incremental steps. After earning my way through part of college as a commercial fisherman off the Oregon coast, my wife Laura and I started out as recreational boaters back in the mid-70s cruising around the San Juan Islands during summer vacations using a 28-foot powerboat. Then I found myself working as a field gemologist and flying around the mountains in northern Brazil and loving it. I guess I was becoming somewhat of an adventure lover.
A few years later we found ourselves living in Hawaii and in the charter sailing, fishing and diving biz in Hawaii. When we weren’t booked, we would go cruising around the islands using our charter boats, staying days at a time in different unique and spectacular locations, fishing, snorkeling and diving. Each time we went, we found ourselves wanting to stay longer, and longer on location. I suppose this was where we fell in love with the concept.
During the latter part of the 80s I had been running several businesses and traveling extensively when I realized that I had not been spending enough time with my family. So we decided to find a boat and head-out on a family sailing expedition into the Sea of Cortez. People always tend to assume that only the wealthy can accomplish something like this, but that was not the case. We couldn’t afford to just go out and buy a boat ready to go; instead we found a 57-foot sailboat that was essentially salvage in Oregon, and bought it cheap.
We moved from Hawaii back to Oregon and then I spent about a year and a half fixing it up… what you might call sweat equity. In 1991my wife and I and our 11-year-old son and 8-year- old daughter and two dogs left Oregon heading out to sea on our first sailing expedition. By the time we returned to Oregon in 1994 we had sailed about 12,000 miles and learned a lot about ourselves and about living totally off the grid.
IQ – You have said that you did not realize at first that you were a “prepper.” How did that realization evolve?
Capt. Bill – I think it might have been when Alan Madison and I started talking about having us on the show, he said that we were some of the best prepared people he had ever seen and that he wanted to do a show with us. And when Alan started calling us “preppers” that got me wondering; what exactly is a prepper? So I started my due-diligence.
IQ – How did your appearance on Doomsday Preppers come about?
Capt. Bill – I had made a couple guest-posts at a blog and the casting director apparently took note of my comments and contacted me from that blog. After a telephone call with her, I received a call from the Executive Producer of DoomsDay preppers, Alan Madison, who wanted us to appear on the show. We debated the value proposition of doing the show and weighed the value of bringing new ideas into the prepper community via our potential show and possibly a book, versus the hard work and privacy trade-offs that would be required to do both.
Alan made the suggestion that with our experience, and the novelty of nautical prepping, there would be many people who would love to learn how to use a boat as part of a prepping lifestyle. And that in addition to the show, he could think of no better person to write such a book, which could be a possible offshoot of the show.
I also considered the fact that the show is an important forum that allows ideas to be shared with a massive public audience, and even if those ideas are only shared in part, it’s certainly better than no show at all. It also seemed important to try to help others to understand what prepping is about and help to make it more mainstream. I believe that regardless of what some critics think or say, the show and the dialog it creates does intrigue many more people to consider some level of disaster preparedness.
Having more of the general population properly prepared helps to minimize initial chaos and competition for key resources at the onset of any disaster and thereafter in post-disaster scenarios. In many post-disaster scenarios, some of the problems that many people face are as a result of their own failure in basic disaster preparedness. And through their own lack of preparedness, these same people become the desperate victims of the event. I call these people the “un-prepped.”
And it’s the un-prepped who become the greatest post-disaster burden upon first responders and public resources and services. I believe that educating the general public, not scaring them, is the key. And that it’s important to encourage people to prepare for unexpected events so they do not become panic-stricken desperate victims.
IQ – Rarely does a featured prepper agree with all of the Practical Preppers critique. Is the process a bit flawed by the lack of time available to thoroughly become familiar with all f the specific details of each prepper’s skills and gear?
Capt. Bill – That is a tough question, only because there are several inter-related issues that affect the judging process as it relates to the show. First of all, all judging is subjective and is based upon the knowledge-base of the judges. Secondly, how does anyone do a show like Doomsday Preppers in less than 18 minutes and meet everyone’s expectations? I don’t think it’s possible, but nonetheless it’s done, otherwise there would be no show at all, and that may be even less acceptable to everyone concerned.
I think that most if not all guests on the show realize there are timing constraints in producing and presenting such a show. Every prepper I have met has dozens of preps, concepts and ideas that they want to show, and that the audience might want to see. But there is just not enough time to show everything, which can make any prepper look like they may have missed something important or failed to include some mission critical items or preps, when in fact, they haven’t.
This makes it hard for both the audience and the “experts” to judge the prepper. What it comes down to is; you do your best in a snapshot of time. From my own experience at least, the Nat Geo. team fairly portrayed the preps we showed, in the context of providing edutainment that reaches a very broad audience base. If the show was merely a This Old House format it would likely lose a large share of the audience who tunes-in for the drama aspects, as opposed to the ‘how-to’ aspects that preppers want to see.
And if you lose audience-share, it’s hard to pay the bills and have a show. So out of necessity, the show has to have a little of everything. I think it’s a compromise that works; the show has many people engaged in a dialog about prepping for the first time and I think that’s an important first step in a much larger process.
IQ – How did your experience as a US Merchant Marine help prepare you living off largely uninhabited and remote islands?
Capt. Bill – As the master of passenger carrying vessels you are responsible for everyone onboard your boat. This is a huge responsibility; at least for me. Life is a fragile thing so there is no room for errors that can jeopardize or compromise the safety of passengers who place their faith in you as the captain of the ship; safety relies heavily upon shipboard discipline. Things must be done properly and timely, including safety drills with crew.
Over time, the discipline and drills develop a level of mental preparedness and tenacity that lends itself to other areas in life, including prepping. I guess all things considered, the ability to maintain personal discipline to manage and oversee maintenance and operations was the greatest benefit stemming from my experience as a Merchant Marine Officer.
Living in remote areas requires confidence based upon experience as well as a touch of wanderlust. Even with my past life experiences it was with some trepidation that we found ourselves heading into the remote areas of the Sea of Cortez on our first voyage in 1991 far from family and friends, and more importantly, from any reliable help. But as with all things, I found that on this first voyage, we all rose-up and met the challenges.
The discipline led us to organization. Each person had an assignment and by breaking-down and distributing the workload according to ability, we found that we all had plenty of free time to share, while accomplishing all of things we needed to do to as far as maintaining our ship, which was our home, combined with gathering and preparing food. Water was never an issue as a result of having a commercial water maker or desalination plant, which did require timely maintenance.
On the second voyage, it was just Laura and I running a much larger vessel, the 70-foot Iron Maiden. Of course by this time, Laura had become more ‘salty’ and instead of the feeling of trepidation as we had in 1991, it felt like we were returning home as we anxiously headed up into the Sea of Cortez, returning to the islands where we had previously lived with our children.
IQ – Why do you think a growing number of Americans are engaging in some type of prepper, survivalist, or homesteading activity?
Capt. Bill – I think it’s because many Americans are looking around and don’t like what they see. I have read that there are about five million active preppers in the US alone, and that number may well be much larger. Americans have witnessed one disaster after another where victims are stranded waiting for help while FEMA and politicians jockey for media coverage and job security. We now live in a world that has become more dangerous than at anytime in the past. There are many bona-fide threats to modern civilization that are not operating on a geologic timeframes.
Speaking for myself, I am concerned about the risks posed by events that we have seen happen every 20-50 years. Those risks are encompassed by man-caused and natural events, such as conventional and nuclear war, and catastrophic industrial accidents and pandemic disease, as just a couple examples. There are several reports that have been commissioned by the US government that clearly state there is a very real risk to the national energy grid from EMP and/or technological attack (computer viruses/hacking).
Coupled with that and included in the same reports are the risks posed from solar storms, which happen on a greater frequency than is being admitted publicly. Anyone can Google the terms “frequency of solar storms” and become enlightened in minutes; it’s a very real risk on the near-term basis.
If you are one of the lucky ones who is already pre-positioned and living outside the congested cities in the event of a grid-down situation, your odds of survival are much better than the people in those areas, many of whom will not make it out of the cities. There are major differences between a localized disaster, where hope and accordingly morale are buoyed by the fact that people understand that authorities in a nearby city or state are coming to their rescue, and a national disaster, where everyone is in the same disaster with nobody coming to the rescue.
When a majority or all of theUS is in a state of disaster, as in a national grid-down event, and there is no hope of help coming, the psychological landscape changes greatly. It may only take a day or two after such a catastrophic event, where people are no longer supported by the highly leveraged infrastructure, until people become seriously desperate and will act like ‘the drowning man’, who will pull another person under to stay afloat himself.
Basically, the survival instincts will kick-in and people will no longer act the way they do under semi-normal circumstances, and for the most part, morals will be ditched in lieu of self-preservation, which is a basic instinct in all humans. It’s important to understand that I am speaking in general terms; there will be those few people who will adhere to their high moral standards, but given the desperate masses, they stand little chance trying to help other … they will be overcome. Anyone who has worked or seen the crowd mentalities at United Nations food distribution sites has seen the reactions of desperate crowds who would readily trample anyone to death for a bowl of rice. That’s what we are talking about here.