Fifth Empire Company


The Creation

When I dipt into the future, far as human eye could see,
saw the Vision of the world and all the wonder that would be;
Saw the heavens fill with commerce, argosies of magic sails,
Pilots of the purple twilight dropping down with costly bales...
— Alfred Lord Tennyson, 'Locksley Hall'

The Company was founded by two sailors, one English and one Portuguese. By chance, both discovered the sea in early adulthood; both became immersed in the curious culture of those last few traditional sailing ships that still ply the coasts of Europe. Fascinated by what seemed at first to be an anachronism ‐ the last vestiges of a fading age - they soon began to wonder about the place and purpose of sailing ships in the modern world.

An ExplorerAn Explorer

Old Boats

Many of these vessels seemed to struggle with their own ill‐defined raison d'être; they went to sea, just as they had always done, earning enough, in the name of various causes, to continue to do so, but in port they were something of a worn‐out curiosity, unsure of their own purview and uncertain of their own future. Like tired animals, extinct in the wild, pacing without purpose along the well‐trod margins of their pen. People still love them, mostly for the romance rather than the reality.

The sailors met in Antwerp, on a sailing ship. They worked and learned together and, in doing so, began to formulate ideas which would eventually coalesce into the Fifth Empire. It was clear to them that wooden sailing ships retained certain advantages over modern commercial motor vessels: they were beautiful, they were convivial, they excited the spirit and were more sympathetic to the environment in which they worked.

Two up a mastTwo ships in company

And yet people will still tell you that sailing ships are nothing but a novelty. A living relic. A token gesture. With the condescension of so‐called commonsense, they douse nostalgia with terms like archaic, old fashioned, functionally extinct. And the sailors, although they felt their ships were far from obsolete, had to admit that the pragmatists had a point. What service could a sailing ship offer the world that could not be done on a greater scale and at greater speed by modern means? By those measures, they could not compete. But the sailors also wondered why they should want to. It seemed to them that what the sailing ships needed was to find a new purpose ‐ one in which they were still equipped to excel ‐ and different standards by which to measure their success.

The Tubby Smuggler


Ever increasing size, speed, efficiency and capacity is all very well in a world of infinite resources and possibilities, but in truth the globe is smaller than humanity's ambitions. With the misty corners of the charts long since filled in, infinite consumption and infinite growth now set society up to devour itself. The way the sailors saw it, 'modern' means were already outdated. In these fast‐paced times, the only inexhaustible resource is human hubris. Growth at any cost ‐ even at the cost of our own survival ‐ is the philosophy of a cancer, not a forward‐thinking civilisation. Why not instead aspire to equilibrium, equality; a maturation of society wherein we learn to live within our means? (See: DEGROWTH). Thus old means may be commandeered for new ends.

Wooden boats must go to sea, else their fabric deteriorates, and they must work, lest they lose their meaning. The sailors began to believe that it was the institutions that had grown up around old boats, rather than the boats themselves, that were outdated. They began to ask themselves: in what other ways might an old sailing vessel earn her keep?

The Tubby Smuggler

In England they experimented with a Yorkshire Coble (a kind of clinker beach boat), anchoring off and selling ice creams from the water in the heat of summer, 2019.

The 'Tubby Smuggler', as she was known, proved to be a popular scheme, however the reality of keeping the ice‐creams from melting in thirty degree heat turned out to be something of a challenge. They were innocent days.

Finding Raconteur

Eventually the time came for something more. Having stashed some funds, the sailors set out to see what could be done with a small sailing ship. They found Raconteur, slumbering alongside a pontoon in Wales on the brink of decline. She spoke to them, so they chose her, even though at the time they didn't understand exactly what it was she was saying. They brought her back to Devon, where they are currently working on her until their planned departure in the summer of 2021.

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