Michael Bates grew up seven nautical miles off the coast of England, on a platform made of concrete and metal. Michael, the son of Roy Bates, is the Prince of the Principality of Sealand, a contested micronation that, despite its size, has become a darling of adventurers and journalists alike. Sealand has a football team, its flag has been run up Mount Everest, and it offers personalised knighthood for a mere £99 ($145).
Today, as futurists, tech billionaires and libertarians start looking to the sea for the next stage of cities and governance, Sealand serves as a tiny example, a strange and intriguing case study of all the good and the bad of living on the waves. What can the experiences of the Bates family tell those who dream about ocean living?
The precise history of Sealand is contested, but here is, essentially, how it came to be. Sealand was originally called HM Fort Roughs or Roughs Tower, one of four naval sea forts designed by Guy Maunsell for the British Royal Navy to defend against the Germans in World War Two. During the war, somewhere between 100 and 120 naval officers were stationed on the tower, but in the early 1950s the tower was abandoned.