originally published June 21, 2013
Happy summer everyone! Yes, it’s time to welcome those lazy, slow-moving months of late evening sun, hammock-worthy afternoons and frozen drinks with suspiciously large amounts of alcohol bubbling between tiny little ice crystals. This is the day when some unredeemable schmuck will remind you that the days only get shorter from here, and that we’re working our way toward winter. Last I checked, it was justifiable assault in 32 states and 6 Canadian provinces to smack around anyone who says that to you.
No, in my little corner of the world we are tuned into summer and focusing on the moment. And for those who haven’t yet planned your getaway during these summer months, I’m going to suggest you point yourself toward the water. A lot of resorts and the best coastline hotel rooms may be booked though. But if you really love that salty ocean air, why not surround yourself with it? Why not take a trip to a place where that salty ocean air is the second-largest attraction, apart from the ocean itself?
I’d like to introduce you to the Principality of Sealand, where dreams – if not actual physical space – are in abundance.
Okay, okay. So it’s a man-made floating platform “pretending” to be a country. But Sealand is more than some nutjob’s flee-the-grid pipe dream. It has everything a young nation requires: a good back-story, international relations, a local economy, a sports legacy, natural disasters and even a couple of sort-of wars.
The ‘territory’ of Sealand was originally the H.M. Fort Roughs, an offshore naval base deployed in 1943 to protect the port of Harwich, Essex from those nasty Germans. The base saw no significant action, and was abandoned in 1956 when it appeared that no threat was imminent in the waters around England. Ten years later, Fort Roughs found a pair of new tenants.
In 1966, Ronan O’Rahilly operated the pirate radio station known as Radio Caroline, which operated on a ship (the M.V. Caroline, of course) in the waters outside the reach of British law. He and fellow radio radical Paddy Roy Bates decided to lay claim to the H.M. Fort Roughs as a new home base for their broadcast exploits. The base was perfect, as it was close enough to England to offer a substantial listening audience, yet it lay just outside of international waters.
After a disagreement between the two men, Roy Bates seized the tower for himself. The recent passing of the Marine Broadcast Offences Act of 1967 meant that a tower such as Fort Roughs could not legally broadcast to the mainland, so the pirate radio dream appeared doomed. Nevertheless, Ronan O’Rahilly attempted to storm the platform and take it back. He was rebuffed by Roy Bates’ home-made petrol bombs and Roy’s son Michael, who was firing warning shots at O’Rahilly’s advancing boat.
All of this landed Roy in court with his son, with weapons charges hanging over their heads. Fortunately, the charges were dropped. The tower was beyond British international waters, and therefore out of the court’s jurisdiction. Roy took the dismissal of charges as a sign.
Prior to the invasion attempt, Roy had attempted a diplomatic solution. He had declared the tower to be the independent Principality of Sealand, a delightfully oxymoronic name. When the courts refused to prosecute, Roy took it as an implicit recognition of his independent nation, which of course it was not.
Roy Bates rechristened himself Prince Roy, with his wife taking on the title of Princess Joan. A constitution was drafted in 1974, claiming Sealand to be a constitutional monarchy, with a legal system that follows British common law. Several passports were issued to people who took an interest in the small micronation; stamps, coins, and a national flag were next to follow. Everything was good and official. And then they were invaded.
This is the army that Roy Bates (third from the left) put together in 1978 during Sealand’s greatest crisis. While Prince Roy and Princess Joan were enjoying a pleasant August getaway abroad (in England), a lawyer named Alexander Achenbach declared himself to be the rightful Prime Minister of Sealand, and he stormed the platform. He hired a number of German and Dutch mercenaries, who stormed Sealand with jet skis, helicopters and speedboats, no doubt looking mightily bad-ass as they effortlessly conquered an undefended platform from nobody. Well, almost nobody – Michael Bates was tending the castle, and he was quickly taken prisoner.
Roy Bates and his makeshift army took back the base and freed his son. Alexander Achenbach was then charged under Sealand law with treason, and was held pending a payment of 75,000 German deutschemarks, or about $35,000 US. The governments of the Netherlands, Austria and Germany all petitioned England for Achenbach’s release, but the British government claimed they had nothing to do with it. Germany sent a diplomat to Sealand, and after a lengthy negotiation, Achenbach was released.
As a result of all this, Roy Bates received more assurance that foreign nations officially recognized his nation’s existence, and Alexander Achenbach – who was really set on taking over – set up a government in exile on the mainland. This wayward government still exists; their website asserts they are still the rightful rulers of Sealand.
Sealand kept moseying along quietly through history. In 1997, Bates revoked all Sealand passports, due to the excessive number of counterfeit ones in circulation. There was an electrical fire in 2006 which sent one person via helicopter to Ipswich Hospital, but the residents were able to rebuild.
In 1987, the UK extended the definition of its international waters from three to twelve miles, placing Sealand squarely within British territory. The government refuses to acknowledge Sealand’s nation status, as man-made structures are exempt from island status according to international marine laws. As of this time, there hasn’t really been a conflict arising from this potential collision of sovereignties.
Sealand’s economy is small, but stable. The platform housed a data farm for a few years, and an online casino is reputedly in the works. Tourism is also encouraged, though there aren’t a lot of rooms (one, I think), but it would be a vacation like none other. Prince Roy Bates tragically passed away last October, however Michael continues to rule the nation, albeit from his home in Essex.
Numerous athletes have volunteered to play on behalf of Sealand, and though their unofficial status still can’t get them into any major international leagues or the Olympics, they have a football team, and have participated in a number of other athletic events, like track, fencing, skateboarding and roller derby.
Hell, a mountaineer with the awesome name of Kenton Cool even planted a Sealand flag at the summit of Mount Everest last month.
If that ain’t a real nation, I don’t know what is.