Sailing? Priceless! An economic adventure

By Ben Hadamovsky, October 2017

Ben Hadamovsky is a passionate sailor and is testing a new income concept because he offers his labour free of charge and then waits to see what the voyage is worth to his passengers.

When two years ago I embarked on my next great voyage, having sailed round the world with my family from 2005 to 2010, I dreamt of sailing round Cape Horn. But the trip, which started in Flensburg, soon ended in Denmark. The realisation that all the oceans have been surveyed, all the great voyages undertaken, and that nowhere on this earth are there really any truly undiscovered regions to be found, and that therefore any journey would merely be a repetition, hit me quite hard.

For a while I bobbed around in Danish waters frustrated and without a plan. Friends came to visit but strangers also found their way on board. Inspired by the many different visitors, I decided to try a truly new adventure. I redesignated my yacht which had circumnavigated the world into a social research vessel on board of which we would navigate the unknown waters of future social economic forms.

Gifted labour

What would happen if I stopped selling my labour at a price which had been agreed in advance? That was the question with which I set out on this experiment. The underlying idea was that the world is formed by our assumptions and perceptions. If, thus, we have the perception as a society that labour is the precondition for income, then we obtain a specific result. This assumption is based on the fear that if we give someone the money in advance, they will no longer have the motivation to work for us. It is further based on the assumption that people are basically lazy and would not contribute anything to society if there was not the pressure to earn money. If we thus introduced an unconditional basic income no one would any longer go to work and society would be descend into chaos.

My counter-hypothesis says that income is the precondition for work – trusting that a person as a social being will make their individual contribution to the world if we give them the freedom in the form of trust (= money). Since I didn’t believe that people would simply give me what I need to live in order to test out my hypothesis, I chose the following indirect route: I gifted my labour by removing the price tag from it while at the same time asking the question whether people would voluntarily participate in contributing to my subsistence and the costs of the project.

No price – what now?

So what result do we have after eleven months on this research voyage? My worst fears that only members of the “greed is good” society and “bargain hunters” would join me on board did not materialise. But significantly more people than I expected came along for the ride who did not participate financially in the project.

At the same time a group of people emerged whom I had not anticipated: people who did not themselves travel with me but supported the project financially. The latter contributed almost a quarter of the total sum of money which has so far been gifted! In response to the question why they participated without receiving anything obvious in return, I received answers like the following: “What a mad, bold project… Good that someone has made a start in separating work and income. I want to support that… Breaking the link between money and sailing is something I like very much. Your experiment is brilliant and fascinating. Living with the tension of not knowing how the summer will go, asking the question whether the project has only been a success if the necessary finance is raised, thinking out the whole thing and sharing it with the world, that requires courage. … Knowing that someone is doing this is also a gain for me.”

A total of 60 people participated in the project. Of these, 42 came on board for one of the expeditions. A third of income is still missing, however, for a balanced budget. Nevertheless, not bad for a business start-up.

There were also those who were not sure about the whole thing: “Why do you take such a risk? Why not go hiking, which does not involve so much financially?” And a surprisingly large number were not able to decided on an appropriate contribution despite the figures published on the website.

That also took the form of criticism of me: “If I had known how expensive such a voyage actually is, I might not have come along. Now I have to rethink my contribution…” And then the argument recurred: “Why should I pay for something when I can have it for free?” Others, on the other hand, criticised me for bothering them with the figures at all. Would it not have been more consistent to say how great my input is?

Money and price clearly offer security and guidance in a confusing world. It was also uncomfortable to notice all the things appended to these two things: conditioning, guilt feelings, frustration, jealousy, bad compromises, and over and again lifelong dreams which had been postponed or given up altogether for the apparent security which money appears to offer us.

It was, however, moving to experience how the uncertainty created by the absent price lured people out of their reserve, creating a moment of liberation. “Oh, now it is up to me to decide what you will get...” Suddenly people were no longer just concerned with themselves and their own advantage but thought about the needs of their opposite number – an exercise which is still uncommon in business life today.

There was also something unsettling in the discovery of the extent to which we are conditioned to see everyone as a competitor from whom we have to wrest maximum advantage for ourselves and how alien the thought (still) is of an economy based on fraternity and reciprocal responsibility. To this extent my boat, the “Phoenix”, increasingly developed into a floating mini university.

There was passionate philosophical debate on each of the 15 one-week voyages. Where on neighbouring boats in port the conversation frequently descended into loud alcohol-fuelled ramblings, the intensive and passionately argued debates on board our boat revolved around the subjects of work and income, justice, self-worth independent of work, suppressed lifelong dreams, and questions and concerns about the future of our society and earth.

Be they student or lawyer, journalist or scientist, camerawoman or headhunter, rich or poor – the thread that wound its way through all the discussions was the unifying longing for a different, more human economic and social order. An order in which everyone can follow their impulses irrespective of financial pressures and can do what really sets their heart alight.

About the author: Ben Hadamovsky is an artist, writer and round-the-world yachtsman. Anyone who still wishes to book one of the few remaining places in 2017 can contact him at: