This story was excerpted and adapted from the author’s book, Sealand: The True Story of the World’s Most Stubborn Micronation and its Eccentric Royal Family, which was published in June 2020 by Diversion Books.
At 6:00 a.m. on a cold day in March 2019, a lone figure can be seen on the pier in Harwich, on the coast of Essex, England, in the deep blue of the early morning light. The man in his late 50s wears a taxi driver hat and blue mechanic’s jumpsuit over jeans and a sweater. He takes a puff from a vape pen and blows a substantial cloud into the air as he makes a pile of boxes and bags at the top of a set of stairs that lead straight into the water alongside one of the piers. The man is Joe Hamill, and the pile of luggage is a fortnight’s worth of victuals and clothes for his stay on the Principality of Sealand—the world’s best-known micronation, a naval fort in the North Sea comprised of two large concrete towers that support a metal superstructure. Along with a man named Mike Barrington, Hamill is one of Sealand’s two caretakers, and the pair alternate two-week stints on Sealand as their full-time jobs.
Sealand was established as a manmade state-let—officially unrecognized the world over—in 1967 by Paddy Roy Bates, World War II veteran, raconteur, and pirate radio broadcaster. Today the Bates family pays Hamill and Barrington to keep watch on the fort and attend to its multitude of repairs and chores; the family also covers the costs of supplies and equipment—it takes a surprising amount to maintain what some might consider an outsized hobby. The caretakers have developed a personal relationship with the micronation, and their schedules, well-being, and livelihoods revolve around their duty to the fort.