Riley Whitelum and Elayna Carausu (pictured above) are presently sailing the world on their yacht, La Vagabonde, which is currently anchored outside Badalona, Spain, surrounded by crystal-blue waters and a fierce European sun. To document their movements, Elayna began a YouTube channel, posting videos to a fast-growing audience of supporters. (At time of publishing, they have amassed 310K YouTube subscribers and 110K followers on Instagram.) Fans of their down-to-earth updates and life musings partially fund the endeavour via Patreon donations, ranging from AUS$5 to $200 per video. After eight years’ in the oil and gas industry, Riley figured his savings were better spent on a boat than a home deposit. Three years later and he and his girlfriend haven’t looked back. We tossed the wayfaring pair a few questions over email, about what life on the high seas is like, the unsuspecting challenges it presents, and how they’ve fostered a generous community of onlookers, some of which have even come aboard for a sail.
Many people dream of doing what you both are. How did you make the plunge, Riley? And Elayna, was it a no-brainer to join along for the ride?
Riley: Some people, like my Dad, say the catalyst was when I broke my neck and had spinal surgery in Rio De Janeiro, but I think I was always going to do something a little different and this sailing thing just seemed so romantic. I had saved up for eight years working offshore in the oil and gas industry. Instead of buying a house, I wanted to do something else.
“I had no idea what stress or anxiety was until I started sailing, but that’s all part of the journey.”
Elayna: I’m one of those people that cannot say no to any opportunity that calls for adventure. I only took a few days’ of convincing. Riley took me for a few short sails around the Greek islands and, luckily, the weather was perfect. We still laugh about how perfect those first few days were.
No doubt what you’re doing is brave. Storms and swells can be terrifying. How do you push through any fears?
The thing is, when you’re out at sea and it’s just the pair of you, your yacht and the ocean, you quickly realise that there is really no time to be scared. Throughout my childhood, when I was scared of a storm outside, monsters under the bed, etc., I would cry, run into my parents’ room and they would make it all better. On La Vagabonde, when we would hit some bad weather, it’s your natural instinct to bowl outside into the cockpit, take a reef and get things under control. I think this is the most valuable lesson I’ve ever learned so far on the water. No-one is going to help you but you! Everyone needs to experience sailing once in their lives.
“I think a lot of people thought that sailing was only for the wealthy and retired, but there is a whole community of us young adventurers who are trying to live outside the box.”
Your Patreon supporters are funding a lot of your adventure. Did you foresee this happening when you first set off?
Absolutely not. We really cannot believe the amount of generosity we have received from total strangers from all around the world. In the beginning, the videos were just a side hobby. People wanted to see more content and began commenting on our videos, asking us how they could support our production. A fan recommended a crowdfunding website called Patreon. In the beginning, Riley didn’t like the idea of taking money from the public, but I saw something beautiful in crowdfunding. The money goes straight from the public to the creators, so they can continue doing what they love! I loved making these little videos and I wanted to keep doing it, to call it my job, so that was that. In no time, we had people signing up, pledging anywhere from $5 per video to $200 per video. We still can’t believe how far it’s gotten us and we wouldn’t be where we are today without our patrons. We feel fiercely loyal to these people and try give them as much as we can back, like getting the videos to them a week early or videos just for them. We have invited probably about 30 onboard so far, and that is one of the main things we are trying to do; meeting as many of our patrons as we can, and taking them for a sail.
What’s your community like? Are they aspiring sailors themselves?
I think a lot of people are after an escape from the daily grind. There are so many awesome travel channels online now and you’re only a click away from exploring an entire country through the eyes of an outgoing travel vlogger! I think a lot of people thought that sailing was only for the wealthy and retired, but there is a whole community of us young adventurers who are trying to live outside the box. I think a lot of our fans have become aspiring sailors from seeing our videos, for sure. The amount of emails and comments we get saying, “we’ve sold our house and bought a yacht thanks to you guys!” is more than we can count. I find our community to be such a positive, excited bunch of people, and we feel very lucky.
Naturally, you’re the envy of lots of 9-to-5 employees. What’s not so enviable about sailing the world?
We only get to see our family and friends from home around twice a year, which means we have missed out on a lot of events we would have loved to have been home for. Also, it’s definitely not all smooth sailing. When you’re trying to get around the world as quickly as we are, following the seasons to avoid hurricanes and trying to dodge those freezing cold winters, a lot more can go wrong. There’s no happy medium. It’s like one day is the best day of your life, and the next, the worst. I had no idea what stress or anxiety was until I started sailing, but that’s all part of the journey.
A job that would take five minutes in your home can take 10 times that in a foreign country on a boat. People think we are just floating around, but there is always cooking gas, food, water and diesel to collect, along with the huge amount of odd jobs that accumulate onboard.
Have you had any guidance regarding dealing with media and best utilising your exposure?
Nope, we totally fell into this and we’ve been figuring out this whole social media thing by ourselves for three years now. Along the way, we have met many other travel bloggers/vloggers and shared connections, which has been very helpful. The best advice has been within us the whole time, just remembering to stay true to ourselves and keep doing what we love under our own terms.
Can you explain the physical demands of sailing?
The physical demands of sailing include things like being able to operate on little to no sleep. When on a longer passage and stuck in bad weather, you can spend days exhausted and making a simple sail change with no motivation can be a huge challenge. There are also times I’ve had to hoist Riley up the mast using a winch [a hauling device]; Riley’s had to dangle off the bow of our yacht to untangle our anchor from another boats chain; and we’ve had to jump into freezing cold, swell-heavy water to cut rope free of our propeller. Sometimes we wonder how these 70-year-old sailors get these jobs done… but with 30 years of sailing under their belt, they’ve usually all mastered what not to do by then.
What are your dreams beyond this trip? Or is it to sail forever?
Our dream is continue doing what we’re doing, exploring the world and inspiring others to step out of their comfort zones and do the same. There’s no way we could go back to living on land. Stationary life just doesn’t cut it for us anymore. Besides, I’m far more scared of driving a car through a city every day than I am out here. This is our home, where we feel safe, where we find true peace and happiness.