Sailing in the YouTube Era

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At the risk of both dating myself and being accused of gross hyperbole, I will say this: it was a bit like 1964 when the Beatles first landed in New York. What I’m referring to is last fall’s U.S. Sailboat Show in Annapolis. Playing the role of the Beatles were not one, but two bands of sailing “vloggers” (as in video bloggers)—the crews from Sailing La Vagabonde and Sailing SV Delos, the two most popular sailing video channels on YouTube.

In my 20 years attending the Annapolis show I’ve never seen or heard of anything like it—people lined up literally around the block and down the street hoping to catch a glimpse of and hear live words tumbling from the lips of Riley Whitelum and Elayna Carausu, the young Aussie couple who make a living posting videos while cruising full-time aboard their Outremer 45 catamaran, La Vagabonde.

To get an idea of the scale of this phenomenon, consider first that the combined circulations of the two most popular sailing magazines in the States—our own SAIL and some other publication with the word “Cruising” in its title—at their peak, before the Interweb started nibbling away at the magazine industry, was about 350,000 readers. Then consider that the current number of people subscribing to La Vagabonde’s YouTube channel is about 1.2 million, while for Delos the number is 365,000—not to even mention the several other sailing vloggers whose individual subscription numbers equal or exceed the current circulation of SAIL.

Does this mean that there are now four, five or even six times as many people sailing and cruising than there were before? We wish! But in fact the majority of the audience for YouTube sailing channels is only living vicariously. I’m guessing most don’t know how to sail and have no interest in learning. They are perfectly happy to sit on their couches watching other people do cool stuff, unlike the majority of those who read sailing magazines, who actually do go sailing and want to sail more. It is a peculiar aspect of the YouTube zeitgeist and isn’t necessarily healthy: this tendency of people to abdicate the living of their own lives in favor of watching others live theirs.

As one who has lived the “cruising life,” I must confess I never enjoyed these videos. For me—as for other experienced cruisers, I imagine—it was very much “been there done that” and let’s change the channel, please. Since Annapolis, however, I’ve studied them more closely. Yes, I have noticed the most successful channels feature young women in tiny bathing suits, and that these images are used to reel in casual viewers surfing YouTube. But drilling down past the bikinis and other fluff, I’ve found some serious sailing going on. Watching, for example, the brothers Brian and Brady Trautman manage their Amel Super Maramu, Delos, on a challenging passage in strong conditions in the southern Indian Ocean, with their autopilot and other gear breaking left and right, I was amazed. As in: how the heck can these guys be dealing with all this crap while also making a really well-produced video about it?

It is, undeniably, hard work. As Elayna of La Vagabonde explained in an interview in the November/December 2019 issue of SAIL, she spends two to three full days out of each week just editing her weekly videos, never mind shooting them. And in order to be successful, you have to keep it up, week in and week out. It is a lifestyle that is not nearly as casual and carefree as it looks.

So if you’re an old curmudgeon like me, feeling tempted to dismiss sailing vloggers and their vast audiences of couch-potato viewers, I urge you to take a second look. As was made clear in Annapolis, a fair percentage of vlogger fans are indeed inspired by what they watch and are eagerly making plans to join us on the Big Blue. This is an important new way to expose people to our sport, and we need to respect it.

As for me, I’ve become a fan myself, following La Vagabonde via her PredictWind transponder (see sailing-lavagabonde.com) on a challenging east-west transit of the North Atlantic in mid-November (yikes!) with teen climate activist Greta Thunberg onboard. And yes, I am looking forward to watching the video. 

February 2020

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