Cruising: the Vagabonde Life

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Despite pressure to keep followers constantly updated, the family balances what to share and what to keep private

Despite pressure to keep followers constantly updated, the family balances what to share and what to keep private

Once upon a time conquering your dream of sailing off into the sunset was enough, but these days it seems like you have to be popular on social media too. Balancing the stresses of sailing around the world while keeping a successful—not to mention financially lucrative—social media channel afloat is no easy feat. Australian Elayna Carausu, 26, and her partner, Riley Whitelum, 36, are the sailors behind the wildly popular YouTube channel Sailing La Vagabonde, which recently hit the one million subscriber mark. I wanted to know how she is navigating life as a fulltime sailor, a first-time mom and a social media superstar.

You started in the Mediterranean on a 43ft monohull. How did you get from there to where you are now, sailing an Outremer 45 catamaran?

Elayna: Riley bought the first boat in Italy, a 43ft Beneteau Cyclades. He bought it having no clue how to sail, which was a bit of a blessing. That was in 2012. He met me in 2014, and we started sailing together. We did a circumnavigation of Europe, crossed the Atlantic, through the Caribbean Islands to the Panama Canal, the Galapagos, crossed the Pacific Ocean down to New Zealand where we sold her. We bought the new boat in 2017, an Outremer 45ft catamaran, in France. We started the whole trip again essentially.

HF: There have been rumours that you are sponsored by Outremer. Did you get a free boat?

EC: It would have been lovely to get a free boat, but that’s not the case. What Outremer did was help us finance a loan. We were so lucky that they saw something in us, believed in us and trusted us enough to help us get the loan. We have a 10-year plan to pay that off.

HF: You’ve been making YouTube videos since you started sailing. What made you pick up a video camera?

EC: In the beginning, I picked up Riley’s video camera. He bought it brand-new, and he was never using it. I’d always made travel videos before I met Riley, and I thought what we were doing was pretty crazy actually, trying to sail a boat around, having not much of a clue how to sail. Also, I wanted my Mum to see that it wasn’t so scary. She was really worried for me, and I thought the videos were a good way to show her that it wasn’t as bad as what she thought. When I posted the first video I also made it open to the public, and it did really well. It all kinda escalated from there.

HF: You have recently surpassed 1 million subscribers on your YouTube channel. Congratulations, that is quite an accomplishment! What does that mean to you?

EC: A million is a goal to a lot of people, but to tell you the truth it happened so slowly and so organically. It wasn’t like one video got us to a million subscribers and we were like “What the hell do we do with this?” We were kind of prepared for the number. The followers that we’ve gained along the way have kind of been the followers that have stuck around, that comment on everything, that kind of have our backs. This past year we worked really hard to get there. It was very exciting, and we feel proud of what we achieved.

HF: How has the growing popularity of your YouTube channel affected your lives?

Elayna’s video editing setup is fully portable, allowing her to work while underway

Elayna’s video editing setup is fully portable, allowing her to work while underway

EC: We have gotten more and more help over the years. Now when we arrive in a place usually we have a fan to come pick us up, show us around the neighbourhood, take us to all the good spots, help us fill the propane bottle, do a food shop—all the things that, if you don’t have someone to help you on land, can become quite difficult. When you arrive at a new place you often don’t have a SIM card to use the internet, and it is pretty hard to get around when you don’t have Google maps, or something like that.

HF: Do you both participate in the filming, editing and scripting?

EC: We do both participate, but it is me that is doing most of the editing. Riley definitely helps with the filming and the scripting. He’s super keen on the filming, then coming in at the end, after I have created what I intended to, putting his little bits in where he feels the need to express himself a bit more. As I am filming, I am piecing together the story in my head. I hold a lot of stories in my head.

HF: How much time does it take to edit one video?

EC: It used to take three days on my old laptop. I’ve gotten more efficient over the years, and there’s been a few new little shortcuts I have learned. Now it takes two full days, from start to finish. That’s working all day. I prefer to leave the editing until I have two full days on anchor when I can concentrate 100 percent, with no distractions. But rarely does that happen.

HF: How do you navigate issues of privacy and sharing with your videos?

EC: That kind of came naturally. We would never put something on the internet that we would be embarrassed about, now or in the future. We have some other friends with a presence online who were able to give us advice. We are quite picky with the things we put online, and we feel good about the clips we do decide to put up and the ones we decide not to.

HF: Your infant son, Lenny, already has a strong online presence. Besides being featured in your videos, he also has his own very popular Instagram channel. Do you think about how this exposure will affect Lenny in the future?

EC: I think it will become the norm, but we are aware what having an online presence brings. It is a lot of attention, so I think Riley and I have a good handle on it. I think we live in such an exciting time, I can’t imagine what it’s going to be like in 10 years. The opportunities that Lenny is going to have, just from being online. I am really excited for him, and we’ll be there to support him. If he wants to delete all his social media accounts that’s totally fine.

HF: You have been criticized by viewers on how you choose to parent at times. How do you deal with negative feedback?

EC: Parent shaming, it’s a real thing. We had no idea what it would be like until we experienced it first hand. In the beginning it was really tough, especially for Riley. There is nothing worse than being made to feel that you’re a bad parent. We handled it with humour, and that helped to take the edge off. The thing with YouTube is that people can be anonymous, so they can write a ridiculous comment and don’t think we’ll read it or consider how it might make us feel. It was tough in the beginning, but we are over it now. We’re used to it.

HF: Now that you’ve reached one million subscribers, I imagine there is a bit more pressure to start working with brands, which may affect the direction of your content. How are you navigating these new opportunities?

EC: Luckily, we are crowdfunded. This gives us the freedom to pick and choose the brands that we feel comfortable working with, that are aligned with our philosophy. That is just incredible because I feel like a lot of YouTubers represent a brand they don’t really want to because of finances. We are just so grateful for Patreon and our patrons. If it doesn’t align with what we are after, we just say no.

HF: Does every anchorage have to have an internet connection now, or are you able to connect to the world around you without sharing it online?

EC: We actually have a lot of time when we are not filming that is just for us. There is no pressure to be filming everything and putting it online. It is kind of second nature to just pick up the camera now, but it doesn’t take from the experience. The videos aren’t just something that we are sharing with the public. They are videos we are going to watch when we are 50 and 60 years old, with Lenny around, maybe showing his children. It’s a bunch of memories to us. I used to keep journals before I started filming, and the videos have become my journals.

HF: Many content creators suffer burn out. Do you feel creation fatigue, and do you have a strategy to avoid this?

EC: In the beginning I definitely felt the fatigue, committing to that Monday episode, like while we were sailing the Pacific where there was no internet at all. We once had to sail four days against the wind just to get to a place to upload our next video. The pressure was on because what we were receiving off Patreon was essential. Sailing is very expensive, and we really needed that money to keep going. I was stressed out then, but it has become less and less difficult over the years. We do a lot of meditation onboard and exercise. Riley and I will always make time to do that. No excuses, the number one thing for us is to stay happy.

HF: Do you have any favourite YouTube channels?

EC: Honestly, no. We don’t have a lot of time to watch YouTube, nor do we really want to. We much prefer to read. We do a lot of reading and listening to podcasts.

HF: Do you have any advice for newbie sailors or newbie YouTubers?

EC: Start your channel from a place of passion, not just to make it a career or to make money. People will notice this, and I think if our hearts aren’t in it fully, it’s also not sustainable. It takes a lot of energy to show up on camera so make sure you are completely yourself to begin with. It’s good to have inspiration from other YouTubers, but remember that there’s only one you. Show people who you are and how talented you are. This probably sounds cheesy, and I can feel Riley cringing behind me, but don’t be afraid to shine! 

Heather Francis is from Nova Scotia, Canada, and has worked and lived on boats throughout the world since 2002. In 2008 she and her Aussie partner, Steve, bought Kate, their Newport 41, in California and began sailing her fulltime. They are currently in the Philippines looking for wind. You can follow their adventures at yachtkate.com

Photos courtesy of Heather Francis

November 2019

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