Why do sailing's most successful influencers think the best boat for newbies to ocean cruising is a high-performance multihull? Ask Toby Hodges
Over the past seven years, Riley Whitelum and Elayna Carausu have gone from rookie sailors to covering more ocean miles than most of us will sail in a lifetime. And they managed to translate their voyage in the most engaging way, reaching more people than any other sailor on the planet through their YouTube channel,Navegando The Wanderer.
This Australian couple is actively influencing a new generation ofblue water cruiserS. Millions of viewers watch the weekly episodes of the Sailing La Vagabonde channel, which bringsmulticascowalking into your living room (or office).
In them, they share their liveaboard lifestyle, offering weekly captivating 20-minute episodes of escapism.
But their reach is now ensuring they'll also have the industry's attention, with the couple starting touting plans for a new emissions-free vessel, which will be sponsored by marine manufacturers.
One of Riley's most recent videos is more opinionated and advises people what to look for - and what to avoid - when buying a new catamaran. How much do these influencers want to influence?
Sailing La Vagabonde: Beginners to Experts
For those unfamiliar with Sailing La Vagabonde, the channel has amassed over 1.5 million followers thanks to the fresh, self-deprecating, and admittedly pleasing-to-the-eyes nature of its bronzed leads. Riley and Elayna are backed by the Patreon crowdfunding model, through which they have amassed over 3,600 paying members and earn a healthy return from YouTube revenue.
Riley Whitelum. Photo from: Sailing La Vagabonde
Their journey began when Riley, now 33, bought a 43-foot Beneteau Cyclades in 2013, funded by eight tough years spent working on oil rigs. He met Elayna on the Greek islands, where she was working as a musician for a travel agency. Lured by his signature mustache and the appeal of life, the 21-year-old from Geraldton soon agreed to join Riley on board.
She began documenting her budget-friendly cruising adventures for family and friends, including the myriad trials, challenges and scary moments of liveaboard sailing, before sharing the videos publicly.
After three years, including crossing the Atlantic and Pacific, they closed a deal with Outremer for a new 48-foot catamaran under a lease-purchase agreement. This provided a more comfortable base for filming and editing videos, which turned into a sleek, TV-quality production for episodes of Sailing La Vagabonde.
It also provided a stable platform to bring a mini Vagabonde into the world in the form of his son Lenny.
In November 2019, they made headlines forcarrying climate activist Greta Thunberg eastacross the North Atlantic (along with 11-month-old Lenny). However, it wasn't until Riley completed this intense and stressful stint as a captain and completed his estimated 80,000 nautical miles that he says he felt more "comfortable giving advice or behaving like an expert."
Riley's video on buying a new catamaran centers on why it makes sense, especially in terms of safety, for anyone considering long-term cruising to opt for a performance multihull over a cat of charter-style production. He thinks more buyers should look at the numbers, demand the polars, ask brokers more relevant questions and not get distracted by sales talk.
“If more people start attending boat shows asking better questions and everything comes back, the second-hand market will be full of boats that perform much better,” he argues.
cat among the pigeons
He describes people attracted to a multiple hull that feels like a comfortable home as the “great security paradox”. “You get sucked in and inevitably end up buying the exact ship you don't want to be on when you're faced with a tough forecast,” argues Riley. He believes the multihulls' performance potential is one of their biggest safety factors, noting that during the Greta pass they were "jumping from one safe patch of ocean to another, surrounded by pretty inclement conditions."
Riley lists a plethora of additional benefits of a fast cat, including allowing you to: “pick your way across the ocean; track weather systems; travel twice as far a day; maintain the same boat speed with half the sail up, making your passage dramatically safer”.
Riley and Elayna struck a deal with Outremer for a new 48-foot catamaran in a lease-purchase agreement. Photo by: Robin Christol
Those are valid points, but I'm left wondering how far he recommends going on the performance curve for ocean cruising. “So that's the question,” Riley responds enthusiastically. “If you have a multihull that can actually run, you don't have to go full steam ahead all the time.” So, excluding full racing boats, he thinks that high-performance craft, from the Outremer to the more minimalist sprinters like Marsaudon's TSs, are really good for beginners.
“You end up with much better sailors because those people will learn to sail a well-performing boat. You get that feedback, it speaks to you more.”
That said, Riley and Elayna feel that selling a high-performance machine to the less experienced sailor must be a responsibility.
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“I think they [buyers] need to be trained by the company that sells the vessel. So it's like, 'yeah, you can have this, but you need a license'."
I point out that a large proportion of multihull buyers are sailors on coastal holidays, while many new high-performance cats are very expensive. But Riley confirms that her video is aimed at people who want to go a few miles. “And I also told you to beware: if you start doing this, you will likely get the virus and end up doing a lot more than you think.”
The 'truth about buying videos' is more focused on getting people to ask the right questions in the first place. Elayna believes that large companies that sell production catamarans “need to offer a real choice about what is best for coastal sailing and what is best for crossing oceans”.
Creating, filming and editing accounts of life on board are part of Riley and Elayna's daily routine. Photo by : Sailing La Vagabonde
Despite their opinions about production catamarans, Riley and Elayna make it very clear that they don't want to stop anyone from sailing. “People are very emotional and I have to be very careful,” accepts Riley. “The last thing I want is to upset Ma and Pa Kettle, who have just spent their life savings on a Lagoon 45 – I really don't. But all things considered, I felt compelled to point out a few things… and because people want to know our thoughts, ideas and opinions on things.”
Life in a slower lane
They emphasize that cruising isn't just about sailing far or fast. “You don't have to sail around the world to have fun; in fact, the slower you go, the more fun you have.” They refer to another channel, Catamaran Impi, which requests a response from the South African couple Brent and Ana, who lived and sailed extensively aboard a heavier-style catamaran for 11 years.
Brent and Ana had to modify their Lagoon over the course of 18 months to make it ready for blue waters, but claim they are comfortable in a heavier cat, especially during storms, when in fact they will slow the boat down to avoid climate systems. In particular, they highlight the ability of a person to be able to reef at any point on the sail.
So two different vloggers, two different views. All this shows how easily we can now obtain valuable information based on first-hand experience.
In their opinion, Riley and Elayna have the ideal boat for their adventures in their relatively new 48-foot performance cat. However, over the last few years they have been working on a new zero emissions project and have attracted sponsors including Oceanvolt and Doyle Sails.
“The idea is to have a vessel with very good performance… that can sail to the anchorage, before embarking on the last leg”, explains Riley. He admits that they don't expect the new technology to be perfect and that, with a young family, they will err on the side of caution.
They already live relatively frugally with minimal waste and use their reach to promote awareness of the health of the oceans. But do they also feel the pressure to influence others with their new project?
“With the emissions issue, it's so politically charged that we're usually going to lead by example,” Riley replies thoughtfully. “Let's do our own thing and just show that either the technology works or it doesn't.”
the bigger figure
The Sailing La Vagabonde lifestyle may seem enviable, but when you consider the grueling hours of editing work, the endlessly searching for wifi, and issues like trolling that flourish when you make your personal life public, it's heartening to discover that Riley and Elayna yet they genuinely seem to love what they do.
Juggling the not-insignificant trials of producing and uploading content along with creating the newest Vagabonde, Lenny is no easy feat. Photo by : Sailing La Vagabonde
Viewers also seem to increasingly turn to them for guidance (they now produce digital navigation tutorials). “The voyage itself will be more difficult than people think and probably more rewarding too,” is Riley's advice for those considering a long-term cruise.
“So it's not easy and you just have to love. And when you really love that time on the water, which is a massive reset, it all just disappears. Your worries, your worries, all the things that seemed important just evaporate.”
He says his enjoyment of sailing has enriched his experience of becoming a competent captain. “If you love the lifestyle and everything around it, then the learning side – and raising your level as a sailor – becomes easy… it just happens.”
“But you also need to love the hard times,” cautions Elayna. She's excited that her typical viewers have evolved with them from older men to young dreamers and doers.
When Nikki Henderson wrote her account 'Across the Atlantic with Greta' for Yachting World last year, she attributed the success of Sailing La Vagabonde to Riley and Elayna's ability to identify. I would add to that a genuine desire to communicate the positive aspects of sailing.
“One of the main things is to awaken interest in sailing among people who are not yet sailors. That's really cool,” Riley thinks. Somewhat influenced, I couldn't agree more.
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