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Romancing the stone

by John Curnow, Global Editor, 18 Oct 2022 19:00 UTC

Strap in. This is a long editorial. However, if you are already a cruiser, or planning on becoming one soon, long passages are/will be something you are way familiar with. Lap it up...

Ryan Ellison and Sophie Darsy might not need an introduction to some (but there could be nothing better than the showreel below to help you if you don't). That's terrific, for as the stars of the YouTube sensation Ryan and Sophie Sailing, they have really made an utterly indelible mark in the modern cruising space. Nice. More than nice, actually.

Anyway, for me, the greatest thing was to firstly e-meet them whilst they were back in Stockholm. We got enveloped in their utter passion for what they do, and it was incredibly invigorating. It was kind of like being wrapped up in a ball of polar fleece, scoffing hot coffee laced with rum, and smashing an endless supply of choccie biccies. Happy days.

Yet despite all of that, I was a man on a mission. Here were two self-confessed total and utter novices (when they started seven years ago), who not only fell in love with each other, but also the notion of going off and sailing the world, just a mere three months after their initial point of contact. Now apart from themselves, they had one completely crucial ingredient to pull this off: enough gumption to know what they did not know.

It is perhaps the sole reason we are now talking about them, and they're not just some little statistic on a website somewhere they are looking up from deep in Davey Jones's Locker.

Soon, Ryan and Sophie are going to embark on what may be their greatest voyage to date. Indeed, their impending circumnavigation of North America could be described as that, but there's another one to be done, and they won't have to go to sea to perform it.

You see, they are going to deliver what could be the best course on learning how to become a cruiser, and when I saw the syllabus I did think that could be so. However, there was one teeny weenie section missing, as best I could tell, so I just had to ask them about it. You know it could be why we all got on so well. No house on fire here. This was more like a massive beach BBQ with a huge bonfire, and loads of people talking the ears off Wilson...

That little topic was going from the dream to actually hopping aboard, and taking the bags with you. It's a bit like going for a run. The hardest part is putting the shoes on. So what follows is almost like a pirate's romp across the seas, and yes, there's plenty of gold for everyone. Well at least I think so...

Who's the brainiac, then?

"The whole thing was actually Ryan's idea, but only for like three seconds, and then I was all on board. Ryan had texted me a link to an article on a couple who had quit their jobs and went of sailing. I was like, Oh, hell yes. This is it. This is what I want," said Sophie, kicking us off.

Ryan promptly quelled some of the romance of it all by adding, "Talking about managing expectations, the reason I originally thought this was such a good idea was because I thought this could be a really cheap way to live. We just buy a boat, the wind takes us everywhere, and we don't have to spend any money on anything. So I had this vision of what sailing was and is. Now so many years later I always look back and laugh at that."

Sophie said, "There were two things back in reality: we did not know how to sail, and we had never really lived together. So, our friends laughed a lot when we told them about our idea, but sure enough, six months later we were taking a sailing course with the RYA for two weeks at Gibraltar to get our Day Skipper ticket.

Our deal was that we were not going to pull the trigger on buying a boat before the course is over, so that we really knew that this was something that we wanted to pursue. Turns out that we were ready to pull the trigger in the middle of the course."

"We spent a lot of time trying to find instructors that had experience cruising and also would allow just us to just be on the boat, instead of other people, so we could get the experience of how it would be with Sophie and I just interacting with each other. It was such a good experience to get an introduction into the lifestyle, and they really helped us with that," said Ryan.

Sophie continued, "Very quickly after our course, we went on the hunt for our perfect boat. At the time, mind you, we knew nothing about buying boats. All we knew is that we wanted something that fitted our budget, and that was somewhat comfortable. We were pretty set on a Beneteau Oceanis 40 (two cabin) because, and well, really that's all we knew."

"Boat shows were our only contact with both manufacturers and boat models. Eventually we managed to find our boat in the UK. We went there, got it surveyed, felt good about it, and then had it delivered back to Sweden, because at that time we really did not have the skills to undertake that sort of passage ourselves."

Realising now that they had indeed dodged a few bullets there, Sophie said, "We were incredibly lucky. We had an excellent broker that we were working with, and a brilliant surveyor who really had our backs. A few years later we got to know that it's not that common for things to go so smoothly."

Sound familiar?

With that moment of reflection taking over and genuine honesty being exuded, Ryan stated, "I'd say it's all quite intimidating, because we went to boat shows initially understanding that sometimes it's expensive to buy, but it's always free to dream. Yet there we were, sitting on and dreaming of the brand new boat we were going to buy."

"We'd be talking with brokers, and they'd ask, 'Well, do you want a Code Zero?' We're like, Yeah! Do you want a self-tacking jib, and we didn't even know what those words meant, but we'd go, 'Sounds great. We'll take two!' For us it was kind of the whole fake-it-until-we-make-it thing. We'd hear a word and we'd have to go home and read up on what that word was, and what it meant."

Now here we are back in today. They had done the course, taken the plunge and bought the boat. What's next? Many just get left tied to the quay. So how hard it is to go from effectively the dream, to gear going on board, and the big departure?

Sophie said, "There are several aspects to this project. One of them is developing skills and developing confidence, knowing that you can handle your boat and you're going to be fine. We were definitely lacking in that department at that time. We were conscious that we were not good sailors. We were not sailors at all."

"The second part is figuring out your life, and it's a lot more difficult than it sounds. Sailing is easy. Figuring out if you're going to quit your job, when you're going to quit your job, are you going to rent out your house, or are you going to sell the house? You know, how are you going to finance yourself? These are aspects are much more daunting than perfecting your tacking technique."

Ryan added, "Our project has changed a lot from the start to where we are today. Our original plan was like, let's take a year off and go do an Atlantic circuit, and we can come back to our lives. Then it was like, let's take a summer in Stockholm's archipelago to get to know, learn, and be comfortable with our boat, then the year after we'll take off on this great adventure."

The real deal!

"That was the plan. So we did the first year, and then a second. We both had some personal challenges that we felt we needed to get under control. That's us saying the mental health department, BTW. Before you set off there are three things to address. One is finding a good boat. Two is figuring out how you're going to pay for it, and your new life. The third is making sure that your mental health and your relationship health is good before you go."

"That last piece is the one that people kind of don't realise, or they skip altogether. So we spent an extra year doing that, and at the same time went through the process of just exactly what we were going to do with our lives. Come back, throw it all in, start over?"

Now to be completely honest, I have been blown away by their boldness, which is only matched by their realisation and acceptance that they may very much be part of the grey army flipping burgers, or whatever, when that time comes. Boy will they be two smiling souls at that point. If only the young knew, and if only the old could, hey?

So they turned it into six-month parcels. Went down to the Med. Sailed there. Took stock of what they knew, asked themselves if they wanted to keep going, and if yes, where to? Their efforts back then turned into a four-year, totally live-aboard time of their lives. And it is still going - morphing, giving and taking as it does.

So then it was all about a date. June 5th 2018 was chosen, as Ryan recounts, "It was just a big rush before we left. I remember that the weeks leading up to it were just crazy, insane, and there are so many nerves. You're leaving your friends and it's like you're going to go to the edge of the Earth. I can imagine what the original explorers felt like, and there's always stuff getting thrown at you to make you think, 'I can't leave on June 5th'."

Indeed they got pushed all the way. On the eve of their departure one of Sophie's braces came away from its tooth. An emergency dentist visit had to be arranged. Yet it all served to remind them that the hardest thing of the whole trip is to actually leave. Sophie said, "The best advice we got from somebody was just that. She said to us, 'Even if you just pick up the anchor, go a mile down the way, and then drop the anchor, you have left.' She was totally correct."

Embracing their piece-by-piece mantra Sophie added, "We tried at some point to have a plan for our seasons and establish what we were going to do year by year, and it really didn't work for us. So instead we look at this way: what is the next best move right now? Looking at that initial step, we knew that our best move out of Stockholm was to go down to the Mediterranean, because it's warm. And not too far away from our hometown of Stockholm in case we needed to travel back for work."

Then the next best move was to continue sailing in the Mediterranean because we liked it. We've never really looked too far ahead. For sure we have dreams, and we have aspirations like everybody, but we are not bound to, nor confined by some master plan.

The new deal

During our conversation, it was utterly evident that both sailors wanted to say only now, only seven full years down the track, were they able to answer the myriad of questions that they had originally. As a result, Ryan and Sophie have developed a course for new cruisers, with Part One due to come out in November.

"When we got started, we could not and did not find good resources that would explain to us how you get started when you know nothing about sailing, and you want to go on a big sailing adventure. You can learn how to sail by taking a course, and you should actually, because knowing how to handle your boat is a big part of what you're going to be doing. However, it's not going to teach you how to choose your boat, how to equip your boat, and it's not going to teach you how to maintain your boat," said Sophie.

So they got bits and pieces from a lot of different sources, like books, YouTube, articles in the press and so forth. Indeed they were voracious gathers, and avid absorbers, but they never found a resource that gathered everything together that would take them through the entire process. You know, the 'Cruising for Idiots' manual. Indeed, you may have just spotted the genesis for the new deal.

"We live in an era where sailing is very accessible, and the idea of cruising is very attainable, and also been made very popular by YouTube, and the media. This is fantastic, and we're very happy about it, but we also want to make sure that safety remains paramount. We felt that there are not a lot of resources to talk about safety and safety equipment, communications equipment, or even risk management. So we really wanted to bring those elements into our course, because you're thinking about doing something that is dangerous, because sometimes sailing can be very dangerous, especially if you don't know what you're doing," said Sophie.

Ryan is an Instructor Pilot, BTW, and a 'prepared guy', as he calls it. It is certainly his mindset, and this part of the course is very much down his boulevard. They now knew how to sail, and they knew their boat, but as Ryan says, "There was a plethora of questions that really started coming up when we were preparing for this. Things like, 'How do I deal with going through the locks on canals? Who do I call about that? How do I get into the marina? How do you check into a country? How do I deal with my electrical system when it breaks? Where do I park the dinghy when I go to shore?' Clearly I did not know much about any of these."

Sophie added, "How am I going to hang out with the crew? How does it feel to be on top of each other at 24/7? What should I think about when I buy the boat in terms of the layout, or the equipment?"

"One thing that was very, very important for me when we wrote that course, was that often people talk about what boat you should buy, the way that you should cruise, you know, what you should and should not do here or there. It's like there's a right way and a wrong way to do this. I wanted to give people the tools to make their own decisions in terms of how they wanted their life to look. And definitely not to put them in the box by going, 'This is the way', or 'This is the only way'."

There is, however, a single element that they are trying to enforce, if you will. Ryan delivers a brilliant encapsulation, "We like to drive home to people that the cruising lifestyle is what the cruising lifestyle is to them. Sophie and I cross the oceans, and we go on long passages, but for some people that's not the life that they really want. For some, the cruising lifestyle is going up and down the east coast of the USA, or it's just taking off to the BVIs, or The Bahamas once a year."

"None of that makes you a less of a cruiser. This course is built for all of those people, anyone that wants to do any type of project. Your project could be big or small. It's all about just following the dream that you have."

The Delivery

The course, called Sailing the World - A Roadmap, is video based; some 37 of them, actually. In total, the embodying three sections will account for around ten hours of viewing. That's very detailed, which is awesome.

The first part is basic sailing skills and core sailing knowledge. It includes how to buy a boat, and how to equip it. It's really about getting your adventure started.

Part Two is all about destinations and passage planning. Here, Customs and Immigration, navigation, weather, and plan creation take over.

That makes part three all about the lifestyle. So everything from the mental aspects we have talked about already, organising your life, along with budgeting, maintenance, plus relationship and sickness.

Ryan commented, "It's all video learning, and there are animated graphics. There's a lot of Sophie and I talking, and then there's us out on the boat. We're visually showing people stuff. So it's very interactive, and then there's some bonus material on top. We're planning as part of the course to occasionally host live sessions for people who have taken the course to answer questions.

"Our goal is that we're trying to make the life a little bit more accessible to people, because now that we know what we did not know back then, and could not find, we want to deliver a total package for starter cruisers."

Probably now is a good time to point out to anyone who has seen their channel that it is not only Ryan who can sail, navigate, drive, or dock. Sophie can do all of that as well, it's simply that one skill Ryan does not have is videography. Sophie highlights this, "I was very adamant that I would develop my own skills when Ryan and I learned. It was very frustrating to me originally, as I didn't realise that Ryan was already a few steps ahead of me because of his professional background. I decided very early on that everything Ryan did, I would also do. I mean, Ryan has now done a solo crossing of the Atlantic, but I have been sailing the boat without him a lot, too, and that was quite early on in the piece."

Ryan added, "It was interesting during our sailing course way back when, because Sophie got frustrated within the first few days. One night I said to her, 'Sophie, I went to college to learn how to read the weather and read charts, and then I even went on to teach other people how to do that. The only thing I need to learn here is how to sail a boat.' After this, I think the realisation took hold, and she relaxed enormously."

So yes. I do love these guys. They're a heap of fun, but also have enough nous to be cool, and honesty to be engaging.

Now here's the thing. Stones do not float, but they were used as ballast in times gone by. Whereas romance and the sea have been bedfellows, possibly since time eternal. So what does it all mean? Simply to know your stones from your romance, and the new course from Ryan and Sophie Sailing is bound to help you out there.

OK. We have more stories, lessons, inspirations and history to regale yourself with. Please use the search window at the top of the website if you are after something specific, as only the latest news appears as you scroll down. We enjoy bringing you the best stories from all over the globe.

If you want to see what is happening in the other hemisphere, go to the top of and the drag-down menu on the right, select the other half of the globe and, voila, it's all there for you. Also, we have had a significant upgrade to our systems, and trainspotters will have seen that the button next door to 'Home' now says 'Editorial' which collects the latest from our team and also lets you see what each member has been up to of late.

Finally, stay safe, and let's see where it all goes now,
John Curnow

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