About 12 years ago, Brian Trautman did something that a lot of people might think is crazy. He quit his job, sold almost everything he owned, bought a sailboat, and set sail. It wasn’t supposed to be a permanent thing — just an 18-month sojourn — but more than a decade later, Brian is still sailing. Now, he does it with his wife Karin and their 14-month old daughter, Sierra, and they’re not planning on stopping.
Brian and Karin run a YouTube channel that documents their adventures, and since 2012 when they first uploaded a video, the channel has turned into a bit of a juggernaut. It’s grown in popularity so much that, along with a little help from Patreon subscribers, their sailing trip is a fully-funded expedition. I’ve been watching their videos for a while now, and it struck me that they’d be a good couple to speak with about life in general. And as it turns out, they were. They were anchored in Maine when I got a hold of them, waiting for the weather to ease up before embarking on the next leg of their never-ending journey.
Back in 2008, Trautman was working as a software developer — or as he calls it, a “chief mouse clicker” — in Seattle. It was a good job, by any stretch, but something about his life just felt… off.
“I was in my early 30s and I was kind of freaking out,” he remembered. “I just couldn’t see myself doing that for another 30 or 40 years. It was a good job; I made good money. I was secure, I had all the things that should make you happy in life: house, car, TV. But I was just really not looking forward to that for the rest of my life. A friend of mine told me, ‘Brian, you’re never going to look back on your life and wish you spent more time at the office.’ Once I realized I could just make a change… I guess I went all in on it.”
When Trautman says all in, he really means it. He bought SV Delos, a 53-foot Amel Super Maramu, in Bellingham. “I remember the first time I walked down the dock and saw Delos sitting there,” he said. “She just screamed out ‘Take me across an ocean!'”
So Brian decided that he’d do just that. “When I came up with the plan,” he told me, “I just decided to sail to New Zealand because that seemed like a pretty big adventure. I had enough money saved to live for about 18 months. You pull out of Puget Sound, make a left turn, sail down to California, and down to Mexico. Then it’s across the Pacific, which seemed like the ultimate fantastic adventure. And it really was.”
The boat’s name was fitting, too: Delos is a magical island of Greek mythology that was a place between heaven and earth. By June of 2008, SV Delos was Brian’s and his dream to sail to New Zealand began to solidify into something tangible. He was still a bit nervous, however, as one might be when considering a life change as drastic as the one Trautman was contemplating. But he thought to himself, “the only thing I can lose is my savings. If I go out and travel and it’s a disaster and I come back, I’ll probably have learned something about myself or be ready to go back into the workforce. Probably broke, but at least I’ll have had an experience.”
Trautman wasn’t born into sailing. Far from it, in fact. Raised in landlocked Arizona, he had no real experience on a sailboat. When he moved to Seattle for work, he played around with it, sailing around Washington and the Puget Sound on a small boat. When he was a child, however, crossing an ocean wasn’t exactly something he thought he’d be doing as an adult.
Setting sail to New Zealand was a defining moment, a decision that would forever shape the way he approached his life and the way he looked at the world on a fundamental level. But it wasn’t easy. “I learned a lot,” he laughed about that first voyage. “I did a lot of stupid things along the way. I broke a lot of things, but I didn’t hurt myself too bad… It’s so cliché to say that it’s a life-changing experience, but it really was. When we got to New Zealand, I was almost two years in. The money was running low, but there was no way I could stop. It actually changed my view of the world and what’s important. You know, like the value of time and the whole meaning of basically everything.”
It was in New Zealand that he met Karin, the woman he would eventually marry. From an outsider’s perspective, they match each other perfectly. Both have a casual, calm demeanor with a dash of “throw caution to the wind” mixed in for good measure. As I spoke to them it was easy to tell they’re confident in their abilities to handle just about anything, but not in an arrogant way. They simply know that together, they’ll find a solution to any problem they encounter. When they met, Karin, who is from Sweden, was studying landscape architecture in Australia. She’d decided to take a backpacking trip to New Zealand with a few friends when she ran into Brian.
“I had never sailed before,” she said. “I didn’t even know that people traveled around on boats. It never even crossed my mind. [Brian] was like, ‘hey, do you want to come sailing on my boat for the weekend?’ I was like, ‘okay!’ and that was pretty much it. I fell in love with it. And Brian too, of course.”
She decided to finish school before making any rash decisions. With a year-and-half left, she flew back to Australia and spent the remaining time studying for a few months and heading back to the boat for a few weeks in between. Brian sailed to Australia, but when he got there he was out of money. “I was completely broke,” he explained, “so I parked the boat and went back to work doing computer consulting remotely for about a year while Karin finished school.”
As soon as he had some money in the coffers and Karin had donned the cap and gown, they took off. They sailed from Australia to Indonesia and the Philippines, where they ended up staying for eight months, exploring the area together.
Of course, sailing a 53-foot sailboat can be a little difficult with only two people, so along the way they’ve had multiple crew changes, and they get them onboard in interesting ways.
“At first, we’d just have random people that we met on our travels,” Brian said. “We’d say, ‘hey, do you want to sail with us onto the next island, or for a week or two?’ We’d split costs like it was a road trip. Everyone would chip in for food and diesel. They’d all clean and cook and do their fair share as a crew would. Then after we started making the YouTube videos, we started running competitions. Like, ‘give us a video of why you’d be the best pirate in two minutes or less.’ Then they’d sail with us for a few weeks.”
Often times, though, those few weeks would stretch into longer stints — some as long as two years. “Our friend Lisa from Austria, she joined us in South Africa,” Brian said. “She was supposed to come for three weeks and ended up staying for nine months. Alex, she came for three months and ended up staying for two-and-a-half years.”
The vlog, which has become an incredibly important part of their life, evolved organically. Now, all these years later, it allows them to make a life doing exactly what they want. Initially, it started off as a blog with a few photos. It was mostly for their friends and families, a kind of one-sided group chat that kept their loved ones up to date. “Our parents were reading it but it didn’t really do the lifestyle justice,” Brian explained. “We thought, ‘if we can make videos, then that would be a very cool way to show what it’s all about.’ Like, a normal day in our life — what it’s like to cross an ocean. What’s it’s like to arrive in some port where nobody speaks English, and what you have to do to get by.”
Their little YouTube channel began to pick up steam. Subscribers rolled in. Brian and Karin, after all, are doing something most people dream about but don’t have the guts to do, so it’s no surprise that people were interested in their journey. They realized that, if people were interested in their lives, maybe they could use it to help fund their sailing. Now, the YouTube channel has 610,000 subscribers. They also joined Patreon, which is a membership platform that allows people to support them on their journey in return for the content Brian and Karin create. Sailing the Delos has grown into a six-figure business with 154 million views. “It’s incredible,” Brian said. “Sometimes we need a reality check. Because really what we’re doing is we’re living the best way we know how and showing it to others.”
With such popularity, one would assume that Brian and Karin’s show would be of interest to network television — and one would assume correctly. But the couple isn’t all that interested in changing what they’re doing. They’re living exactly how they want and have no one to answer to.
“We’ve had offers,” Brian told me when I asked if they’d consider a network’s proposal should one be on the table. “They start out with something like, ‘hey, this is pretty cool, but what do you think if you were to focus more on the foodie/travel thing?’ And we’re like, ‘that’s not what we want to be doing. We want to be going to adventurous places where there are no hotels. We want to go kiteboarding in the middle of nowhere. We want to go scuba diving. We want to go spearfishing. We want to do whatever we want.’ There’s always a trade-off, right? It’s a lot of work to do this, but this way we’re in control of our destiny, I guess.”
And then, 14 months ago, everything changed. They had an adorable baby girl named Sierra. When Karin was seven months pregnant, the went to Sweden so she could give birth. Six months later, they were back on the boat with a newborn.
“It’s been a wild one,” Karin laughed. “She was four months old when we came back to the boat. We don’t have any experience with babies — I knew pretty much nothing. We were back on the boat, just the three of us, and we were going to run the business, take care of social media, take care of the baby, and sail around. And it was like, ‘wow, this is a lot.’”
Brian and Karin are extraordinarily good at changing plans — a necessary skill when sailing around the planet — so instead of jumping right back into sailing life, they did what might be the best possible thing new parents could do.
“We just sailed around the corner into an anchorage and sat there for a month,” Brian remembered. “We didn’t do anything. We just sat there with the beach and the baby and the sunsets and eased ourselves back into the life.”
Soon, though, they had to get back on the proverbial road, and Sierra took right to it. She’s a bubbly 14-month-old, but as anyone with a bubby 14-month-old knows, she’s work. And since sailing also requires work, they’ve had to adjust, to put it mildly.
“She takes a lot of time and energy,” Brian said as Sierra giggled at her mother in the background. “She wants a lot of attention which means that if we need to move the boat somewhere, we need to time it when she’s taking a nap, or Karin has to watch her while I sail the boat by myself. And it’s quite a big boat to sail by yourself.”
They’re doing it, though. Since Sierra was born, they’ve traveled an extraordinarily long way, with or without a baby. “We’ve managed to sail about 3,000 miles,” he said. “That’s like if you were to leave the coast of California, you get to French Polynesia. You could get to the Marquesas, that’s 3,000 miles. It’s quite a bit of sailing.”
But they wouldn’t have it any other way. Brian, Karin, and Sierra are growing and learning from each other every day aboard the Delos, and little Sierra is growing up in a way that will likely result in her becoming an incredible human being. Her life so far has been more adventurous than many people’s lives will ever be. She gets to spend all of her time with her mother and father. And she’s learning new things, to adapt, and, if the videos are any evidence, she’s loving life.
When I asked Brian and Karin what their future plans were, they both laughed. “What do you think you’ll be doing when Sierra is, say, 10?” I said. “I don’t know, man,” Brian answered after a long pause. “We’ve always said that we’ll do this as long as we can afford it and as long as it’s fun. Even the most amazing experience can become mundane if that’s all you do. If a time ever comes that we’re looking at a magnificent beach and you don’t want to swim in and check it out, well then maybe it’s time to take a break.”
In the meantime, though, it seems as though they’ve found their calling. It harkens back to when Brian first decided to take the SV Delos to New Zealand. “My dad thought we were crazy at first,” Brian chuckled. “He was like, ‘when are you going to come home, Brian?’ And I kept telling him, ‘dad, I am home. This boat is my home.’”