Sitting in the cockpit of their 53-foot boat, the SV Delos, anchored in the breezy Provincetown Harbor of Cape Cod Bay, Brian and Karin Trautman and their towheaded baby, Sierra, look about as far as a family could be from those living life on lockdown during the coronavirus pandemic.
But the hard-earned wisdom shared with Yahoo Life by the couple — who have spent nearly a decade sailing around the globe and sharing adventure videos with ardent fans, making them internet superstars along the way — reveals some striking similarities. Being in close quarters with your family for long stretches? Check. Trying to get work done while simultaneously watching a baby? Baking endless loaves of bread? Check and check. And along with that comes perhaps the biggest parallel of all: enduring long stretches of isolation.
“This is really our normal,” Brian explains. “The only abnormal is when we come in contact with other people.”
And it’s an existence that the family wholeheartedly embraces — now, both as new parents and as people living through this pandemic, more than ever.
The Trautmans’ story is known backward and forward by their legions of fans and patrons, who happily support the approximately-$2,000-a-month venture (as does a modest YouTube advertising revenue) through Patreon: In 2008, Brian was living in Seattle and, after a stint with Microsoft, was about to start his own software venture. That’s when, amid the trappings of a fine American life, he realized he just wasn’t content. So he made a pretty wild decision: He sold all his possessions, bought the French-built cruising sailboat and, with his first wife, set off for what was to be an 18-month round-trip journey to New Zealand.
“I was going to sell the boat and then come back to whatever it was I was doing and be like, ‘I … have discovered myself.’ And that just didn’t happen,” he says, more than 45 countries, 200 YouTube videos and 70,000 ocean miles later. “It just sort of took on a life of its own.”
Brian divorced, continued his life of sailing and, back in New Zealand in 2011, met the Swedish-born Karin as she vacationed from her university life in Australia. The two fell in love and joined forces, setting sail around the globe together. After receiving some good advice to share their adventures online and accrue a monetizing fanbase, Brian bought a $200 camcorder, and now (after since upping their game by investing in more sophisticated equipment) he and Karin are accomplished, self-taught video producers and professional travel bloggers, sharing a new episode of their adventures every Friday.
It’s earned them over half a million YouTube subscribers, 168K Instagram followers and a global network of fans who follow their journey closely — so closely, in fact, that a handful of devotees always turn up at ports to deliver in-person greetings or gifts, with Provincetown no exception.
“They’re what every reality show wishes it could be,” says Greg Pucci, a health-care-system employee and woodworker who drove an hour and 40 minutes up Cape Cod to Provincetown from his home in Falmouth, hoping to possibly spot the family in town. He got that and more — a beer with the gracious Trautmans on the waterside deck of local Provincetown eatery Canteen — and left them with a gift bag bulging with local beer and food items. They were joined by another fan, longtime fisherman Brett Stone, who pays, as does Pucci, $10 monthly to help keep the SV Delos afloat.
“Every Friday I can take a break from reality with a new video,” Stone tells Yahoo Life. “I’m living vicariously through these guys.”
In addition to their virtual connections, the Trautmans have at times been joined aboard by additional crew members — Brian’s brother for several years, as well as more than 50 friends and previous strangers who got to join briefly, as guest crew members, some via lottery. They had their record number of adults aboard — seven — for six months as they sailed from the Andaman Islands of India, down toward Australia, and then up and across the Indian Ocean to Madagascar. “It was crowded,” Brian recalls.
But now the realities of COVID-19 have put an end to that tradition — not to mention the one that’s at the center of their mission: international travel.
“We were supposed to be in Greenland right now,” Brian says. Instead they are headed up the East Coast to Maine, and will have to remain in the country for the time being. Coronavirus travel restrictions keep them from entering international ports, with the exception of Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the Bahamas, which is where they were anchored as of early February, in the midst of a two-month stay in isolated spots, when they first got word that something major was afoot.
“We started getting messages from our family, from Karin’s mom in Sweden, that flights had been canceled from Europe to the U.S. I was like, ‘What the heck is going on?’ We were totally offline, and then started looking at the news,” Brian recalls. As flights and borders continued to shut down, they were faced with a choice: get somewhere else, fast, or just ride it out where they were. “We decided that, since it was such a scary time and nobody knew where it was or where it was spreading, to stay where we were,” thinking, “Well, this is probably the safest place that we’re going to find.”
That turned into 120 days of paradisiacal lockdown involving food rationing and eventually setting up a new system: ordering groceries through WhatsApp and retrieving dock deliveries from a mail boat doing runs between Nassau and a tiny nearby village. The Trautmans also bonded with a handful of crews on other sailboats in the same situation (two of which would coincidentally wind up in Provincetown Harbor at the same time as the Delos).
While the family is extremely self-sufficient — they create their own energy by harnessing wind and solar power, hunt and fish for much of their food (sometimes feasting on endless lobster and conch), have a water desalinator that makes enough fresh water in one hour to last them four days, can get high-speed internet anywhere in the world with a satellite, and even brew their own moonshine — the pandemic has also made money tighter. “A lot of [our supporters] lost their jobs, and so … our support gets affected as well,” says Brian, who must still pay to keep the boat running, buy supplemental food and deal with repairs and maintenance, among other expenses. “It just all sort of trickles downhill.”
On the flip side, they’ve seen an uptick in viewers and subscribers — a likely combination of people being stuck at home along with what Brian sees as more people “who’ve been more interested in this lifestyle.”
And that other huge change: the baby
Another factor that completely altered their daily experience was, of course, the birth of Sierra, aka “Nugget,” in August 2019 — in a small hospital on the Swedish island of Gotland, where Karin’s mother lives. The new family spent Sierra’s first four months there together before returning to the seas.
“And then it was just the two of us and Sierra,” says Karin. “And it was really intense in the beginning— not just because having a baby is intense anyway, but I think it’s the responsibility of filming, social media, taking over everything again … just the two of us with a baby.”
Plus, adds Brian, “the boat is a whole other creature now. Stuff always requires maintenance and work, and usually I have people helping me, and now it’s just me, because Karin has to watch the baby while I’m doing all these things. Or I have to watch her while Karin is doing this stuff. … We’ll be trying to edit a video, and [Sierra is] up there trying to pull your power cord onto the floor and then stick it in her mouth.”
Sleep has, of course, been more elusive, which makes for more exhausted sailing. “But I think the biggest challenge for me with her,” says Karin, “is that she gets bored when she can’t move around, and … it’s kind of dangerous for her in a lot of situations. So she just gets frustrated.”
There have been some white-knuckle, rough-sea moments with the baby, too.
“We had a really rough sail coming in from the Bahamas to the U.S. for the last two and a half days — really horrible, terrible,” Karin recalls. “Like, I was just in bed … with Sierra and she was screaming, and then it was really bad weather, and beating [when you sail directly into huge waves that violently toss the vessel up and down] and the boat gets literally airborne. I was kind of getting a bit scared. And … Brian is sitting out here for like 12 hours during the day, driving the boat, and I’m trying to take care of feeding everybody … and changing her diapers.”
And, Brian adds, “you can’t open up the windows because waves would come in. And so the air is, like, hot and humid. It was pretty rough.” But then, on the sail here, he says, they were relaxed and outside. “Sierra’s taking a bath in the cockpit, and it’s like this,” he says, arms outstretched to the fair Cape Cod skies.
Sailing with Sierra has not only been challenging, says Brian, “it’s also been a lot more rewarding — the joy of seeing her grow up in the lifestyle we love so much, and being able to spend 24 hours a day, seven days a week together as a family.”
“It’s incredible,” says Karin. “I wouldn’t change it for the world.”