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Odysseys

Californian Alex Ayling makes up one half of the popular YouTube channel Vagabrothers and is no stranger to travel and exploration. On his YouTube channel Alex and his brother Mark share stories of epic adventures as they travel to new places around the globe. Sperry sent Alex and a group of strangers to find their sea legs on a sailboat in the North Atlantic and the Equatorial Pacific. Here’s Alex’s story, as told by Alex himself:

The Ocean has always been an integral part of my life.  Growing up in San Diego, California I’ve always been salty.  Surfing, diving, kayaking and fishing took up the majority of my free time during my childhood. Sailing was always something I longed for, but before my Odyssey I had never spent time at sea on a sailboat.  I was always fascinated by tales of the first explorers who set sail into unchartered waters, searching for new worlds. Mankind has always been drawn to the emptiness of the open ocean, like for example the Polynesian wayfarers, the Vikings, or the European explorers from the Age of Exploration. I wanted to experience the power of the sea and when Sperry invited me on this Odyssey, I accepted their invitation immediately.

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When I boarded the ship I quickly realized that I had absolutely zero sailing experience –  scratch that actually.  I once “crewed” on a sailing race in San Diego harbor called the “Beer Can Regatta” as the ballast.  During the regatta I sat in the middle of the ship, sipped a beer, and did my best to stay out of the way of the experienced sailors.  On my Odyssey with Sperry I hoped I could add a bit more to the team and I was eager to learn more about sailing on the journey.

When I met the rest of the crew in Maine, I was ready to get started.  Upon arrival I learned that of the whole group, Conor and Daniel were the only experienced sailors among us.  I was happy that I wasn’t alone in my lack of experience, but I know that meant that Christina and Ariel and I were going to have to learn fast. I had never been to Maine and I had never sailed, but I fell in love with the wild, forested coastline and the coastal islands inhabited by true Mainers and fishermen. 

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On the first night aboard the ship I was assigned the first watch shift. As I sat alone on deck of the Bandera the silence overtook me.  Surround by the ocean, anchored off a remote island in the Northern Atlantic, with only the light of the stars around me, I immediately understood why sailors were so obsessed. I was drawn into the sailing lifestyle. After that first night we pulled anchor and sailed into a new port to continue exploring.

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Over the next few days I learned the basics of sailing and found my role in the crew as the sheet guy.  Although a seemingly silly title, I found importance in my role. I would pull in ropes and call lines with winches and cranks in order to keep the three sails taught.  Sailing jargon is confusing and utterly foreign to a landlubber like myself, but I sought the experience of my crew to help get up to speed. Daniel and Conor drew a sketch of sailboat on a napkin and outlined the many words and terms for different things that I needed to learn.

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Apart from the challenge of learning to sail, our days were filled with smiles, sun, salt and sails.  It was all smooth sailing until our main halyard line snapped, leaving our sail limp and useless, fluttering in the wind.  It was a bummer, but tales of adventures are usually only exciting when something bad happens; often the bad even ends leads to something good. In our case, this minor inconvenience lead us to an unplanned stop. We motored on to Monhegan Island and sought safety and repairs, arriving just before sunset on the remote whaling island with only about 100 inhabitants.

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During our unplanned stop in Monhegan lasted a day we spoke to locals and tracked down an old fisherman and artist who lived on the island who was willing to help by providing the parts that we needed. On Monhegan I encountered a new and unexpected situation, discovered new places, and explored with my new friends and shipmates Conor, Christina, Daniel, and Ariel. Half the beauty of the whole experience was that it was unplanned. After fixing our sail we set off for the mainland and then boarded a plane to Nicaragua to take on new challenges in the Equatorial Pacific.  

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Nicaragua is a beautiful little country in Central America with a troubled past.  Racked by Civil War in the 1980s, it’s been slowly but surely improving and finding it’s way. Despite its rough history, it’s a surfers paradise. The whole coastline is lined with perfect waves, abandoned beaches and jungly mountains and we explored the best way imaginable – by sailing along the shore on a sailboat.

Our sailboat in Nicaragua wasn’t as flashy as the Bandera in Maine. In its former glory the Antares belonged to a swashbuckling treasure hunter in the 1950s. His days on the high sea were tragically cut short when he was boarded by pirates and murdered off the Panama canal, but his ship survived. In the years since his passing the ship sat rusting in a tropical port in Costa Rica, crewed by a group of extremely friendly Ticans.  It was a surf vessel through and through, but it had a bit of Waterworld vibes thrown in for good measure.

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I learned quickly that despite the rust, the Antares was the perfect vessel for Nicaragua’s coastline. After a day at sea we learned the in’s and out’s of the ship, even learning by necessity how to jerry rig a broken winch. The lesson learned here? Never judge a book by its cover.

Over the next few days we surfed, spear fished, and explored empty beaches where we found a group of turtle conversationists who were helping protect freshly laid turtle eggs.  We stood in the warm tropical rain watching a fully grown leatherback turtle drag itself up the beach in the moonlight and lay its eggs in a fresh dug nest.  As it climbed up the beach, thousands of recently hatched babies slid down the beach to begin their life in the open seas. It was an unforgettable moment and one of the things that stands out for me from those days on the ship.

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For me this Odyssey was all about learning. I learned to sail from new friends like Daniel and Conor and I learned about lobstering from a veteran fisherman who took Ariel, Cristina, and I aboard for an afternoon. The most important lesson that I learned on my Odyssey is that life is a beautiful thing that is meant to be shared. Being surrounded by the seas I learned that our ocean is bountiful and full of lessons and life, but it’s up to us to keep it that way. I’m grateful that I had the opportunity to experience such moments with new friends from across the globe and I think that after this Odyssey I may even be able to pass for a sailor now.

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Written by Alex Ayling. Follow Alex’s other adventures on Youtube on the Vagabrothers channel or on Instagram @vagabrotheralex.

Learn more about the other travelers on this Odyssey:

Conor Smith: Graduate student / Sailor
Daniel Caponetto: Sailing afficionado / Adventurer
Ariel Tweto: Alaskan Bush Pilot
Christina Caradona: Model / Fashionista

Want to see more from Alex’s Odyssey? Check out these clips from Alex’s Travelogue and his videos behind-the-scenes and Below Deck.

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