Hello! My name is Elayna/Elay/Lay take your pick.
Lets start with my roots. Mum is from Austria, she was a Catholic girl with strict parents and immigrated when she was 16 to Australia. Dad is from Romania, jumped on a flight (fled the country) when he was 20, after him and his friends made a small home made-bomb and blew up a milk factory (no people were inside, just milk). He charmed her with his good looks and ability to make great strawberry milkshakes on a hot summers day. Fifteen or so years later I was born having two older brothers.
I grew up on the coast of Western Australia. It’s a little country/coastal town of about 60k people I think. To sum it up, I’ll go by the first few things that popped into my head: The ridiculous hot, dry heat of the summer, the beautiful white sandy beaches and the famous ‘leaning trees’ we have from the howling southerly wind we get most days of the year.
I won’t bore you with my childhood, what sports I played, and what mum gave me in my lunchbox etc., and I won’t tell you about my parents break-up.
However I will mention one thing I discovered that played a big role in my life and helped make me see the world in a different way. I would say it was the thing that urged/pushed me into buying my first international plane ticket.
It was scuba diving.
I spent a lot of my time underwater as a young’n. I remember having many ‘hold your breath’ competitions with my brothers (and they never let me win even when I turned blue). When I discovered scuba diving I was instantly hooked. I just loved being underwater, as it feels like a different world down there and you are only ever living in that moment. For that time you are under the surface, your mind forgets about all those things that stress you out and play on your mind during the day. Not that I had MUCH to stress about at that age anyway, but you know what I mean. I think after my first diving experience I began to see the world from a different perspective. I thought, if there are other things out there in this world that can take me away from reality for a while (the non chemical substance kind…) put me out of my comfort zone and make me feel as amazing as this, I want to find those things.
I spent most of my free time at our local PADI dive centre throughout my schooling years. When I finally hit the age of 18 and could certify as a PADI Dive Master (while my friends were out drinking cruisers and ‘clubbing’ on the weekends), I was busy trying to study the laws of scuba.
I certainly partied too (still do, wine is fantastic. Also Rum Punch in the Caribb) but if I was out, I had to make sure I was in bed by at least 2am having drunk a 2 ltr bottle of water before bed… or I’d get the bendz diving the South Tommy Wreck Sunday morning. Which seemed to happen quite a bit. I was once leading a dive of students through the wreck where I picked up a pipe shaped like a walking stick I found, became vertical with my body and waddled around the front of the ship pretending to be an old lady. It was only when we got to the surface and my students were laughing, telling me what I did that I realised what I’d actually done. Oopsy. She’s done it again.
After school, I considered going to university (college) like a few of my friends were doing. Moving to the city, changing the salt air for car emissions… sunscreen and thongs [sandals for you Americans], to make up and brand-name clothes. But the city scene never suited me, I HATED wearing shoes (anyone who knows me could tell you that) and I would have had to do a ‘bridging course’ that took 6 months just to get into uni as I didn’t study TEE subjects in high school.
Plus, 6 months was far to long for me to study when I was itching to explore the world as bad as I was. Not to mention the 3-4 years of studying a degree at university AFTER that 6 month course. It just didn’t feel right for me.
I must admit I felt a lot of pressure, I felt like I should follow the crowd and do the ‘right’ thing that majority of people seem to do after school. Go to uni, study something you like (which I hear more than often that people DON’T actually like but chose to study it anyway….?) get a high paying job, find a man, buy a house, get married, have kids, grow old and only THEN when you retire, go and travel or relax.
But secretly I was always thinking at the back of my head, how am I supposed to just put on a backpack, jump on and off buses and trains, ride camels and hike mountains when I am 65? (however I’ve seen some incredibly fit 65 year olds around the joint that could run up mountains, I’m talking about your AVERAGE 65 year old here). And who knows, my time might be up far before I reach the age of 30 driving in the traffic to work.
Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of people who ‘follow the crowd’ and are truly happy. I respect everyones personal choices and I always think you should follow your heart and do what makes you happy. And if you’re happy, that’s great and REALLY, good for you 🙂 I also know people who study at uni and at the same time somehow afford to travel as well… I salute you.
So the decision was made. My aim was to travel the world and figure out a way to make money from that. I’d seen people on TV who I idolised (some on Nat Geo and other adventure travel channels around the world) and I thought, if they can do it, why can’t I? I figured I’d travel first and see what opportunities may arise and figure out how the hell they do it.
First thing I did was get a job to save up money so I could start crossing off a few things on my list … that also happened to include expensive plane tickets.
Here in the ‘land down under’ we are a long way from everything and flying anywhere apart from Bali (Indonesia) cost’s you an arm and a leg. I considered amputation and selling limbs and/or organs on the black market.
I worked a season harvesting grain (wheat, canola, lupins, barley) in my home town in WA. Yes feel free to laugh. I worked with grains. I recently told Bob, our “Sailing La Vagabonde Fairy Godfather” (who has been with us for a while now helping us out with EVERYTHING, and is our bread and butter), that I once worked with grains, and he lost his marbles.
He sent me this. How sexy do I look?
The job lasts 3-4 months depending on how much rain we have had, and for an 18 year old, the pay is well above average. Basically I operated a giant metal vacuum on a platform as high as the top of the big semi trailered truck, made a composite bucket of their grain and went inside to our little ‘donga’ and graded it to see if it was good enough for human consumption, or to feed farm animals. It was very hot that time of year and we had to wear long and longs, boots and safety goggles in the 40 degree sun, but majority of the people working at the grading station were girls, so we seemed to always find a way to make shifts interesting.
There was dance routines being made and performed, a lot of jumping in the trucks with the farmers to hitch a ride to the next station to say hey to your mates, when we weren’t busy.
It was well worth the pay check and it was what bought me my first flight overseas. The beginning of 5 years of travel.
My best friend Erin and I flew to Europe for the summer and backpacked through 16 different countries over a period of 3-4 months. Some of the best times of my life on this trip.
Came home, worked a little more and then did a dive trip to Indonesia with some fellow dive buddies. Dove on some amazing sites, including the ‘Liberty’ ship wreck which was my favourite. It’s a walk off the beach dive at 30m deep and the wreck is so big it took us 3 dives to see the whole thing. Drift diving, night diving, diving with manta rays and deep diving around various islands surrounding Bali. Just beautiful. And cheap.
Moved to Cairns and worked as a Dive Master on the Great Barrier Reef. Which to be honest, was BEAUTIFUL, but in comparison to the adjacent coral reef on the other side of Australia the ‘Ningaloo Reef’, in my opinion, it just doesn’t compare. Ningaloo has the same abundance of marine life, including monstrous whale sharks that migrate up the coast each year and colourful coral, MINUS the thousands of tourists and divers who walk the jetties like they’re on a runway. Plus the Ningaloo has the adventure of driving 8 hours from the nearest airport to get there and camping is a must.
After a season there, I was browsing the internet and stumbled upon a job offer to work on the Greek Islands Dive Mastering. I applied and was lucky enough to get the gig! So I flew to Greece for the season. Turns out, the island I was working on is known for its crazy nightlife party scene. I was taking mostly drunk or extremely hungover people diving and I quickly become sick of it. The diving itself wasn’t too flash either. Freezing cold water, even in the hot summer, which meant gearing up on the boat in a 5mm wetsuit before jumping in you were sweating bucket loads and became quickly irritated by everything. Vis was good though, somedays it was 30-40m!
After a few incidents in the water with drunken/hungover open waters, I didn’t want that responsibility anymore. So I quit that job and ended up working at a nightclub for the remains of the summer. I ended up having the best summer of my life with incredible people who I still now call some of my best friends.
However, I barely got paid more than what I could find hunting for coins in a telephone box per week and it hurt my organs a lot. I only recovered yesterday.
After my summer in Greece was over, I flew back to Australia to work again. Lucky I had a return flight booked and already paid for before I got stuck over there and had to hide out in some old greek ladies house eating olives and drinking sangria until next season.
This time I had no car (sold it to go traveling a year ago), no house (mum and my step dad left to travel Australia in their motor home) and no money (I spent it traveling, dah).
I moved in with my lovely aunty Deb and uncle Pete that were nice enough to have me stay with them not to far from my home town. I was surprised on arrival with a van my step dad had left for me. It was a part of his business he had down the wharf painting/stripping boats that he sold before they left to travel Australia in their motor home they spent their life savings on, after I was old enough to leave the nest and fend for myself. I was over the moon about this van.
First thing I did was paint it. My uncle (used to be a drummer in his days, now his straightened up a bit and likes his Earl Grey teas) came home and took one look at it, his jaw dropped and eyes widened. He said “I don’t know if you’re allowed to drive that on the road anymore”. I drove it alright.
This van immediately gave me some sense of adventure again, despite coming home to no money and feeling pretty down because of it. As much as I hate money and how it can make people sometimes, you really do need it. At least to get you started.
This van quickly began to feel like ‘home’ once I had really made it mine. I would drive it to the beach and lay in the back on a mattress, play guitar and watch the sunset by myself. Or I’d bring a friend and we would try and drive it on the sandy beach when the tide was out (it wasn’t a 4WD, but ‘Gary’ could fly on hard sand). This was my favourite thing to do for months while I worked and saved up to drive it around Australia. Driving around Australia was always on my bucket list and I thought, what better time than now? I’ve got this van, no plans for this year or any responsibilities. I just need some of that stuff we call money.
So I worked at a bar and restaurant by the beach for a few months. I was lucky enough to have the coolest staff to work with and so were my boss’ Callum and Sonia. When it got busy on the weekends, Callum would let me jump on the guitar and have a jam for everyone for an hour or two for some extra cash and to get away from the beer taps.
I saved up enough money for fuel to get me around Australia. I spent a month with a friend who helped me renovate the van so I could live in it. We built a bed from scratch. Completely messed it up the first time and had to build it all over again. Got some storage containers in there and very basic kitchen gear, threw a bike and some surf boards on the roof rack and I was ready to go. I’m terrible at surfing, I look like a Yeti on a board but I planned to get better during the trip.
I decided I would invite a friend along. Eden sprang to mind because she loves the ocean, was into long boarding and super chill. It only took a message:
Elayna – “Oi Eden, do you wanna drive around Aus in my van with me for I dunno how long yet? Just pitch in for fuel and feed yourself and you can come. We can go bin diving if we run outta money. I met these people in a van that take all the food out of the Coles bins and it’s good stuff they just THROW out.”
Eden – “Yeah I’m in, but I’m not eating out of a bin. Can we go to Byron Bay? When do we leave?”.
We packed up all of our stuff. Halved our clothes. Halved them again… and seriously had to sit down and HALF our clothes. We began our 5 month trip around the Australian coastline. We didn’t have to eat out of bins, but came very close to it. We drank and ate the cheapest stuff. Spent our days exploring and swimming in the ocean. Eating a LOT of tin Tuna. By night we parked the van to sleep wherever the park rangers didn’t check for ‘freeloaders’. Met some incredible people and had a fab time.
Eden left me in Sydney as she ran out of money and flew home to WA. I continued on all the way up to Noosa QLD where I was planning on starting a new life (a home base) for a while. I lived with two gorgeous girls I had met overseas a few years prior. They were nice enough to let a fellow gypsy live with them for a while until I figured out my plans.
Not long after parking Gary up in Noosa for a rest, I got a job opportunity for a travel company in Greece playing music after posting a video online. I couldn’t believe my luck. The job description was, I would play guitar and sing for the group (and public) at a few bars and restaurants. Where ever the group would hangout, I would be there playing music. It sounded to good to be true. I had no money for flights over there and back and my boss (to be) way nice enough to help me out there and I signed a contract saying I would work for them for a few months and they would fly me to and from Australia. The kindness from strangers truly amazes me and forever continues to.
Off I flew a few weeks later with a huge smile on my face. Actually I remember that flight, and I don’t think I was actually smiling. The flights were some budget airline and the aeroplanes were like those little DIY toy planes you get in boxes and stick together with glue. It took a few days in the air and a painful ferry ride to get to the Greek islands. But who am I to complain. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity in the first place!
My job was great, I loved it and the people I worked with. I was reunited with a few great friends on the island who cannot resist but to fly back each year for the summer in Ios.
This is where I met Riley. I saw his moustache first and immediately thought to myself, “that’s a serious looking moustache that boy has right there”. His eyes were next and then when we got talking, it was his shoes that I then fell in love with.
After a month of spending a lot of time together, him watching me play music on the island, and us sailing around a bit, he asked me to leave the island (and my job) to continue hopping the greek islands and head towards Turkey… So I took the chance.
It was quite a big decision for me. But I couldn’t not take that chance with him, and the boat. I didn’t know if I would love life on a lean, but I knew I really did like Riley. I would rather say ‘yes’ to everything in my life than ‘no’, and then spend my time wondering what might have happened if I did take the chance. I see a lot of my dad in me the older I get. I don’t think I’ll ever do anything as extreme as blow up a milk factory (yes, that part about my dad was actually true), but I have the tendency to take risks and do things that put me well out of my comfort zone. I am constantly seeking that feeling, and I can’t help it… nor do I really want to… If that makes sense?. Mum certainly wishes I took more after her, although she is used to me doing these sometimes ‘crazy’ things now, but when I told her I would be “attempting to sail around the world with a guy I just met and he barley knew how to sail… love you mumsy”, she was ready to kidnap me, put me back in her womb, fiddle with the genetical code and re give birth to me in hope of me changing my mind. But that’s a whole other story. Sorry mum, the hard part is over and now we can both call ourselves ‘sailors’, I am safe! Love you.
So yeah, after spending a few weeks on board, it was only then I realised how very little Riley actually knew about sailing. I laughed when he told me he had bought the yacht initially having no clue of ‘how to sail’. Turns out this was in fact very true! But I was happy to learn with him, make the mistakes and work with him in trying to figure things out.
Little did I know, after a year and a half later we would end up sailing thousands of miles together, across an entire ocean, and be on an adventure I for one never thought even in my wildest dreams would come my way. It hasn’t been easy, it isn’t ALL beautiful sunsets and perfect sails. We have had some pretty wild times out at sea and had a lot to deal with in making a relationship work whilst learning to sail AND trying to get La Vaga around the world… I would imagine having a yacht would be similar to having a pet, or maybe a child. It requires a lot of our attention, time and money.
Riley had a brand new camera on board still sitting in its box, a Canon G1X Powershot. Very basic camera. But it was sitting there in the cabin and he never used it. So I picked it up, claimed it as my own and gave it a new life (apparently a life it hadn’t even lived yet). I started filming some of our sailing and adventures on land and put together a few movies to share with friends and family back home in Australia. I had always made little movies of my travels that I shared with my friends and fam, so it was nothing completely out of the blue for me to do. My video editing skills were near none, but I didn’t care and just did the best I could with what I had.
Before I knew it, the videos had a lot of hits and there was this pressure of making more. I wasn’t sure where it was all going to lead, but I LOVED making these little episodes and sharing our journey with the world, so I thought, why not give it a go. Without even realising, I had created the roots, the ‘start’, of my ‘dream job’ I had bought my first international plane ticket in hope to find.
And now here we are!
A few YouTube subscribers suggested we create a ‘Patreon’ page, which Riley and I had no idea what that even was and never bothered to look as we were sailing quite a lot and internet was hard to find (an ongoing problem for living onboard). And when we DID have internet, we did the rounds of letting our parents and friends know we made it safely, maybe post some photos and check the weather again.
Patreon is a crowd finding site, where independent artists doing all sorts of creative things are able to continue doing so, with the help of the general public. People donate X amount of dollars per movie, comic book, painting, whatever it is, out of the kindness of their own hearts so these artist don’t have to ‘sell out’ to huge organisations, and can keep doing what they love.
So I signed up, and more and more patrons started joining in and pledging anywhere from $1 per episode I make to $50 an episode! I couldn’t believe it.
In the beginning, making $200 an episode wasn’t enough money to keep us floating in the right direction. It was not a lifestyle we thought we could keep. Sailing, and the sailing life can be very expensive at times. So Riley and I never depended on it to survive, but it was helping us out a lot in paying for things like groceries, customs clearing fees and so on.
We were running low on money, and nearly actually ran out before we took La Vagabonde out of the water in Grenada W.I for the hurricane season. We flew back to Australia to work again and try and get some cash together to help fund the next leg of our trip.
Now, by the looks of things, Patreon is at a number where we can maintain this sailing lifestyle. We are over the moon about it. It was our Patrons that got us here, and without them we would struggle to make it the rest of the way around the world. It’s a great feeling to know people appreciate my work enough to donate towards this adventure we are on, so I can keep the movies coming. Yewww Patrons! Seriously, THANK YOU.
Anyway, thats me. I hope you enjoyed reading my life story!
Love Elay xo
Ps. If you would like to become one of our Patrons and put a few dollars towards my work, that would be hugely appreciated! You are helping to keep this dream of ours alive.