NEWS

How A Couple Quit Their Jobs And Found Success On A 40-Foot Sailboat

Dec 28, 2021

Long before Covid changed the physical barriers of our lives, humans have had itchy feet. There have always been people who are restless, for whom staying put is not an option. People like Sophie Darsy. As a digital nomad and one half of the couple behind the YouTube channel Ryan and Sophie Sailing, Darsy lives on a yacht with her partner Ryan Ellison as they sail around the world.

The technology aboard the couple’s 40-foot sailboat, Polar Seal, allows them to run a business from anywhere in the world, even in the middle of the ocean. They generate their own power, make their own water and can live completely off the grid for months at a time.

Before setting sail in June 2018, Darsy spent her former life climbing the corporate ladder. But after logging 15,000 nautical miles over the course of more than three years, Darsy has had time to discover what is important to her. As it turns out, it’s sharing her authentic and imperfect life in an effort to inspire other people who feel stuck in a 9-to-5 corporate job that doesn’t fulfill them, helping them take steps toward living a more meaningful life.

Here, we caught up with Darsy to find out how she has found happiness, humor and humility as a speck on the great expanse of the Atlantic Ocean.

A couple on their 40 foot sailboat

Sophie Darsy and Ryan Ellison aboard their 40-foot sailboat, Polar Seal.

SOPHIE DARSY

How It Started vs How It’s Going: “It all started with a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle costume and a Tinder date. I’m French and Ryan is American, and we were both living in Sweden at the time, working grueling, 60-plus hours per week for different startups. In the middle of a long night working at home after spending all day working in the office, I took a few minutes off to Tinder. I swiped right on Ryan’s Halloween costume because I thought, ‘This guy has to be pretty comfortable in his skin to put this in his dating profile.’ I loved that silly sense of humor. I never guessed that funny costume would end up changing my life.”

The Mother Goose Effect: “Shortly after our first date, while on a training run for the Stockholm marathon, Ryan got too close to some Canadian goslings, and Mother Goose did not take his intrusion lightly. Her maternal fury left Ryan with a dislocated shoulder and broken socket bone, effectively ending Ryan’s extreme-athlete plans, such as scaling Cho Ovu in Nepal. One day while confined to a bed during his recovery Ryan read about Matt and Jessica Johnson, a couple who sold everything to sail the world. He texted me to ask if I’d like to do the same, and, to his surprise, I agreed. Next thing I knew, we enrolled in a sailing course and I sold my apartment to fund our boat purchase.”

Sailboat as floating remote office

Polar Seal, home sweet office.

SOPHIE DARSY

Setting Sail For Our #BoatLife Dreams: “Actually, that’s a massive oversimplification. From the time Ryan suggested it, sort of as a joke, to the time we cast off from Stockholm, it was two years of research, hard work and even harder decisions. Learning to sail was only the first step. We had to buy an ocean-worthy sailboat, and then spend more money updating and equipping her for living aboard. It was a lot for two people who had spent 99% of their lives on land. Then we had to learn how to provision her for our trips. Not just buying food and first aid but figuring out where things go. Everything needs a secure home—the last thing you want is a can of soda bouncing around, spraying sticky liquid all over sensitive equipment.”

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Living Small: “We also had to downsize our lives. Of course, we quit our jobs, but that was the easy part. I had to cull my wardrobe down to a couple of duffel bags—there isn’t room on board for twenty pairs of shoes. The hardest thing was saying goodbye to family and friends. There’s no internet in the middle of the ocean, so staying in touch with our closest circle was going to take more effort than it had when we lived on land.”

Inside a sailboat

Living small on a 40-foot sailboat.

SOPHIE DARSY

What Motivated Us To Turn Our Adventure Into A Social Media Journey: “A few months after we began this journey, we started our YouTube channel, Ryan and Sophie Sailing, where we try to share as much of the difficulties as we do the successes. After all, life aboard isn’t all hammocks and sunsets and sandy beaches. But we didn’t set out to become social media personalities. Our YouTube channel really started as a way to keep our circle updated on all our adventures. But I discovered I have a knack for it. I enjoy engaging our audience—it’s rewarding to help current and future liveaboards (the term for people who live on boats) find their sea legs.

The Real Deal: “Living on a sailboat isn’t for the faint of heart. We want our audiences to get a realistic view—no matter how difficult it gets. We’re human and we’re a couple, so we disagree sometimes. Also, being in somewhat dangerous circumstances can be stressful, so there are occasional tears. And there are so many learning moments. We try to help our fans avoid our mistakes by sharing how-to videos. Especially Ryan—he is so talented when it comes to any kind of mechanical challenge, and he’s a great teacher who takes a lot of care in simplifying things for our viewers.”

woman-quits-job-sailboat

Sophie Darsy on her floating home and remote office.

SOPHIE DARSY

Living and Working on a 40-Foot Sailboat: “Because a sailboat is smaller than a traditional home (which doubles as an office, in our case), and because it rocks and rolls while at sea, everything needs a spot where it’s out of the way. It keeps things like shoes from flying directly at your forehead during rough weather. I get seasick sometimes (yes, even sailors get seasick) so luckily, my bed is really close to the toilet. But the bad news is my bed is really close to the toilet. During Covid, a lot of couples found themselves working from home together. At first it might have seemed like a nice vacation from the office, but eventually it started to wear on everyone’s nerves. People didn’t get any time or space to themselves. I bet there were a lot of long, solo drives get some alone time. Well, our lives are like that all the time, and we can’t take a drive to clear our heads. But we had the advantage of knowing that was going to be the case, so we prepared for it.

Staying Grounded: “Just like you have regular meetings at work to identify issues before they become problems, we do regular check-ins with ourselves and each other, in the form of couples and individual counseling. Thanks to the wonders of the internet, we usually meet with our respective therapists once a week. Life on board can be tense at times, and we only have each other to talk to, so counseling (aka ‘life coaching’) helps us get another perspective. And we didn’t wait until we set sail. I have a history of anxiety and depression, and Ryan and I both tend to push through any strain to achieve our goals, which occasionally leads to overload and exhaustion. So we started counseling a year before we left on our first sail. It really has helped us be better partners, and to achieve our goals as sailors and as people. And we try to keep things as fun as possible. Being goofy and not taking things too seriously (unless it’s serious) and relaxing with a good book and/or a strong drink are all ways we try to stay grounded.”

living and remote working on a sailboat

Sometimes things get rough, but you have to keep sailing.

SOPHIE DARSY

Our Best Advice for Liveaboard Life: “Some of the best advice is simple, but it can be easy to overlook things when you’re focused on so many complex challenges.

  1. Keep good company. If your friends aren’t being supportive or don’t believe in you, find people who do. Surround yourself with those who have achieved what you aspire to. Social media makes it so easy to find like-minded souls.
  2. Ask for help. We love the feeling we get helping people solve problems or letting people know they’re not alone in their challenges. If you’re facing an obstacle, whether it’s mechanical or emotional, chances are someone has gone through it before and would be happy to offer guidance. You just have to ask.
  3. Accept that you are not perfect and that things will go wrong. The best thing you can do is accept that you have limitations. No amount of planning can prevent every mistake, and some things (like a pandemic) are just out of your control. The worst thing you can do is beat yourself up about it. Just prepare for the eventualities (invest in a satellite phone!), wear your lifejacket (always!) and do your best. Congratulate yourself for getting through it. And then move on.”

What’s On The Horizon: “Living and working on a boat takes a lot of planning. But luckily Ryan and I both like the planning of the trip—you almost have to, or it can feel tedious, and you’ll find yourself in the middle of the ocean without any toilet paper, or worse. So we have lots of plans, in varying stages of completion. Our third trans-Atlantic crossing is next. We’re on Madeira now but will head south to the Canary Islands to stage for our return trip to the Caribbean. After that we’ll have some deserved RR, then the cycle repeats. I’ll be editing and posting content, working on a cookbook, and we’ll be doing lots of boat chores. It sounds like a lot, but when you love it, it doesn’t feel like work.”

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