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Family raise eyebrows after allowing two-year-old son to snorkel with sharks: Sailing La Vagabonde

An Australian family famous for living full-time on their 43ft cruiser La Vagabonde with their two children have raised eyebrows after allowing their toddler to swim with fearsome sharks.

Riley Whitelum, 37, and Elayna Carausu, 28, say they’re inspiring the next generation to step ‘off grid’ after they ditched boring office jobs in favour of life on the ocean waves aboard their boat.

On Tuesday the adventurous parents shared a YouTube clip of their two-year-old Lenny snorkelling at Jaws beach in Nassau, the capital of the Bahamas, surrounded by Caribbean reef sharks and nurse sharks.

‘A lot of people would think diving with a two-year-old in the water with sharks is crazy but we trusted Andre [their instructor] and he’s an expert,’ Elayna said.

Riley Whitelum, 37, and Elayna Carausu, 28, say they’re inspiring the next generation to step ‘off grid’ after they ditched boring office jobs in favour of life on the ocean waves aboard their boat

Lenny was told to lightly step into the water rather than jump because the splashing would alert the surrounding sharks to his presence

Lenny was told to lightly step into the water rather than jump because the splashing would alert the surrounding sharks to his presence

Lenny was told to lightly step into the water rather than jump because the splashing would alert the surrounding sharks to his presence.

‘Wow that was a big one! So many sharks,’ the excited toddler, wearing a pair of blue goggles and boardshorts, said.

Plenty of the couple’s fans were excited to witness Lenny’s big day in the ocean. 

‘I’m so proud of Lenny! Swimming with the sharks! He’s so brave,’ one woman wrote.

‘I think you’ll have a lot of viewers questioning their fears after this one… me included. Cautious, calm bravery is how I would describe it,’ said another.

A third added: ‘Fair warning, some Karen is definitely going to get into your personal parenting business and call child welfare for letting Lenny swim with sharks. It’s bound to happen.’

Riley and Elayna’s journey so far hasn’t always been without dangers though: from a ‘nightmare’ encounter with pirates while sailing close to the Galapagos Islands to catching a deadly virus and being dragged out to sea by another boat.

And then, of course, there’s the heated arguments that are part and parcel of life at sea.

Elanya admits that living in such close quarters isn’t easy and tension can quickly build: ‘In the past, we’ve argued and we really can’t stand to look at each other. The boat is so small there’s literally nowhere to go!’ 

Plenty of the couple's fans were excited to witness Lenny's big day in the ocean

Plenty of the couple’s fans were excited to witness Lenny’s big day in the ocean

In 2017 Riley and Elayna – who met seven years ago – took possession of the $900,000 catamaran they now call home, after striking a deal with French firm Outremer. 

They used the money they earn from their YouTube advertising – which can be anything up to $4,000 per clip – and partly the sale of their old boat which was originally purchased outright, to pay for the boat at a discounted rate. 

Their enterprise is supported through crowdfunding platform Patreon, with fans pledging anywhere from $1 to $100 per month if they like what they see.

Elayna maintains their 1.69 million YouTube subscribers aren’t funding a lavish lifestyle – which has seen them circumnavigate destinations such as Martinique, St Lucia, Grenada, Dominica, French Polynesia, Cape Verde, Europe and more.

Their enterprise is supported through crowdfunding platform Patreon, with fans pledging anywhere from $1 to $100 per month if they like what they see

Their enterprise is supported through crowdfunding platform Patreon, with fans pledging anywhere from $1 to $100 per month if they like what they see

RILEY AND ELAYNA’S SAILING ADVENTURE 

The couple first met in Greece seven years ago and began their adventure together.

Elayna, 28, joined Riley, 37, on his boat La Vagabonde and they have sailed over 41,000 nautical miles together.

They film their journey for their YouTube channel and document their experiences on their blog ‘Sailing La Vagabonde’.

Their enterprise is supported by crowd-funding site Patreon which enables their fans to donate anything from $1-$100.

They also earn around $4,000 per YouTube video, some of which they are using to pay costs of their $900k boat, which they were gifted in a deal in 2017.

The couple who are from Australia have circumnavigated destinations such as Martinique, St Lucia, Grenada, Dominica, French Polynesia, Cape Verde, Europe and more.

The money pledged by fans is funnelled into boat maintenance and new filming equipment to continue producing high quality footage while also giving them enough cash to get by. 

They source as much food as they can from the waters beneath them. 

Former scuba diving instructor Elayna, from Geraldton, Western Australia, grew up either in or on the water and even learned to sail during her school years. 

But when it comes to being the skipper of a large vessel, neither Riley nor Elayna had any experience before they took to the oceans, having to learn the ropes as they went along. 

The pair, who met on the Greek island Ios, while Riley was sailing La Vagabonde single-handedly and Elayna was playing music for a travel company, say they’ve since enjoyed a whirlwind ride.

Dangers along the way 

But there has, however, been choppier water. 

In 2017 they ended up drifting out to sea off the Greek islands having become attached to another vessel via their anchor chain, in 40 knots of wind – before they were eventually rescued by the coastguard.  

In May 2016, their boat was approached by a group of what they believe were pirates while sailing close to the Galapagos Islands, off Ecuador. A situation Riley describes as, ‘one of the few times I’ve been out on the water and truly, genuinely concerned’.

Elayna, who’d hidden in a storage compartment during the terrifying night-time incident, adds: ‘I’ve never been more scared in my life. 

‘I thought something terrible was going to happen to us, and I couldn’t hear anything because of the roar from the engines.’ 

Thankfully, the pair were able to accelerate away from the oncoming vessel before being boarded.    

Elayna, who edits the video content for their YouTube channel, is a former scuba-diving instructor and has always stayed close to the water

Elayna, who edits the video content for their YouTube channel, is a former scuba-diving instructor and has always stayed close to the water

Riley has learned that as the captain of a ship he has more responsibilities than just having fun travelling 

Riley has learned that as the captain of a ship he has more responsibilities than just having fun travelling 

Losing each other in close confines

Then there was the night a horrified Riley struggled to locate Elayna on their 43ft yacht – he was left fearing she’d tumbled overboard in the pitch black. 

Unbeknown to him, Elayna had been plucking her eyebrows – at 4am in the morning – in a toilet cubicle they never used.

Riley says: ‘It was the worst 20 seconds of my entire life. I woke up and I wandered into the saloon and there was no one there.’

He couldn’t find her anywhere on board and ran around the deck without a harness before he began screaming her name and she stumbled out of the toilet into his arms.

Chuckling Elayna, who produces all of their video content, adds: ‘I knew what had happened without him even having to say anything just from the look in his eyes. It was the most scared I’ve ever seen him.’     

On the job: The couple know how to fend for themselves and have learned all manner of skills while aboard the yacht

On the job: The couple know how to fend for themselves and have learned all manner of skills while aboard the yacht

As well as captaining the ship, there's always time to explore their surroundings as Riley proves in the snap above

As well as captaining the ship, there’s always time to explore their surroundings as Riley proves in the snap above

Arguments and tension 

And then there’s the difficulty of just functioning as a couple when out at sea and with no way to escape each other’s company. 

Elayna, who also contracted the mosquito-borne and potentially deadly viral disease Chikungunya, admits: ‘If we’re being honest, in the first six months of our relationship there was a lot of struggle just because I didn’t like being told what to do, and Riley didn’t like me telling him what to do. 

‘There was tension. Not only were we both learning how to sail, we were also trying to establish both an emotional relationship and a sort of working relationship. At a basic level, it was just figuring out who did what. 

‘But once we got into the swing of things it became much easier.’

Elayna explains that in the middle of nowhere they only had each other to rely on so there’s ‘no point in arguing’. 

‘In the past, when we’ve argued and we really can’t stand to look at each other, the furthest place we can get away from each other on the boat is if I’m in the cabin inside the boat, and Riley would be on top at the bow. 

‘Technically, he’s right on top of me but it’s the longest possible distance we’d have to walk to one another!’

Scare: Elayna contracted the mosquito-borne and potentially deadly viral disease Chikungunya during her sail around the world

Scare: Elayna contracted the mosquito-borne and potentially deadly viral disease Chikungunya during her sail around the world

‘Yachting is not just for the elite’ 

And what’s so important for the couple is the knowledge that they’re dispelling the illusion that yachting is the preserve of the elite, as they claim anyone with the ambition should simply get out there and do it for themselves. 

Riley laboured on off-shore oil rigs and in mines for eight years in order to be able to afford his first yacht, a 2007 Beneteau Cyclades, purchased in Italy in 2013 for around $112,000.

They couldn’t afford their current $900,000 Outremer 45 outright and their Australian bank were not willing to finance a loan of this nature. 

Outremer helped finance the loan under the conditions Riley and Elayna produce a minimum of one video per month on YouTube on the boat. 

Riley said: ‘I’m proud of the work and sacrifices I had to make to be able to buy my first boat.

‘I have some incredible memories out on the water with Elayna. 

‘I definitely didn’t have everything handed to me on a plate but that makes our achievements all the more sweeter. For many people who watch our videos, it changes their life. We know because our viewers tell us and that’s a fantastic thing to hear. 

‘There is a lot of thought that goes into our videos to make them as creative, thought-provoking and real-life as possible. It takes up to four days in editing to produce a 15 minute video.’

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