Have you ever wanted to see what life on the high seas would be like? Have you ever envied the pirate’s life? Do you dream of freedom and adventure?

If you said yes to any of these questions, do I have the vacation for you!

Sailors and the lives they live have always been more legend than reality for most of us. From Odysseus to Popeye and Christopher Columbus to Darwin, the men and women of the sea have inspired humanity to face their fears, explore the world, and cherish the freedom that the open water provides. It’s not an uncommon dream to sell all of your possessions, buy a boat, and sail off into the sunset. For a long weekend, we got to do exactly that!

Over Easter Weekend, Layton and I lived onboard a catamaran in the Caribbean waters of Panama. For four days and three nights, we became sailors. A vacation like no other!

San Blas Islands Panama

The Sailing Life Experience

Our vacation was only possible through Sailing Life Experience.

Sailing Life Experience focuses on getting landlubbers into real ships with real crews to experience the reality of living life as a sailor. Founded by a vibrant woman with a magnetic personality, ironically named Marina, the company has more than 70 boats in five unique destinations. We enjoyed exploring the San Blas Islands in the Caribbean Sea of Panama, but they also have operations in the Balearic Islands, the Canary Islands, Brazil, and Belize.

All the host ships on Sailing Life Experience are operated by the actual nomads who live, work, and thrive on the high seas. The hosts range from young 20-somethings who have prioritized their freedom over material possessions to retired millionaires who are living their dream for the first time in their lives. The ships are just as varied! From older wooden monohulls to shiny new catamarans, there will be something for your budget no matter how large or small.

Booking through Sailing Life Experience is as smooth as AirBnB with the hands-on touch of a travel agent. If you know what you are looking for, you can quickly book with a few clicks online. If you are more open-minded, shoot Marina a message, and she’ll learn about you, your dislikes and likes, and what experience you are looking for to match you with the best host.

I would have never imagined such a unique vacation and experience could’ve been so smooth from booking to boarding.

As a massive fan of Jack Sparrow and Pirates of The Caribbean, I’ve always wanted to explore life on the high seas. However, not everything is like the movies!

Sailing in Panama's San Blas Islands

The Ship & Crew

Sailing in Panama's San Blas Islands

Just how a hotel can make or break a vacation, a ship and its crew can make or break your sailing vacation!

We were blessed to join our captain, Giambattista, on his Outremer 55 Catamaran. Rounding out the crew was Giambattista’s son, Luca, and a French family from Panama City, who was on vacation like us.

Giambattista is not your average sea captain. In the “real world”, he was the COO of public Italian internet company of Tiscali, CEO of his own IT consulting firm, and a Spanish & Italian GT Racing champion. In the sailing world, he is the first captain to ever pilot his catamaran to the Polar Antarctic Circle (aka the south pole). He’s never been average.

Now, his passion is The Lifetime Cruise. The Lifetime Cruise is Giambattista’s personal blog about his voyages. While his next goal is to sail the Northwest passage (aka the north pole), the website is not only about exploring but also it is a journey to discover the peoples and cultures of the world. He loves to share his experiences with others, which is how he started working with The Sailing Life Experience.

Q & A: Captain Giambattista

1. Where are you from and long have you been sailing?
I’m Italian and I have been sailing since I was a teenager. I bought my first boat before my first car.
2. When and why did you decide to leave your life ashore?

We (Giambattista and his wife) left the life ashore seven years ago and since then we have been sailing more than 65.000 miles: from the Mediterranean to the Pacific, till the southern latitudes spending one year sailing Patagonia and being the first catamaran in history to reach the Antarctic Polar Circle.

There are several reasons why we became sailing Gypsies and they are difficult to express in just a few sentences. However, the most important thing for me was realizing that all I had built in my life has been paid with my time. Time is the only real scarce resource in our lives and it can’t be wasted. So I believe that although there is no rule to reach happiness it is definitively true that we should not live a life we do not like.

In 2011, I decided that I will never spend one hour in my life doing things I do not like.

3. What do you love most about living your life on the seas?
I love traveling, I love nature, I love the sea. A sailing boat is the best way to experience all those things. Our floating home moves with us and travels with us while we are immersed in nature. We have on board all our belongings, all we need. We never feel like tourists. And our home is also our kingdom. We decide where to anchor and when to leave but no matter what we are always home.
4. What do you enjoy most about hosting guests on your ship?
We believe happiness is not real if it is not shared. Welcoming guest on board is our chance to show people a different choice of lifestyle, a possible and more sustainable way to live in harmony with nature; a lifestyle where we seek new places to visit, more cultures to experience, and more time to share with people.
5. Where is your favorite place in the world you’ve explored? What makes it so special?
It is always very difficult to name a winner among the places we have been, but the year spent sailing Patagonia and Antarctica will always be in the top experiences of my life. I think the combination of wild nature and extreme conditions, the feeling of isolation, the unreal brightness of the colors makes a unique place on Earth “Antarctica is otherworldly, like nothing I’ve ever seen before. Stark, cold, beautiful desolation.” Mark Hoppus

The rest of the crew was just as impressive! Luca is an Italian medical student who loved to freedive the reefs in the islands. The husband of the French family was an Addidas executive, the wife was a novelist, and their son was one of the best-behaved pre-teens I’ve ever met! In all reality, Layton and I were the most “boring” of the group! Feeling “boring” or “lame” compared to the nomads of the sea was a common theme during this trip, which was delightful. We shared several late night chats over the delicious food (I forgot to mention that Giambattista is a fantastic cook) with our shipmates over topics such as American and European educational and healthcare systems to the domination of the Brazilian Instagram market. It was like a floating college class during each conversation!

Sailing in Panama's San Blas Islands

The ship itself was top of the line. However, it is best to come with certain expectations in mind.

A ship is not a hotel. There is a finite amount of electricity, fresh water, space, and gas during your trip. Your cabin will be small. There will not be any air conditioning. You won’t be able to take many showers, if any.

Then there is the notion of seasickness. These ships are not cruise ships which can glide over even the roughest waters. These ships fight the waves and are continually being rocked back and forth. If you happen to suffer from motion sickness, this is not a time to forget the Dramamine!

If you can deal with these unique factors of a sailboat, then you will be blessed with the benefits.

Cruising the open waters on a ship is an exhilarating feeling. The wind whipping through your hair, the sea spray cooling your skin, and the smell of the salt in the air is a calming experience. Walking on the deck as your ship fights 10 to 15-foot waves is a bit of struggle, but the experience makes you appreciate the explorers you’ve read about in history class.

Sailing in Panama's San Blas Islands

Life On The High Seas

Life on the sea is different from life on land in nearly every aspect.

First comes the scenery.

Viewing the world from the open ocean is unlike any other viewpoint. From the beauty of the water to the islands on the horizon, you stand in awe of the handiwork of nature as you slide over the globe. We sailed relatively close to the coast of Panama at most times, which gave us a beautiful view of the country that few others see. Once you are in the islands, the view gets better. At one point, I could count 13 islands surrounding us from our anchorage. It was magical to be able to glide in and out of the island chain with an ever moving theatre of beauty surrounding us.

Sailing in Panama's San Blas Islands

Then comes the activities.

When you are on a boat, the ocean is your playground. At any point, you can set anchor and jump on in!

Your itinerary for the day is up to you. We climbed palm trees, cut down coconuts, swam to uninhabited islands, freedived reefs, and sunbathed with the locals. We didn’t even have time to fish, spearfish, or scuba dive, but those are all on the list of possibilities as well!

Of course, sailing is a significant activity by itself. Over the four days, we were in motion for around 16 total hours. It was five hours to the islands from the marina and five hours back. Between certain islands, it was an hour or two of sailing as well. Sailing isn’t like driving. You set your headings and just coast for hours. This gives you plenty of time to read, nap, or chat with the rest of the crew. Napping seemed to be the favorite choice! I was well rested after each long trip.

Sailing in Panama's San Blas Islands

Last, but certainly not least, comes the people.

We had the opportunity to grab dinner with another crew on our last night. Marina, the owner of the Sailing Life Experience, and her team were headed to Tahiti next week, so we took the opportunity to chat with them. It was eye-opening.

In America, most of us were raised to get an education, go to work, get married, buy a house, and follow the “path”. Anyone who strays too far off the path is deemed “odd” or “weird”. This isn’t a mindset the sailing community shares.

From our conversations, these nomads favor freedom and flexibility over everything. If they want to go somewhere, they go. If they want to leave somewhere, they leave. The ability to pick up or set down their anchor anywhere is a powerful one. They can spend as much or as little time as they want somewhere. For example, Giambattista spent months in Patagonia. Marina wanted to see French Polynesia, so she’s going. Since their ship is their home, they are never not at home. Even in the middle of the Pacific ocean, they have all the comforts of their home at their fingertips.

Now, they do give up some luxuries we have on land. No Netflix on the open ocean. No lavish king-sized beds. No Amazon same-day deliveries. No In-and-Out Burgers.

However, they have everything they need: food, water, shelter, friends, and adventure. It is as romantic as it sounds.

Marina and her boyfriend, Andre, met each other just three months ago. Instead of “taking it slow”, they are headed across the Pacific Ocean together for the next month, sharing not much more than a twin mattress. The thought terrifies me, but this is normal in the sailing community. After dinner, we watched the two of them salsa dance the night away, something I can easily picture happening on the deck of their ship under the full moon during their trip.

If you want a vacation that will cause you to question some of your life aspirations and open your eyes to a new way of living, I can’t imagine more a powerful experience than sailing. It doesn’t hurt that it comes with the perks of fantastic scenery, exhilarating activities, and the opportunity to meet some amazing people.


Angie xoxo