Want to know what life is really like living on a sailboat with Jason and Nikki Wynn? Well, if you don’t already know who Kate Brand is, you will by the end of this post. She lived with us, endured our cameras being shoved in her face and tolerated our bad jokes for three solid months. After a tear filled until next time, we asked her if there was anything she wanted to share. The following photos and written words are her response.
I have received a lot of interesting questions from you, The Wynns followers, on what life is really like, sailing and living with Nikki and Jason: Are they the same on camera as in real life? Where does Nikki fit her extensive wardrobe aboard Curiosity? Are the cats really happy on the boat? etc.
Nikki and J have allowed me the opportunity to answer some of those questions here and give my honest opinion of full-time life behind the camera, unedited and uncensored.
In case you didn’t see the video where Nikki introduced me, or you’re not sure why the Wynns asked me aboard, here’s a quick summary of my sailing life to better understand how I fit into things, and what my impressions of the Wynns are based on.
I will start with the basics: my name is Kate
I’m 34yrs old and I am proudly South African (not “Texan” proud, just regular person proud). My introduction to sailing yachts was in the form of racing with my dad, as a kid, around the Cape of Good Hope, South Africa. This meant that I spent a lot of time rolling around below deck, peeking through the portlights, while the adults had all the fun up top.
I worked two years on cruise ships in my early twenties, doing weekly routes from Florida and California to Mexico. Where my yachting life starting getting serious is when my husband Rufus and I bought a 38ft steel mono hull. We spent almost two years gutting and refitting her in South Africa.
It was 2010, we were 25 years old and this was long before Delos and La Vagabonde had made it cool to be a young cruiser, especially of the South African variety. We had no money, there was no-one our age to look up to, ask advice from, and definitely no YouTube videos of to get motivation and inspiration from.
We hand helmed across the Atlantic Ocean, from South Africa to Brazil in 2012. After some time in the Caribbean, we transited the Panama Canal and double handed the Pacific Crossing to French Polynesia (this time with an autopilot and a spinnaker, thank goodness!).
In between our cruising we worked in the yachting industry. Beginning with charter companies and then running private yachts. We have been privileged enough to sail and run both mono and multi-hulls ranging from 38ft to 110ft. I stopped keeping record of distance sailed around 30,000 nautical miles (Rufus is well beyond that) and the 20th country we sailed to.
I will be honest with you, neither Rufus nor myself were really into the cruising YouTube craze that is such a huge phenomenon now. It has a lot to do with the often limited internet in the remote places we find ourselves in. Also, most of the videos we watched were either dog related (we seriously miss our Border Collies), music videos or South African comedy to keep the spirits up after a long day’s/weeks’ work on the boat.
When we first saw Curiosity down the dock from us in Red Frog Marina we had no clue who or what “Gone With The Wynns” was. One evening, almost a year ago now, Nikki and Jason knocked on our hull – we were running a private 58ft Leopard catamaran at the time. They asked if we could loan a coffee bean grinder, because theirs had just busted. Little did I know, these two coffee obsessed YouTubers would soon become my sailing family.
We kept running into the Wynns in Panamá, meeting up at different anchorages and marinas and quickly developed a friendship along the way. When Rufus and I decided to move on from our work boat, Nikki and Jason offered me a crew spot for their passage from Panama to Ecuador. Rufus had agreed to stay behind in Panama for an additional few months to train the new crew that would be taking over our jobs aboard the 58 foot catamaran. This allowed me my first opportunity to sail, and travel, without Rufus for the first time in 10 years!
Now, anyone who has ever had to live and work with other people on a boat will know that inviting a stranger into your space is not something you do lightly. I am more than accustomed to living and working with people from all nationalities and backgrounds. I spent my high school years in boarding school. I lived with co-workers and shared tiny cabins on the cruise ships. Then I lived in even smaller spaces with guests, owners and other crew on charter boats and private yachts.
The captain-crew dynamic can make or break a team. It can also put immense pressure on friendships and relationships. That said, my previous experience (and my gut instinct) told me that these Wynns were good people and worth taking a risk on.
My gut turned out to be right.
I honestly, no exaggeration, could not have asked for a better experience with two more incredible human beings. What started as a convenient way to travel, and pass the time while I waited for Rufus, turned into an incredible experience that blessed me with the kind of friends that become chosen family.
When I joined Nikki and J on Curiosity, they told me straight out that I was welcome to live in their space as if it were my own. I could use and eat everything (except Nikki’s sweet potato chips or her private chocolate stash – that was non-negotiable!). Many people will say “what’s mine is yours and make yourself at home” but few truly mean it and live it.
These two mean it, in every sense. I have been conditioned to be hyper-aware of people’s personal space and to intensely read and react to body language. Working in the charter and private yachting industry you need to be able to accurately read people, and situations, well before they tell you what they want or need. Nikki and Jason always say, and do, what they mean. No messing around, no beating about the bush. What you see is what you get, but always in a kind and respectful manner. It’s a rare and valuable quality, in my experience.
I have received many questions from the Wynn-Followers asking if what you see on camera is how they really are in day to day life. My immediate response, is “yes!” but after some thought I have to say the truthful answer is actually no. The reason I say this is because you cannot capture on camera how funny and natural and spontaneous and hardworking and loving and generous these two are.
You want to know why Jason is so pasty white for a dude who lives in a tropical paradise?
It’s because he works his backside off filming and editing videos 80% of the time, 18% is spent on boat maintenance and the admin of running a business and 2% is spent chilling out and having a grand time. No jokes.
If Nikki isn’t filming, editing photos, researching and writing blog posts or custom content for their Patreons, she’s creating amazingly delicious food from limited resources, or she’s cleaning the boat inside and out. All this is piled on top of her share of bad-ass boat maintenance and captain duties.
Trust me, it is very easy to get distracted when you are anchored in picturesque locations and the weather is amazing – who wants to sit inside staring at a computer screen or an engine room or up a mast from 5am till 10pm, working and maintaining a boat and all the other admin required for travelling and sailing about the world, for 5-7 days straight??? NO ONE. But they do, because that’s who they are and doing quality work is the most important to them. These are two of the most self-disciplined hard working human beings I have encountered, they could teach professional yachting crews a thing or two…
I quickly realized that humour is one of the primary requirements for Curiosity crew members. If you can’t laugh through the bad and sad times in general life, you will come up seriously short in boat life. No matter how big or small, new or old, fancy or basic a boat is there is always something that will go wrong, and usually at a time when you need it to work the most. Nikki and Jason know how to laugh at themselves and at the crappy situations that inevitably arise in cruising life.
We laughed every single day. No exception.
Jason comes across as more serious than Nikki but he throws some real gems out when you least expect it, especially when you think he’s not listening. He is an epic car dancer and a walking music encyclopedia – he can sing almost any song you could think of but the only actress he knows outside of a Wes Anderson film is Julia Roberts. Which to him means every actress is Julia Roberts (especially Sandra Bullock). Nikki is incredibly sharp and loves the ridiculous as much as I do, so we often laughed till we cried and our cheeks hurt! I could write an another post just on the humour and jokes we shared over those months. It was epic.
Jason is the true embodiment of a Southern gentleman, not just pretending to be one when it suits him. He has a work ethic, self-discipline and focus second to none and he gets things done regardless of how tired he is or how hard his day has been.
Nikki is seemingly endlessly up-beat. It’s like she refuses to ever be down (unless she can’t have her chocolate on night watch). She is just constantly in a positive pro-active state. And I don’t mean in the annoying kind of way, because that would have sent me overboard. I mean in the strong minded, not allowing negative rubbish to dampen her spirits or overshadow the good things in life. She is game for anything and always goes the extra mile. She is so kind and generous with her time. She will go out of her way to make life the best it can be for the people around her. And did I mention that her food is AH-MA-ZING.
On camera you see them mostly well put together.
They have respect for themselves and for their viewers and it’s important to create videos that are visually appealing, not just adventurous and engaging. Part of that is making an effort with how they present themselves and Curiosity. Fun fact: Nikki was a stylist in her previous life and most of what you think you see as new items in her seemly extensive closet is most likely vintage pieces, recycled cleverly and creatively from years before. I have personally snooped in her closet and trust me this woman is a fashion genius. Also, she doesn’t like to spend money on clothes so what you see is mostly recycled, next level creativity!
This doesn’t mean they are obsessed with their looks, this means they make an effort for you. When it’s just us onboard they make no pretenses and it’s a true cruising boat situation (minus the musty cruiser/boat smell). Because they essentially work from the minute they wake up. A lot of time is spent in whatever the fell asleep in and the only thing they brush is their teeth – after coffee of course!
They make an effort with their boat, always. They have brought so much knowledge and brilliant experience from their RV life onto Curiosity. They have established a great routine with keeping things neat and organised and clean. It’s so easy to get lazy, but on a boat it is essential to keep things structured. I believe a clean boat is a safe boat, for both the obvious practical reasons and for everyone’s sanity! So often I have encountered cruisers boats that have that “cruiser” smell, musty and moldy and usually related to a dodgy heads (toilet) plumbing situation. Not on Curiosity. Even with having the cat litter box inside, the sea water head in the owner’s hull and two composting heads in the guest hull, their boat always smells good and is ready to entertain. They are proud of their floating home and it shows!
An unexpected highlight was the kitty crew.
Singa and Cleo are so special. Their RV training means that they have no problem with “small” spaces and, on the contrary, the boat is even more of a pleasant play pen for them – there are a lot more fun places to climb and jump off and far more exciting corners and surfaces to sleep on than a regular land home or RV. Cleo does her morning lap around the deck but other than that is most comfortable relaxing in her regular spots inside. Singa sleeps away most of the day so he can harass Nikki and Jason all night long with his toy ball. The rest of the time he demands copious amounts of belly rubs and enjoys chasing birds along the boom and off the bow. Underway they are so chilled out. Nikki and J have so thoughtfully curated their environment to accommodate their feline needs and habits. There is little, if anything for them to complain about and they sleep most of the time away or happily endure full body fussing while we are on watch. If there is such a thing as re-incarnation I would come back as a cat aboard Curiosity.
Egos and Attitudes.
At the time I crewed for them they were just shy of two years’ worth of experience and had not yet completed their first ocean crossing. It’s always a bit nerve wrecking for me, joining a new boat and doing the first sail with the captain and crew. All too often egos and the nasty sides of personalities can pop out when the sails go up.
I am a bit old school with regards to boating etiquette and the traditional maritime hierarchy aboard any vessel. No matter if I have more experience or qualifications, if the vessel is not mine and I am not a senior crew member/captain I will not interfere in the running of the vessel, unless there is a serious safety issue. Nikki and Jason do not have egos when it comes to sailing their boat. They are an experienced team in every other aspect of their life together and that translates well into the sailing and running of Curiosity.
In the same vein they are eager for input and feedback from other, more experienced mariners and are always looking to continue learning and improve wherever possible. This, I believe, is one of the secrets to their success and why it is a joy to go sailing with them. They are safety conscious and practical. They are conservative sailors in the best sense, never unrealistically pushing their boat but always trying to get the most out of her. They are passionate about getting those sails up and harnessing the elements to their full potential. So many cruisers, I have realized, become lazy and/or impatient. They would rather engage the engine(s) rather than have to tack every hour.
They are also great teachers, patient and generous with their knowledge. Like when they taught John the basics for the short time he was onboard. And they definitely proved they have what it takes by crossing the Pacific Ocean without crew to French Polynesia, a passage not many cruisers can claim!
Overall, the best part of my time onboard was just spending time with them. Witnessing how hard they have, and still do, work to create the kind of life they want to live. How they make time to enjoy the little things, like good coffee or making a special cocktail at the end of a long day no matter how tired they are. How they can laugh through almost anything. How they have incredible respect for one another as husband and wife, as friends, colleagues and business partners. How open and generous they are with everything they have. How they choose to be humble and open to learn whenever and wherever they can, no matter how much experience they gain.
Not everything was sunshine and roses.
The worst part for me was making coffee. Guys, I’m not going to lie, coffee-making is not a joke onboard Curiosity… When Jason is standing over your shoulder timing you on the pouring and the mixing and the brewing and then the tension while waiting for their verdict on your finished cup. That’s almost more stressful than being the chef on a French-owned super yacht…and I should know, because I was a chef on a French-owned super yacht! Other than that it is honestly hard to think up a down side to life with the them.
In my opinion, Nikki and Jason are two of the best people walking the earth today. I honestly feel sorry for the rest of the world’s population that will never get to know them like I have. The green twang of jealousy you are experiencing right now is completely legitimate.
These two are real and honest and funny and generous and kind and loving. Dedicated and hard-working and genuinely good people – they are Texan in all the best ways possible and they are excellent ambassadors for their country as they sail the world’s oceans. I am so grateful for the experience with them and even more grateful for their precious friendship, which I know will be a life-long gift.
Life with The Wynns is… The Best
The first thing I asked Jason after reading this was, “did we pay her to write this, because it sounds like we did”? His answer was no. Second question was, “she mentioned how much we work, do you think we work too much”? His answer was probably.
It’s strange to read such things written about ourselves. Feels even more odd to share it, like we’re bragging. But, she wrote this for you, not us.
Thanks for sharing Kate! I hope you enjoyed her perspective. If so, please leave a comment for her below. Also, feel free to probe for more dirt. We won’t be offended.