Meet Maren and Matthias, a German entrepreneur couple sailing European shores while having a successful career on land – in the new series “Good Decision”.
Maren and Matthias Wagener are sailing. And they are leading a company. Their offbeat lifestyle means they have no traffic, no commute, no crowded cities. They enjoy the luxury of real mobility, magnificent sunsets, fresh water glistening in the sun, salty air brimming with adventure…[IMAGE: Maren and Matthias, entrepreneurs and voyagers.]
Maren is the founder of the Hamburg-based web and communications agency Vast Forward. In March 2015, she and her husband Matthias moved houses… or, to be more precise, moved in on their yacht Vast Floating. You can follow their adventures on the Vast Floating blog, and on social media: Instagram | Facebook | Flickr.
Q: Maren, shall we start by going back to when the adventure began?
A: I don’t mean to go too far afield, but it does go back to the year 2008 when I moved to Hamburg and in together with my now husband Matthias, launching Vast Forward.
To me, Hamburg always was tantamount to “that’s where you learn how to sail”. So I got the inland sports boat licence first and the sporting boat licence sea after, and I sailed on the Alster* a lot. Matthias has been sailing since his childhood.
Together we then have bought our first boat, Black Molly, and sailed the Baltic Sea for four years; sailing March through October on holidays, from time to time on weekends – whenever possible.
When Matthias went from his regular job to self-employment in 2011, we had more time – and I discovered that I could manage Vast Forward from a distance fairly well. And so we changed our way of travelling: the car stayed in our home port, and we went places, sailing along shore in Denmark, Sweden and Germany. When meetings with clients would be on, we’d leave Black Molly at the port and take a train to Hamburg or Munich, or fly to Zurich. Then we’d board Black Molly again. So at some point the idea emerged to extend our radius. To someplace sunny for example. However we don’t define ourselves at all as “nomads”, as in “digital nomads” 🙂
The feeling of independence is of course vital for us – in the same time, managing a company we set great store in accuracy and discipline.
Q: What about your mutual sailing background?
A: Like I said, Matthias got his first sailing licence at age six, and I got mine in 2008. But we only got real experience sailing Black Molly: night rides, rough sea. We started out with “just” the required licenses, and went on with more trainings in the course of preparation for VAST: the ISAF safety training and the medical training, meteorology and the amateur radio license… You can of course always do more if you like but we see sailing itself as the best school.[IMAGE: ISAF safety training]
Q: Sailing is a physically challenging pasttime; how do you make it work with your full-time jobs as entrepreneurs?
A: Sailing can be hard work; at the same time Matthias’ father calls sailing “sports for the lazy” 🙂 Somehow both is true, the long passages – like our last 1,000 sea miles – are a challenge due to the day and night watch sequences; the body needs to adjust to the constant movement; it’s challenging to the mind. At the same time, if you have favourable wind and have set the course, and the sails are trimmed – there’s just nothing to do. For hours.
Arranging work with the weather windows needed for moving forwards goes smoothly, and we’re in our third year now. But there was a transition, of course!
Naturally, this was different from what we had considered: we had envisaged using some very sophisticated communication tools, thinking we’d face communication problems managing the physical distance. Rather than that, we have established a rhythm similar to our former daily routine: working during the week, sailing on weekends. Reachability is secured by a Telekom Europe-Data plan. What we do notice a lot sounds a bit like a platitude, but the distance helps us see our company and our job in a different light, simply from distance. And this fuels our creativity (together with all the new ideas we get from our exchange with great people we’re meeting :))
Q: What reactions do you get to your “boat life”? Are people surprised, or negative, or indifferent?
A: We gave thought to this in advance. Actually, we either get positive feedback – or none at all! It would seem as though our clients won’t even notice that we’re not sitting in an office while we work for them.
And the question is: why should they?
They approach us with a job. We’re on call, we can help them, so it doesn’t make any difference to how it’s been before.
Before we got started, there were sceptics, of course – but mostly from friends and family. There was the feeling that our enthusiasm and our idea was meeting a slight lack of understanding, à la “how do you manage to be stuck in such a tight space all the time? And then work together as well?”
How we handled it? We had a good feeling about it and we had already some experience from our travels with our Black Molly:
We had resolved to not plan for longer than 6 months in advance.
We’ve kept our apartment and we’ve sublet it furnished for brief periods of time. And most importantly, we have adapted our travel speed to our job requirements. We also travelled a lot to meet employees and clients.
Q: What is some advice you could give to people who think about trying a “nomadic” lifestyle, whether on a boat or otherwise?
A: Oh, advice, that’s tricky. We often get “You can do that, it’s not possible in my job…” – but is this really true?
See, we had this idea of living on our boat, of being mobile – and we have figured out how to change or adapt our (professional) life to get there. As for our personal life, for living together, we’ve never doubted it.
We’ve come to learn that in the end we didn’t need much technology after all and not much changing of our daily life. On the contrary, discipline and good communications are vital from our point of view, and everything else will just fall into place then. It was also good that we didn’t plan to “downshift”, this project was more like “moving house” to us.
Q: What are some of your travel plans for 2017? Maybe an Atlantic crossing?
A: Our plan for this year is “Greece”, we’re told there are many fantastic bays to anchor in and many beautiful islands waiting to be discovered. Network coverage is said to be good, so we can work, and we’ll have sun galore for the weekends 🙂
The Atlantic is “on the list” so to speak, maybe early in 2018 or 2019, depending on how it goes.
The company would need some adjustment if we left the time zone. Other than that and in theory we’re ready to give a crossing a go, just the two of us. It’s certainly a challenge, but it’s feasible. The trip to the Canary Islands has again demonstrated that all it takes is a sensible watch schedule and good food – and to be lucky with the weather of course.
We’re glad to have the experience of 20,000 sea miles we sailed together. But there are many people who’d approach their Atlantic crossing alone, or with a crew or a family and are rather short on experience – and who cope. To us, crossing the Atlantic is another step in our life.
Q: What’s the best part about life on board?
A: The best part is: life on board 🙂
To break it down, it’s new impressions all over again, new challenges again and again. Things we didn’t have to face in our life earlier. Weather is weather, nothing you can do about it. There’s no way to know if there’s a functioning washing machine in the next harbour, or good wine in the harbour bar. Maybe it’s the best thing to learn over and over again to assess things not by your own expectations but by circumstances. And that’s where the real challenges begin: in your head, when the waves are too much for you for the first time, or when something breaks aboard and no mechanic is in sight.
Q: One last question. When I talk to people who got the outdoors bug, avid travellers, bikers, sailors – they all witness environmental issues first hand. Have you become more aware of it, too? Do you live “clean”?
A: We’re riding bicycles, we’re sailing, so yes, you get to see a lot of “garbage”. The very junk floating at the coasts is pretty disgusting, in particular close to the major cities.
Yes, I think we do live “cleaner” by some measure and as far as our shopping opportunities allow. Markets are everywhere, we bring our own grocery bags and shop in bulk.
In the same time we’re a long way from being a role model. If there’s no farmers market and the supermarket will offer delivery, we’ll have drinkable water delivered… but we collect and deposit our own waste just as we learned to do it at home.
Thank you, Maren!