From lockdown to coastal cruising

When I spoke to Kristina Costalos on the phone from my home ‘office’ mid-Sydney lockdown (the closest body of water to me is the Cooks River in Sydney’s south-west) she was cutting up fruit on a 50ft yacht at anchor off The Great Barrier Reef’s Airlie Beach in Queensland, looking forward to a trip to an outer reef.

Costalos, 31, and partner John Tilley, 32, bought their 2008 Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 50DS Tucana earlier this year. The couple were ready for adventure following a gruelling 15-week Covid-19 lockdown in Melbourne last year.

When Costalos turned 30 during the 2020 lockdown, she started to question what she wanted to get out of life.

“We weren’t living really. It was just a horrible experience, and that ignited in us our passion and our dream, and we decided to take that leap of faith and go for it,” Costalos said.

Costalos, at the time a journalist at Channel 10, was mentally exhausted from reporting on conferences and Covid-19 deaths day in day out. Tilley, a commercial aeroplane pilot, was stuck at home with no place to go.

Once that lockdown came to an end, Costalos quit her job and the pair set out on turning this dream into reality.

Kristina and John standing at the back of the boat.
Tucana is the couple’s new home. Pic – Kristina Costalos

Before the pandemic, they had considered buying a less expensive yacht in Europe and planned to cruise around the Mediterranean. But border restrictions set them on an alternative route.

With a total of three weeks of sailing between them, including a Hobart to Sydney delivery trip and Tilley’s added knowledge from his experience as a pilot, they bought their first boat – Tucana, a 50ft yacht, and set sail from Sandringham for Sydney.

“We definitely weren’t looking for a 50ft boat, we were after something a lot smaller,” Costalos said. “But we didn’t have much choice because there wasn’t much on the market and this was by far the most beautiful boat we had seen in our price range. When we set our eyes on Tucana, we were in love.”

That first trip did have a few hiccoughs. The auto-pilot stopped working whenever the engine was off so a sleep-deprived Tilley had to steer the boat by hand for hours on end.

At another point during the trip, the furling line for the headsail came off the drum and wrapped around the forestay. They managed these challenges and safely arrived in Sydney.

“That was essentially our shake down, our shake down was in the Bass Strait. Wild!” laughed Costalos.

John Tilley  behind the wheel of the boat.
John Tilley at the helm of Tucana. Pic – Kristina Costalos

Following a short stop in Sydney, they started to explore the NSW coastline. But within days, everything changed. Tucana was around Coffs Harbour when the NSW Government announcement a second Covid-19 lockdown for Greater Sydney.

This led to a reinforcement of border restrictions between NSW and Queensland which forced the couple to spend two weeks in Coffs Harbour.

They arrived in Queensland on day 15, after liaising with authorities, thankful to have missed border closures.

An aerial shot of yachts in crystal clear Queensland waters.
The couple are enjoying their freedom following being stuck in lockdown for most of 2020. Pic – Kristina Costalos

“We were so lucky to get into Queensland,” Costalos said. “That’s all we had dreamed about while we were in lockdown last year and it was hanging by a thread. As soon as we got to the Gold Coast, we were cheering. Having this taste of freedom was magical.”

Since then life hasn’t been too bad. Trips to K’gari (formerly known as Fraser Island), the largest sand island in the world, located off the south-eastern coast of Queensland, and daily visits from turtles are just some of the experiences Costalos and Tilley have recorded on their social media accounts.

Costalos said she has no idea where they’ll be next year.

“Everything is really dependent on the weather,” Costalos said. “At the moment we have south-easterlies. That’s really fantastic to utilise to head up north. Around November we’ll hitch a ride with the northerlies and go back down the coast and check out some of the islands we missed on the way up.”

Image of Kristina's Travels YouTube image.
Kristina’s Travels has 38,0000 subscribers and counting. Pic – Kristina Costalos

Costalos hopes that her new income will help fund their boating lifestyle. She is doing voice overs for the news and running her YouTube channel Kristina’s Travels, which has an impressive 38,000 subscribers.

Costalos gets messages from people all over the globe, inspired by her and Tilley’s adventurous lifestyle. The couple have proved that despite having minimal sailing experience, anything is possible if you put your mind to it.

Aerial shot of Tucana at anchor in a quiet little bay.
“You can never put a price tag on those adventures,” Costalos said. Pic – Kristina Costalos

“We’re in the groove now, which is great,” Costalos said. “Whereas at the start there was that teething period where I’d be waiting for him [John] to prompt me. Now we work really well as a team.”

To help keep within their budget and avoid marina fees, they are also spending as much time at anchor or on a mooring as possible.

Kristina and John smiling while hanging off the anchor in the water.
“We’re really enjoying that experience and we don’t want it to end,” Costalos said. Pic – Kristina Costalos

Although living on a boat isn’t necessarily cheap, Costalos and Tilley wouldn’t have it any other way.

“It’s the freedom that you have with owning a boat,” Costalos said. “If you’re living in Brisbane you might be able to head out to South Stradbroke or Fraser or some of those beautiful islands. And those moments are priceless. You can never put a price tag on those adventures.

“It’s like our little floating home that takes us to the most peculiar places and we’re really enjoying that experience and we don’t want it to end.”

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By Greta Quealy

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