15 Minutes of Fame

1 May

Andy Warhol may have been a little wide of the mark when he famously said, “in the future, everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes,” but given the merciless advance of social media his words are starting to ring true. How else do you explain the rise to internet stardom of Tanner and Nikki, an unremarkable young couple from Colorado, who, despite never having set foot on a sailboat, decided to forsake the mountains for a life on the water?

They sold up, moved to Florida, bought an old boat for a few grand and spent a few more fixing it up. So far, so good, but it appears they were woefully short of sailing experience when they decided to sail for the Caribbean. One night in February, just two days into their long-anticipated voyage, they found out the hard way that the sailing life can be as unforgiving as it can be romantic. Making their way into an unfamiliar channel at night, with fog closing in, they struck bottom and—according to them—the keel separated from the boat. The couple and their dog escaped unhurt, but lost almost everything except what they wearing.

A local reporter with a keen eye for a human interest angle—think “couple’s dream voyage ends just two days in”—picked up the story, which was then syndicated the world over, making the news as far away as China and eliciting social media comments in the thousands, scarcely a complimentary one among them. On hearing they’d be faced with a five-figure bill to have their sunken dream boat pulled from the water and disposed of, I felt quite sorry for Tanner and Nikki.

Having lived for many years in England, with its tradition of embracing heroic failures, I did my best not to join the rush to judgment. I thought they were actually rather lucky—lucky their keel fell off in water almost shallow enough for them to walk to shore, and not on a boisterous day in the Straits of Florida, where they would almost certainly have gone down with their boat.

There are probably hundreds, if not thousands of others like these two landlubbers, dreaming of casting off the shackles of nine-to-five life in favor of blue skies, a clear horizon and a sturdy vessel beneath their feet. Who can blame them? I was once one myself. There must also be many whose dreams evaporate in less spectacular ways. 

Nevertheless, after Tanner and Nikki weathered the initial tidal wave of scorn from the amassed sailing experts and otherwise of the internet, they quickly discovered the truth of the old maxim that there is “no such thing as bad publicity, providing they spell your name right:” they did what so many other failed dreamers do these days and asked to be bailed out by the generosity of others. As I write I am looking at the couple’s Gofundme page, where kindhearted souls have so far contributed more than $14,000 toward the resurrection of their sailing dreams.

Whether or not you consider this a form of glorified panhandling, you have to admit it’s a brilliant strategy. I could be tempted to adopt it myself, being in dire need of a new mainsail. 

Still, if Tanner and Nikki actually use this money to get back afloat, I would hope that they spend some time learning not just what to do on the water, but what not to do. Fifteen minutes of fame is probably quite enough. 

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