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Gone Sailing

Denis Dowling and Allie Medeiros are no strangers to grand adventure. Collectively, they have accrued over 150,000 nautical miles. They’ve sailed the North Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea, Pacific Coast of Central America and Mexico, and Denis has crossed the Atlantic Ocean eight times. For the past year they have been running a traditional 72’ gaff-rigged schooner in the Aegean Sea. This duo sailed to some of the most remote islands in the Greek archipelago through some toughest seas on the planet. The rocky, mountainous islands are laden with incredible hiking among some of the most stunning and dramatic scenery imaginable. They found that they really needed some footwear that had a crossover between the two platforms. Something that could worn while climbing the rigging and negotiating the bowsprit to riding the tender to shore and hopping out on a sandy beach to look for a trailhead. That’s where Astral joined the adventure.

HOW DID YOU GET INTO SAILING?

D: My mom had a boat on the Barnegat Bay in New Jersey when I was a kid. Our house was filled with lighthouses and paintings of the sea. I guess it was engrained in me from a young age. In my early twenties I decided I wanted to live a more adventurous existence and I moved out to California and started working on sailing yachts. 

A: Growing up in Newport I have always been surrounded by the sea and sailing. In the summer I would go out with my cousins in their Optis and Sunfish, but we were really just out there trying to see how many times we could capsize the boat. So, I would say I started sailing five years ago when I met Denis. I learned how to sail on a 37’ boat built on the beach in the Caribbean and loved everything about it. 

WHAT INSPIRED YOUR TRIP TO GREECE?

D: We were searching for a gig on a big schooner for a few years and caught wind of an opportunity in the Greek islands. Having spent five seasons here earlier in my career, it was an exciting opportunity to return to my second home and share its magic with Allie.

WHAT IS LIFE LIKE ON THE BOAT?

A: Living on a boat is definitely a special experience. Life seems to slow down and simplify. Obviously there are exciting moments when crazy weather comes through or something breaks, but in my opinion it’s the greatest way to explore. When you sail into some place new, you anticipate it from the moment you can see the shore and get to take it all in slowly. And, no matter where you go you have your little home with you!

HOW DOES SAILING BETTER CONNECT YOU WITH NATURE?

D: Like Allie said, life slows down and the whole hierarchy of what’s important changes. You develop an acute sense of changes in wind speed and direction and you’re constantly attentive to the elements because you are working with them to try and get some where. When you sail a wooden boat the connection is even deeper because most of it’s parts have literally grown up out of the ground, and it’s all designed and constructed in a way that it becomes a living, breathing force of nature itself.

ASTRAL PRODUCT OF CHOICE?

D & A: The Loyak!

A: I love being barefoot, so I can be fussy about my shoes. The Loyaks are so light and comfy I sometimes forget I have them on!

HOW DO ASTRAL SHOES COMPARE WITH MORE TRADITIONAL BOAT SHOES?

D: They don’t. We’ve always been barefoot sailors. That’s great when it’s warm and sunny, but we love to sail in the off season too and a lot of our work is in less than ideal conditions. As traditional sailors we love timeless equipment, but it takes a pair of leather boat shoes days to dry out. Astrals are light, low profile, and they dry before you even think of taking them off. Now all we need is for you guys to design an offshore sailing boot!

ANY ADVICE YOU’D GIVE FOR THOSE INTERESTED IN SAILING?

D: I think it really depends on what your goals are.   The industry has changed a lot, especially since I started and the focus is definitely on super yachts.  The notion that bigger is better isn’t always true.  The bigger the boat, the more systems and problems, and the more crew you need to run it.  In the end, the big boats spend a lot more time sitting on the dock than actually sailing.  I’ve always preferred the 50-70’ range which is big enough to go anywhere yet small enough to handle with a few good hands.  I think whatever you want to do, you just have to get started and that means taking whatever opportunities you can and possibly doing some dirty jobs for low wages.  There is a lot to learn and there is no substitute for real blue water experience and a good mentor.  

A:  We actually hear this question a lot, so we got the idea to write the story of how Denis got started and publish it out our website.  It’s been really interesting for me to read in depth how things unfolded for him and see the similarities in my own beginnings.  In addition to Denis’ point of a good mentor, I think it’s really important that any boat you go out on for it to be with people you trust.  You all become a team and have to work together.  Believe me, it is not fun being out in the middle of the ocean with people that are not getting along.  But, when the chemistry is right and the boat is capable, there are no limits to what you can do.  You can travel anywhere in the world on the wind.

Read Part I of their story here.

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