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Meet the Sea Clowns Sailing the Med and Bringing Their Circus to Shore

Sailors have been called many things, but never before have we been called “clowns.” Sure there’s a good deal of “clowning around” on sailboats, but the antics we’re thinking of are very different from the antics of the Sea Clown Sailing Circus, whose members spend their time sailing the Mediterranean, entertaining shoreside audiences along the way. These clowns are musicians, acrobats, jugglers, tightrope walkers — theatrical artists of all sorts — and sailors.

Sailing Circus performers come from all around the world.
© 2024 Sea Clown Circus

The Sea Clowns have been on the water for around 17 years. What started from one man’s desire to change the world has evolved into three boats and a troupe of characters who are as varied in their performances as the ocean itself. Alaskan-born Fred Normal is a circus performer. Two decades ago he gave up the gas-guzzling world of the circus caravans and took his own show on the road, using bicycles. He and his crew moved from town to town, camping under the open sky and offering pop-up performances wherever they went. While traveling the southern coast of Italy, Normal met kindred souls Nikoleta Giakumeli, a Greek acrobat, and Alvaro Ramirez, a clown from Uruguay. Together the trio envisioned a circus that travels the sea. None of them knew how to sail, but they learned, and thus the Sea Clown Sailing Circus came to life.

Sailboat rigging is the perfect place to practice.
© 2024 Sea Clown Circus

The circus started with just one boat, Surloulu, which they bought for €5,000 and sailed for 13 years. During that time the crew expanded and the sailing circus became a lifestyle for many. They then spent their earnings on a 13.5-meter (approx. 45-ft) wooden vessel that they named The Utopia Quest; or, for ease of use, Utopia. Captain Normal told writer/photographer Nicola Zolin, “Our mission is a journey. It’s a process, a quest. The fact that the world keeps traveling in the opposite direction, that everything gets faster and less human, it makes our work even more important.”

Zolin joined the circus for a summer in 2020, learning its history and listening to the crew’s stories. By this time the circus had grown to a fleet of three boats, including a rescued racing boat named Valkirie.

The performers don’t earn large pots of money, but with their simple lifestyle, it is enough. Their summers are spent moving from port to port. Days are spent relaxing aboard, enjoying the coastal scenery of the Ionian Sea. At night they head to shore and entertain locals and tourists with their skillful, energetic performances. On a good night they might earn a few hundred euros, which pays for the boat and food, and leaves some for the crew. It doesn’t pay as well as the land-based circuses we’re familiar with, but according to Zolin, “The nomadic sea life is too sweet to pass up.”

“While living communally on our small fleet of restored boats, we embrace recycling, repairing and reusing as a way of living, striving to have a regenerative effect on the planet and leave no harm in our wake.”
© 2024 Sea Clown Circus

Can anyone run away and join this circus? “To be a member of the Sea Clowns, you either have to be an acrobat, a musician or a sailor,” Zolin’s guide, the crew member Pericles, told him. “If you know a bit of everything, that’s ideal!”

The Sea Clowns state their mission is “to bring positive change through art and interaction with the people and communities we encounter, inspiring engagement, laughter, and creativity.” But their reason for traveling by sailboat is what interests us the most. They say on their website that “Sailing is getting to know the world from the biggest continent on earth: the Sea.” They also believe sailing should be accessible to every aspiring sailor. Their crew list is open and constantly changing; they are fluid, and encourage inclusive participation. Their wish is to help popularize their lifestyle and “reawaken the sailing practice.”

“Our wish is to give the Sea back to the people as a public good, rather than a privilege,” — Sea Clown Sailing Circus.

This video shared by Captain Andy Clayborne gives a good overview of the circus, both on the water and ashore. You can also learn more about the Sea Clowns at their website: Sea Clown Circus

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1 Comment

  1. Carliane Johnson 1 month ago

    This story warms my heart. My mother was a circus performer, a trapeze artist whose stage name was Kynntana. She lives on in my Freedom 38 named Kynntana. Maybe I can learn her Iron Jaw act and rejoin the circus after all these years!

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