Ever wonder what a Sonic the Hedgehog T-shirt would buy you in Vanuatu? Cynthia Modders, who recently joined Universal Studios Consumer Products Group as senior VP of licensing and retail development, knows a thing or two about how to barter in the South Pacific island nation. And that’s just one highlight from her three-and-a-half-year ocean odyssey.
On November 20, 1998 – after renting out her house, landing a Yahoo! sponsorship, and saying goodbye to her job as head of entertainment licensing at Sega of America – Modders and her boyfriend Tim set sail from San Fransisco on their 50-foot yacht Total Devotion.
The pair logged 35,000 nautical miles on the trip, and Modders put two years worth of sailing lessons to work navigating much of the South Pacific. The journey took them from Mexico, to Tahiti, to Australia and then into Indonesia and Thailand.
The couple lingered in Mexico for six months before setting out on the longest leg of their ocean passage, 21 days and 3,000 Southeast nautical miles to the Marquesas Islands. Modders says it was exhilarating and terrifying guiding the yacht through the many small storms that seemed to crop up regularly in the middle of the night. The boat suddenly seemed very small in such a vast expanse of ocean.
Tahiti, the Cooke Islands, Tonga and New Zealand followed, before the two-man crew landed at Vanuatu, a group of islands roughly 1,000 miles off the East coast of Australia. Modders describes Vanuatu as the very picture of paradise, and it was here, upon finding a thatched-roof Anglican church, that she and Tim chose to get married. The entire village of 100 watched while its chief gave Modders away at the ceremony.
The newlyweds island-hopped around Vanuatu for several months, bartering the licensed T-shirts, toys and trinkets Modders had crammed onto the yacht for fresh bread, fruit and vegetables.
An eight-month stint in Australia followed, and then the couple entered a yacht race from Darwin to Bali in which Total Devotion placed third. But Modders’ favorite memory from the expedition was a voyage up Indonesia’s Kumai River. The river took them to Camp Leakey, an orangutan sanctuary named after famed anthropologist Louis Leakey.
By the time the yacht reached Thailand, Modders was feeling anxious to get back to her career, and decided to return to San Francisco via jet plane. Her husband sailed back on his own a year or so later. While they’re very compatible, ‘after being together 24/7 on a 50-foot boat for three years,’ the time apart wasn’t too much of a strain, says Modders, laughing.
These days, the challenges of her new position keep Modders from spending much time on the yacht. She’s currently working on merch programs for both Curious George and King Kong, and she expects to have the Curious George gameplan locked down by the start of Licensing Show.