Anglers Journal - Rob Roberts sailing pacific

Pacific Hitchhikers | The search for fish in the South Pacific

Posted on 1 CommentPosted in Fishing, Sailing, Traveling

This story by Rob about our sailing trip was published in Anglers Journal this fall. 

Anglers Journal - page 2 - Pacific Hitchhikers - Rob Roberts“Have you seen this fish?” I asked a young boy passing by on the rutted dirt road. My French was awkward and halting — I hadn’t used it in nearly a decade — but I took a guess and called it poisson-oisseux. As I showed him a small drwaing I had made with pencil and crayon, a gang of curious schoolkids on rusty pedal bikes quckly enveloped me. Apparently, tall, skinny white guys were an uncommon sight on Kauehi, a lazy tropical island in the Tuamotu Archipelago.

It was a crude picture of a bonefish, but I had no other means of gaining some local knowledge. No guides lived in the vicinity, and finding a tackle shop was out of the question. The kids fought over the drawing and exchanged perplexed murmurs until one of them exclaimed, “Oh, kio kio!” Jackpot.

Anglers Journal - page 3 - Pacific Hitchhikers - Rob RobertsThey pointed toward a small footpath and led the way as we snaked past barking dogs and overladen coconut trees. Finally, we arrived at an endless white flat dotted with turquoise pockets of deeper water. I smiled and started rigging my fly rod — I had traveled thousands of miles by sailboat to get here, and I wasn’t going to waste a moment.

For years, I had longed to be part of the mot­ley band of adventurers, dreamers and vaga­bonds who visited the South Pacific, from Capt. Cook to Gauguin. Sure, I wanted to cast from deserted white-sand beaches and enjoy the occasional cocktail over a sunset vista, but I had ambitions of more than just a one-off vacation. I was 37 and wanted to live by tidal shift and watch the rhythms of the sea unravel slowly, the way a river reveals its secrets to those who carefully cultivate it season by season.
anglers-journal-cover-fall2015-rob roberts- pacificRead the rest of the story as a PDF.

 

 

Mahseer by Motorcycle: Dropping Bombs in Thailand

Posted on 2 CommentsPosted in Fishing, Traveling

This article by Rob about our motorcycle/fishing trip in Thailand last spring appeared in The Drake magazine.  Click here to see the story.

When I was a kid, I made my own fireworks out of cardboard, gunpowder, and a hefty amount of duct tape.  So when Bobby Kauktol told me that we’d be tossing cherry bombs at large mahseer on the River Yuam, I was feeling right at home.

Fishing hadn’t been a top priority on this trip to northern Thailand, as I carted my pregnant wife around 800 miles of serpentine roads on a rented Honda Phantom.  But one evening I spotted a small ad in the corner of our route map with the words “fly fishing” and a photo of a thirty-inch fish with large scales and a gummy mouth.  I asked my wife to saddle up.

Read the rest here.

Drake cover photo

Drake article pic

Rob takes in the sunset on a dinghy ride back to the 40 foot sloop, Wizard, owned by John and Sue out of California.

From Sailor to Stunned

Posted on 6 CommentsPosted in Fishing, Reflections on Life

Two months ago I woke up every morning to the sound of large fish splashing against the hull of a sailboat, took morning swims in the nude and read books against the backdrop of coconut trees and sandy shores.  For some reason, I decided I didn’t like that any more.  It seemed too boring. Not challenging enough.

Ironically enough, I had similar reasons for leaving Missoula in the first place.  Although I had a well-paid job and worked for a cause I believed in… Although I had the comfortable existence that comes with a salary, health insurance, and a routine that included annual paid vacations to interesting places… And although I had good friends, fun toys, caring neighbors, and a trunkful of costumes for impromptu dance parties…  We left.

On the Horizon Line - Brianna Randall and Rob Roberts

Two weeks into our return home and sometimes I want that all back. I don’t want to be looking for income, searching for a decent car, or a place to live. I want a child and am glad that we will have one, but it doesn’t make things any easier.  Any one of these life events, these tasks or milestones, can be stressful for some people.   We decided to twist them together and swallow the damn bundle whole.

“Decided,” right?  We sat on the deck of a boat, bathed in tropical heat, and sun made the conscious decision to leave. We were jaded by slow days, easy meals of fish and fruit, and the peacefulness that comes from living on water.  I know what you’re thinking.  I wouldn’t have pity for us either.  Because I will never forget how fortunate we were and how fortunate we are.  To have the opportunity to leave in the first place, to meet amazing people along the way, to swim with sharks more times than I can count, walk barren flats of white sand, form a band at a beachside bar, laugh, stretch, breathe.

On the Horizon Line - Brianna Randall and Rob Roberts

But to be honest I wasn’t prepared for this.  Bills, meetings, insurance, loans, jobs, schedules.  Just swimming through this muddled mass of minor tasks and major decisions.  Like a little minnow hiding underneath the hull of a sailboat.  A big ocean all around.  The tuna attack in formation, stunning their prey through the blunt force of tooth, body and splash.  Then they circle back around and pick through the spoils.

I tell myself that I’m not a little fish. I tell myself that this was a conscious decision, to challenge ourselves, reinvent, and open the way to new ideas and revelations. Sometimes it helps. But I’ve certainly found the challenge I was looking for.

desert ocean - fishing in the south pacific ocean - tropical reefs and fisheries

Brianna Randall and Rob Roberts on motorcycle through Thailand's Mae Hong Son Loop. On the Horizon Line travel blog.

P:art Two – Riding With 2 1/2 on Thailand’s Mae Hong Son Loop

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Fishing, Outdoor Adventures, Videos

Here it is: the video for part two of our week-long motorcycle trip through northwest Thailand.  This one features fly fishing footage from our trip on the Yuam River, guided by NG River Guides (partly run by Montana Fly Company).  Check out the nice mahseer I caught.  It also shows tai chi in the park, daily snapshots, and some serious twists and turns on the road.  We rented the Honda Phantom for 500 baht/day (about $16) from Tony’s Big Bikes in Chiang Mai.

The video for part one is also below.  Stay tuned for Bri’s next Mamalode article on how it felt to ride on a motorcycle while four months pregnant.

 

Top 10 Photos of the South Pacific

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Community and Culture, Family and Friends, Fishing, Hiking, Ocean Tales, Outdoor Adventures, Sailing, Traveling

As we leave the Pacific for Southeast Asia, it seems like a good time to reflect upon what we’ve seen this past year.  Here are a few of our favorite photos, which give a taste of sailing, swimming and living across the South Pacific islands.  Note: This Top 10 album is also available on our Facebook page.

[anything_slider title=”Top 10 Photos of the South Pacific” column=”full-width” autoslide=”2″ slider_id=”3667″/]

 

Kids fishing on the shore

Our Desert Oceans – South Pacific Fish Part 3

Posted on 1 CommentPosted in Fishing, Ocean Tales

This is Part Three in a multi-part series on my observations of the state of the South Pacific fishery. Click here to read Part One. Click here to read Part Two.

Kids fishing on the shore

You remember those 3D pictures where an image pops out of the static if you look at it just so? That’s what the ocean is like for me in Vava’u now. At first, I was disappointed that I didn’t see giant fish each time I swam, and that there weren’t any megafauna jumping out at me the minute I put on my mask. But then I realized that if you just adjust your eyes a bit, a whole new dimension appears.

Now every time I go swimming, I see something magical. Something that makes me laugh or scream or hold my breath until my lungs burst just to get a closer look. It’s only a desert if you can’t see the urchins through the sand.

I snorkel around the tiny 3-acre Fetoko Island nearly every day. It’s a ritual now, after five months living in Tonga. And also a challenge to try and see something new each time in this small area. It’s fairly unremarkable, as far as underwater seascapes go: there’s no pass, no drop-offs, no caves or reefs or shark breeding gounds. It’s just a flat sandy area dotted with echinoderms like sea stars and urchins, interspersed with the occassional coral-head and sea grass patch. Yet I’ve noticed more new creatures here than I did in some of the premier diving spots we visited while sailing across the South Pacific — all because I know it so well.

The best part about staying put is truly getting to know a place. That’s what we loved about living in Missoula, that intimacy with the land, the water, the air, the trees, and the knowledge of how those parts of your home change with each season. It’s the same here in Vava’u: I can feel the water get warmer or cooler, notice more of less grass, exclaim over the new fan that appears, mourn the loss of the beautiful lionfish that moved to a new territory. It’s home.

Here’s what I’ve learned while underwater in Tonga: if you can imagine a creature — no matter how bizarre — it probably lives in the sea. Long snakes with 20 antennas that fold up inside their bodies Slugs that turn into flamenco dancers as they float on ruffled red skirts across the sand. Pencil-thin flounder with eyes that migrate from top to bottom and wave like little aliens from a camoflauged body. Gobies that look like they’re ready to walk ashore. Coral that looks like a brain, and fans that look like mermaid’s hair. Moray eels, bizzare clams, unicorn fish, box fish, stone fish.

Even during my delight in the small stuff near Fetoko, I still feel overwhelmed at the scale of human consumption from the sea. But I no longer feel quite as hopeless about the state of the sea. I’ve seen baby coral gardens blossoming. I’ve seen sea grass patches growing. I’ve seen thousands of tiny newborn baby fish huddled in sea urchin spines.

I’ve found hope sprouting at the bottom of the sea.

I have faith in the resiliency of our oceans. I believe at my very core that the oceans and all their wondrous creatures will be around long after humans have vanished from the planet. And I have this hunch that humans are smart enough, creative enough, motivated enough to find a way to more sustainably balance what we take from the sea.

It’s all give and take, in the end. The algae gives energy to the coral, the shells give grit to make sand, the small fish feeds the bigger one. Humans just have to learn how to give as much as we take. It doesn’t seem so impossible, when I think about it like that.

Click here to see trevally swimming underwater.

Our Desert Oceans – South Pacific Fish Part 2

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Fishing

Part Two in a multi-part series on my observations of the state of the South Pacific fishery.  Click here to read Part One.

It had become a sunset ritual to swim along the shallow reef off Fofoa, an island on the western edge of Vava’u where Rob and I stayed for a week. I liked to see what was new each evening, and if I could find my favorite fish from the previous evenings: a nosy orange clownfish that left its anemone to check me out, a few small blue trevallies cruising for prey, a big red soldierfish that hid under a coral shelf.

The fish along this inside reef weren’t huge. And the diversity of species wasn’t as high as we’d seen off remote islands in the South Pacific. But it was a vibrant little reef, which have been hard to find our first couple of months in Vava’u. I’d even seen a couple of blacktip sharks cruising the shallows this morning, and predators are always a good sign of a healthy ecosystem.

Click here to see trevally swimming underwater.

As I swam back to the beach in the fading evening light, I turned to see an old fishing boat behind me. Four Tonganas were aboard, getting ready to cast a net overboard. Damn, I thought. There go all my fish. I turned to ask Jack, the 11-year-old resident we were visiting on Fofoa, if he knew who was in the boat and how often they came.

“Oh, they’re from Hunga, the neighboring island. The come all the time to fish here,” he told me through his snorkeling mask.

Back at the house in the fading light, I stared at the floats that held the 100-meter net suspended just below the deck. It would stay there until at least dawn, passively trapping all the fish I visited each evening. It bothered me that all those fish were floundering in the net, their gills caught, struggling and flailing and gasping for deliverance. I felt their struggle viscerally. I wanted to go cut through that net and free the fish.

But I talked myself out of my monkey-wrench urge, reasoning that the Tongans from Hunga have been fishing this spot for thousands of years, and I have no right to deprive them of dinner. According to this recent Seattle Times article (discovered thanks to one of our blog readers), one-sixth of animal protein consumed by humans comes from marine fish — in many remote villages here in Tonga, nearly all of their protein comes from fish.

I love to eat fish, and we’ve caught our fair share this past year. Yet something about that net niggled at me all night. It left me feeling disappointed, frustrated, sad, angry. No amount of reasoning erased my feelings, even if I logically understood the social or economic need for catching and eating fish.

The net was gone before sunrise. My morning investigation found that the reef still had fish. Fewer, no doubt, but plenty of colorful critters flitting about. That afternoon, we kayaked through the lagoon to visit friends on neighboring Hunga island. As Caroline doused us with delicious coffee and passion fruit, she and her husband talked about the changes they’ve seen over the past 14 years in the waters off Tonga: mega-long-liners from Japan that caught hundreds of mahi-mahi each day, leaving none of these beautiful fish in Vava’u for two years. No more spinner dolphins visiting the lagoon. Fewer turtles, since the locals eat any they find. Over 200 fishing ships en-route from China this year, each one measuring 400 feet long with its own fish processing and packaging plant aboard.

Suddenly, when faced with 200 commercial fishing boats offshore, the measly 100-meter net that hung off the beach last night didn’t seem so bad. The overall state of the ocean fishery, however, felt even more dire. (Watch the video below for a great synopsis of what’s up in the seas.)

The depletion of our oceans makes me feel helpless. And hypocritcal, since I enjoy my fish. Even if I boycott everything but what Rob and I catch ourselves, how do I deal with the knowledge of dwindling fish populations? And what about the other several billion people in the world that eat fish regularly, who depend upon fish to survive?

Can the oceans keep up with human demand? Not at this rate. Not with this technology, that allows us to catch, kill, clean, package and ship to your plate in the blink of an eye.

Something’s gotta give.

 

Click here to see sunset picture of a beach in Tonga.

2013 – One Incredible Year in Review

Posted on 2 CommentsPosted in Family and Friends, Fishing, Ocean Tales, Outdoor Adventures, Reflections on Life, Sailing, Traveling

Click here to see sunset picture of a beach in Tonga.

6,000 nautical miles
26 tropical islands
8 countries
7 sailboats
6 months living on the sea
3 months living in Tonga
2 careers put on hold
2 big backpacks
1 incredible year

In some ways, it feels like 2013 was the longest year in ages. Probably because a lot happened. We quit our jobs, packed up our house, kissed friends and family goodbye. We sailed one-quarter of the way around the planet, and met countless new people living a range of different lifestyles. Here are some highlights from our journey this year:

Favorite Places:

Palmerston Atoll, an island in the Cooks with only 60 people divided into three governing families, no roads, and abundant fish. Fakarava, for its unspoiled wildlife where we dove with 200­+ sharks. Bora Bora for its sheer beauty and sandy anchorages. Niue, the smallest country on earth, where Rob saved a woman’s life (stay tuned for that story!) and every resident waves as you pass by. The Kingdom of Tonga, where we have taken up temporary residence, for the sense of community, the accessible water sports, and the local culture.

Favorite Wildlife Moments:
We’ve spent hundreds of hours underwater and thousands of hours floating on top of it. The most memorable sightings include: a lone Orca whale breaching alongside our boat; floating next to 7 sea turtles in the Galapagos; snorkeling with sea lions in Baja; diving with manta rays in Bora Bora; jumping into the deep blue and seeing dozens of curious sharks; listening to the humpback whales sing underwater and watching a mama and her baby play; cheering as dolphins ride the bow wave of our sailboat; and swimming at night through bioluminescent plankton that glow and sparkle.

Biggest Challenges:

  • Nothing is ever still while sailing from place to place, which means dealing with seasickness, a rocking stove while you cook, and always having to brace yourself as you sit or walk or sleep.
  • Tight quarters and communal living arrangements can be tough at times.
  • Wind, waves and currents control when and where you go, testing your patience and flexibility.
  • Bringing the right stuff with you and anticipating what you need during long passages at sea.
  • Reconciling the illusion of paradise with the reality of bugs, heat, storms, and the inevitable list of chores and repairs that come with living on a boat.
  • Meeting like-minded people and finding friendships as close as those we left behind.

Best Parts of Living At Sea:

  • Nights where the stars are endless and bright.
  • Shades of infinite blues.
  • Syncing your daily life with the rhythm of the sun, the wind, the moon.
  • Watching birds and fish and dolphins and whales from the bow.
  • Visiting remote and spectacular places that are inaccessible by plane or car.
  • Spending time with yourself and each other.

Click here to see photo of Bri and Rob in the South Pacific.

desert ocean - fishing in the south pacific ocean - tropical reefs and fisheries

Our Desert Ocean – South Pacific Fish Part One

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Fishing, Ocean Tales

desert ocean - fishing in the south pacific ocean - tropical reefs and fisheries

Part One in a series on the state of the South Pacific fisheries.

The first time I got in the water in Vava’u, Tonga, I sighed in disappointment. No blacktip sharks came up instantly to check me out. I didn’t see any giant snapper, or manta rays, or flocks of parrotfish. All I saw were some urchins, dead coral, sea cucumbers and a few random wrasses. Boring.

“Do you think we’re going to be jaded about snorkeling and diving for the next 20 years of our life?” I asked Rob, as I heaved myself up on the wharf I’d just jumped off.

He laughed. “Yeah, it’ll probably be tough for a while, if we’re comparing everything to the Tuamotus and Beveridge Reef.”

This past year, we’ve been lucky enough to swim in spectacular places, with a whole host of crazy-cool underwater critters. Guess why those places were so spectacular? Because nobody lives there. Take Beveridge Reef, for example, the spot we stayed with the most diversity and the biggest fish. It was also the most remote place we sailed to, a submerged atoll in the center of the deep blue, 150 nautical miles from the nearest land.

And that sums up the main take-away from our hundreds of hours spent underwater in the Pacific — the farther you get from humans, the healthier the underwater ecosystem. Whenever we get in the water near civilization, it’s depressing. Fish are sparse and small, coral is damaged, visibility is impaired, algae increases.

It’s not just the near-shore habitat, either. We’ve seen barren reefs that are quite far from any town. We even had a week-long stretch sailing in the middle of the ocean with no sign of anything but flying fish. Some days, it feels like a desert out here in the Pacific.

So, where did all the fish go? Why are many reefs deserted? Hungry humans are certainly part of the answer. But I find it hard to blame hungry locals who have been fishing a certain reef for thousands of years. If you were hungry, didn’t have much money, and had a free source of good protein on your doorstep, wouldn’t you slurp up all those yummy fish, too?

But multiply those hungry humans by billions. And add in the fact that many of those fish-dinner-loving humans live 10,000 miles from that particular reef. Suddenly, the desert ocean makes a bit more sense. Rob and I have seen first-hand many of the pressures facing the ocean and fisheries this past year: international trawlers that sweep up all living things in their path; gill nets the size of football fields strung out daily along the same reef; $900-per-day charter fishing trips whose participants bring in 500-pound wahoo or marlin just to mount the head on a wall.

The memory of those trawlers and nets and trophy fish flashed through my mind the first day I snorkeled in Tonga amidst the scanty underwater life. It left me feeling sad about the state of the sea, and helpless for how to heal it. It left me wondering what will happen to our desert oceans, and the the billions of humans who depend upon them.

TO BE CONTINUED…

Today I danced naked in the sun over water so blue it hurts. I samba-ed. I hip-hopped. I waltzed. I waved my arms, wiggled my butt, and jumped around like a goof with a huge grin on my face. So, what spawns a naked dancing session on a boat? First ingredient: alone-time. Second ingredient: a remote and ridiculously beautiful location. Third ingredient: weeks without dancing of any sort. The boys took the afternoon to go hunt fish along the nearby reef. As I dried off from my swim, I suddenly realized I didn't have to put my clothes back on. Instead, I turned on music loudly and started making bread in the galley. The kneading and dough-punching rhythm soon expanded into spins and leaps, which required deck space outside. No problem: our anchorage at Beveridge Reef in the middle of the Pacific Ocean was deserted, save one boat in the distance. With no one to watch but the sharks, I was soon gyrating on the bow in my birthday suit. (No pictures, sorry.) I don't know if I gain such joy from my boat dancing sessions because they are so few and far between, because they are a celebration of sun and sea and music, or because they always coincide with those rare, precious pockets of me-only time. Probably the whole enchilada is what put the stretchy smile on my face, as I belted out the chorus to a pop song: "Hey, I heard you were a wild one!" Here's what I took away from my naked sunlight dancing: everyone should try it. It's like skinny-dipping or bungee-jumping -- that same bubbly feeling of being free, spontaneous, slightly naughty, open, exposed, blessed, exhilarated. Wild. You can dance to your own internal beat, or blast the music as loud as you like. Spins are pretty much imperative, since being dizzy puts life back in its proper perspective. The more shimmies and shakes the better. Kick high and swirl your arms around, finding the breeze behind your knees, beneath your breasts, between each toe. Let it all just jiggle. No audience but the waves, no critics but the clouds. Today I danced naked above the fish and beneath the birds. I was beautiful. I was alone. I was as wild as the sea, and as shiny as the sun.

Dancing Naked

Posted on 1 CommentPosted in Dance, Yoga and Fitness, Fishing

dance travel south pacific islands brianna rob

Today I danced naked in the sun over water so blue it hurts. I samba-ed. I hip-hopped. I waltzed. I waved my arms, wiggled my butt, and jumped around like a goof with a huge grin on my face.

So, what spawns a naked dancing session on a boat? First ingredient: alone-time. Second ingredient: a remote and ridiculously beautiful location. Third ingredient: weeks without dancing of any sort.

The boys took the afternoon to go hunt fish along the nearby reef. As I dried off from my swim, I suddenly realized I didn’t have to put my clothes back on. Instead, I turned on music loudly and started making bread in the galley. The kneading and dough-punching rhythm soon expanded into spins and leaps, which required deck space outside. No problem: our anchorage at Beveridge Reef in the middle of the Pacific Ocean was deserted, save one boat in the distance. With no one to watch but the sharks, I was soon gyrating on the bow in my birthday suit. (No pictures, sorry.)

Today I danced naked in the sun over water so blue it hurts.  I samba-ed.  I hip-hopped.  I waltzed.  I waved my arms, wiggled my butt, and jumped around like a goof with a huge grin on my face.    So, what spawns a naked dancing session on a boat?  First ingredient: alone-time.  Second ingredient: a remote and ridiculously beautiful location.  Third ingredient: weeks without dancing of any sort.    The boys took the afternoon to go hunt fish along the nearby reef.  As I dried off from my swim, I suddenly realized I didn't have to put my clothes back on.  Instead, I turned on music loudly and started making bread in the galley.  The kneading and dough-punching rhythm soon expanded into spins and leaps, which required deck space outside.  No problem: our anchorage at Beveridge Reef in the middle of the Pacific Ocean was deserted, save one boat in the distance.  With no one to watch but the sharks, I was soon gyrating on the bow in my birthday suit.  (No pictures, sorry.)  I don't know if I gain such joy from my boat dancing sessions because they are so few and far between, because they are a celebration of sun and sea and music, or because they always coincide with those rare, precious pockets of me-only time.  Probably the whole enchilada is what put the stretchy smile on my face, as I belted out the chorus to a pop song: "Hey, I heard you were a wild one!"  Here's what I took away from my naked sunlight dancing: everyone should try it.  It's like skinny-dipping or bungee-jumping -- that same bubbly feeling of being free, spontaneous, slightly naughty, open, exposed, blessed, exhilarated.  Wild.    You can dance to your own internal beat, or blast the music as loud as you like.  Spins are pretty much imperative, since being dizzy puts life back in its proper perspective.  The more shimmies and shakes the better.  Kick high and swirl your arms around, finding the breeze behind your knees, beneath your breasts, between each toe.  Let it all just jiggle. No audience but the waves, no critics but the clouds.    Today I danced naked above the fish and beneath the birds.  I was beautiful.  I was alone.  I was as wild as the sea, and as shiny as the sun.

I don’t know if I gain such joy from my boat dancing sessions because they are so few and far between, because they are a celebration of sun and sea and music, or because they always coincide with those rare, precious pockets of me-only time. Probably the whole enchilada is what put the stretchy smile on my face, as I belted out the chorus to a pop song: “Hey, I heard you were a wild one!”

Here’s what I took away from my naked sunlight dancing: everyone should try it. It’s like skinny-dipping or bungee-jumping — that same bubbly feeling of being free, spontaneous, slightly naughty, open, exposed, blessed, exhilarated. Wild.

dance naked island boat sail brianna randall

You can dance to your own internal beat, or blast the music as loud as you like. Spins are pretty much imperative, since being dizzy puts life back in its proper perspective. The more shimmies and shakes the better. Kick high and swirl your arms around, finding the breeze behind your knees, beneath your breasts, between each toe. Let it all just jiggle. No audience but the waves, no critics but the clouds.

Today I danced naked above the fish and beneath the birds. I was beautiful. I was alone. I was as wild as the sea, and as shiny as the sun.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...