rob roberts with a sailing canoe in Montana

Why ‘Scanoodling’ Is Our New Favorite Water Activity

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First off, friends, apologies for the long radio silence. I let the blog lapse while I finished my book (hooray!) about sailing across the Pacific Ocean and the subsequent transition back to the U.S. as new parents. Fingers crossed that it finds a home with a publisher soon 🙂

I’ve also been busy writing for magazines and newspapers. You’re welcome to check out recent stories about travel and adventure-parenting here.

And now to the heart of this post: scanoodling, our family’s favorite new hobby.

Brianna Randall sailing a canoe in Missoula

What is scanoodling?

It’s a word we made up that means dinking around in our motorized sailing canoe. Sometimes we paddle. Sometimes we sail. Sometimes we rev up the 3-horsepower motor.

The name comes from the type of canoe we bought this summer, a 16.5-foot Coleman Scanoe. It’s a flat-bottomed, aluminum-framed boat with a square back that’s durable and roomy — a cross between a skiff and a canoe.

Why we chose a scanoodle

Since we returned from our big trip across the sea, Rob and I have struggled to figure out the best boat to fit our lifestyle in Montana. As water-lovers, boats are vital for increasing our happiness factor.

We have two Alpaca Rafts, super-lightweight inflatable kayaks, which have served us well for short day trips or solo missions on rivers and wilderness lakes. But they’re too small for our family to undertake multi-day trips, and hell to paddle into the wind.

talon in snow with packrafts on clark fork river 2

I used to share a 26-foot sailboat on Flathead Lake, but gave up that share when we set sail for the South Pacific. Since then, I’ve rented sailboats from friends for a few days at a time. But we missed the freedom of going sailing whenever I wanted. Plus, a traditional sailboat makes it tough to visit new places, since you’re either locked into one marina with dock fees or you need a big truck to tow a 5,000 to 10,000-pound yacht.

We looked high and low for good options, including small trimarans that our sedan could tow. Nothing seemed quite right.

Until we came across SailboatsToGo.com. This little company makes nifty sailing packages that attach to most kayaks or canoes. The whole kit weighs under 50 pounds, and can be checked as luggage on airplanes. We were sold, especially since we’re planning to sail through Florida’s Everglades National Park this winter.

scanoe with sail rig

We bought the sailing kit before we bought our own boat, and tested it out on friends’ canoes. Then we found the Scanoe, complete with a little outboard motor, for just $800. Packing up after work one Friday, we drove to Sandpoint, bought the Scanoe, and sailed to a remote beachside campsite on Lake Pend Oreille at sunset, the water like glass under our bow.

It was a match made in heaven.

Why we love scanoodling

  • You can sail UP rivers, not just float down, which is uber-awesome.
  • When there’s good wind, you can fill your sail instead of ruin your arms.
  • And when the wind’s in your face and you can’t sail or paddle, the 3 hp outboard pushes the boat along at a good clip: ~8 mph without gear, ~5 mph fully loaded. One gallon of gas keeps us going over an hour.
  • With the pontoons and leeboards (courtesy of SailboatsToGo) and the beamy, flat-bottomed canoe design, the boat is super safe. We can walk around inside or stand up to fish, and not worry that Talon might topple overboard.
  • It’s a craft that can ply nearly any waterway in Montana. While I wouldn’t take it through Class III+ rapids or into the open ocean, the Scanoe does stay stable even when it takes on water.
  • At 80 pounds, Rob and I can easily lift the Scanoodle on top of our car with the sail rolled up under the crossbars. The pontoons, leeboards and steering oar fit handily in the trunk. (Note: We’re planning to buy a small trailer to make transport even easier.)
  • We can pack enough gear in the boat to stay out for a week and the three of us still fit comfortably.
  • You never have to worry about running aground, since it’s made to be beached.
  • Maintenance hours are negligible and dock fees are nonexistent.

sailing upriver in search of yellowstone cutthroat trout

Where we scanoodled this summer

  • Missouri River – 50 miles over 5 days
  • Lake Pend Oreille – 3 night camping trip
  • Lake Upsata – a day of snorkeling and spearfishing
  • Frenchtown Pond – where Talon caught his first fish
  • Clark Fork River – afternoon floats near Missoula
  • Cliff Lake – 2 night camping and fishing trip
  • Flathead Lake – hour-long joy rides from Big Arm campground with friends and family
  • Red Rock National Wildlife Refuge – across Upper Red Rock Lake and 2 miles up the Red Rock River
  • Blanchard Lake & Clearwater River – after-work jaunts to spearfish and snorkel
  • Next up: Everglades National Park in December!

catching rainbows in cliff lake

sailing canoes access back water fishing brianna randall fishes from the bow of the sailing canoe

Brianna Randall sailing with a baby in San Diego

Do you know where marrying a local is forbidden?

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Parenting, Sailing

Spring roundup of stories and adventures

Three months since I wrote a blog post? Yikes. But here’s my excuse: I’m writing a book. It’s about the year we spent sailing the South Pacific in blissed-out freedom, and the year we spent transitioning back into responsible adults and new parents. Stay tuned.

Between book writing, child-chasing, and working our real jobs, Rob and I occasionally keep up with a few hobbies. These mostly include playing in the water and the dirt, but we also try to squeeze in time for taking photos and telling stories. Here are highlights of recent articles:

1. This tale combines my writing and Rob’s photos on BBC Travel: : “Where Marrying A Local Is Forbidden” (Hint: it ain’t in Montana)

2. Rob’s photography website is live, including pics of our February trip scuba diving in Bonaire: RobRoberts.org

3. My recent piece on Mamalode might make you chuckle: “To The Guy Sitting In Front Of Me On The Plane

As for playing, spring is in full swing, full of wildflowers and sun that beckon us outside. Last month, we reconnected with my family at a memorial service for my grandmother in Capistrano Beach. Highlights included building a fire pit in the sand, taking Talon out for his first ocean sail, and watching him turn into a monster over Easter chocolate.

Back in Montana, we loaded him in a canoe for a float down the Swan River. Sadly, boats are still second to buses in our son’s list of favorites, but he’s quickly learning the ropes on all sorts of watercraft. And Talon’s already got the whole throwing rocks in the water routine down pat.

Scroll down for a photo montage of our recent adventures. Happy Spring, friends!

Cali and Swan_020 Cali and Swan_025 Cali and Swan_015 Cali and Swan_026Cali and Swan_031 Cali and Swan_033 Cali and Swan_034 Brianna Randall sailing with a baby in San DiegoCali and Swan_044Cali and Swan_045Cali and Swan_040Cali and Swan_012 Cali and Swan_007

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.

 

 

rob roberts and talon on a standup paddleboard on flathead lake

14:1 | The Perfect Ratio for Vacational Whimsy

Posted on 2 CommentsPosted in Parenting, Sailing

Last Wednesday, I eased a stand-up paddleboard down the Clark Fork River through an eerily smoke-filled Missoula with a group of new and old friends. We had the river to ourselves, paddling our craft beneath a blood red sun. We weren’t about to let the dense wildfire smoke deter us from enjoying the inaugural adventure of a wedding weekend extravaganza.

This was the float where Kevin Colburn coined the term “vacational whimsy,” an apt description for fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants holiday planning. Vacational whimsy isn’t for the faint of heart. Rather than rainbows and gumdrops, unplanned adventures can lead to rainstorms and gum in your hair.

talon on a standup paddleboard on flathead lake - on the horizon line

 

But, sometimes, letting whimsy direct your downtime allows the stars to align into an unexpectedly magical mix of people and energy. That’s why it’s addicting.

Last weekend, the stars aligned. The Montanabama Wedding brought together dozens of people who all felt inclined to trust the whimsy. It led us into long breakfasts, late nights at the campground, costume-fueled dance parties, skinny-dipping off sailboats, and inventing the new sport of SUP-tooning (surfing an inflatable stand-up paddleboard behind a pontoon boat).

brianna randall SUPing behind a boat on flathead lake

The latter was definitely a highlight. We laughed at ourselves for getting thrill rides out of slow craft while wakeboarders flew past us towed by jet boats. (“It’s kind of like snowboarding without edges,” said one friend, watching his wife try to turn the SUP. “And boating without edges, too!” replied the pontoon driver struggling to turn.)

Our vacational whimsy worked because of the combination of personalities, the access to interesting recreation, and the beautiful location on Flathead Lake (which we remembered was beautiful after the smoke cleared on Saturday night). It also worked because we stumbled upon the perfect adult:baby ratio for Rob and I to fully participate in all events–14:1.

brianna randall and talon roberts at a wedding in montana

Yes, it’s true. It took more than a dozen adults to corral Talon from trotting into the lake or throwing pint glasses onto concrete. Even with the superb supervision, he still got two bloody noses and demolished a glass vase. Plus, with so many helping hands, Talon was able to have way more adventures of his own. In a mere 72 hours, our 1 year-old rode in more watercraft than many people board in a lifetime: sailboat, packraft, SUP, pontoon boat, and canoe.

rob and brianna randall and talon on spindrift sailing flathead lake in montana

We couldn’t have planned the easy flow of last weekend if we tried. Partly, this is because you can’t plan for magic. And partly it’s because planning is definitely not our strong suit. For instance, it’s currently 1:00 p.m. and Rob and I still haven’t decided if we’re driving 9 hours to Bellingham today to spend the long weekend with our friends at Controlled Jibe.

We’re waiting for vacational whimsy to guide us. I’m ready to trust that whimsy when it hits.

rob roberts and talon on a standup paddleboard on flathead lake

 

Talon looking out at water from a sailboat on Flathead Lake.

Throwing Things Overboard

Posted on 2 CommentsPosted in Sailing

Talon tells the tale of his first sailing expedition on Flathead Lake.

Last weekend, my parents took me in this big bathtub thingy with loud white sheets that flapped around, went up and down, and swung side to side. It was kinda like when they took me on the rubber thingy that moved down the river, but this time the water stayed still and we moved over it.

I got to throw things overboard a lot, which was extra fun because people kept diving in to get ’em back out. It was like when I throw bananas and blueberries outta the high chair only way better, ’cause the dive splashed me in the face every time. Usually, someone said an interesting curse word before they splashed into the water, too.Alpaca raft as a dinghy for our sailboat on Flathead Lake.

Mom was super excited about the white sheets, and Dad kept complaining that “lake sailboats don’t have autopilot.” I hung out in the backpack while they played with ropes. When we stopped moving, I got to play with the ropes, too. (It wasn’t as fun as throwing things overboard, though.)

Dad took me to the beach in a really tiny rubber thing so that we could throw rocks in the lake. I walked in all the way to my chest, even though my parents kept using curse words about how cold the water is. Adults are wimps.

Alpaca raft as a dinghy for our sailboat on Flathead Lake.

At night, we went inside the bathtub thingy, and Mom slept next to me in this really cool bed that bounced all night long (I don’t know where Dad slept). I slept longer than ever before, since it was so peaceful with all that rocking and the water noises next to my head.

The next morning, I called my friends to tell them how fun big bathtubs are. It’s nice calling other babies, since adults never understand what I’m saying.

Talon playing with the VHF radio on a sailboat

Poppa came up that afternoon to play with the ropes and white sheets, too, and Grandma held me while the bathtub tipped on its side in the wind. Everyone laughed when I peed over the side into the water.

I wonder what kind of weird contraption my parents will take me in next. Luckily, we always seem to go outside, where I get to watch trees and birds and creeks. Mostly, I try to sleep while we move. Sometimes, I focus on getting food all over the contraption, or pulling the hat off my head when Mom and Dad aren’t looking.  Brianna Randall playing guitar onboard a sailboat in Montana

I sure hope we get to go in the big bathtub again, so I can do some more sleeping and throwing while we move over the still water. It was pretty fun. And my parents seemed really happy the whole weekend, too.

*Note from Mom: Huge THANKS to the owners and managers of s/v Spindrift for letting us feel the wind in the sails again.  We appreciate the opportunity more than words can express.  (Also, looks like vision boards work!)

*Note from Dad: I got a new toy! These photos are from the refurbished Nikon SLR I’m learning to use. (Again, it’s good to have goals.)

Talon looking out at water from a sailboat on Flathead Lake.

What to Look for When Buying a Cruising Sailboat

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Even though we’re back in the mountains of Montana for now, we are already dreaming of the next voyage … when we will take our very own boat!  This post has been in the works for the past year, during our up-close research as volunteer crew aboard a variety of private yachts.  We hope these specifics will help readers who are planning their own sailing adventure.  

One of the best parts about crewing on and living aboard 7 boats last year (and visiting dozens more) is that we exponentially increased our knowledge about what we personally like in a sailboat. Here’s our checklist of what we will look for when we buy our own bluewater boat someday.  It’s fair to say that we wouldn’t have known 90% of the specifics listed below a year ago. Nothing beats first-hand experience!

1.) Windvane or bust. A self-steering device is pivotal for long passages. Many people have auto-pilots, which basically use a motor and a compass to turn the wheel on a set course. This frees up the crew to move about the boat, eat, sleep, read, and pee. But they use electricity. A windvane steers your boat for you simply by using the wind. It’s basically a mini-sail off your stern that uses the wind to push your rudder. Just trim the mini-sail (called a paddle) to adjust course, and voila: days of no-power and no-hands-needed steering. I wouldn’t leave shore without a windvane and an auto-pilot, because hand-steering is boring and exhausting.

2.) Less is more. We’ve watched captains fix problem after problem on boats — it’s the nature of owning one. But the less do-dads and gadgets you have aboard, the less you have to fix. We don’t want electric toilet flushers — we’ll just hand pump. Pressurized water pipes leak and burst — give us a foot pump for the sink, please. Electric winches seem like cheating, as do bow thrusters. No chartplotter for us — iPhone or iPad and Navionics are much less temperamental. The list of gadgets goes on, but you get the drift.

3.) Screw the canoe stern. “Double-enders,” as they’re known, are good for bluewater cruising because they track down waves quite well. The pointy back end surfs better than wide loads, which means there’s less chance of taking a wave in the cockpit. Unfortunately, they feel just like a really heavy canoe: tippy, rocky, butt-clenchingly slippery. In fact, we often pitched so hard to starboard that my pen flew into the sea while I was writing on watch. Give me a fat stern any day, along with the big cockpit they provide. Since we don’t plan on sailing below 25 degrees N or S where the big waves live, I’ll take my chances.

4.) The more passive energy production, the better. Just like houses and offices, boats need electrical juice. How much you need depends on the amount of gadgets (see #2). Even minimalists like Rob and me need running lights and an anchor light, reading lights, computer charging, and music for sanity. Yet we both abhor the sound of the generator or diesel engine, which is what you have to do for at least an hour each day to charge your boat’s batteries — unless you have alternative sources of energy. We’d prefer a wind generator on the stern and solar panels on the top of the dodger. That way, you can make plenty of energy when its cloudy and windy or when its calm and sunny.

5.) Baking makes Bri happy. An oven is essential in a boat galley for us. Cookies, fresh bread, pizza and cakes: need I say more?

6.) She better point into the wind. Most bluewater sailboats are heavy, slow and stable. That’s good, for safety reasons. And it typically makes them good down-wind sailboats. Sadly, that often means they can’t sail close to the wind. This is a major problem if the place you want to go is anywhere in the general direction the wind is coming from — which happens quite often. We don’t need a racing boat, but would hope to find something that can move well and efficiently in a wide range of conditions. Plus, the faster the sailboat moves, the less pitching and rolling you feel, which is REALLY helpful for avoiding seasickness and cranky crew.

7.) Short but tall. Again, less is more in the size of the sailboat — especially if you’re trying to keep costs down. Every foot you add to a sailboat exponentially increases the cost of upkeep and repairs. Hell, I used to think a 30-foot boat would be perfect, but have since realized that Rob and I would probably kill each other in anything less than 35 feet. For us, 40 feet is a perfect length, especially if the beam (width) is over 10 feet. We also need to make sure a boat has plenty of headroom below decks, since Rob is 6’3″, and is already pocked with scars on his scalp from too-short cabins.

8.) Take advantage of some modern electronics. As mentioned in #2 and #4, we’d go light on the do-dads. But there are a few amazing inventions we would sure love to have aboard, namely an SSB radio and a Pactor modem. These would allow us to get weather updates, check in with nearby cruisers while on passages, and keep in touch with friends and family back home. If used moderately, they don’t drain the batteries much.

9.) Roller furler, for shizzle. Running up to the bow to pull down a giant headsail in 30-knot winds and 15-foot seas just plain sucks. Furlers let you easily and safely trim the genoa to the correct size and shape for the at hand.

10.) Playing with our dinghy is paramount. A sailboat without a solid dinghy is like an island without a beach: you can’t access the coolest stuff. We’re out here to explore, and that often happens from a dinghy, since sailboats are too deep to explore shallow waters. We often take 2+ mile runs in a dinghy to access dive and fishing spots, a distant shore, or even other sailboats anchored far away from us. Rob has said over and over again (only half serious) that we might well put more money into a good dinghy with a dependable 15+ horsepower 2-stroke outboard motor than the actual sailboat.

And there you have it. A work in progress, for sure, but a solid starting point to shop for our own version of the perfect cruising sailboat.

sailing through waves in tuamotus on the horizon line bri and rob travel and sailing adventure

sunset at sea sailing ocean on the horizon line blog

Sailing Memories – A Video of Crossing the Pacific

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Sailing, Videos

Sailing the Pacific already feels like a distant dream as we navigate the crowded streets of landlocked Thailand.  This video from our first bluewater passage vessel, Llyr, brings back sweet memories of swimming and sailing (and, yes, a few seasick memories, too!).  Well done, Island Reach, and thanks for the shout-out to Rob and me!

SAIL, Llyr Expedition, set to AWOLNATION’s “Sail” from Island Reach on Vimeo.

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″/]

 

Click here to read the full article and see more photos.

Front Page: Read our update in the Missoulian Newspaper!

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Sailing, Traveling

Click here to read the full article and see more photos.

I might have picked a better picture of us if I’d known it would end up on the front page of our hometown newspaper.  But what fun to be able to share a few stories with the press.  Here’s a snippet from the article.  Click here to read more.

In March 2013, Brianna Randall and Rob Roberts packed up their house in Missoula, left their jobs at local conservation nonprofits, and sailed west on a dream.

For the past nine months, the couple have hitchhiked through the South Pacific as crew members on small private sailboats.

In that time, they’ve been robbed, Roberts saved the life of a drowning woman, they have experienced awe-inspiring wildlife encounters and have come to understand that there are many models in the world as to how to travel, work and raise children.   Read more here.

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.

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