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

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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.

rob and bri sailing adventure travel blog tonga vavau beaches

Entering A Waking Dream

Posted on 2 CommentsPosted in Reflections on Life, Sailing

rob and bri sailing adventure travel blog tonga vavau beachesWe have yet another new home.  Her name is Waking Dream, a 42-foot Cooper monohull owned by Ben and Lisa Newton here in Vava’u.  They sailed her from Oakland, California and spent three years cruising before deciding to stay in Tonga.  Now that they live on Fetoko Island and are building Mandala Resort, Waking Dream has been vacant for a while.  And we know what happens to vacant sailboats: they start to crumble under the relentless tropical sun and saltwater.

rob and bri sailing adventure travel blog tonga vavau beaches Rob and I offered to help get her all fixed up in return for a free place to live.  It’s a good deal for everyone.  We get to learn more about maintaining a sailboat and build our own little nest.  Ben and Lisa get a working sailboat.  What are some of the problems with it, you ask?  I’ll just list the top few for now: #1 termites #2 the coral reef living on the bottom #3 disintegrating dodger and algae-covered lines.  It’s nice to have a purpose again.

rob and bri sailing adventure travel blog tonga vavau beachesIt also feels good to be living on the water again.  And it feels really good to be all by ourselves on a sailboat again.  We haven’t felt like the capitans of our own space for over 8 months now, since we’ve been sharing living quarters on boats and in others’ homes.  It actually felt slightly eerie to make dinner for just the two of us last night.  For three-quarters of a year, we’ve shared meals with at least one other person, and lately it’s been more like 6-10 others.  Neither of us could remember the last night we’d spent with no one else around.

rob and bri sailing adventure travel blog tonga vavau beachesTransitioning from communal living to independent living is probably more of a change than moving back to the sea from the shore.  We are both quite comfortable cohabiting with others — we enjoy the social dynamics of sharing space, food, ideas, chores, music and ourselves with more than just each other.  Yet we’re both quite comfortable alone, too.  I, in particular, crave my alone time almost as much as I crave social interaction.

rob and bri sailing adventure travel blog tonga vavau beachesWhat a strange and beautiful paradox, this human pull to be so close to others in tandem with the pull to have our own individual corners to retreat into.  A yin and yang of co-dependence and independence, where finding the balance is the magic ingredient to a fulfilling life.  Here aboard Waking Dream, we hope to strike that balance, to build our own little nest where we can retreat, while still keeping close to the flock of new friends who support us.

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