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 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

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

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.


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

Our Desert Ocean – South Pacific Fish Part One

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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.


Adopted on Palmerston Island

Posted on 2 CommentsPosted in Community and Culture, Fishing, Traveling

travel south pacific islands brianna randall and rob roberts

Palmerston is the kind of place where people shipwreck. And stay, because of its odd, friendly charm. Or hop the next ship passing by, because of its odd, too-friendly charm. This island holds first prize for being both the weirdest and the most beautiful place yet on our voyage. You can only visit by sailboat, or via the supply ship that stops 3 times a year. All visitors are “adopted” by a family who feeds you and welcomes you — no one is allowed on the island unless accompanied by a host. Whoever makes the first contact with a boat becomes the host — and its a race among the locals to adopt foreigners.

A bit of natural history: Palmerston atoll is part of the Cook Islands, a country that contains 15 tiny islands that are scattered between America and Australia in the smack-dab middle of the Pacific. The closest island is over 100 miles south. Palmerston, like all atolls, is a volcanic ring of land surrounding a beautiful shallow lagoon. Unlike other atolls we’ve been to, Palmerston atoll is mostly submerged, and only a handful of small islands are visible above the water. The only inhabitated island is a whopping two square miles — you can walk around the whole island in 20 minutes. Birds, fish, sharks, whales, and turtles are plentiful, since human impacts are minimal.

travel south pacific islands brianna randall and rob roberts

A bit of human history: it was settled in 1863 by William Marsters, a British dude who brought three different Maori wives to start his own colony. His progeny now number in the hundreds, scattered across the Pacific from the Cooks to Australia. The majority of the islanders still have the last name Marsters. The island is divided into the three sections originally bequeathed by William to his three wives. Each of the three families has a “leader,” and the island also has a mayor. The cemetery is full of headstones honoring dozens of beloved past Marsters, most of whom are remarkably long-lived. The Palmerston natives are also remarkably well-traveled, and most of them marry someone from another island (so inbreeding seems minimal).

south pacific travel

As of August 11th, when we arrived, 62 people lived in Palmerston, almost half of which were children. Only two residents were “outsiders” from the Marsters’ clan: the Fijian nurse, who was on a one-year travel stint, and the English school teacher, who wanted to see first-hand where her father shipwrecked in the 1950s — he spent a year on Palmerston rebuilding his ship before returning home. Speaking of which, the first thing we saw upon landing with our host on the island was a shipwreck from a sailboat that washed up on the reef in 2009, ironically from Rob’s hometown of Philadelphia. (After all the shipwreck stories, we triple checked our anchor chain during our four night stay.)

travel south pacific islands brianna randall and rob roberts

The two main “streets” are dirt, but they have street lights. There is no store, but there is an empty “Palmerston Yacht Club,” built by Bill Marsters and some yachties a decade ago. No one has a car, but most families have a big aluminum motorboat. About half of the island plays volleyball at 4pm every single day. We played with them for a few nights. The kids are welcoming, curious, and love to play “hit, bat, run,” which I tried to convince them was the same as baseball. They were enamored of my strangely colored hair and eyes.

south pacific travel fishing islands brianna rob

No one uses money on the island, as there’s nothing to buy. But they do need money to purchase food, gas, diesel and other stuff when the supply ship comes every few months. The rest of the money goes toward traveling. People make money two ways: 1) selling parrotfish to Rarotonga, the capital of the Cook Islands; or 2) working for the government. Government jobs include: running the diesel generator that powers the ~15-20 buildings on the island (and the streetlights); teaching the 25 students at the “Palmerston Lucky School,” who range from age 5 to 17; working in the Customs and Quarantine Administration to check in the 40-50 sailboats per year and the occasional cargo ship that stops at the island; selling telecommunications services from the tiny booth set up next to the satellite (internet arrived on the island two years ago, along with cell phones).

south pacific travel fishing islands brianna rob palmerston

Since we arrived on Sunday, we had to anchor outside the atoll and wait until the next day before checking in. Nothing except church is allowed to happen on Sunday in Palmerston. Our host was Simon, along with his incomprehensible and confusing array of nephews, brothers and cousins, most of whom were named “John.” I spent quite a lot of time listening to stories told by Simon’s 85-year-old toothless mother (but can’t remember her long Maori name, embarrassingly). She has 14 children, and long ago lost count of the number of grandchildren. Only 3 of her children live on the island currently, and the rest are mainly in New Zealand and Australia.

south pacific travel fishing islands brianna rob palmerston

Imagine living with all of your extended family within two city blocks. Now imagine that those two blocks are in the middle of a huge ocean, with no one else to talk to for hundreds of miles. Suffice it to say that Palmerston is the most communal place I’ve ever been, where everyone is literally and figuratively one big family — a family like all others, marked by love, quarrels, support, grievances, understanding and sloppiness.

south pacific fishing travel islands

As for the ecology of Palmerston, it rivaled the social dynamics in its intensity. Here are a few highlights:
– We were welcomed to the atoll by three humpback whales that breached only 15 meters from our boat. Each sunset was punctuated by a whale spout or a whale tail.
– I saw two turtles mating (yes, having sex!), and was greeted during each morning swim by the same big turtle that swam up to say hi.
– Rob shot a beautiful parrotfish beneath the boat (which was delicious). Mark tried shooting a few squirrelfish that night, and abandoned the mission as several of the resident sharks swam over to investigate.
– The biggest groupers I’ve ever seen hung out on the reef outside the lagoon — easily 40 pounders. Rob saw one eat a two-foot parrotfish in a single bite.
– We took the dinghy to visit a few of the outer deserted islands, which sported the whitest sand and lushest coconut trees you can possibly imagine.

south pacific travel fishing islands brianna rob palmerston

And the water? Too many colors to describe. I’ll poach from a book I just finished instead, “The Wave” by Susan Casey, which sums up the ocean around Palmerston perfectly:

If heaven were a color, it would be tinted like this. You could fall into this water and happily never come out, and you could see it forever and never get tired of looking. There could be no confusion about who called the shots out here, at this gorgeous, haunted, lush, heavily primordial place, with all its unnameable blues and its ability to nourish you and kill you at the same time.

rob flyfishing palmerston


snorkeling in tuamotus, bri on the horizon line travel and sailing blog south pacific

We’re in love (with psychedelic clams).

Posted on 1 CommentPosted in Ocean Tales, Outdoor Adventures

snorkeling in tuamotus, bri on the horizon line travel and sailing blog south pacific

Sorry for the long radio silence. Turns out that paradise doesn’t include internet. Plus, Rob and I have been a pretty distracted the past few weeks. Why?

Because we’re in love. Giddy, giggly, bubbly blissful love. Not necessarily with each other, though our giddiness certainly overflows into more hugs and hand-holding. Rob and I are in love with the Tuamotus, the volcano atolls that formed rings of shallow coral in the middle of a deep sea. We’re in love with green water, blue hues, white sands, fringing coconut trees, tiny purple fish, giant psychedelic clams, sea cucumbers as thick as my leg, stealthy sharks, flying manta rays and diving fairy terns.

During the year before we left, Rob and I had a little tradition. Some nights just before we crawled into bed, exhausted from a day of playing, working, and living fully in Missoula, we’d pull up Google Earth on the laptop. We’d huddle close to the screen and zoom in on islands and bays we hoped to visit on our voyage. The ones that called us back time and again were the strange-looking thin circles in the middle of the Pacific: hollowed-out islands that looked like a lifesaver or a really skinny doughnut. But instead of a cream-filled center, these narrow coral islands encircled marvelous blue-green lagoons, teeming with some of the richest marine life on earth. The Tuamotus.

fishing for bonefish in tuamotus, rob on the horizon line sailing blog

And now we’re here. We get to spend every day inside of Google Earth, and it’s way better up close. We snorkel before breakfast, and then head to shore. I dance in front of some coconut trees, and watch Rob stalk the white sand flats with his 9-weight fly rod, playing with sharks, bonefish and jacks. “Isn’t it awesome?” he calls over his shoulder as we watch a pair of trigger fish mow down on some bait fish. “It’s like hunting, but in the ocean.” Lunch break consists of tuna on crackers, some raisins and almonds, and coconut water straight from a fresh-plucked nut. Then it’s on to more snorkeling, fish stalking, or beach-combing and biking with the local kids.

These islands are why we wanted to leave our beloved mountain home, why we left good jobs and great friends in search of unknown shores. The French sailboat anchored in front of us in Kauehi City (a village of 200 people and 2 roads) has been here for over a year. I can see exactly why, and would probably do the same if French Polynesia wasn’t strict about stowaways in their gorgeous, coveted country. If you’re not a citizen of the E.U., the government only allows you to spend 90 days in French Polynesia.

Unless Rob or I suddenly fall in love with a Tuamotuan or a Tahitian who wants to marry one (or both?) of us, we only have until the end of August to indulge our love affair with these spectacular coral atolls. Which means it’s time to stop writing and dive overboard to caress the psychedelic clams and majestic mantas again.

on the horizon line - sailing and traveling blog in mexico

Embrace the Now

Posted on 5 CommentsPosted in Fishing, Ocean Tales

on the horizon line - sailing and traveling and fishing blog in mexico

Rob pulled himself into the dinghy. “Man, I sure wish I’d had our GoPro down there,” he told me, pulling off his mask. “How cool would it have been to get video of those sea lions side-swiping us?”

We’d just snorkeled off Los Islotes, a small rock outcropping north of La Partida island where we were anchored on our friend’s boat, Sea Raven. It’s famous for the sea lion colony that lives on the ammonia-scented, guano-stained rocks. And the fame is well-deserved: it was unbelievable to have humongous slippery mammals skyrocketing past us in the sea.

The lions, called lobos del mar or sea wolves in Spanish, honked and barked, blew bubbles when we got too close, and chomped on the millions of tiny bait fish shimmering like a silver wave just beneath the surface. This marine reserve looked like the Sea of Cortez must have looked a century ago – ripe with fish of all colors, shapes and sizes. It was quite a contrast to the more barren underwater scene near the rocks at our anchorage a mile south, where only a handful of smaller fish dodged hungry fishermen’s nets and lines.

on the horizon line - sailing and traveling blog in mexico

We put some distance between ourselves and the clutter of tourist boats at Los Islotes, and snorkeled again at the next rock island. Rob swam around for 20 minutes, then jumped into the dinghy so I could do the same. This time, he didn’t say a word about missed opportunities behind a camera. He was full of stories of the world below: “I saw tons of trigger fish, and a huge surgeon fish! Did you see that sea lion glide in off the rock? This place is seriously awesome.”

That evening, we both stretched on the foredeck as we watched the red light of sunset roll down from the mountains and break across the sea. Rob pointed out turtles as they popped up to breathe (he’s seen approximately 43 turtles this past week, compared to my 2), and we followed a young sea lion that was playing between the catamaran’s hulls.

on the horizon line - sailing and traveling and fishing blog in mexico espiritu santo sunset in baja

“You know,” Rob said, “I’ve been thinking about my time in Madagascar. I didn’t have any of that shit we just lost. I keep thinking it’s a blessing in disguise that our electronics got stolen. If I’d had the GoPro today, I would’ve been fiddling with cameras instead of just enjoying the dive, and I’d probably be inside editing the video right now instead of watching turtles swim in the sunset.”

It definitely still stings a lot that we lost all of the gear we so carefully researched and assembled. Mostly, though, it stings that we made dumb mistakes that led to that occurrence.

That sunset, Rob and I came to agreement that we don’t need to prove how cool and interesting this trip is, to ourselves or others. Sure, it’s natural to want to share our experience, and to capture remarkable moments to enjoy again later. But then you lose the now. The cost of recording those events means we’re behind a computer, camera or recorder, rather than fully experiencing how cool they are. The universe may well have been telling us that it’s our time to embrace the now.

on the horizon line - sailing and traveling and fishing blog in mexico

big red - the red rider truck - rob roberts and trout unlimited - pushing through the forest

So Long, Big Red

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Fishing, Outdoor Adventures

Since tomorrow is my last day at Trout Unlimited, it seems fitting that I handed over the title to our 1994 Dodge Dakota pickup this morning.  Trout Unlimited bought the truck for $1 back in 2009 and, because of its stamina and sheer willpower, we dubbed it the “Red Rider” or just “Big Red.”

big red - the red rider truck - rob roberts and trout unlimited - pushing through the forest

So what if the wheel wells were corroded, the passenger side door only opened from the inside, or the windows didn’t roll down, the Red Rider was my trusted companion, alongside my dog – Abe – for countless hours of fieldwork.  It was the best work vehicle a guy could ask for.  Together, we steamrolled through brush covered roads, forded streams, and carried some ridiculous loads.  Watch this video to see one of our exploits.

big red - the red rider truck - rob roberts and trout unlimited

The Red Rider was truly legendary because it had its own sense of humor and personal charisma.  It didn’t drive well in the snow or, really, even the rain, but I took pride in showing up at meetings with the Red Rider.  Parked alongside the shiny new trucks of state agencies or  high dollar consultants, I admit that the much smaller Red Rider looked a little bit silly.  But the Red Rider always held its own, kept its head high, and never let me down.  It always reaffirmed my belief in being part of a lean and mean non-profit, maintaining TU’s focus on efficiency and results and not getting caught up in posh and posturing. Would I have liked 4 wheel drive? Sure.  Did I wish that the interior lights worked consistently? Of course.  Would it have been easier to drive if I knew what gear I was in?  Always.  But I wouldn’t have changed a thing.

I envision the Red Rider spending its remaining days as a cared for farm vehicle, soaking its old bones in a sunny pasture and going out for Sunday drives.   So long, Big Red.  We’ll miss you.

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