rob roberts and talon on a standup paddleboard on flathead lake

14:1 | The Perfect Ratio for Vacational Whimsy

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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


A Letter to Llyr – From Bri

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The following is a letter I emailed to the owners of Llyr.  In April, this family will embark on an ocean expedition to research bio-cultural diversity from their 53′ steel sailboat.  Llyr responded to our post in Cruisers Forum, and we’ve been communicating about potentially crewing on their boat from Panama to the Marquesas — a 30+ day crossing of the Pacific Ocean.

Read Rob’s letter to Llyr here.

Dear Janis and Brooks,

Thanks so much for giving us this glimpse into your life, your goals, and your boat.  It’s been a pleasure to read more about you and your family, and we certainly appreciate the time you’ve spent communicating with us.  Since Rob’s done the majority of communication on our behalf, I thought I’d jump in with my background first.

I was born in Southern California, and lived there until I was 22.  My family lived at the base of the San Gorgonio Wilderness, just west of the desert near Palm Springs.  My sister and I were lucky enough to grow up exploring tall mountains, fascinating deserts, and the Pacific Ocean.  Some of my first memories are sleeping in the quarter-berth of my Grandpa’s Catalina while it was docked in Dana Point.  My dad took care of this boat after Grandpa died, and they took us for weekend sailing getaways until the family had to sell the boat when I was 10.  We continued our “sailing lessons” with Dad by renting small boats a couple times each summer, and I went on to take sailing lessons while at college in San Diego.  I took all the courses I could, mainly so I was “certified” to check out different sailboats on weekends to tool around Mission Bay.  Hobie Cats were my favorite.

When I moved to Montana for grad school 10 years ago, I said a tearful goodbye to the Pacific and sailing…and then unexpectedly found a unique opportunity to sail even more in Montana!  A friend asked me to caretake his boat and share docking costs on Flathead Lake, the largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi.  I’ve spent 6 seasons (May-Oct) exploring this 25×10 mile lake, gaining experience in safe anchoring off the many islands and in weathering rough mountain storms.  This 1975 Paceship 26′ boat had no “amenities,” and I quickly learned the nuances of sail trim without a windex, anemometer, or GPS.

My favorite part about sailing on Flathead Lake is taking my friends out for the first time.  We’ve probably introduced 30 people to their first sail over the years, and even inspired a few to take lessons and get their own boat!  I love teaching others how to move through space with the power of wind alone, and watching them feel comfortable at the tiller after just a few hours.  Rob was one of those I taught — and the quickest learner, with his background exploring water.  We started dating during my third summer sailing, and truly fell in love on the boat.  Since 2009, Rob and I would head up most Friday afternoons and cast off dock lines as soon as we could, spending 2-3 nights out on the lake, staring at Glacier National Park and the Mission Mountain Wilderness.  His proficiency at fixing things on the boat (or anywhere, for that matter) and wanting to explore how things work on the boat mesh well with my contentment simply sailing her for hours.

I’ve wanted to cross the Pacific for as long as I can remember.  Partly, this is because I distinctly remember”interviewing” my dad for a homework assignment in elementary school about the “event that most changed a parent’s life.”  His was crossing from Hawaii to Santa Barbara when he delivered a boat (he worked in boatyards throughout So. Cal. in his early 20s).  I can still recall exactly where I sat while he told me about pilot whales, storms, crystal-clear stars, and finding treasures while skin diving.  I can hardly believe I might get the chance to have my own life-changing Pacific crossing in a few short months.

As for other sailing experience, my friend, Katie, and I chartered a bareboat out of the US BVIs in 2008.  We sailed a Bavaria 38′ for 9 days, anchoring, mooring, and navigating between 6 islands.  It was spirited weather, and we never took the reef out of the main.  In 2007, I jumped aboard a 65′ Maxi racing boat in Airlie Beach, Australia, offering my crew and cooking services in return for a free 4-day sailing and snorkel trip around the Whitsunday Islands

I also crewed with a friend on his 30′ sailboat for 8 days and ~275 miles in Southeast Alaska in 2010.  He asked for my help during the “Dixon Entrance”, which is one of the gnarliest crossings in the Inside Passage with no protection for the full force of Pacific waves and winds coming Northwest.  It was fun.  I learned a lot more about navigation on this Alaska voyage, since we had to rely on charts and GPS frequently due to dense fog.  I also learned a lot more about how tides can impact navigation and velocity, as the huge tidal currents formed rips and whirlpools.

Lastly, Rob and I joined Katie and her husband, Mark, in Baja CA last November for a 2-week bareboat charter.  We crammed 4 people in a 1970 22′ Catalina, along with enough food and water to explore deserted desert islands for 12 full days.  We outfitted the boat ourselves with food for the 2 weeks, and were largely alone in the ocean, aside from a short stop in a tiny ~100-person village.  Katie and Mark are now cruising in their own boat in Baja, and we plan to start our trip with them on their 28′ Pearson-Triton in late March before crossing the Pacific.


As for conservation and communication…well, those two words sum up my professional interests and experience in a nutshell!  Writing is one of my passions, and one of my skills.  Conservation is a principal ethos by which I live my life.  I’m a biology major, and took several marine biology courses in San Diego as well as on Vancouver Island where I studied for 6 months.  I also taught marine biology at an Audubon Camp in Maine for a summer before moving to Montana.  My master’s in Environmental Writing has served me well these past 8+ years as I raise money, lobby, and lead the outreach/ communications around freshwater conservation in western Montana.  I taught myself how to build a website this fall, and have enjoyed learning more about the many opportunities to reach a broader audience with diverse types of media.  I’m looking forward to writing and creating more during our “mid-life retirement.”

I’m great at scrubbing decks or dishes.  I like oiling teak.  I love cooking, and especially the challenge of cooking a great meal with limited ingredients.  I got my scuba open water certification in Montana (brrrr!), and have dived in Florida, Cuba, and Mexico.  I play guitar, sing, practice yoga and all types of dance, and — always, always — look for ways to learn more about the world around us.

I think your family, your boat, and your goals sound amazing.  And, I think that Rob and I would fit in well, from what we understand so far.  Thank you again for the chance to introduce ourselves.  I look forward to talking more, and hopefully meeting in person, too.


Like a Fish Out of Water

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We hauled the boat out of Flathead Lake, and winterized her for her stay “on the hard” over the next 7+ months.  It’s always a bittersweet (mostly bitter) moment to see Spindrift swaying like a stranded fish above the lake, knowing that we’re saying goodbye to sailing the blue-green waters beneath Montana’s beautiful peaks.

This fall’s haul-out was even more poignant, as it’s the last time we’ll sail Spindrift for years.  Her owner, John, lives in New York City, and has generously let us share his family’s 1975 Paceship-26 for the past 6 years.  He’s looking for new friends to share and maintain the boat, since we’re heading out on our adventure before the next Montana sailing season.

Luckily, the bitterness of saying goodbye to Spindrift is offset by the sweet, sweet knowledge that next time we set foot on a sailboat it’ll be in warm, salty, southern seas!

The master at work. Phil moves hundreds of boats in and out of the water

Check out Dayton Yacht Harbor’s new yellow tractor! We used to have a 1940s fire truck that pulled out the boats — more ambiance, but also more nerve-wracking.

Kind of weird to see Rob BELOW the sailboat on the water!

There she goes! Out of the lake and up the road, pulled by the new yellow tractor.

Almost at her resting place for the winter. Spindrift stays on jacks “on the hard” from Oct through June.