Live the cliche

Posted on 1 CommentPosted in Reflections on Life

You never know when miniature disasters or major catastrophes will change the landscape of your life forever. I’ve been thinking a lot about life landscapes this week, as we got word that a past river adventure buddy passed away unexpectedly and another friend lost his wife.

It’s so cliche to say, isn’t it? Be present. Enjoy every minute. Don’t take this life for granted. We read the axioms on Facebook and greeting cards, say them to each other off-the-cuff and in deadly serious circumstances. But the cliches slip away in the tougher spells. And in the daily grind. And even, sometimes, during the magical, memory-making experiences.

My sister, Cassidy, who inspires me every day to take more risks and laugh more often.
My sister, Cassidy, who inspires me every day to take more risks and laugh more often. Follow her at www.directionaldetour.org

It’s just damned hard to be present. To enjoy every single minute. To not take for granted the body, emotions, friends, food, sunsets, breath that infuse each day. To make the most of this one precious life.

Weeks like this one make me more determined, though. They bring back the urge to stop for a full inhale to appreciate the rare warmth of sun in Montana’s usually frigid February. To exhale completely to celebrate my lungs and my muscles and my blood for supporting me. To close my eyes and savor the sound of my husband reading a bedtime story to his son.

The unexpected catastrophes also make me question the landscape of my life, and to examine it a little more closely. Is this what I want? Am I being true to myself and my loved ones? And the biggest question of all: am I strong enough to change the landscape if the answers are no? Some things are easier to change–turning off the work emails after 6PM, for instance. But others–like setting sail again–feel like moving mountains.

Talon with Auntie Katie, another role model for casting off bow lines and making the most of life.
Talon with Auntie Katie in Kauai, another role model for casting off bow lines and making the most of life. Follow her at www.controlledjibe.com

So, how do you move mountains? One rock at a time. Lately, lines from this poem by Mark Twain’s keep popping up in my head. It’s on our blog’s “about” page, but it deserves another place of honor here and now:

Twenty years from now
you will be more disappointed
by the things that you didn’t do
than by the ones you did do.

So throw off the bowlines. 
Sail away from the safe harbor. 
Catch the trade winds in your sails. 
Explore. Dream. Discover.

In other words, let this post be a reminder to all of you (as the recent events were for me) to hack away at those lines that keep you tethered to places of unease or distress.  Go forth and be present. Let yourself be free to be happy, in safe harbors or in rocky seas. Breathe. Smile. Kiss the ones you love. Live the cliche.

Talon sure does help pull me back to the present, and it's damn hard not to smile when he's around.
Talon sure does help pull me back to the present, and it’s damn hard not to smile when he’s around.
Bachelorette Party in Bend - On the Horizon Line Blog - brianna randall

Penis Paraphernalia and Pregnant Women

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Family and Friends, Pregnancy

Blow up dicks aren’t typically a decoration associated with pregnant women. Yet I recently found my 5-month pregnant self wading gleefully through cock-and-ball straws, shot skis filled with tequila, and naked hot-tubbers drinking sangria. Even more startling, the scene transpired only a few days after my re-entry to America after a year spent sailing abroad.

I parachuted back to the Pacific Northwest, landing straight into a full-scale bachelorette party for one of my best friends. We jammed 11 women – 3 of whom were pregnant – into a cabin near Bend, along with some stringed instruments, a stocked costume box, plenty of penis paraphernalia, and enough liquor to kill a couple of cows.

Sure, penis paraphernalia is one of the last things I’m craving midway though my second-trimester. But I’d been looking forward to this female festival for weeks, ever since I’d realized we could time our return to surprise my friend. The giggles and raunchy jokes were nectar for my estrogen-starved senses after spending 24/7 with only my husband.

Rob was chomping at the bit to see his boyfriends, too, ready to chainsaw some trees, traipse along streams, and make unwise, testosterone-based decisions. One of the main reasons we decided to put our travels on hiatus was because we missed our people. One year away from friends and family starts to leave a gap in your heart. My husband and I were both aching to fill the hole. I started closing that gap during the raucous weekend in Bend.

I danced and tossed rings at the blow-up dick with the best of ‘em. I mastered the two minute dip-in/dip-out of the hot tub. I matched the sangria drinkers glass for glass with soda water. I put on wigs and hoop skirts, and reminisced with the bride-to-be about past boyfriends. I stayed up way past my usual bedtime.

And when the partying got too intense, I retreated to a quieter corner with the other two pregnant friends to talk about stretch marks and labor positions over hot tea. It was the first time I got to share revelations about growing a person inside of me with other pregnant women. A special treat, in this unlikely setting.

The penis-paraphernalia girl party eased my transition back into “real life” here in the States. It was the perfect mix of old jokes and new adventures, favorite costumes and changing bodies. I’ll be as big as a house when we all reconnect at the wedding in July. Meanwhile, Rob and I are ready to leap into the next trimester – and the next adventure – here in Montana, fortified by the friendships we missed while away.

Pregnant ladies at a bachelorette party in Bend - On the Horizon Line Blog - Brianna Randall

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.

brianna randall rob roberts travel private island travel tonga beach

Magical Mandala on Fetoko Island

Posted on Posted in Community and Culture, Family and Friends

brianna randall rob roberts travel private island travel tonga beach

Fetoko Island is not on any maps. You can’t find it on navigation charts, and many people here in Tonga would scratch their heads if you ask for directions. Maybe this is part of the reason that Fetoko is such a magical place.

Fetoko Island is 2.4 acres, and has a permanent population of 5: Ben and Lisa, along with their two dogs, Higgs and Boson, and their cat Penzini. The seasonal population can climb as high as 20 from July through October, when they host a constant stream of visitors and friends. And their legendary beach dance parties bring hundreds of locals to Fetoko.

brianna rob travel tonga private island beach resort mandala travel

First, a bit about Ben and Lisa, since they are the core of Fetoko and the main ingredients for making it magical. This couple set sail from the Bay Area in California in 2001 on Waking Dream, their 42-foot Cooper. Three years later, they arrived in Tonga … and never left. Ben and Lisa lived on Waking Dream for 5 years here in Vava’u before moving to Fetoko Island. They started Regatta Vava’u to bring more yachties to Tonga, built and ran what is now the most popular waterfront restaurant, opened up a cart safari business, and also started up a powered kayak tour business. Ben built dozens of cyclone-safe yacht moorings in the harbors, along with several docks, roads, and trails in Vava’u.

brianna rob travel tonga private island beach resort mandala travel

Then they were given an island. Pretty cool, huh? That’s what happens if you share a lot of yourself with the community around you. Of course, it’s technically owned by the royal family, like all land in Tonga — Ben and Lisa have a 99-year lease from the government to live on Fetoko. This year, they finished building their one-of-a-kind restaurant, as well as the first part of their eco-resort. Mandala Resort is a place to come chill. To listen to the wind in the trees. To watch the sunset from the strip of beach. To have dance parties til dawn. To eat good food and listen to good stories. It’s got this energy to it, this hum of giving and learning and loving. It draws awesome people who want to give and learn and love.brianna rob travel tonga private island beach resort mandala travel

Rob and I have settled into our “glamping” lifestyle on Fetoko seamlessly: our giant tent and queen-sized inflatable mattress are bigger than the interior of most of the sailboats we’ve lived aboard. The dogs feel like our own. Rob and Ben bustle around fixing things, and making plans to build the next set of fales — the unique accommodations that Mandala Resort rents to tourists. (Check out this tree house.) Lisa and I hang out in the open-air kitchen making papaya cake and curries for ourselves and any guests. We take the boat into town a few times a week to get produce, say hi the locals in Neiafu, and get a new perspective.

private island resort mandala brianna randall rob roberts travel tonga beach

Once the tourism and yachting season dies down next month, Rob and I will help them fix up Waking Dream. We plan to move aboard for a few months, to have a floating base as we help out Ben and Lisa, as well as the other locals who have become our friends these past 2 months. But no matter where we roam here in Vava’u during the upcoming summer, we know that we will always return to Fetoko, the place — and people — that feel like home.

private island brianna randall rob roberts sail tonga travel beach

bora bora beaches travel

Raping Coconuts

Posted on 2 CommentsPosted in Food and Drink, Traveling

bora bora beaches travel

I know, I know. What a totally alarming and inappropriate title, right? And way too close on the heels of the “Killing Coconuts” post. Don’t worry, though: we’re not psychopath fruit slayers. I’m simply referring to the word “rape” in French, not English. We still think coconuts are one of the best inventions on earth: tasty, nutritious, and useful for everything from curries to daquiris.

First, a funny story about how I learned the meaning of this French word (bringing my Fench vocabulary up to a grand total of 26 words). During a potluck on Bora Bora, Isabel asked Daniel what cheese he used in his delicious pasta dish. “I’m embarrassed to say it aloud,” said Daniel, the Aussie owner of 39-foot Beneteau called Red Sky Night. “I suppose you’ve probably seen the cheese in the markets anyway, though. It’s called ‘rape’ cheese.”

Isabel, a native French speaker from Canada who sails on Caribe, burst out laughing. “That means grated cheese, silly! It’s not a brand, it’s an adjective.” After she caught her breath, she patted his arm. “Don’t worry. When I first moved to Vancouver and was learning English, I used to ask my friends if they wanted me to ‘rape the cheese’ when I went for dinner, figuring it was the same verb.”

bora bora beaches travel

From then on, we made constant jokes about raping food. Nowhere was it more accurate a description than when we shredded a dozen coconuts on Compass Rose(y). Isabel’s partner, Gabriel, wanted to try out his nifty new coconut grater, which is what all the local Polynesians use to scrape the rich, nutty, delicious coconut meat from inside the shell. (The word for the grater here in Tonga is “hakalo.”)  Once it’s shredded, you add some water and squeeze the meat through a cloth to make coconut milk. Like all new tools, the grater elicited the rapt interest of all the nearby males in the anchorage.

First, the men brainstormed a creative way to husk the nuts: a dinghy anchor wedged into a cleat so that the spokes impale the tough fibrous outer later. Next, they took turns raping the nuts into a fluffy white pile. Last, they cleaned up the big mess they made. The grater tool left oily residue, white flakes, and brown nut-dust all over the deck. The upshot, though: we made lots of politically incorrect jokes and we stocked up on coconut milk for the passage to the Cooks. We also had some killer rum daiquiris with fresh coco juice that night (which only served to make the jokes worse).

bora bora beaches travel

You are all with us.

Posted on 2 CommentsPosted in Family and Friends, Reflections on Life

Roberts family

We just changed the clocks back again. Every time we gain another hour, I feel a tangible stretch in my connection back home. Our next time change — in just a couple of weeks — will span an entire 25 hours. We’ll lose a whole day as we cross the International Dateline near Tonga, and I’ll be ever further from the daily routine of my loved ones in the States.

I’m approaching the outer limits of time spent away from my family. I can feel that time accumulating in my bones and in my breast, weighing heavy as I dive down to see tropical coral and exotic fish. I’m curious how the weight will change as more months pass — will I just wake up one morning and declare that I simply must fly home? Will I grow used to the separation and learn to live with the weight more easily?

the family

After five months out, everything back home is captured in a lovely rosy glow. A glow that purposefully enhances the good and fuzzes out any ickiness. I can picture our neighborhood, my parents’ kitchen, my sister and her big dog walking by the creek, our king-sized bed that’s bigger than the boat we’re now living on. I miss it all. But I’m not ready to go back yet.

I think about my friends and my family every single day. You are all with us out here: under the water, counting the minutes until the passage is complete, marveling at colors and stars and sharks, bemoaning the rocking stove, exclaiming at the number of sharks, laughing at the absurdness of floating a small boat across a giant s ea, changing the clocks back surely but slowly as that small boat keeps sailing west.

travel south pacific island rob brianna dateline

bora bora beaches travel blog

BYO Everything

Posted on Posted in Community and Culture, Sailing

bora bora beaches travel blogI pick up the VHF. It’s set to channel 67, the “private” channel we’re using to chat with our friends at this anchorage in Bora Bora. In reality, no radio channel is private. Eavesdropping is a way of life while cruising, especially when you know the people talking over the VHF. But having our own station means we can avoid the protocols associated with using the international maritime channel 16. VHF is awesome: it’s like a telephone that calls all your friends at once.

I key the mic to call our neighboring boats. “Kiapa, Caribe, Nyon, Red Sky, Vision: this is Compass R

Bittersweet Tang

Posted on 1 CommentPosted in Food and Drink

sailing south pacific travel blog brianna randall

I was a gift from a husband to a wife. From the creator to the universe. From a woman to herself. From the crew to the captain. I was born as the bitter seeds of a sweet fruit harvested from a tropical tree. I traveled to Europe, where I matured alongside orange peel, sea salt, sugar, almonds.

Ripe and ready, dressed in shiny foil finery, I traveled back to my tropical roots. I was primed to be plucked from a stand where I enticed and cajoled and beckoned buyers. The husband bought me. So did the woman. I boarded a blue boat, floated out to sea, watched stars rotate and rise as we sailed west and south. I changed forms with the heat of the day and the cool of the night, melding to my foil dress.

Finally, finally, the woman undressed me. She peeled back the layers, lovingly stroked my oily sheen, longingly anticipated my bitter beginning and sweet additions. She broke me into pieces, shearing me into bite-size chunks. Naked. Dark. Ripe for the next transition.

I melted to coat teeth, tongue, throat. I flooded their senses with my age-old bittersweet tang. The captain and crew bade me many blessings of thanks for the gift of my chocolate.

 

bora bora beaches travel blog

So, you’ve heard of Bora Bora?

Posted on 1 CommentPosted in Hiking, Traveling

bora bora beaches travel blog

We sure had. After all, it does have the reputation of being the most beautiful island in the world. Bora Bora was another one of those lagoons fringed by coral islands that Rob and I had fondled virtually via Google Earth before we ever set sail, and a definite “must see” on our list of tropical ports. A local told us that the original Tahitian name is actually “po po ra,” which means island of applause. It’s worth applauding, for sure.

But Bora Bora also has a reputation for being hoity-toity, a playground for rich people who fly in, jet around in power boats, and spend $1,000 per night for over-water bungalows and luxurious spas. Rob and I are about as far from hoity-toity as dog poop, especially after four months at sea. For example, I just finished my monthly leg shave from a metal bucket full of sea water on the bow (and enjoyed it). The resort guests would gasp.

bora bora beaches travel blog

We’d heard from a few cruisers that Bora Bora wasn’t anything to write home about, unless you could afford one of the exclusive resorts on a private island. Several said the town was their least favorite. “It’s a dump,” said one friend, eloquently. We went anyway. And ended up staying two weeks. You know how some places just feel a little more magical than others? A little older or wiser or just plain more mystical? We felt that magic in Bora.

Part of the magic is the setting. The other part is the people. We’ll start with the backdrop: Bora is distinct from other Society Islands because it has a big mountain on the island in the middle of the lagoon, which is surrounded by a chain of smaller islands, called “motus.” We climbed to the peak alongside 14 friends from other boats, using old ropes tied to rocks and roots to ascend 700 meters (2,100 feet for those non-metric readers). As you can see, Rob wore his safety headwear even though he also climbed the whole thing barefoot — it’s important to prioritize which end of your body deserves protection.

Oddly, a fire broke out at the heiva fairgrounds as we descended the hike. We heard explosions, and watched from above as cars exploded and mushroom clouds of fire soared off thatched roofs about a football-field length from where our boat was anchored. Crazy. After hurrying down the last of the trail, we joined the crowds of locals to watch the firefighters put out the last of the flames. The local dive instructor, who we met in Fakarava, told us dismissively, “This happens all the time during heiva.” Huh. I guess if you build a party venue with sticks and dried-out palm fronds to host all-night dance fests for a month, fires are to be expected.

bora bora beaches travel blog

In addition to the mountain, Bora Bora is famous for its clear turquoise waters, which we explored happily with our caravan of friends. We swam with eagle rays and manta rays, marveling at their grace flying between coral. We splashed and dove and did somersaults and headstands in the glowing green “swimming pool” at anchor.

I had an intimate experience with my first octopus. She and I watched each other for about 20 minutes, playing hide and seek in coral. I’ve never seen anything more magical than an octopus. She changed color faster than I could blink, stretching and contracting to swim, leading an entourage of curious fish who also watched her curious color changes. Her big eyes blinked, tracking me as I hovered 15 feet above on the surface. I fell in love, but couldn’t find her the next few days.

We met Patrick, a local who opened up his lovely property and invited us to use his lawn for yoga. He guided us on a trek along the motu’s ridge, pointing out fruits, beehives, and — randomly — 10 WWII bunkers built by U.S. soldiers. Turns out the U.S. had thousands of soldiers stationed in Bora, expecting the Japanese to push into Polynesia.

bora bora beaches travel blog

On the way back to our sailboats, we walked through the Hilton’s resort. It was kind of like going to a zoo, since the creatures who were sweating on treadmills, driving in golf carts, and walking around in makeup and high heels seemed as foreign from our cruising lifestyle as a pack of wild baboons. Ok, maybe more foreign than a pack of wild baboons! Lovely resort, though.  A few days later, we took a girls’ trip in to the St. Regis resort on its own private motu.  We snuck in to lounge by the pool, and used their hot water showers.  Pure bliss, I tell you.

The weather window to head out on our 5-day passage to the Cook Islands kept getting pushed later, as light winds and rainstorms circled overhead. We didn’t mind, though. Bora is a wonderful place to wait, made more wonderful by all the fun friends who congregated here the past couple of weeks. We met new cruisers our age, and hung out with people we hadn’t seen in weeks — enough friends to warrant using our own VHF channel to coordinate all of the social events. Yoga every morning, afternoon tea chats, game nights, potlucks, a jam session, spearfishing expeditions.

bora bora beaches travel blog

Bora was our last stop in French Polynesia, after visiting eight islands that were all special in their own way. We’re heading to the Cook Islands next.  Bora felt like a crossroads, a place to launch new beginnings and a gathering place for people from all points of the globe. We left feeling full to the brim of Polynesian magic, open and ready to find the next adventure, the next country, the next crossroads in this vast blue sea.

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