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.



brianna randall rob roberts sail travel pacific adventure voyage

Just Call Us Palangis

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brianna randall rob roberts sail travel pacific adventure voyage

I wanted to name this post “Not Naked in Tonga,” since the traffic on my Dancing Naked post proved that anything with “naked” in the title garners exponentially more attention. I refrained (barely). Instead, I chose the educational route. “Palangi” is the Tongan word for pale-skinned foreigners like Rob and me. But just so you know: “not naked” is an understatement in the very religious country of Tonga, where I had to scrounge up clothes that fully cover my knees and shoulders.

Ten days ago, we arrived in the city of Neiafu on the island of Vava’u in the Kingdom of Tonga. Yes, we live in a kingdom now. (In fact, we almost rented the Tongan Princesses’ country home for a week, but decided it was too far from the community center.) After two months as crew aboard Compass Rose(y), we waved a final farewell as she sailed west to Fiji. Rob and I are officially land lubbers again, at least for now.

brianna randall rob roberts sail travel pacific adventure voyage

Over the past six months, we sailed 6,000 miles on six different boats. We visited 16 spectacular islands in seven different countries. During our journey across one-quarter of the planet, we crossed 6 timezones, including the International Dateline (yes, we’re officially back to the future!). In short, we have a lot to process. It’s time to take a little break on land to let our beach-soaked brains catch up to our wave-weary bodies here in tomorrow-land.

I gotta admit: I don’t miss crewing on sailboats. It’s pretty awesome to have our very own space and our very own autonomy. We don’t have to ask permission to go ashore, or step up on the couch to let the other person pass by. We can wander the roads for hours, and take our time talking to locals or buying bread or finding a coffee shop. That doesn’t mean we’re done sailing forever, by any means. This is just a little vacation.

Our immersion into the Neiafu community is exactly what we need after constant movement. We want to stay put, ask questions, go slow, learn Tongan, get to know the people and the place. While cruising has plenty of perks, we haven’t been able to immerse ourselves in one place long enough to truly feel like we know it well. This is mostly due to the fact that we chose not to buy our own boat, which meant we had to stick to a faster-than-we-prefer travel schedule.

For instance: my friend, Kipper, asked recently if I could write more about the economy, history, or cultural traditions of the places we’ve visited. I’d love to! But that requires spending more than an hour or two on shore to talk to the people that live in these countries, and staying more than a few days at each island. That’s why we decided to become palangis — to immerse ourselves in the Kingdom of Tonga.

brianna randall rob roberts sail travel pacific adventure voyage

Only 5,000 people live on Vava’u, and it feels like we’ve already met half of them. Check out what the results of our immersion this past ten days:

1) We rented a small house for a week behind the biggest church in town, where we adopted a local dog and named him Nels.
2) Rob launched weekly open mic nights at a bar downtown, where we performed stunning covers of Johnny Cash and the Lumineers.
3) I started teaching yoga three mornings per week at a waterfront cafe.
4) We set up a “job” at a local organic farm, where we will work a few hours per day in exchange for room and board.
5) We got invited to an awesome dance party on the beach.  There were costumes (need I say more?).
6) We started volunteering at the Vava’u Environmental Protection Association, and are helping to organize the nonprofit’s fundraiser this weekend.
7) We got a library card.
8) We joined a biweekly Tongan jazzercise class.
9) We don’t look twice when pigs cross the road.
10) We can say basic Tongan phrases like:
> Malo e leilei. Fefehake? Hello, how are you?
> Ko hai ho hingoa? What’s your name?
> Oku ou saia tau’olunga. I like dancing.

Tonga feels a lot like home. We like it here, and are happy to be palangis in this little paradise.

brianna randall rob roberts sail travel pacific adventure voyage

sail south pacific ocean crossing travel brianna rob

Third Watch

Posted on 2 CommentsPosted in Ocean Tales, Sailing

sail south pacific ocean crossing travel brianna rob

So, this is “fair winds and a following sea:” pitch-poling like a drunk college kid as we surf down dark frothy waves. What the hell would it feel like in rough winds and a big beam sea? Terrifying.

I have third watch tonight, the pre-dawn shift from 3am to whenever someone else wakes up in the morning. It usually takes my mind and body several minutes to get used to night sailing when I start my watch. For some reason, it always feels like we’re going a million miles an hour at night. I check the heading, and make sure the sail plan is still the same: wing-to-wing with the wind dead behind us, careening down 10-foot swells as we sail due west. Even though we had the same gig happening all day, something about the moonless dark makes the boat feel faster, and slightly more out of control than during daylight.

sail south pacific ocean crossing travel brianna rob

I furl in the genoa a bit to see if it eases the motion. “We gotta slow her down!” I think to myself as I winch away at the sheet. Next, I hook up our state-of-the-art navigation systems (my iPhone paired with our Delorme spot tracker) to check our speed. 4.5 knots. Oh. Right. Maybe we weren’t going as fast as I thought. I let the sail back out and settle into a corner of the cockpit to brace against the rocking.

Third watch is my favorite. You know the dark will end. You get to stare at Orion as he ushers in the rising sun. You can watch the water change from black to charcoal to grey to silver to blue. And, best of all, you can drink coffee without worrying about whether you’ll be able to get back to sleep after your shift is over. I love coffee, and brewing a perfect little cup is my reward as the sky starts to lighten at 5:30am. Sadly, my perfect little cup flew across the galley during a big wave, and I ended up with coffee grounds in my hair, eyes, teeth, sleeves. Sigh. I went with instant coffee for round two, admitting defeat in this squirrely sea.

I plot our position and calculate how long it will take before we reach our next destination at an average speed of 5.5 knots. 3 days, 12 hours. I ignore the rattling in the lazarette behind me, the dishes slamming to and fro below, and the occasional flap of the main when it back-winds. Instead, I turn the iPhone to my favorite mix and sing along, write in my journal using the red light on my headlamp, and practice finding southern constellations. I read a bit on the Kindle.

sunset at sea sailing ocean on the horizon line blog

I hand steer the boat for a full hour when the autopilot gives up under the weight of turning the rudder through the swells, pretending I’m Captain Cook steering a tall ship in unknown waters. It is fun to be in control of the boat for a bit, to feel her surf the waves and to use stars as my navigation. But hand steering is not nearly as romantic as one would think, and my shoulders tire quickly.

I’m grateful when the autopilot sputters back to life at sunrise, and the bright light signals the end of my watch. Time for another attempt at the perfect cup of coffee.


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


sailing pacific sunset

Yup, we still hate passages.

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sailboats at sunset south pacific travel

We were scheduled to make landfall in Palmerston at sun-up. But that was when we were averaging 6.5 knots. The wind, as usual, had her own ideas.

Rob and I sat in the cockpit on the last night, watching the crescent moon sink slowly after the sun that just left us. We were making 4 knots in the light air, the genoa flogging and the boat lurching more sharply side to side without the speed to cut through the swells.

“Crack of noon arrival,” I joked. “An exact 5 day passage from anchor to anchor.” I had thought that the 5-night passage from Bora Bora to Palmerston would feel like peanuts compared to 33 days at sea on our Panama to Marquesas leg. But two months of bopping around French Polynesian islands on short jaunts made me weak. I forgot the monotony, the endless frustrating rocking, the noise, the sleeplessness.

sailing pacific sunset
Yup. Passages are just as un-fun as ever. Rob and I tried to be positive while we watched the moon careen back and forth overhead. We listed what we liked about passages:
1) The beauty of the sea, the sun, the night sky. The solitude of this wilderness ocean.
2) The fact that two hunks of canvas can cart us across hundreds of miles.
3) Our increasing ability to manage our bodies and the boat at sea. (No one got seasick this time.)

And that’s about it. We didn’t bother listing our dislikes, as we exhausted that discussion a couple passages back. All this is with fair winds and a following sea! Imagine storms and 30-foot seas (or don’t).

So, if we hate passages so much, why the hell are we smack in the middle of the largest ocean on earth, with plenty more crossings still to come? Because we love everything in between.

bora bora beaches travel

To me, passage-making is like flying or driving long distances. I hate sitting still, being cramped in small spaces and tight seats, breathing stale recycled air, filling the monotonous hours and minutes as best I’m able. Yucky. But I absolutely love arriving at the destination. The excitement about what awaits after the long transit is what gets us through the discomfort. Same with sailing — every time we see a new island on the horizon, it feels like Christmas Day. What will we discover on shore? What presents await beneath the surface?

Maybe Rob and I aren’t real sailors at heart. We are, however, water people, through and through. And to get to the best water, you gotta pay the price of passage. Thus far on our journey, the price is still a bargain for the bounty we’ve received.

sailing polynesia blog travel on the horizon line brianna randall and rob roberts

Heading West on Compass Rose(y)

Posted on 4 CommentsPosted in Sailing

sailing polynesia blog travel on the horizon line brianna randall and rob roberts

And…we’re on another new boat! Are you dizzy yet, keeping up with our moves? We are.

That’s why we plan to stay put for a bit, right here on Compass Rose(y). Why the parenthesis, you wonder? Because in many countries, especially British-related ones, no two boats can be registered with the same name. When the previous owner bought Compass Rose, a 43-foot Polaris, he registered her in England where a Compass Rose was already plying the world’s oceans…so he just added a “y” and called it good. Our sail cover still says Compass Rose, but the name painted on the side has a faded “y” hanging out as an afterthought. It gives her character. (To be clear, I’m the only one that adds the parenthesis.)

We first laid eyes on Rose(y) in Taiohae Bay in the Marquesas. The owners have since decided to head home by air, and hired our friend, Mark, to sail the boat to Australia. In the small world of Pacific sailing, we met Mark in Taiohae, as well, when he was still crewing on Wizard, the sailboat we spent a few weeks on in the Tuamotus and Tahiti. When Mark learned he had a few thousand more miles to sail aboard Rose(y), he emailed us from Raiatea to ask for some help.

sailing in polynesia on the horizon line travel blog brianna randall and rob roberts

Back in Papeete, we promptly said “hell, yes” and bid fond adieu to Wizard. Two hours later, we’d packed up and hitched a ride with our friend Paul aboard Thankful for the 100 mile, 24-hour sail from Tahiti to Huahine to meet up with Rose(y). Paul was conveniently anchored 50 feet from Wizard. He was also the first person we met in Shelter Bay, and we crossed the Panama Canal with him aboard Maunie. Told you it was a small world.

sailing in polynesia on the horizon line travel blog brianna randall and rob roberts

Fast forward to the present: Mark, Rob and I are sailing Compass Rose(y) into the rose-colored sunset without any owners aboard. It kinda feels like when your parents left you alone for the weekend in high school (minus the beer kegs). We plan to hit up a few more of the Society Islands in the next couple of weeks, and then slowly hop our way the 1,300 miles to Tonga. The goal is to stop in at Palmerston in the Cook Islands, and Niue, an island all alone in the middle of nowhere.

Rob and I are pretty excited to settle into our berths for a couple of months, and stow the giant bags rather than live out of them. Rose(y) is super comfy, meeting all our requirements for a stellar sailboat: she has wide, flat teak decks that are perfect for yoga, lots of cockpit cushions for our bony butts, and enough headroom in the cockpit to keep Rob’s scalp scar-free. Oh, and she can sail, too!

sailing polynesia blog travel on the horizon line brianna randall and rob roberts

changing sails on the bow on hte horizon line blog brianna and rob pacific ocean

The Pain of Passage-Making

Posted on 2 CommentsPosted in Reflections on Life, Sailing

changing sails on the bow on hte horizon line blog brianna and rob pacific ocean

Many people envision sailing as a romantic and relaxing hobby. I still do, too, even knowing from experience that the romance and relaxation account for about 10% of the actual time on a sailboat. It’s easier — and more fun — to talk about the sunsets and stars, or even the more dramatic storms or near-disasters, than the daily routine of sailing across the ocean. But no one really mentions the parts of passage-making that slowly drive you insane. Or that there will be at least one morning when you’ll close your eyes tight against the new day, hoping to make it tomorrow already so that you don’t have to deal with the constant motion and maintenance of a floating home a thousand miles from anywhere.

No one talks about the frustration of flapping sails that grate like fingers on a chalkboard. About the persistent sideways swells that keep you gyrating like a drunk pendulum and make your brain feel like it’s on a merry-go-round with no way to get off. About the fact you’ll scream at the dishes to “just fucking stop it!” the 1,024th time they rattle, roll and crash to the floor. About the fact that you’ll need to change sails at midnight on a wildly swinging deck in the rain because no one can sleep with the boom banging in the light winds. About the rash on your butt from sitting so damn much.

No one told me that if my husband was seasick much of the first half, I’d have double-duty cooking and cleaning. Or about the fact that there are endless amounts of dishes on a boat with 7 crew members. Or about how dizzy you’ll get watching the gimbaled stove rock as you attempt to make a meal for those 7 people with the dishes flying every which way and bottles clanging out onto your head when you open cabinets.

It’s hard work, this sailing across the planet business. Tiring, monotonous, frustrating work. Luckily, Rob and I were under no illusions this crossing would be anything less. We came aboard knowing we’d have to take one day at a time.

Of course, to be fair, there are dozens of small miracles cruisers’ forums and sailing books forgot to mention, too, interspersed blessings that take the edge off. Like how the sound of your bow wave can calm those grated nerves. Or how standing on the foredeck will make you laugh aloud as you surf up, up, up and down the endless swells. And how luxurious it can feel to have the time and space to think — or not to think — as you stare aimlessly across the miles as they roll by.

We learned that it’s little things that are the most challenging to overcome, like dishes and rashes and moldy sheets. But we also learned that it’s the little things that keep you from going insane. The well-timed joke from a crew member that makes you giggle instead of scream. The flying fish and swirling storm petrels that come by to say hi. The thoughtful husband that brings you a pillow for your sore butt while you sit gazing from the bow. The game of Scrabble or the book that sucks you in and holds the world at bay.

The way I see it, a long crossing might be akin to what I’ve heard about childbirth: the pain pales when you hold the fruit of your labor. The daily frustrations of sailing evaporate when the dolphins appear or when you see the turquoise waters approaching land. The pain of passage-making will eventually fade in comparison to the romantic memories, even if they do only account for 10% of the voyage. And I’ll probably be another one of those people who forget to mention the flapping sails and rattling dishes.

Post-Script from Later in the Passage:

Day 29 of the passage. After a stellar post-fresh-produce dinner of chiptle chicken enchiladas with roasted red peppers, we were all sitting in the cockpit digesting and watching the full moon on the water. Gavin decided to start a sharing game. His brothers tried to joke it off, but he was adamant that everyone answer the question: “Why are you here, now, on this boat?” These answers are almost verbatim.

Gavin (10): “Because the ocean is fun and exciting. And you never know what might happen. I thought today would be the same as yesterday, but then that Japanese fishing boat passed 100 feet off our bow this morning and I made a horn from a conch shell.”

Bri (32): “Because I have no choice today to be anywhere else. A big part of why we chose this boat, though, is because of you, Gavin. We wanted to be with people of all ages, including kids, during the first part of our ocean adventure.”

Connor (18): “Because of a whole host of preconceptions and misconceptions, both correct and incorrect.”

Rob (37): “Because Bri told me she’s always wanted to cross the Pacific, and I let myself be convinced it’d be a good idea.”

Rowan (15): “Because there’s nowhere else to go. And it’s a good opportunity to explore. Plus, it makes me appreciate the things I like best about home and school.”

Brooks (53): “This is the type of adventuring I’ve done most of my life, in a different format. We chose this boat and this course as a means of addressing the tactical and technical aspects of climate change impacts on the planet. We’re expensing everything to make this trip: economically, emotionally, physically. And we’re hoping it becomes a way to pursue our passions while supporting us economically.”

Janis (49): “Because Connor went to Maine one summer and took a bunch of sailing classes. Next thing I knew, we bought this boat and here we are.”

kung fu ninja kick on the horizon line blog rob roberts

Magic Mood Mixture (nope, no illegal substances included)

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Dance, Yoga and Fitness, Sailing

kung fu ninja kick on the horizon line blog rob roberts

I know many of you who followed our voyage across the Pacific are secretly asking yourselves this very important question:how the hell did Bri and Rob keep from losing their minds during while bobbing around the ocean blue for a whole month?

First off, don’t kid yourselves: we definitely lost it at times. Second, we each quickly learned what would bring us back from the brink of insanity, and what would keep us as pleasant as possible during the crossing. For me: 1) music 2) exercise 3) caffeine 4) naps. Most of you know that this is the exact same mixture that keeps me sane and bearable on land, too. Just give me some espresso, a dance class or bike ride, and some good tunes to sing along to and my bad mood usually lifts.

Napping is new, though — I’ve always hated that groggy post-nap disorientation, and feeling like I was missing out on something exciting. Nothing like a weird night watch schedule to change my tune about the value of naps. Plus, watching Rob’s impressive cat-napping ability inspired me to follow suit. Rob’s magic mood mixture is about the same as mine, if you double his nap quotient and replace caffeine with mini-projects (fixing broken binoculars, rigging fishing lines, inventing a way to detangle all the ropes at the mast, etc.). Here’s some details on our passage sanity formula:

1) Music: Me playing the shitty nylon-string guitar we bought in Panama City (thank god we found it), and Rob learning how to play his first-ever song on the guitar. Either of us zoning out to favorite tunes with headphones blasting to cover the fact that you’re sharing a very small space with 6 other people, 3 of whom are bickering brothers. Me dancing as best I can, using the stays and shrouds as my partners as I kick, spin, arc, and flail to the beat of a bass. The whole crew singing to Johnny Cash as we cook dinner and do dishes, walking around the tilted cabin like drunk sailors (who haven’t seen a drop of alcohol for a month).

2) Exercise: A fascinating, innovative, hilarious endeavor given the motion and lack of space. I exercised a few times a day, although the definition of “exercise” is totally stretchy compared to what I’d do in regular life. Squats, lunges, pushups and crunches were ubiquitous, along with some fancier strength training moves that required holding on for dear life to something bolted on the deck. I tried out various creative cardio routines, consisting of jumping jacks, running in place, can-can kicks, mountain-climbers, and pretending the single step on deck was a stairmaster. Yoga stretches were a mainstay, of course, throughout the day. The end result? I’m more toned than I’ve ever been in my life, but a dying tortoise could beat me at a 100-yard dash. It’s tough to maintain any sort of aerobic activity when you can’t really walk without falling over.

3) Caffeine: What I would give for an espresso machine … sigh. Next time, I’m bringing lots of good teas and coffee. This trip, though, we made do with crappy instant (Buen Dia!), and some sketchy tea bags that barely tinted the water after steeping. I horded the one tin of stellar green tea, meting out one bag per day when at my crankiest.

4) Naps: Learned to love ’em. Not only do they refresh after getting up in the middle of the night for watch, they also make time go faster, provide an exciting position change from sitting on your butt, give you some alone time, and offer relief from intense midday sun. Rob brought napping to a new level, sleeping sitting up, in the cockpit, splayed out on the yoga mat, or folded into weird positions. While I couldn’t quite match his napping enthusiasm, I’m definitely a convert to taking one per day.

The biggest challenge was trying to add something new or creative or interesting into each day. Something that differentiates it from all the other rolly blue sameness. For me, even a new dance move or a new ingredient to spice up a coffee drink could push me over the edge from a low to a high. Rob and I both learned (and continued to re-learn) that there’s a very fine line between despair and contentment on a boat out at sea.exercise sailing dance yoga on the horizon line brianna randall

sunset at sea sailing ocean on the horizon line blog

Daily Routine at Sea

Posted on 3 CommentsPosted in Sailing

sunset at sea sailing ocean on the horizon line blog

The last 33 days at sea seem lost in space. May evaporated like the spindrift from the waves we rode to the Marquesas. Where did those days go? What the hell did we do that whole time? Well, a lot of the same thing.

Mark Twain summed up passage life pretty well: “Being on a boat is like being in prison, but with the possibility of drowning.” We didn’t drown. We definitely lost track of days. And we mitigated the confinement jitters by sticking to daily routines that helped pass the time. Ironically, Rob and I both shun routines back home, preferring impulsive last-minute activities that change as often as the Montana weather in spring.

Out at sea, the routine — boring as it became — was what fended off madness, and allowed us to cope with seemingly endless quantities of time bobbing through the exact same scene. The upshot of making a 4,000 mile passage right off the bat, though, is that the upcoming sails between Pacific islands will feel like a walk in the park.

Here’s a snapshot of our version of groundhog day the past month:
0000 Connor knocks on our berth: “Bri, you’re up for watch.” I mumble and stumble out to trade places with him.
0200 My watch ends, after some yoga, star-gazing, sail-trimming, and storm-watching. I stay up til I get sleepy again, usually around 3:00am
0700 Daily “net,” a radio check-in with ~15 boats scattered over 2,000 miles. We share positions, make sure everyone’s ok, and brag about any fish caught.
0800 Oatmeal and tea. Maybe some granola if it’s the first week. Catching up on interesting night events, like flying fish landing on your pillow.
1000 Read. Or stretch. Or work on a mini-project, like baking bread, macrame anklets, personal grooming, sail repairs, changing fishing lures.
1200 Lunch, ranging from Top Ramen to crepes to three-bean salad.
1300 Naps. Reading. Maybe some guitar playing.
1400 Jumping jacks or yoga or dancing.
1500 Games organized by Gavin, like Scrabble or poker or hearts.
1600 Kids’ game time on the SSB radio. We gathered round to listen to nearby sailboat kids play Battleship, 20 Questions or Hangman. Good times.
1700 Pushups and lunges and situps. Maybe more jumping around.
1800 Dinner preparation: we perfected one-pot wonders onboard.
1900 Story time and stargazing in the cockpit.
2000 Rob’s watch starts, while I read or write.
2200 Rob comes to bed, and I try and nap for an hour or two before Connor comes to wake me … starting the whole cycle over again.

The routine didn’t change much, really. Interspersed at all hours were sail changes (which took up most of the day during the first 2 weeks before we hit the tradewinds), watching birds and flying fish and any visiting marine mammals (which disappeared week 3 and 4 for some reason), and reminiscing about our favorite foods that were currently way out of reach. I’ll write more about a few exceptional events that broke up this routine in upcoming posts.

When I write down here what we did all day, it suddenly sounds like a long, relaxing vacation. Reading, eating, playing games? It makes for a great Sunday. But when you stretch it out to 30+ Sundays with no real choice on ways to break the cycle … well, let’s just say Mark Twain knew what he was talking about.

on the horizon line blog sailing pacific graduation at sea

Land Ho! Kaloha, Nuku Hiva.

Posted on 2 CommentsPosted in Ocean Tales, Sailing


33 days at sea. 52 days total on the boat. 4,178 miles of ocean. 2 full moons. 3.5 time zones. 1 proxy high school graduation ceremony. 25 pounds of rice. 3 minor sail repairs. 4 avian hitchhikers. 8 new constellations. 18 degree shift in water temperature. Dozens of flying fish on deck. Hundreds of oatmeal packets consumed. Thousands and thousands of waves under our keel.

We arrived in the Marquesas today, the easternmost islands of French Polynesia that are a much welcome raft of green mountains and waterfalls in the middle of a big, big, big ocean. Landfall at Nuka Hiva inspired many emotions, the first of which was relief and the second of which was awe. The crew of Llyr moved at an average of 5.5 knots this past month (with an occassional 7-knot sprint thrown in), which is basically the equivalent of jogging from San Diego to Maine and then down to Florida. Read: it was a LONG journey. 150 square miles of solid ground never looked so decidedly delicious.

The Pacific crossing inspired just as many emotions as landfall, many of which will be shared in upcoming blog posts. For now, let’s suffice it share the basic summary: our first ocean crossing was a resounding success. No one got scurvy, went overboard, or was banished from the boat. Rob and I have lighter hair and darker skin, and we still like each other, too. The injury list is relegated to a few bruises and one burn I got while making cookies in a swaying boat (they were worth the pain).

Stay tuned for a whole host of stories and reflections from our month at sea. Sadly, the internet connections in French Polynesia are slow and scarce, so we’ll be going light on photos for each post. I promise to post photo albums when wifi speed allows. Meanwhile, check out this scene of the crew attending Connor’s surprise high school graduation ceremony on May 18th, which substituted (sort of) for the one he missed in favor of joining this journey.

on the horizon line blog sailing pacific graduation at sea

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