Satellite photo of Cyclone Ian approaching Tonga.

Nature’s Engine – A ripple that spins.

Posted on 1 CommentPosted in Ocean Tales, Outdoor Adventures

A cyclone looks remarkably similar to a single ripple spreading slowly over calm water.  Except that the ripple spins and grows, a wild engine powered by wind and water.  We saw that natural engine spin a little too close for comfort here in Vava’u, Tonga, this past weekend.

Cyclone Ian came and went like a spinning top, the brunt of it’s force narrowly missing us here in Vava’u.  We saw sustained winds of 50-60 knots for 24 hours, and gusts from 80-100 knots (up to 120 mph).  It was a big storm, but the eye stayed about 30 miles off the coast of Vava’u.

Unfortunately, the island group to the south, Ha’apai, was not so lucky.  These flat volcanic atolls took a serious pounding, and it’s estimated that 75% of all home were destroyed as the eye of the storm came directly over the islands.  Click here to see photos of Ian’s devastation south of us.

Here on Fetoko, we were spared much damage, and the sailboat and island we call home with our friends, Ben and Lisa, fared well, thanks to intensive cyclone preparations for the two days before Ian arrived.  The biggest injury was a few sea urchin spines that lodged in Rob’s butt while he was anchoring one of the motor boats (yup, it was low tide!).  The most adventurous part was a mid-storm rescue of a German couple camped on a nearby island — Rob and Ben took the boat right before dark to investigate the flashlight signals we saw from across the water, returning with two very wet passengers.  They stayed with us on Fetoko for the brunt of the cyclone.

Rob and I are writing a longer post now detailing the steps we took on the sailboat and on the island, so we can share with fellow sailors and travelers what worked and what didn’t.  Stay tuned for the details, along with a full before/after picture slideshow of our preparations.

Satellite photo of Cyclone Ian approaching Tonga.


packing the house to leave for our sailing trip - on the horizon line

Packing Your Home into a Small Space

Posted on 3 CommentsPosted in Sailing, Traveling


packing the house to leave for our sailing trip - on the horizon line
The Goodwill pile. We found approximately 221 cozies in our cupboards.

Our first day of (our first) retirement is full of dust-bunnies, boxes, and lots of trash bags.  The full chaos of moving is upon us.  Luckily, we have a whole week to move our life and our house into a 12×12-foot storage space before we fly away to Baja California where our adventures begin.  Even more luckily for us, Rob had the super-awesome idea of building a wall to divide our garage in half so that we can use the back half to store our stuff.

The up side: we only have to move all of our worldly possessions downstairs, which is rad.  But we still have to seal it, box it, wrap it, tie it, and stuff it carefully so that: a) it doesn’t mildew or get water damage, b) no rodents or creepy-crawlies destroy it, and c) it all fits into a space roughly the size of a bathroom.

rob's pile of stuff to put in his travel backpack - on the horizon line
Rob’s pile of “coming with us” stuff that’s supposed to fit in a backpack.


(Interesting factoid of the day: if you wrap your mattress in plastic or put clothes in Hefty bags, you should insert some silicone packets between the plastic and fabric first to suck up moisture.)

Here’s a typical conversation this afternoon: “Rob, I’m throwing away this ratty old blanket with holes in it,” as I toss it toward an overflowing trash bag.

“But, what if we want it for later?” Rob yells from the freezer he’s immersed in cleaning.  “Hey, cool!  I just found a whole bag of lemongrass.”  Rob also found frozen brussel sprouts, watermelon, cake with suspicious-looking blue icing, hops, and 12 packages of frozen beef.

brianna's pile and travel backpack - sailing on the horizon line
My pile of adventure stuff … minus that big drum in the black case.

Rob and I work well together — especially when we take on separate projects in separate corners and don’t ask permission when sorting and purging.  Just kidding.  We both agree on the fact that less is more in life, which will help us immensely as we pack up this week.  And, thankfully, we both agree that our couch and our bed are the most important items we own.  Everything else is just icing on the cake (though much nicer icing than what was on that nasty cake in the freezer).

Packing your life into 144 square feet + one backpack each is a good test for a relationship.  So far, so good.

I’ll let you know how we fare when the heavy lifting starts.





brianna randall at katie's wedding - on the horizon line

A Hair(y) Decision

Posted on 11 CommentsPosted in Reflections on Life
brianna randall at katie's wedding - on the horizon line
Can’t wait to see Katie in 12 days! This was at her wedding in June.

Ok, I’m going to pause for a moment to be a bit vain. I don’t usually succumb to girly habits, but occasionally I obsess about something somewhat silly like a dress or shoes or jewelry.  Today, it’s my hair.

I’m scheduled for my thrice-annual haircut tomorrow morning, and can’t decide if I should keep it long or chop it off.  Part of me is itching to go short, sassy, sea-worthy.  The other part of me knows that short and sassy will be a pain in the ass when I want to keep my hair braided or in a bun for days on end.

My dad and my husband both told me to just leave it long and wait to see how I feel when we get to Panama.  But they’re boys, and can’t be trusted with

brianna randall on the horizon line - in british columbia
A fuzzy old pic from 1998. Check out those long braids I was rocking!

girly hair decisions … especially when the decision may result in me (or, yikes, Rob) hacking at my hair in the middle of the Pacific with some less-than-sharp scissors and no mirror.

I’ve had long hair most of my life.  In fact, going through old pictures while packing last weekend made me realize I had WAY too much hair for many years.  It’s never been shorter than shoulder-length.

Please help.  I’d welcome some recommendations on what haircut makes the most sense for our upcoming sailing adventures (and is still girly enough to satisfy my fleeting vanity).

P.S. Thanks to SavageMama for this great post on dealing with her hair, which inspired me to share my own minor freakout.

brianna randall  and cass kayaking the salmon river - on the horizon line
Here’s a pic where it’s shorter, plus it’s just a fun memory of kayaking the Salmon River with my sister.
blue latitudes by tony horwitz

What Should We Read?

Posted on 15 CommentsPosted in Sailing

blue latitudes by tony horwitzFriends, family, loved ones and internet browsers: can you help us stock our library for the next year or so?  I’m a voracious reader, and about to have some serious time to consume lots of written words while floating the seas.  Rob, too.

Unfortunately, I feel lost and adrift while browsing Amazon, paralyzed by the endless choices.  So, this is a call for recommendations.  Leave us a comment below or drop us a line to share:

– your favorite book of all time

– a well-loved classic (which are free to download from the Gutenberg Project)

– a good read we shouldn’t miss

– something you simply couldn’t put down

lamb by christopher mooreThe last book I read was Blue Latitudes, about Captain Cook’s expeditions to the islands we’ll be visiting.  But, generally, I’m way more of a fiction girl, as you’ll see from the list of our favorite reads to the left (scroll down a bit in the sidebar).  For instance, this Christopher Moore book made me laugh so hard I almost peed my pants, which is often something I look for in a book.

My goal is to stock the Kindle this weekend, and then keep a go-to list of books we can add as we travel.  Mystery, romance, comedy, drama, history, intrique.  We want to take it all with us.  And, if you happen to read something spectacular a few months from now, toss the title in the comments below and we’ll have a special treat waiting for us at the next port!

Thanks for your advice, and the gift of good books.  Can’t wait to hear from you.


bri with backpack ready to sail away on the horizon line

Travel Preparations: What to Bring With You

Posted on 6 CommentsPosted in Sailing, Traveling

bri with backpack ready to sail away on the horizon lineAre you ready for Part 2 of the Travel Prep Mini-Series?  We sure are!  This entry is much more fun, since it means we’re getting closer to a final packing list and farther from those nagging logistical details of leaving our life behind.  (In case you missed Part 1, click here to read “What You Should Leave Behind.”)

Did I mention that Rob had us do a “test pack” on Christmas Eve?  Yup, that was 2 full months ago.  And that’s how excited he is to get the backpack on his back and get out to explore the South Seas.  The test pack weighed in at exactly 50 lbs, which means we should be just under the checked baggage limit (fingers crossed!).  I just laid out everything on the floor again this weekend, trying to see how the hell it will all fit.

The goals of this post include: 1) share our preparation research with other wanna-be sailors/explorers/world travelers; 2) inspire you to cast off all bowlines and simplify some; 3) convince you (and us) that we can fit everything we need for 2 years in one giant backpack each.  See below for our packing list.

abe in laundry basket - pets scared of packing parents as we get ready to sail - on the horizon line
Our dog, Abe, goes to his “safe place” in the laundry basket when he sees us pack. Wish he could come with us!

And — please — let us know what we’re forgetting!  Although, as my grandma just told me on the phone, “I guess you won’t miss what you don’t bring, right?”  Hope not.

The Packing List:

  1. BAGS.  One giant 115-liter waterproof backpack, and one small daypack each.  A small purse/travel wallet for the items in #2.  Several different dry sacks/ditty bags to organize the stuff in the giant 115-liter backpack.
  2. WALLET & DOCS.  Passport, credit cards, ATM cards, license, health insurance cards, scuba certification cards, cash.  We also made electronic and paper copies of all of important travel docs to bring with us and leave with our parents.
  3. ELECTRONICS.  MacBook Air laptop, LaCie hard drive, iPhone (complete with Navionics charts and Bad Elf GPS plugin, and its own life jacket), camera, GoPro Hero 2, recording mic, mini-speaker, iTouch, plus a Joos solar charger to keep ’em all alive and waterproof/durable cases to keep ’em all dry.  *Stay tuned for a Travel Prep post on our communication plan while at sea.
  4. CLOTHES.  3-4 of each of these items: lightweight pants, shorts/skirts, long-sleeved shirts, tank-top or t-shirts, sarongs, underwear, visors/hats, bathing suits.  Rubber rain gear and a lightweight windbreaker.  Small, lightweight puffy jacket.  For Bri: 1 dress and 1 long skirt.  Shoes: Crocs, Vibram 5-Fingers, flip-flops.
  5. SAFETY.  Delorme In-Reach for emergency tracking and rescue (you’re welcome, moms!),
    inflatable Coast Guard-certified life jackets with harness attachments, headlamps, a UV SteriPen to filter drinking water, mosquito net, dive + rigging knives, and a bomber medical kit.  *Stay tuned for a Travel Prep post detailing our medical supplies and vaccinations.
  6. a snapshot of stuff we're taking sailingTOILETRIES.  Dr. Bronner’s liquid soap (doubles as shampoo), toothpaste, toothbrush, comb, hair bands, sunscreen, all-purpose lotion, bug repellent (Rob made natural bug goop), chapstick and towel.
  7. FUN STUFF.  Snorkel and mask, rash guard, fins, books and Kindle, jump rope, yoga mat, fly fishing rod and saltwater flies.
  8. SLEEPING GEAR.  Fleece sleeping bag liners, small travel pillow and silk liner for Bri, a sarong and folded-up-sweatshirt pillow for Rob.
  9. NOVELTY ITEM.  Bri: travel backpacking guitar.  Rob: pole spear.


Click here to read more “Travel Prep” posts!


saltwater cures with tears, sweat and sea

Saltwater Cures All?

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Family and Friends, Reflections on Life

saltwater cures with tears, sweat and seaWe’re flying home from Philly tonight.  As this dark and quiet plane starts to settle down toward Montana, my thoughts are full of family left behind.  It struck me during this visit how different we seem to the rest of Rob’s family (and maybe to lots of other friends and family, too).  Along with the many exclamations of “wow,” “good luck,” and “really?”, many mentioned that they would never want to do what we’re doing.

Voyages into the unknown aren’t appealing to many people, when you get right down to it.  That part doesn’t surprise or bother me.  What does, though, is the fact that our less-than-normal desire to spend 2 years without a job, an itinerary or a destination incites worried heartache in our loved ones.

This trip made me appreciate the irony of our voyage — setting sail will reduce stress for us, but will increase stress for many of those left behind.  There’s no such thing as a free lunch, my dad always said.  And liberation comes with a price.

rob with a valentine heart

Today, the price was tears.  We hugged goodbye Rob’s mom, step-dad, grandpa, brother, aunts, step-sisters, cousins.  These hugs must last for at least a year, or — in most cases — several years.  Sure, it’s hard to leave people behind.  But it’s a lot harder to be left.  Both take strength and faith.  Being left also demands a sort of zen-like patience, as you must wait at the whim of impulsive explorers for word of safe passages.

Like anyone, I don’t like leaving those we love in tears.  It’s been said that saltwater cures all, whether it’s tears, sweat or the sea.  I bet I’ll need all 3 to get me through the coming changes.   And I imagine our family will need a healthy dose of healing saltwater, too.

rob and abe our dog sleeping in bed

Travel Preparations: What You Should Leave Behind

Posted on 2 CommentsPosted in Sailing, Traveling

Red notebook lists

Last week, I had coffee with my friend, Kim.  She and her family are planning to take a year off to sail soon (go, Kim!), and I talked her ear off about how to prepare.  Kim madly scribbled down notes as I rattled off websites, resources and advice about the logistics of leaving.  After 30 minutes of so, I caught myself marveling at the sheer amount of stuff we’ve checked off lists in the last six months.

Remember that Little Red Bible?  It’s a serious masterpiece now.  We have pages full of cross-referenced lists, organized by month and category.

Then there’s all the sticky notes and half-crossed out to-do lists littering our offices and house.  I’ve even started emailing myself reminders, since I think of details when the Little Red Bible is not close at hand.

boat funSince we decided not to buy our own sailboat (yet), I’m surprised by all these details.  I mean, how hard can it really be to fill up a backpack and go play on the ocean for a year or two?

Kinda complicated, it turns out.  Sailing away takes some serious organization.  I’m proud of how organized we’ve been, and how much we’ve taught ourselves about sailing, traveling and life-maintenance in preparation to head off.

Now we want to share our lessons in preparation here, in case you’re planning your own adventure (and we encourage you to do so!).  This is the start of a little mini-series on how to cast off your bowlines and head into the sunset.

What You Should Leave Behind (and hopefully not worry about):

  1. Taxes.  Do ’em before you go.
  2. Jury duty and voting.  Tell the county elections office and courts that you’re leaving the country for a spell. They can forward ballots if you know where you’ll be (we sure don’t!).
  3. Your address.  Set up a forwarding address for U.S. mail and change all relevant billing/contact information.
  4. Typical health insurance.  Buy international travel insurance, including emergency flight evacuations — it’s actually cheaper than U.S. plans.
  5. “Will and Testament.”  Write one, get it notarized and file it with your county.
  6. A home safe or bank safe deposit box filled with copies of passport, birth certificate, marriage license, house/car titles, bank account info, and wills.  Give copies or safe access to a trusted friend or family member, too.
  7. Your house and car(s).  Lease it, sell it, and get it in tip-top shape to avoid disasters while you’re a world away (stay tuned for a future post on how to do this).
  8. Financial complications.  Cancel all but one credit card, and open a new checking account and credit card that don’t charge fees out the wazoo (like Schwab or Capitol One).
  9. 99% of your clothes: only bring what fits in a 2-cubic-foot sack. Yup: that’s all you get.
  10. Furniture, gear, dishes, books, odds and ends.  Give ’em to Goodwill, sell on CraigslistAmazon or eBay, or have a white elephant party.
  11. Subscriptions.  No more newspapers and magazines, unless they get e-delivered to your Kindle or tablet.
  12. rob and abe our dog sleeping in bedStorage area.  If you can’t get rid of everything, build a storage space (we put up a wall with a locking door to use half of our garage as storage) or rent one.
  13. Pets.  So sad they can’t come with us on our adventures!  Luckily, our doggie Abe already has 2 sets of parents and gets to stay and chase turkeys and deer in Montana.  Our chickens found an excellent retirement home, too.  We’ll miss them all.

Next up in the Travel Prep Mini-Series: What to Bring With You.  Give us a shout with questions — we’d love to help you get out and explore!   (And, if you want detailed logistics info and a good laugh, we’ll lend you our Little Red Bible.)

The Pinch Point

Posted on 1 CommentPosted in Reflections on Life

I don’t run, usually. Occasionally, though, tension builds up in my body and pushes toward my throat. Right about when it’s starting to choke me, I put on some shoes and start running.

It’s rare. Maybe 3-4 times a year. Today was one of those occasions.

About 2pm at the office, I ignored the multiple programs open on my computer and put on an ancient pair of tennis shoes. I started running downriver on the Kim Williams Trail near my office. The cold wrapped under my thin shirt, around my neck, snaking down my arms and chest. My feet started aching almost immediately, unused to the pounding.

My head didn’t clear, and it seemed to fill faster in rhythm to my stride. These days, it’s full of 70% work, 30% details surrounding leaving, and 30% social logistics geared to eeking out the most of my remaining time with friends and family.  Yes, I know this adds up to more than 100.  And that’s why I was running.  It’s also why I’m writing this blog post at 11:25pm after finishing one last work task this evening.  Writing and running provide a release.

heron on river

Most days, it feels like my brain is just a reflection of my computer screen or iPhone: toggling every few seconds from program to program, task to task, call to call.

This is not a healthy way to live.

This is not a healthy way to leave.

This is not something that is going to change in the next 6 weeks.

I reached the California Street footbridge over the icy Clark Fork River.  I looked down to see the whole river funneling into one very tight, narrow opening between the icy banks.  My brain stopped toggling, and came to rest on this one spot.  It reflected exactly how I felt this afternoon: a river of water moving toward me, pinching and dragging and towing me under … to what?

I walked to the other side of the bridge to see.  The whole river went under a shelf of ice after that pinch point.  It was a start contrast: fast, frenzied, loud as water funneled through the last ice-free section, then it went quietly under the ice.  Still.  Calm.  Peaceful.

I breathed in the peace for a moment.  But then I turned back to the chaotic pinch point, because that part of the river resonated more with me in this time of 130% brain-toggling tension.  I turned back because it was comforting to see the tension dissipate into stillness, and because it renewed my faith that — just like the river — I will soon be through the pinch point and have room to spread and flow, quietly and calmly.

Crew on a Sailboat or Buy Our Own?

Posted on 5 CommentsPosted in Sailing

bri and rob sailing in BajaLately, we’ve been asked often by our friends and family: “Why are you going to crew on someone else’s sailboat instead of just buying your own?” (Check out our Panama Canal post to read more about who we’re crewing with across the Pacific Ocean.)

Great question.  Here are several answers.

1) It’s cheaper.  Crewing means that we will either: a) pay enough per day to cover our share of food and diesel (which we’d pay anyway if we had our own boat), b) get free passage in return for helping sail these boats, or c) maybe eventually get paid a little bit.  Plus, once we crew our way west, we just might find a better deal on a used blue-water-capable boat in Thailand or Bali than in the U.S.

2) It’s safer.  We aren’t experienced blue-water cruisers … yet.  Sure, we’re both capable sailors and fast learners.  But neither of us have sailed long passages, anchored near coral reef, or navigated complicated shipping channels.  The best way to get up to speed and become experts on sailing in tropical waters or offshore is to learn the ropes first-hand from experienced captains.

Boat Outline.PE05983) It’s smarter.  As our neighbor said when we explained the rationale for crewing the other night, “It’s basically like being engaged to make sure you want to get married.”  Exactly.  Why spend thousands of dollars on our own sailboat without making sure we really, really like being at sea for months on end first?  Plus, this way we can test drive lots of sailboats to see what type fits us best.  Basically, we’re planning to date boats for the next year or so.

4)  It’s easier.  Leaving our home, jobs and family for years is tough enough to prepare for.  If we had to find a boat, outfit it, and learn all its ins and outs on top of that … well, let’s just say we’d be on the 10-year plan instead of the 2-year plan.  Plus, getting our own boat means we’d have to sail across the largest ocean on the planet straight away, which seems like an overwhelming task to plan and execute right now.  This way, we can get out of dodge faster and with a LOT less stuff to cart around the globe.

5)  It’s an adventure.  We like leaving room for flexibility in our travel schedule, both for meeting new people and for seizing opportunities as they arise.  Neither of us are wedded to a set agenda, and crewing will give us the chance to let fate determine where we end up.

We’re still hoping to buy our own (used) boat one day.  Meanwhile, we plan to enjoy the heck out of other people’s spiffy sailboats as we hop, skip and skim around the South Pacific.




Spending Money to Travel

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Traveling


I just checked my credit card statement, and had to take several deep breaths.  Once I was sure I wouldn’t hyperventilate, I opened my eyes again to look at the carnage: Amazon, Apple, Expedia … repeat.  Whoa.

How naive I was, thinking we’d just stuff a backpack with some bathing suits and a camera, and head off into the sunset.  Turns out our packing list is LONG, and we actually don’t own half the shit we need.

In the past 3 weeks, Rob and I have been spending a LOT of money.  It feels really weird.  Forbidden, taboo, and counter-intuitive to our previous scrimping.



Over the last 2 years we’ve been saving like crazy to quit our jobs and go on this sailing voyage.  I can count on one hand the number of times I went out to lunch in 2012.  I rarely order a second beer, and refrain from buying a mid-afternoon cookie at the local bakery.  I shopped far and wide for new homeowners insurance this year to save a whopping $150/year.

Then, quite suddenly, we went from being penny-pinchers to high-rollers.  Our spending spree started before Christmas, when we took advantage of holiday sales to start buying necessities.  The good news: we’ve done it all online!  Since I hate shopping, this seems like a miracle.  In fact, I almost want to write a thank-you note for how easy they’ve made our prep work.

It was inevitable that we’d start spending money for our trip — that’s the point of saving, right? — but I’m still a little overwhelmed at the quantity of random stuff we need.

Like what, you ask?  Here’s a record of a few items we’ve bought.  ADDED BONUS: if you see something you like, buy it from the link below and we get a small percentage for our sailing kitty! (NOTE: email subscribers will have to click the link to our website to view the slideshow.)



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