Brianna Randall sailing with a baby in San Diego

Do you know where marrying a local is forbidden?

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Parenting, Sailing

Spring roundup of stories and adventures

Three months since I wrote a blog post? Yikes. But here’s my excuse: I’m writing a book. It’s about the year we spent sailing the South Pacific in blissed-out freedom, and the year we spent transitioning back into responsible adults and new parents. Stay tuned.

Between book writing, child-chasing, and working our real jobs, Rob and I occasionally keep up with a few hobbies. These mostly include playing in the water and the dirt, but we also try to squeeze in time for taking photos and telling stories. Here are highlights of recent articles:

1. This tale combines my writing and Rob’s photos on BBC Travel: : “Where Marrying A Local Is Forbidden” (Hint: it ain’t in Montana)

2. Rob’s photography website is live, including pics of our February trip scuba diving in Bonaire: RobRoberts.org

3. My recent piece on Mamalode might make you chuckle: “To The Guy Sitting In Front Of Me On The Plane

As for playing, spring is in full swing, full of wildflowers and sun that beckon us outside. Last month, we reconnected with my family at a memorial service for my grandmother in Capistrano Beach. Highlights included building a fire pit in the sand, taking Talon out for his first ocean sail, and watching him turn into a monster over Easter chocolate.

Back in Montana, we loaded him in a canoe for a float down the Swan River. Sadly, boats are still second to buses in our son’s list of favorites, but he’s quickly learning the ropes on all sorts of watercraft. And Talon’s already got the whole throwing rocks in the water routine down pat.

Scroll down for a photo montage of our recent adventures. Happy Spring, friends!

Cali and Swan_020 Cali and Swan_025 Cali and Swan_015 Cali and Swan_026Cali and Swan_031 Cali and Swan_033 Cali and Swan_034 Brianna Randall sailing with a baby in San DiegoCali and Swan_044Cali and Swan_045Cali and Swan_040Cali and Swan_012 Cali and Swan_007

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.

 

dinghy travel sail south pacific travel rob bri

El Coche: Our Dinghy/Kiddie Pool

Posted on 2 CommentsPosted in Ocean Tales, Outdoor Adventures

dance naked rob roberts fishing sail travel ocean

It’s always an adventure in El Coche, the nickname Rob dubbed upon Compass Rose(y)’s 10-foot inflatable sidekick. We rely on El Coche for getting to shore to buy supplies like food and fuel, visiting neighbors, and exploring reefs. Basically, the dinghy is like your car at home: not essential to basic survival, but integral for your general sanity and daily well-being. El Coche gives us freedom. She gives us autonomy. She provides a much-needed escape from a very small vessel in a very big sea.

So its a real bummer that she leaks like a sieve and deflates like a burst balloon.

I try to tell myself that we’re lucky: not only do we have a dinghy, we also have a swimming pool to splash around in! That’s the rose-colored optimist view. Most days, I take the realist view: we have a dingy that loves water more than air. Occasionally, the pessimist comes out: this dinghy is sinking, and I’m f&%$ing sick of pumping and bailing.

rob dinghy repair

It wasn’t always this bad. But it wasn’t ever good, either. Before Rob and I started as crew on Compass Rose(y), we would watch Mark and the owner motoring through anchorages, one of them constantly pumping up the nose. When we later agreed to crew, Rob told me determinedly: “I’m gonna try and patch that dinghy first thing.” And try he did. Again, and again. And again. And one last time.

The rubber on the bow won’t hold the patches. The patches on the floor don’t keep the ocean from pouring in. Every time he fixed one hole, a new gash appeared somewhere else. So, we’ve given in. We’re allowing El Coche a graceful and slow demise. It’s kind of like signing a “Do Not Resuscitate” order from your 98-year-old grandmother — she lived a good, long life, and it’s time for her to pass on peacefully.

dinghy travel sail south pacific travel rob bri

Meanwhile, we have a half swimming pool/half boat, and provide plenty of comic relief for our fellow cruisers. El Coche is usually the butt of many jokes when she’s tied up at the dock. Hell, she’s the main source of our own daily amusement, since the best cure from pessimism is to joke while pumping and bailing.

Several people watch our labors with the pump nostalgically (did I mention the foot pump has broken twice, and you have to cover a whole with one hand while you pump with the other?). They say, wistfully, “Oh, that reminds me of our old dinghy.” And then they watch us bucket out 30 gallons of water from the bottom and revise their statement, “Wow, ours was never that bad.” If they actually brave a ride in El Coche, they marvel at her squishy-ness, and exclaim at the novelty of riding in a wet taco as the nose folds in. If the motor manages to plane the boat and unroll the taco, the floor becomes a swimming pool where random snorkels, shoes, ropes, groceries, and other random flotsam bang into toes and ankles.

At least the motor works … after 12-16 pulls on the starter cord. Usually. Except for that one time Rob and I were coming back from a snorkeling expedition in Tahaa across a 3-mile-wide channel with 25 knots of wind in our face. First it cut out because the gas tube was cracked. Rob patched it with his dive knife and his teeth, as the wind pushed us toward the reef and away from our sailboat. Then in the middle of the channel, the outboard died again and wouldn’t restart, even after 86 cranks of the starter cord.

dinghy travel sail south pacific travel rob bri

That was the first time I’ve seen Rob lose his cool. He threw up his hands, yelled some swear words, and then said, “That’s it! We’re done for. We’re drifting toward Bora Bora, and there’s no way we can get back to the boat. This is EXACTLY why I would never have a boat without oars!”

I replied (cautiously), “Well, maybe we can at least use something as a rudder to steer toward the reef as we drift? Or use something to paddle…” This elicited an incredulous, “With what, Bri?!? Our hands? Oh, wait…” Rob ripped off the two blue plank seats, handed me one, and said, “Paddle HARD.”

Paddling with a heavy fiberglass plank is not ideal. But given the alternative, I followed orders. We paddled HARD for about 45 minutes until we made it to the other side of the channel, where we tied up on a reef to wait for the motor to recover from overheating. We managed to get back to Compass Rose(y) unscathed but really tired. The next day, Rob made a paddle out of a broom handle and piece of plywood he scavenged from a trash heap on shore.

dinghy travel sail south pacific travel rob bri

We never leave the sailboat in El Coche without the paddle. Or without the bucket, the pump, the seats (emergency oars), and a handheld radio. A dry bag is a must, and we often pack an extra set of clothes inside it so we don’t have to sit through a dinner party as a salty wet mess. In fact, the prep checklist for our dinghy excursions is almost as long as our checklist for passage-making.

Ah, the joys of cruising. All told, El Coche still works to get us from Point A to Point B. Sure, you can see the turquoise water through the floor, but some people pay a lot of money for see-through boats. And my arms are nicely toned from the pump-and-bail routine. One thing is certain: even when I’m the most pessimistic about El Coche’s suckiness, I still know deep down that the freedom she provides is priceless and worth every ounce of frustration.

Today I danced naked in the sun over water so blue it hurts. I samba-ed. I hip-hopped. I waltzed. I waved my arms, wiggled my butt, and jumped around like a goof with a huge grin on my face. So, what spawns a naked dancing session on a boat? First ingredient: alone-time. Second ingredient: a remote and ridiculously beautiful location. Third ingredient: weeks without dancing of any sort. The boys took the afternoon to go hunt fish along the nearby reef. As I dried off from my swim, I suddenly realized I didn't have to put my clothes back on. Instead, I turned on music loudly and started making bread in the galley. The kneading and dough-punching rhythm soon expanded into spins and leaps, which required deck space outside. No problem: our anchorage at Beveridge Reef in the middle of the Pacific Ocean was deserted, save one boat in the distance. With no one to watch but the sharks, I was soon gyrating on the bow in my birthday suit. (No pictures, sorry.) I don't know if I gain such joy from my boat dancing sessions because they are so few and far between, because they are a celebration of sun and sea and music, or because they always coincide with those rare, precious pockets of me-only time. Probably the whole enchilada is what put the stretchy smile on my face, as I belted out the chorus to a pop song: "Hey, I heard you were a wild one!" Here's what I took away from my naked sunlight dancing: everyone should try it. It's like skinny-dipping or bungee-jumping -- that same bubbly feeling of being free, spontaneous, slightly naughty, open, exposed, blessed, exhilarated. Wild. You can dance to your own internal beat, or blast the music as loud as you like. Spins are pretty much imperative, since being dizzy puts life back in its proper perspective. The more shimmies and shakes the better. Kick high and swirl your arms around, finding the breeze behind your knees, beneath your breasts, between each toe. Let it all just jiggle. No audience but the waves, no critics but the clouds. Today I danced naked above the fish and beneath the birds. I was beautiful. I was alone. I was as wild as the sea, and as shiny as the sun.

Dancing Naked

Posted on 1 CommentPosted in Dance, Yoga and Fitness, Fishing

dance travel south pacific islands brianna rob

Today I danced naked in the sun over water so blue it hurts. I samba-ed. I hip-hopped. I waltzed. I waved my arms, wiggled my butt, and jumped around like a goof with a huge grin on my face.

So, what spawns a naked dancing session on a boat? First ingredient: alone-time. Second ingredient: a remote and ridiculously beautiful location. Third ingredient: weeks without dancing of any sort.

The boys took the afternoon to go hunt fish along the nearby reef. As I dried off from my swim, I suddenly realized I didn’t have to put my clothes back on. Instead, I turned on music loudly and started making bread in the galley. The kneading and dough-punching rhythm soon expanded into spins and leaps, which required deck space outside. No problem: our anchorage at Beveridge Reef in the middle of the Pacific Ocean was deserted, save one boat in the distance. With no one to watch but the sharks, I was soon gyrating on the bow in my birthday suit. (No pictures, sorry.)

Today I danced naked in the sun over water so blue it hurts.  I samba-ed.  I hip-hopped.  I waltzed.  I waved my arms, wiggled my butt, and jumped around like a goof with a huge grin on my face.    So, what spawns a naked dancing session on a boat?  First ingredient: alone-time.  Second ingredient: a remote and ridiculously beautiful location.  Third ingredient: weeks without dancing of any sort.    The boys took the afternoon to go hunt fish along the nearby reef.  As I dried off from my swim, I suddenly realized I didn't have to put my clothes back on.  Instead, I turned on music loudly and started making bread in the galley.  The kneading and dough-punching rhythm soon expanded into spins and leaps, which required deck space outside.  No problem: our anchorage at Beveridge Reef in the middle of the Pacific Ocean was deserted, save one boat in the distance.  With no one to watch but the sharks, I was soon gyrating on the bow in my birthday suit.  (No pictures, sorry.)  I don't know if I gain such joy from my boat dancing sessions because they are so few and far between, because they are a celebration of sun and sea and music, or because they always coincide with those rare, precious pockets of me-only time.  Probably the whole enchilada is what put the stretchy smile on my face, as I belted out the chorus to a pop song: "Hey, I heard you were a wild one!"  Here's what I took away from my naked sunlight dancing: everyone should try it.  It's like skinny-dipping or bungee-jumping -- that same bubbly feeling of being free, spontaneous, slightly naughty, open, exposed, blessed, exhilarated.  Wild.    You can dance to your own internal beat, or blast the music as loud as you like.  Spins are pretty much imperative, since being dizzy puts life back in its proper perspective.  The more shimmies and shakes the better.  Kick high and swirl your arms around, finding the breeze behind your knees, beneath your breasts, between each toe.  Let it all just jiggle. No audience but the waves, no critics but the clouds.    Today I danced naked above the fish and beneath the birds.  I was beautiful.  I was alone.  I was as wild as the sea, and as shiny as the sun.

I don’t know if I gain such joy from my boat dancing sessions because they are so few and far between, because they are a celebration of sun and sea and music, or because they always coincide with those rare, precious pockets of me-only time. Probably the whole enchilada is what put the stretchy smile on my face, as I belted out the chorus to a pop song: “Hey, I heard you were a wild one!”

Here’s what I took away from my naked sunlight dancing: everyone should try it. It’s like skinny-dipping or bungee-jumping — that same bubbly feeling of being free, spontaneous, slightly naughty, open, exposed, blessed, exhilarated. Wild.

dance naked island boat sail brianna randall

You can dance to your own internal beat, or blast the music as loud as you like. Spins are pretty much imperative, since being dizzy puts life back in its proper perspective. The more shimmies and shakes the better. Kick high and swirl your arms around, finding the breeze behind your knees, beneath your breasts, between each toe. Let it all just jiggle. No audience but the waves, no critics but the clouds.

Today I danced naked above the fish and beneath the birds. I was beautiful. I was alone. I was as wild as the sea, and as shiny as the sun.

crew of llyr on the horizon line sailing blog cruise pacific crossing

Meet the Crew Sailing the Pacific

Posted on Posted in Family and Friends, Ocean Tales

Llyr under sail - on the horizon line with rob and briThe Steele-McCutchin family is awesome.  Rob and I feel fortunate to have found such good people to spend a few months with, and such capable people to sail with across the largest ocean on the planet.  They bought Llyr 4 years ago because they were ready for new expeditions.  None of them had much previous sailing experience, but they took loads of offshore courses before sailing south from Maine to Panama last summer, spending 4 months cruising in the Caribbean along the way.  You might notice their red hue in the photos below, which gives away their Scottish-Irish roots (and indicates it was early in the trip!).

Their grand plan is to set Llyr up permanently in Vanuatu (Melanesia) as a research vessel dedicated to documenting the impacts of climate change on coral reefs.  During the storm season in the southern hemisphere (October to March), they’ll return to their family-owned maple syrup farm in western Massachusetts to collect the sweet nectar of New England maples.  Here’s a snapshot of Llyr’s crew:

llyr sailing pacific on the horizon line cruising blog

Meet Brooks.  He’s the skipper, the mechanic, and the weather expert.  Brooks is good-humored in his role at the helm of Llyr and his role as the oldest aboard.  He also handles stressful situations calmly (thank god), and loves to converse about theories related to everything from education to climate change to how to change to oil mast most efficiently.  As a clinical psychologist during his first career and a farmer during his second, Brooks enjoys figuring out how and why things work like they do.  You can find him in the engine room, or trouble-shooting random problems from bow to stern.

llyr sailing pacific on the horizon line cruising blog

Meet Janis.  She’s the head caretaker of this big brood aboard Llyr, keeping our daily operations running smoothly.  A fluent French speaker from Montreal, Janis is a trained anthropologist, and likes to stretch, eat dark green foods, and sew.  If you have an idea, she’ll likely be able to make it a reality.  You can find her cooking up tasty sauces or creating a wind-scoop from old flags.

llyr sailing pacific on the horizon line cruising blog

Meet Connor.  He’s 18 going on 28, a brand-new high school graduate with an EMT (emergency medical training) license, a great sense of humor and a clear head.  Connor is the first mate, and is intimately familiar with Llyr’s many electronic and navigation systems.  He’s going to spend the fall and winter in Australia this year, and planning to head to college as a pre-med major after that.  Meanwhile, you can find Connor helping his dad with troubleshooting, surfing Facebook (at the marina only), or teasing his younger brothers (gently).

llyr sailing pacific on the horizon line cruising blog

Meet Rowan.  At  15, he’s doing a much better job of leaving his social circle than I would have at that age.  Rowan is a detail guy, and sees the little things the big-picture thinkers might miss.  He loves to dive, and reads incessantly…he actually burned out his Kindle in the first week.  You can find Rowan cramming in calculus (gotta make sure he’s caught up after his few months out of the classroom!), listening to music, or scarfing down sodas or milk.

crew of llyr on the horizon line sailing blog cruise pacific crossing

Meet Gavin.  He’s the life of the party, and the youngest crew member at 10 years old.  Gavin loves to draw and write and fish and kayak and swim and jump and chat and play games.  He provides comic relief for the rest of the crew, and much-needed energy when others might be tired of chores.  You can find Gavin eating PB&J sandwiches, sleeping in the cockpit, or trying to climb the mast when his parents aren’t looking.

panama canal crossing in sailboat - on the horizon line travel blog

Panama Canal (Take One): “You Want US to be line handlers?”

Posted on 5 CommentsPosted in Outdoor Adventures, Sailing

panama canal crossing in sailboat - on the horizon line travel blog

Rob and I are going to serve as line handlers on a 38-foot monohull sailboat heading through the Panama Canal tomorrow. Those of you familiar with our intended itinerary are probably confused, since you know we’re crewing on Llyr through the Canal en route to the South Pacific. Here’s the deal: we get to cross twice!

A very nice British couple approached Llyr yesterday while we were scraping blisters from the keel and applying sealant (glamorous work, for sure). They desperately needed 2 more line handlers in order to meet the requirements for a Canal crossing, and offered us 3 meals and a paid cab ride from Panama City back to the marina in return for our presence on their pretty sailboat, Mauna, for 24 hours. “Hell, yes,” I replied. “I can’t wait to see this Canal in action.”

llyr research vessel - on the horizon line sailing blog - panama canal crossing
Connor, the oldest of the 3 sons aboard Llyr, prepping to paint the bottom.

About 130 boats are camped out here at Shelter Bay Marina, and most are waiting in line for their turn to cross the man-made engineering wonder that connects the Caribbean Sea to the Pacific Ocean. A ship has to be lifted 85 feet, cross a 31-mile freshwater lake, drop 85 feet and cross another mile-long lake to reach the Pacific. It takes two dams, 5 locks, and 53 million gallons of fresh water to get a boat from one side to the other.

It ain’t no cakewalk to go through the Canal, either: small vessels (i.e. anything that’s not a freighter or cruise ship) need to hire an agent to make sure they get a slot in for the crossing. Yachts are also required a have a “guide” who helps the skipper pilot through the locks as well as 4 “line handlers:” 2 on either side of the bow and stern. Note for non-nautical reader: all ropes are called “lines” on a boat (unless it’s called a “sheet,” of course) mostly to make non-nautical people feel dumb when they call it a rope.

llyr research vessel - on the horizon line sailing blog - panama canal crossing
The cockpit of Llyr, our new floating home until we reach Tahiti.

In reality, the majority of privately-owned pleasure yachts don’t have to do too much line work, since they are often rafted-up next to the giant mega-sized boats. That means big boats typically tie onto the sides of the locks as they fill or empty, and the smaller sailboats fill in around the cargo ships like puzzle pieces (or those Styrofoam peanuts in mail packages). Ideally, the small boats are then buffered by tying into the non-wall side of the big ship, and avoid the constant tying/untying of lines. In reality, I have no idea how any of this really works, and I’m eager to learn tomorrow.

We leave at 1pm tomorrow and will spend the night anchored in Lake Gatun. Around noon on Tuesday, we should be heading under the Bridge of the Americas and splashing into the Pacific. Rob and I will be back aboard Llyr in time for dinner. Hopefully, we’ll return with helpful hints for a second smooth Canal crossing, a few stories of crocodile sightings in the lake, and no tales of poorly-handled lines.

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