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.

 

 

rob roberts and talon on a standup paddleboard on flathead lake

14:1 | The Perfect Ratio for Vacational Whimsy

Posted on 2 CommentsPosted in Parenting, Sailing

Last Wednesday, I eased a stand-up paddleboard down the Clark Fork River through an eerily smoke-filled Missoula with a group of new and old friends. We had the river to ourselves, paddling our craft beneath a blood red sun. We weren’t about to let the dense wildfire smoke deter us from enjoying the inaugural adventure of a wedding weekend extravaganza.

This was the float where Kevin Colburn coined the term “vacational whimsy,” an apt description for fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants holiday planning. Vacational whimsy isn’t for the faint of heart. Rather than rainbows and gumdrops, unplanned adventures can lead to rainstorms and gum in your hair.

talon on a standup paddleboard on flathead lake - on the horizon line

 

But, sometimes, letting whimsy direct your downtime allows the stars to align into an unexpectedly magical mix of people and energy. That’s why it’s addicting.

Last weekend, the stars aligned. The Montanabama Wedding brought together dozens of people who all felt inclined to trust the whimsy. It led us into long breakfasts, late nights at the campground, costume-fueled dance parties, skinny-dipping off sailboats, and inventing the new sport of SUP-tooning (surfing an inflatable stand-up paddleboard behind a pontoon boat).

brianna randall SUPing behind a boat on flathead lake

The latter was definitely a highlight. We laughed at ourselves for getting thrill rides out of slow craft while wakeboarders flew past us towed by jet boats. (“It’s kind of like snowboarding without edges,” said one friend, watching his wife try to turn the SUP. “And boating without edges, too!” replied the pontoon driver struggling to turn.)

Our vacational whimsy worked because of the combination of personalities, the access to interesting recreation, and the beautiful location on Flathead Lake (which we remembered was beautiful after the smoke cleared on Saturday night). It also worked because we stumbled upon the perfect adult:baby ratio for Rob and I to fully participate in all events–14:1.

brianna randall and talon roberts at a wedding in montana

Yes, it’s true. It took more than a dozen adults to corral Talon from trotting into the lake or throwing pint glasses onto concrete. Even with the superb supervision, he still got two bloody noses and demolished a glass vase. Plus, with so many helping hands, Talon was able to have way more adventures of his own. In a mere 72 hours, our 1 year-old rode in more watercraft than many people board in a lifetime: sailboat, packraft, SUP, pontoon boat, and canoe.

rob and brianna randall and talon on spindrift sailing flathead lake in montana

We couldn’t have planned the easy flow of last weekend if we tried. Partly, this is because you can’t plan for magic. And partly it’s because planning is definitely not our strong suit. For instance, it’s currently 1:00 p.m. and Rob and I still haven’t decided if we’re driving 9 hours to Bellingham today to spend the long weekend with our friends at Controlled Jibe.

We’re waiting for vacational whimsy to guide us. I’m ready to trust that whimsy when it hits.

rob roberts and talon on a standup paddleboard on flathead lake

 

Talon looking out at water from a sailboat on Flathead Lake.

Throwing Things Overboard

Posted on 2 CommentsPosted in Sailing

Talon tells the tale of his first sailing expedition on Flathead Lake.

Last weekend, my parents took me in this big bathtub thingy with loud white sheets that flapped around, went up and down, and swung side to side. It was kinda like when they took me on the rubber thingy that moved down the river, but this time the water stayed still and we moved over it.

I got to throw things overboard a lot, which was extra fun because people kept diving in to get ’em back out. It was like when I throw bananas and blueberries outta the high chair only way better, ’cause the dive splashed me in the face every time. Usually, someone said an interesting curse word before they splashed into the water, too.Alpaca raft as a dinghy for our sailboat on Flathead Lake.

Mom was super excited about the white sheets, and Dad kept complaining that “lake sailboats don’t have autopilot.” I hung out in the backpack while they played with ropes. When we stopped moving, I got to play with the ropes, too. (It wasn’t as fun as throwing things overboard, though.)

Dad took me to the beach in a really tiny rubber thing so that we could throw rocks in the lake. I walked in all the way to my chest, even though my parents kept using curse words about how cold the water is. Adults are wimps.

Alpaca raft as a dinghy for our sailboat on Flathead Lake.

At night, we went inside the bathtub thingy, and Mom slept next to me in this really cool bed that bounced all night long (I don’t know where Dad slept). I slept longer than ever before, since it was so peaceful with all that rocking and the water noises next to my head.

The next morning, I called my friends to tell them how fun big bathtubs are. It’s nice calling other babies, since adults never understand what I’m saying.

Talon playing with the VHF radio on a sailboat

Poppa came up that afternoon to play with the ropes and white sheets, too, and Grandma held me while the bathtub tipped on its side in the wind. Everyone laughed when I peed over the side into the water.

I wonder what kind of weird contraption my parents will take me in next. Luckily, we always seem to go outside, where I get to watch trees and birds and creeks. Mostly, I try to sleep while we move. Sometimes, I focus on getting food all over the contraption, or pulling the hat off my head when Mom and Dad aren’t looking.  Brianna Randall playing guitar onboard a sailboat in Montana

I sure hope we get to go in the big bathtub again, so I can do some more sleeping and throwing while we move over the still water. It was pretty fun. And my parents seemed really happy the whole weekend, too.

*Note from Mom: Huge THANKS to the owners and managers of s/v Spindrift for letting us feel the wind in the sails again.  We appreciate the opportunity more than words can express.  (Also, looks like vision boards work!)

*Note from Dad: I got a new toy! These photos are from the refurbished Nikon SLR I’m learning to use. (Again, it’s good to have goals.)

Talon looking out at water from a sailboat on Flathead Lake.

rob roberts - volleyball magazine - on the horizon line travel blog

Playing Volleyball in Paradise

Posted on 1 CommentPosted in Community and Culture, Traveling

Something you might not know about our trip: I played volleyball in small villages across the South Pacific.  As a lifelong player, I never expected to find games in the middle of the ocean.  Turns out that volleyball is a popular sport in Polynesia.  This month, Volleyball Magazine published this article I wrote about playing in paradise.  

Click here to see the full article with pictures, or read on below.

as patoa shirt niue

After 33 days sailing across the ocean, few things sound better than an ice-cold drink, a cheeseburger, and a fresh, juicy mango for dessert. As our sailboat neared Nuku Hiva in the Marquesas Islands of French Polynesia, the verdant peaks emerged on the horizon like a shimmering green beacon of tropical hope. To my wife and me, land signaled an end to suffering through rice and canned goods, as well as a fresh beginning for shaky legs that had atrophied during 4,000 miles at sea.

Our journey started on the Panama Canal, included a stop in the Marquesas, and eventually took us through 25 islands in the South Pacific. But this is not a story about white sand, blue water, and sailing off into the sunset. What started as a quest for adventure turned into a lesson about friendship, communication, and a redefinition of volleyball, which I have been playing for more than 20 years.

Polynesia is used loosely to describe a huge swath of territory, starting in Hawaii and stretching west for thousands of miles through the tropical latitudes of the South Pacific. My introduction to Polynesian culture came as my wife and I were digesting that first glorious meal back on land and stretching our legs on the back roads of Nuku Hiva. We left town on what we jokingly referred to as a “mission for mangoes.” In broken French, I asked a bulky man standing under a shady grove of fruit trees if he had any mangoes that we could buy. Before we even understood what was happening, our new friend, Noelle, was loading plastic bags with mangoes, grapefruits, guavas, and any other fruit he could find.

Noelle didn’t want any money. He said that he simply wanted to share and to make us feel welcome in his country. We met his family and took a group photo. Before we left, I asked about a few dusty trophies sitting on a shelf.

“Le volley,” he said and asked me if I played.

“I love volleyball,” I said, “but I thought people only played rugby here.”

His eyes brightened, and soon he was telling me about the trophies, his glory days, and the fierce competition between high schools on the islands. Then he disappeared into his family’s small, concrete bungalow and emerged with a red and white sleeveless uniform with the team name “As Patoa” on the back. The garment was faded but obviously well cared for.

“Please take this,” he said. “It is my championship jersey, but it doesn’t fit me anymore.” Honored, I wanted to put it on immediately, but he stopped me. “No, don’t put it on until you are sailing away, so that you can remember me and remember this island.”

It would be a few weeks—and several passages on the open ocean—before I had the chance to put that volleyball uniform to good use. Arriving at a tiny speck of land called Palmerston Atoll, we dropped our sails and anchored several hundred yards offshore. A man in a small motor skiff came by, pulled alongside us, and yelled, “Has anyone been out to see you yet?” I shook my head no, and he raced away.

“What was that about?” I asked my wife.

Palmerston Atoll is part of the Cook Islands, a country comprised of 15 far-flung islands scattered in the middle of the South Pacific. There are no roads and you can walk around the island in about 20 minutes. By tradition, a local family “adopts” every visitor for the duration of his or her stay. And there are only three families on the island. By briefly talking to the man on the skiff, we had inadvertently chosen our family, and they would be our chaperones and home away from home for the next several days.

The man in the skiff returned to our sailboat with a customs official, and soon we were on a tour of the government office, a one-room building with a tin roof. Later I found the family patriarch, Simon, sitting in the sand, mending a long fishing net by hand. I asked him about the island and his life there. When I inquired about recreation, he said that the youth played volleyball on the beach every day around four o’clock. So after a lunch of stewed parrotfish and rice with our new family, I went back to the boat, put on my cherished volleyball uniform, and made my way to the beach to find a game.

rob roberts - volleyball magazine - on the horizon line travel blog

I saw four or five young boys throwing a ball back and forth over the net. The court didn’t have any lines and the net was about seven feet high and full of holes. I shrugged my shoulders and joined the game. As the minutes passed and the sun dipped in the sky, I noticed more people emerging from the coconut groves. Soon a group of teenagers and adults stepped onto the court, shooed the little ones away, and picked sides.

There are only 62 people on Palmerston Atoll. There is no airstrip. All of their supplies come by ferry, which only shows up three to four times a year. But despite this isolation, these islanders had learned to play fairly sophisticated volleyball. They passed and ran plays in a way that indicated previous coaching. They argued about legal sets and had someone on the sidelines keeping score. Between games I asked one of the players where they had learned to play, and he said that last year they had gone to play in the South Pacific Games to represent their country, Cook Islands.

I found this theme throughout my travels – courts were uneven, lines non-existent. The nets were tied to coconut trees and telephone poles. But the players were talented, smart, and agile. And they played as a team. I began to see volleyball as a perfect fit for Polynesian culture, which emphasizes the importance of family, community, and the greater good. Volleyball, by its very structure, is more about the collective than the individual. In most effective plays, three people touch the ball. And there are no one-on-one moves like in basketball. No pitchers who start every play like in baseball. The game depends on the collective.

Our last stop in the South Pacific was the Kingdom of Tonga. A small chain of islands north of New Zealand, Tonga has never been colonized. Some people consider it to be “true” Polynesia, a place where people still wear tapas —woven straw mats like skirts for special occasions—and where the deference to family and community dominates everyday life.

We were anchored off Ofu, a small fishing village, when I first met Iloa. He was working construction, carrying 50-pound concrete sacks, two at a time, up to a building site at a nearby eco-resort. Most Tongans speak at least a little English, so I asked him if they played any sports on the island.

“We play volleyball,” he said. “Each day in the evening.” After a pause, he added, “You come tonight?”

With the tropical sun starting to dip in the sky, I hopped in our motorized dinghy and made my way to Ofu. Strolling down Ofu’s small, sandy road, I found Iloa sitting with his extended family in the shade of an awning. Grandparents, parents, and babies were gathered around large bowls of sweet potatoes, cassava, and fried fish. Iloa jumped up without a word and walked inside the house. He emerged with a flat volleyball. He walked into another house and emerged with a net and a pump, both in good condition.

 

I helped Iloa string up the net on two poles – 10-foot logs that had been anchored into the ground. He carefully wrapped each end of the net around the pole several times and tied the line around a large boulder that was used to keep the pole from moving. The net was just beyond my reach, about eight and a half feet high. “Maybe it’s good,” he said.

Tongans are large people. The youth are big-shouldered, more like linebackers than volleyball players. Their play is straightforward: play fast, hit hard. Repeat. For them, volleyball games seem to be a chance to have fun and mock the players on the losing side. After every point, I heard jeers from the crowd, terse exchanges mixed with a giggle that I had come to think of as typically Tongan – a high-pitched squeal that seemed incongruous for people of their size.

Unfortunately for me, Tongans are also very communal people, which means that they took no pity on a lanky white guy with sea legs and a sunburn. When I heard Iloa yell the word palangi—“foreigner” in Tongan—I knew what was coming next. They were going to set me the ball, and everyone on the opposing team was gong to try to block me. There was definitely some laughing at my expense, but I didn’t mind. Playing volleyball on Ofu gave me a unique insight into Tongan life and an opportunity to learn about their culture as a teammate, not a tourist.

I never intended to play volleyball on our sailing voyage. But my volleyball interactions with Iloa, Noelle, and my adopted family on Palmerston Atoll defined my trip through the South Pacific as clearly as the vibrant coral reefs and the stunning sandy beaches. Volleyball became a universal language. It created a common ground by summoning emotive concepts that all people understand: competition, teamwork, and glory. That first day in paradise, my simple search for a mango had snowballed into a new way of communicating, many new friends, and a new appreciation for my lifelong sport.

Originally published in Volleyball Magazine in June 2014.

Rob takes in the sunset on a dinghy ride back to the 40 foot sloop, Wizard, owned by John and Sue out of California.

From Sailor to Stunned

Posted on 6 CommentsPosted in Fishing, Reflections on Life

Two months ago I woke up every morning to the sound of large fish splashing against the hull of a sailboat, took morning swims in the nude and read books against the backdrop of coconut trees and sandy shores.  For some reason, I decided I didn’t like that any more.  It seemed too boring. Not challenging enough.

Ironically enough, I had similar reasons for leaving Missoula in the first place.  Although I had a well-paid job and worked for a cause I believed in… Although I had the comfortable existence that comes with a salary, health insurance, and a routine that included annual paid vacations to interesting places… And although I had good friends, fun toys, caring neighbors, and a trunkful of costumes for impromptu dance parties…  We left.

On the Horizon Line - Brianna Randall and Rob Roberts

Two weeks into our return home and sometimes I want that all back. I don’t want to be looking for income, searching for a decent car, or a place to live. I want a child and am glad that we will have one, but it doesn’t make things any easier.  Any one of these life events, these tasks or milestones, can be stressful for some people.   We decided to twist them together and swallow the damn bundle whole.

“Decided,” right?  We sat on the deck of a boat, bathed in tropical heat, and sun made the conscious decision to leave. We were jaded by slow days, easy meals of fish and fruit, and the peacefulness that comes from living on water.  I know what you’re thinking.  I wouldn’t have pity for us either.  Because I will never forget how fortunate we were and how fortunate we are.  To have the opportunity to leave in the first place, to meet amazing people along the way, to swim with sharks more times than I can count, walk barren flats of white sand, form a band at a beachside bar, laugh, stretch, breathe.

On the Horizon Line - Brianna Randall and Rob Roberts

But to be honest I wasn’t prepared for this.  Bills, meetings, insurance, loans, jobs, schedules.  Just swimming through this muddled mass of minor tasks and major decisions.  Like a little minnow hiding underneath the hull of a sailboat.  A big ocean all around.  The tuna attack in formation, stunning their prey through the blunt force of tooth, body and splash.  Then they circle back around and pick through the spoils.

I tell myself that I’m not a little fish. I tell myself that this was a conscious decision, to challenge ourselves, reinvent, and open the way to new ideas and revelations. Sometimes it helps. But I’ve certainly found the challenge I was looking for.

desert ocean - fishing in the south pacific ocean - tropical reefs and fisheries

Pregnancy abroad - living on a sailboat in the South Pacific islands. Brianna Randall On the Horizon Line travel blog.

Sour Cream and Onion Dip (I wish.)

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Food and Drink, Mamalode, Pregnancy

A few days after peeing on a stick, I cringed when I realized that appeasing pregnancy cravings in Tonga would be like trying to sail a yacht down Montana’s Blackfoot River. In other words, I had a snowball’s chance in hell of fulfilling my food fantasies in this remote island nation.

Luckily, I’ve already had nine months of practice denying food cravings. When you’re floating 2,000 miles from the nearest grocery store in the middle of the biggest ocean on the planet, you become adept at mind control. At forcibly changing the subject in your subconscious. At ignoring vibrant images of sumptuous and delicious dishes that are well beyond reach.

Read the rest of this story on Mamalode here.  (Each click helps me earn a dime or two, so thanks!)

sunset at sea sailing ocean on the horizon line blog

Sailing Memories – A Video of Crossing the Pacific

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Sailing, Videos

Sailing the Pacific already feels like a distant dream as we navigate the crowded streets of landlocked Thailand.  This video from our first bluewater passage vessel, Llyr, brings back sweet memories of swimming and sailing (and, yes, a few seasick memories, too!).  Well done, Island Reach, and thanks for the shout-out to Rob and me!

SAIL, Llyr Expedition, set to AWOLNATION’s “Sail” from Island Reach on Vimeo.

Top 10 Photos of the South Pacific

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Community and Culture, Family and Friends, Fishing, Hiking, Ocean Tales, Outdoor Adventures, Sailing, Traveling

As we leave the Pacific for Southeast Asia, it seems like a good time to reflect upon what we’ve seen this past year.  Here are a few of our favorite photos, which give a taste of sailing, swimming and living across the South Pacific islands.  Note: This Top 10 album is also available on our Facebook page.

[anything_slider title=”Top 10 Photos of the South Pacific” column=”full-width” autoslide=”2″ slider_id=”3667″/]

 

Click here to read the full article and see more photos.

Front Page: Read our update in the Missoulian Newspaper!

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Sailing, Traveling

Click here to read the full article and see more photos.

I might have picked a better picture of us if I’d known it would end up on the front page of our hometown newspaper.  But what fun to be able to share a few stories with the press.  Here’s a snippet from the article.  Click here to read more.

In March 2013, Brianna Randall and Rob Roberts packed up their house in Missoula, left their jobs at local conservation nonprofits, and sailed west on a dream.

For the past nine months, the couple have hitchhiked through the South Pacific as crew members on small private sailboats.

In that time, they’ve been robbed, Roberts saved the life of a drowning woman, they have experienced awe-inspiring wildlife encounters and have come to understand that there are many models in the world as to how to travel, work and raise children.   Read more here.

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.

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