Click here to see sunset picture of a beach in Tonga.

2013 – One Incredible Year in Review

Posted on 2 CommentsPosted in Family and Friends, Fishing, Ocean Tales, Outdoor Adventures, Reflections on Life, Sailing, Traveling

Click here to see sunset picture of a beach in Tonga.

6,000 nautical miles
26 tropical islands
8 countries
7 sailboats
6 months living on the sea
3 months living in Tonga
2 careers put on hold
2 big backpacks
1 incredible year

In some ways, it feels like 2013 was the longest year in ages. Probably because a lot happened. We quit our jobs, packed up our house, kissed friends and family goodbye. We sailed one-quarter of the way around the planet, and met countless new people living a range of different lifestyles. Here are some highlights from our journey this year:

Favorite Places:

Palmerston Atoll, an island in the Cooks with only 60 people divided into three governing families, no roads, and abundant fish. Fakarava, for its unspoiled wildlife where we dove with 200­+ sharks. Bora Bora for its sheer beauty and sandy anchorages. Niue, the smallest country on earth, where Rob saved a woman’s life (stay tuned for that story!) and every resident waves as you pass by. The Kingdom of Tonga, where we have taken up temporary residence, for the sense of community, the accessible water sports, and the local culture.

Favorite Wildlife Moments:
We’ve spent hundreds of hours underwater and thousands of hours floating on top of it. The most memorable sightings include: a lone Orca whale breaching alongside our boat; floating next to 7 sea turtles in the Galapagos; snorkeling with sea lions in Baja; diving with manta rays in Bora Bora; jumping into the deep blue and seeing dozens of curious sharks; listening to the humpback whales sing underwater and watching a mama and her baby play; cheering as dolphins ride the bow wave of our sailboat; and swimming at night through bioluminescent plankton that glow and sparkle.

Biggest Challenges:

  • Nothing is ever still while sailing from place to place, which means dealing with seasickness, a rocking stove while you cook, and always having to brace yourself as you sit or walk or sleep.
  • Tight quarters and communal living arrangements can be tough at times.
  • Wind, waves and currents control when and where you go, testing your patience and flexibility.
  • Bringing the right stuff with you and anticipating what you need during long passages at sea.
  • Reconciling the illusion of paradise with the reality of bugs, heat, storms, and the inevitable list of chores and repairs that come with living on a boat.
  • Meeting like-minded people and finding friendships as close as those we left behind.

Best Parts of Living At Sea:

  • Nights where the stars are endless and bright.
  • Shades of infinite blues.
  • Syncing your daily life with the rhythm of the sun, the wind, the moon.
  • Watching birds and fish and dolphins and whales from the bow.
  • Visiting remote and spectacular places that are inaccessible by plane or car.
  • Spending time with yourself and each other.

Click here to see photo of Bri and Rob in the South Pacific.

rob and bri sailing adventure travel blog tonga vavau beaches

Entering A Waking Dream

Posted on 2 CommentsPosted in Reflections on Life, Sailing

rob and bri sailing adventure travel blog tonga vavau beachesWe have yet another new home.  Her name is Waking Dream, a 42-foot Cooper monohull owned by Ben and Lisa Newton here in Vava’u.  They sailed her from Oakland, California and spent three years cruising before deciding to stay in Tonga.  Now that they live on Fetoko Island and are building Mandala Resort, Waking Dream has been vacant for a while.  And we know what happens to vacant sailboats: they start to crumble under the relentless tropical sun and saltwater.

rob and bri sailing adventure travel blog tonga vavau beaches Rob and I offered to help get her all fixed up in return for a free place to live.  It’s a good deal for everyone.  We get to learn more about maintaining a sailboat and build our own little nest.  Ben and Lisa get a working sailboat.  What are some of the problems with it, you ask?  I’ll just list the top few for now: #1 termites #2 the coral reef living on the bottom #3 disintegrating dodger and algae-covered lines.  It’s nice to have a purpose again.

rob and bri sailing adventure travel blog tonga vavau beachesIt also feels good to be living on the water again.  And it feels really good to be all by ourselves on a sailboat again.  We haven’t felt like the capitans of our own space for over 8 months now, since we’ve been sharing living quarters on boats and in others’ homes.  It actually felt slightly eerie to make dinner for just the two of us last night.  For three-quarters of a year, we’ve shared meals with at least one other person, and lately it’s been more like 6-10 others.  Neither of us could remember the last night we’d spent with no one else around.

rob and bri sailing adventure travel blog tonga vavau beachesTransitioning from communal living to independent living is probably more of a change than moving back to the sea from the shore.  We are both quite comfortable cohabiting with others — we enjoy the social dynamics of sharing space, food, ideas, chores, music and ourselves with more than just each other.  Yet we’re both quite comfortable alone, too.  I, in particular, crave my alone time almost as much as I crave social interaction.

rob and bri sailing adventure travel blog tonga vavau beachesWhat a strange and beautiful paradox, this human pull to be so close to others in tandem with the pull to have our own individual corners to retreat into.  A yin and yang of co-dependence and independence, where finding the balance is the magic ingredient to a fulfilling life.  Here aboard Waking Dream, we hope to strike that balance, to build our own little nest where we can retreat, while still keeping close to the flock of new friends who support us.

tonga pacific travel island brianna randall rob roberts sailing boat

Vava’u islands = Rocky Mountain peaks

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tonga pacific travel island brianna randall rob roberts sailing boat

One of the reasons we feel comfortable in Tonga is because the topography is so similar to the Rocky Mountain landscape we came from. Did you just do a double-take after reading that sentence? Good, that means you’re paying attention. But the statement is true, geographically speaking: Vava’u is a series of high mountain peaks, bordered by sprawling meadows nestled above deep canyons.

Sure, those meadows and canyons are covered by miles of ocean, instead of Ponderosa pines and Douglas firs. Yet the energy feels the same. I can easily picture this landscape as mountains and valleys through all the coral and sand.

boats in neiafu harbor tonga

Where I’m sitting in Vava’u right this moment is only a couple miles away from the second deepest oceanic trench on the planet. The Tongan Trench is 35,702 feet deep and 50 miles wide. That means the island I’m sitting on is taller than Mount Everest, if you were looking up at it from the bottom of the trench.

All of the dozens of islands in Vava’u are mountaintops, and the flat seabed between them are the gently sloped meadows. This is one of the world’s best cruising grounds partly because of the uniformity of the sea floor here. It’s all mellow sandy bottoms between 10 and 30 meters deep — a high mountain plateau, if you will. Compared to the jagged cliffs of the Marquesas, the steep drop-offs in Bora Bora, or the flat volcanic rings of the Tuamotus, these islands feel downright friendly.

MT-rob and josh on flathead lake

We sailed on Flathead Lake in Montana each summer before heading west across the Pacific. Flathead is the largest natural freshwater lake in the western U.S. It’s the remnants of a giant inland glacial lake, and sits below the tall peaks of Glacier National Park. All of the islands in the lake are actually mountains and hills that emerged as the lake receded over the millennia. Tonga looks a lot like sailing on Flathead, if you replace the pines with palms.

Not only is the Tongan Trench one of the steepest features on the globe’s surface, it’s also the fastest-moving plate ever recorded. The convergent plates that formed this deep chasm are moving at 6 to 9 inches per year, which means Tonga is basically undergoing a constant earthquake. Not the rattle-and-roll earthquakes I grew up with in Southern California, but rather a consistent tremor rippling just beneath the surface.

The Trench gives Vava’u a sense of height and breadth often lost on tiny tropical islands in the middle of the world’s largest ocean. Though the slopes are gentle, you can sense the buzz of movement, shifting ground, and the power of the Earth beneath the sea. Bottom line? It feels good here, geographically, energetically, and aesthetically.

tonga pacific travel island brianna randall rob roberts sailing boat

rob brianna sail travel voyage explore tonga grass skirt kayak

Charmed, I’m Sure

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guitar private island tonga sail bri and rob travel sunset beach

We’ve now lived in the Kingdom of Tonga for one full month.  It’s awesome here, and I say that after exploring only 3 of the 170 islands.  We plan on staying in Vava’u through at least January to see a few more, and to soak up the sights and sounds of this special spot.

That means we’ll soon be waving goodbye to most of our sailing friends.  Most yachties head south to New Zealand and Australia by November, steering clear of the hurricanes that spin through the tropical latitudes during the southern hemisphere’s summer season.  Since we don’t have to worry about a storing a sailboat out of cyclone-prone areas, Rob and I plan to stay put as the air and water heat up.  Plus, Rob rigged up this awesome trash bag sail on our friends’ double kayak, so we have some sweet wheels now.

rob brianna sail travel voyage explore tonga grass skirt kayak

We’re looking forward to experiencing the storm season, when the trade winds die, the tourists head home, and the locals flock to beaches for summer feasts.  Here are just a handful of the reasons Tonga has charmed us into staying on her pretty shores:

  1. The kids all say “bye bye” instead of hello as you pass by.
  2. Baby pigs squeal and scatter as you walk or drive down the main street.
  3. Tongan feasts are weekly events, and include a LOT of meat, which is cooked in an umu with stones heated in a coconut-shell fire.  Lamb and chicken are favorites, but puppy is not unheard of.
  4. Everyone sings aloud – and in harmony – to any song nearby, whether it’s rap, pop or church music.
  5.  The cops drive people home from the bars when they close.
  6. Boundaries are fuzzy and the culture is communal, so people “borrow” what they need.  Rob likes to “Tongan borrow” fruit, for instance.
  7. Tonga is the only kingdom in the Pacific, and the only country that never gave up autonomous rule.
  8. Only 40 of Tonga’s 170 islands are inhabited.
  9. Both men and women wear skirts with woven grass mats called ta’ovalas tied around the top of the skirt.
  10. The Kingdom has dozens of chiefs and nobles, along with the royal family.  Commoners must speak a different language to nobles, and yet another separate language to address the royal family.tonga girls in grass skirts rob and brianna sail travel blog story ocean beach
killer whale orca pacific ocean sailboat travel

Holy S*^t! An Orca Whale!

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NOTE: This video is about five months late.  But better late than never, right?  

Llyr and her crew were halfway through our 33-day crossing of the Pacific Ocean from Panama to the Marquesas Islands. Specifically, we were somewhere west of the Galapagos Islands by about 6 days. We hadn’t seen any wildlife of any sort for a week — the middle of the ocean feels a lot like a big empty desert. We also hadn’t had a good rainstorm since we left Panama City.

First, the rain came one afternoon. Not just a piddly drizzle, but enough to go on deck and soap up, maybe even break out the shampoo. After the boys all finished their rain dance showers, I went up last to enjoy the freshwater blessing. As I reached behind me for a washcloth, I caught the unmistakable sight of a giant eyeball looking up at me from the water.

My brain flashed instantly through the brief image: black and white markings, smooth skin, big fin. My mouth took over before my brain caught up, screaming at full volume: “Holy shit! Orca! Orca! Omigod! Everybody on deck. Rob! Rob! Whoa!”

I saw Rob’s face look through the porthole toward deck with a terrified expression … and realized he was looking out at sea, as he assumed my screaming meant I’d fallen overboard. Repeated “orca” screams got through, and the whole crew piled out to the stern, where we got to watch this lone killer whale check us out. She/he swam under our stern several times, rolling over to look at us with a big, beautiful eye.

It was one of the coolest experiences I’ve ever had in the wilderness.

We didn’t see any more wildlife for over a week during that crossing. And I still had soap in my ears that night, since I was too distracted to rinse after the whale encounter.

killer whale orca pacific ocean sailboat travel

 

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.

Bittersweet Tang

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sailing south pacific travel blog brianna randall

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

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

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

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

 

rob roberts brianna randall travel sailing blog on the horizon line

On Seasickness

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rob roberts brianna randall travel sailing blog on the horizon line

“No one tells you about these moments. No one writes about this. This is not about palm trees and clear blue water. This is about misery and just being exposed, torn open. It’s colder than I imagined out here. My butt is pruned from sitting on soggy cushions and I’m wedged between a table and the companionway to keep from getting thrown about in this turbulent sea. Can I get this hood cinched tighter around my face? ,All I can see in the inky darkness is the dull glow of the mast lighthead. I’ve never choked back my own vomit before. This sucks. My stomach hates me. I never pictured this in my daydreams of this sailing adventure, huddling against the cockpit to block the driving rain, wondering where in the dark the next wave will come from, while trying to keep from throwing up. Just two more hours to go to finish this nightwatch….”

Such were my thoughts one night, after a few days of building seasickness. Before departing on this multi year voyage upon the ocean, I had some reservations about how I would handle the motion of a boat being tossed around in rough or rolling seas. For good reason: twice before I had been seasick during outings off the florida coast. The first time we were crossing the Gulf Stream in a powerboat headed for the Bahamas. The second time I was on a fishing boat some mile offshore. However, both times were in my college years and involved copious amounts of booze and revelry the evenings before. In other words, I probably deserved it.

But this is different. We will be out here for a long time. And thanks largely to this blog, much of my world now knows that I have continued to have some problems with seasickness, or mal de mer, as its called in French. But there’s more to the story than you probably envision. The following insights are gained largely from a 33 day field test across the Pacific Ocean, as well as other more recent passages.

rob roberts brianna randall travel sailing blog on the horizon line

First of all, seasickness is a result of the imbalance between what your eyes are seeing and the motion felt by your inner ear. Essentially, the world around you is not supposed to be hurtling about in all directions, so your brain things something is wrong when it senses the major inconsistency of not being on solid, stable ground. The scientific/medical community seems not totally sure about why people vomit in response, but I theorize that your body just plain things something is wrong and throwing up is usually a good way to get rid of the bad stuff (think: too much alcohol, get dizzy, throw up the alcohol). But seasickness more than just puking overboard or heaving into a bucket. Seasickness is quite complicated. It can be as simple as a dull nausea or it can be serious enough to incapacitate a person. Sometimes people get so sick and weak that anti-nausea suppositories are the last resort (Bri is glad I didn’t get that bad), and they may require hospitalization.

But here’s how it happens to me. First of all, to set the record straight, I have actually not vomited once since we left Panama. I’ll admit though that I have been very, very close and there were times that I probably would have been better of just letting go. But I fought it, probably because of some weird sense of stubborn pride.. On the initial crossing to the Galapagos, I did not feel very well for much of the time. A friend of ours described seasickness as “being attacked by an energy vampire” and that’s a good description.

I slept often during that first week because I felt lethargic and had a dull moan in my upper stomach. I had a hard time being anywhere but on deck feeling the breeze and looking at the horizon. I didn’t eat much. I also lost my sense of curiosity and had trouble caring enough to have a conversation. I didn’t feel like reading or writing I had some of my roughest moments as a sentient being during this part of the trip. These were very slow days. So with little else to do on the boat, I spent most of my time in a slow state of meditation. Thus began my introduction to the art of Zen that Bri and I have learned is so useful on this trip (more on that someday). But despite my troubles and evolving adaption, I never missed my turn on nightwatch and I never backed out of any task on deck that was asked of me.

I started using anti-nausea medications at this point and experimented with several to figure out which worked best for me. I’ll describe the different options more fully below, but basically, I responded fairly well to medications. After the Galapagos and those blessed 48 hours on land, things slowly got better for me and I have learned how to cope with the motion of the sea and have found tricks that work for me. I thought that information might be useful to some of you out there. So try this…

Prevent

There are a number of things which kick-start seasickness for most people. I’ve found that reading and writing in the beginning of a trip is not the best for me. I also try to minimize my time below if possible and am careful about how long I spend getting things in the galley. Many people, myself included, do better with something in their stomach, so a light breakfast before a morning departure is part of good prevention. Obviously, alchohol the night before is a no no. Good sleep and hydration also help. In general, fresh air and a broad horizon are my friends at this point in a trip.

Relax

When the first pangs of nausea hit, it feels like a have an upset stomach, and I find that my heartbeat gets slightly elevated and I get a bit rushed in whatever I’m doing. If I can bring myself to slow down and focus, I find that letting my eyes adjust on the horizon and slowly breathing through my nose and out my mouth with deep breaths helps calm me. Sometimes I close my eyes for a moment as well to center myself. I try not to dwell on what I know may come next.

Lay down

There are some days when I feel mostly fine, and the motion is manageable. But sometimes all it takes is a change in the wind direction or wave height and things get worse. I have found that – for me – the magical cure is laying down, closing my eyes and breathing. I don’t know why laying down is so helpful but I can do it in the midst of almost any chaos or motion and it helps almost instantly. If I have let the sickness progress to far and can feels the first lurches in my stomach, I can actually choke it back, enter a deep meditation/concentration. Its not fun to feel your stomach convulsing or to think about the consequences if I don’t get my body under control, but it has worked. I randomly learned this trick on a dive trip in Belize many years ago and had this 33 day jaunt to refine it. Sometimes, depending on conditions, I can be up and about in 15 minutes or so and be back to relatively normal.

Medications

If conditions are rough or I’m just having a bad day, I’ve found a few medications that work. I have over the counter meds like Dramamine but I have not actually used it on the trip. Its a backup, because I have found in the past that it makes me real drowsy (even the non drowsy stuff). Bonine is another similar medication that people seem to prefer. In Panama were able to buy Stugeron directly from the pharmacy. Its not available in the US but it is used pretty widely by world cruisers. Its strong, works relatively fast (about an hour) and lasts for half a day or more. It can make you feel slightly foggy and some people don’t like those effects. I’ve used this just a couple of times to get myself back to normal quickly.

If we’re on a multi day passage, I will follow up Stugeron with “the patch” if needed. This is a small anti nausea patch that sticks behind your ear that slowly releases Scopolamine into the body. Its generally used for surgery and post surgical recovery and also works for all types of motion sickness. The patch last several days, but takes anywhere from 4 to 6 hours to begin working. I used the patch a few times on our Pacific crossing and it worked well. While some people have major side effects like blurry vision, I got away with only minor side effects like a dry mouth that were much more pleasurable than seasickness. It allowed me to function at a normal level for several days. When things were bad, the patch allowed me to function like a human again, instead of sailing zombie. You can get the patch in the U.S. with a prescription or just order online from a Canadian pharmacy.

The Bucket

If all else fails, vomiting often provides a feeling of relief for most people with mild cases of seasickness. Its best, if you have to, to puke in a bucket and then toss it over the side. Puking overboard can be dangerous in rough seas and puking in the toilet or sink is generally frowned upon. It will just get all over the place or clog up pipes in an already complicated marine plumbing system. If you are with someone who is at the point of vomiting, you have to watch them carefully to make sure the symptoms either ease or become stable. Seasickness can rapidly progress to a severe condition because of dehydration, and the last thing you want is a medical emergency while out at sea. Thankfully, I’ve never had this problem nor have been with anyone who has.

Anyone who tells you the seasickness is just for landlubbers and that its all in your head is just plain full of crap. Yes, there are people out here who just don’t get sick no matter how rough things are. But we’ve met hundreds of people out here, some who have been sailing for years and decades, and most of them will admit to getting nauseous at one time or another. Some professional sailors and circumnavigators deal with it on a consistent basis. I can attest to the face that it is no fun, but with some forethought and plan for dealing with it, it doesn’t have to ruin a trip. There are times on a long passage when I’m hating life, but the other 95% of this experience has been well worth the trouble.

 

 

sailing blog travel south pacific on the horizon line brianna randall rob roberts

The Glamour of Toilets in Paradise

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sailing blog travel south pacific on the horizon line brianna randall rob roberts

“It’s not quite as glamorous as I’d thought, this lifestyle,” said our new friend, Lionel of Kiapa. “There’s a lot more sitting around, reading, fixing things. I’d pictured surfing or kite boarding every day, and swimming with big fish off the bow.” He was shuttling us back to Compass Rose(y), since our dinghy was under repair on deck. All of us were hunkered down to stay dry as 30-knot gusts whipped chop and seaspray across the anchorage in Huahine Iti.

I laughed to myself, because I both agreed and disagreed with Lionel. At first glance, the “yachtie” lifestyle is totally glamorous. After all, we’d just come from a two-hour yoga session that I’d led on a grassy field overlooking turquoise water. Rob had popped open a few coconuts to share with the seven cruisers on shore, and we had a stalk of free ripe bananas to bring back to the boat. No one was wearing shoes, since we beached the dingy on white sand, and only half of us had shirts. Post-yoga, Lionel and his wife, Irene, invited us to Kiapa for coffee and cake, where we’d chatted about places we’ve been and places we plan to visit. We made plans to have “sundowners” (happy hour cocktails) with them later on. A fabulous life, right?

sailing blog travel south pacific on the horizon line brianna randall rob roberts

But check out what the rest of the afternoon held in store: a chore list as long as my arm. I cleaned the layers of hair, silt, and unidentifiable muck from the cockpit floor, and “dressed” the toilet pipes with vinegar and oil to clear out saltwater scum. Rob patched the hole in the dinghy and tightened the lifeline bolts. Mark changed the alternator belt on the engine, and tried to diagnose the leak in our water pump. And all of these somewhat simple fixes for the sailboat led to more problems: the cockpit drain was clogged and I had to find a new hose to connect the lazarette to the bilge pump. The patch on the dinghy didn’t hold. Scraping the rust off the water pump accidentally made another hole in it. Sounds icky, right?

sailing blog travel south pacific on the horizon line brianna randall rob roberts

Just like all life, cruising has its ups and downs. It’s a shitload of work to maintain a boat, and not very comfortable to sail one for a long time, either. You get sick of your crewmates and the cramped spaces, of carting water and fuel in 20-gallon jerry cans, of always having to coordinate how to get to solid ground. The glamour comes from what sailing provides: access to coconuts, outdoor yoga sessions, impromptu social gatherings, and all the beauty and wonder in the blue-green world that stretches toward the horizon. There might not be surfing, diving, kite boarding or fishing every day. But there’s a helluva lot more of it than we’d get working 9 to 5 in landlocked Montana.

sailing blog travel south pacific on the horizon line brianna randall rob roberts

This lifestyle is certainly not for everybody. In fact, that’s why the three of us are aboard Compass Rosey. The owner didn’t enjoy the long Pacific Ocean crossings and the neverending sailboat maintenance, and hired Mark to get his boat back to Australia. The vast majority of cruisers only sail for a few years before heading home to land. Rob and I are still on the fence about how long we’ll stay in the ranks of yachties, and whether we’ll buy our own boat. One thing’s for sure — we certainly respect the people who make sailboats their home for the long term.

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A Tough Blow

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travel blog sailing polynesiaWe’re back in paradise. It disappeared for a week, swept away in fierce winds and soggy clouds. Now it feels like French Polynesia again: warm, silky, easy. As I write, the handle of the Big Dipper dives straight into the horizon. Venus illuminates a bright path on the water above the glow from the set sun. And the Southern Cross, pushed by her two bright pointer stars, arcs over the still marina here in Raiatea.

The last week was pretty rough. We had 30 knots of sustained wind, chop, rain, dark clouds, driving gusts. It’s the kind of rough that flips dinghies upside-down, makes the mast squeal like a banshee, sends people diving for cover, and traps boats in semi-protected lagoons.

You can’t sleep through that, with halyards banging, straps flapping, the hull groaning. Or swim through the murky water and ripping current. Or sail away to a new spot. Or go visit the nearby boats. You wonder if the anchor will hold, and if the anchor on the boat in front of you will hold. You wonder why the hell you’re stuck on a tiny boat in a big blow, relying on a long chain and lead weight to keep you from careening off into the ocean or into sharp reef rocks.

Then the sky clears. One night, the winds suddenly calm. Everyone looks around, wondering what the new noise is — it’s the forgotten sound of quiet. Today, we’re enjoying the reprieve. The storm receded and the fresh clean sulight baptized everything in a glory veil. These green mountains are blindingly sharp. The fish seem happier. The afternoon heat is a blessing. Speeding across the lagoon to visit neighbors makes you laugh aloud.

Today was my version of a perfect day in the cruising life. Ironically, it wasn’t so different from many past, but the end of the big blow made everything shinier. How simple it is, my perception of perfection. A morning yoga circle with new friends. Dancing alone, free, spinning to my own choreography. Clean hair. A swim to say hi to the parrotfish. Fresh-baked carrot bread. Singing songs at sunset. Coffee on one boat, cocktails on another. My husband’s hand on my back. My laughter loud. The men cooking. Stars again.

travel blog sailing polynesia

Just like all life, there’s good days and bad while cruising. Stormy ones and sunny. Monotonous hours interspersed with magical moments. The difference out here, though, is that the cycle is so damn fast. The pendulum between good and tough rocks rapid-fire, marking time in minutes rather than months. Maybe the swing between good and tough just feels so fast, so bipolar, because our lives depend daily on the wind, the currents, the rain, the sun. We feel their shifts more vicerally.

It’s like that first day of spring in Montana. I learned to appreciate the bitter northern winters for the spring they usher in. Tonight, I’m thanking the gods for the calm that comes in like an exhale on the coattails of the departing winds. I revel in the quiet and the still, the sharp and bright stars, appreciating them all the more after their absence. And I suppose I’ll appreciate the next blow, too, since it makes paradise that much more vibrant in the end.

 

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