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.

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Kids fishing on the shore

Our Desert Oceans – South Pacific Fish Part 3

Posted on 1 CommentPosted in Fishing, Ocean Tales

This is Part Three in a multi-part series on my observations of the state of the South Pacific fishery. Click here to read Part One. Click here to read Part Two.

Kids fishing on the shore

You remember those 3D pictures where an image pops out of the static if you look at it just so? That’s what the ocean is like for me in Vava’u now. At first, I was disappointed that I didn’t see giant fish each time I swam, and that there weren’t any megafauna jumping out at me the minute I put on my mask. But then I realized that if you just adjust your eyes a bit, a whole new dimension appears.

Now every time I go swimming, I see something magical. Something that makes me laugh or scream or hold my breath until my lungs burst just to get a closer look. It’s only a desert if you can’t see the urchins through the sand.

I snorkel around the tiny 3-acre Fetoko Island nearly every day. It’s a ritual now, after five months living in Tonga. And also a challenge to try and see something new each time in this small area. It’s fairly unremarkable, as far as underwater seascapes go: there’s no pass, no drop-offs, no caves or reefs or shark breeding gounds. It’s just a flat sandy area dotted with echinoderms like sea stars and urchins, interspersed with the occassional coral-head and sea grass patch. Yet I’ve noticed more new creatures here than I did in some of the premier diving spots we visited while sailing across the South Pacific — all because I know it so well.

The best part about staying put is truly getting to know a place. That’s what we loved about living in Missoula, that intimacy with the land, the water, the air, the trees, and the knowledge of how those parts of your home change with each season. It’s the same here in Vava’u: I can feel the water get warmer or cooler, notice more of less grass, exclaim over the new fan that appears, mourn the loss of the beautiful lionfish that moved to a new territory. It’s home.

Here’s what I’ve learned while underwater in Tonga: if you can imagine a creature — no matter how bizarre — it probably lives in the sea. Long snakes with 20 antennas that fold up inside their bodies Slugs that turn into flamenco dancers as they float on ruffled red skirts across the sand. Pencil-thin flounder with eyes that migrate from top to bottom and wave like little aliens from a camoflauged body. Gobies that look like they’re ready to walk ashore. Coral that looks like a brain, and fans that look like mermaid’s hair. Moray eels, bizzare clams, unicorn fish, box fish, stone fish.

Even during my delight in the small stuff near Fetoko, I still feel overwhelmed at the scale of human consumption from the sea. But I no longer feel quite as hopeless about the state of the sea. I’ve seen baby coral gardens blossoming. I’ve seen sea grass patches growing. I’ve seen thousands of tiny newborn baby fish huddled in sea urchin spines.

I’ve found hope sprouting at the bottom of the sea.

I have faith in the resiliency of our oceans. I believe at my very core that the oceans and all their wondrous creatures will be around long after humans have vanished from the planet. And I have this hunch that humans are smart enough, creative enough, motivated enough to find a way to more sustainably balance what we take from the sea.

It’s all give and take, in the end. The algae gives energy to the coral, the shells give grit to make sand, the small fish feeds the bigger one. Humans just have to learn how to give as much as we take. It doesn’t seem so impossible, when I think about it like that.

Click here to see trevally swimming underwater.

Our Desert Oceans – South Pacific Fish Part 2

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Fishing

Part Two in a multi-part series on my observations of the state of the South Pacific fishery.  Click here to read Part One.

It had become a sunset ritual to swim along the shallow reef off Fofoa, an island on the western edge of Vava’u where Rob and I stayed for a week. I liked to see what was new each evening, and if I could find my favorite fish from the previous evenings: a nosy orange clownfish that left its anemone to check me out, a few small blue trevallies cruising for prey, a big red soldierfish that hid under a coral shelf.

The fish along this inside reef weren’t huge. And the diversity of species wasn’t as high as we’d seen off remote islands in the South Pacific. But it was a vibrant little reef, which have been hard to find our first couple of months in Vava’u. I’d even seen a couple of blacktip sharks cruising the shallows this morning, and predators are always a good sign of a healthy ecosystem.

Click here to see trevally swimming underwater.

As I swam back to the beach in the fading evening light, I turned to see an old fishing boat behind me. Four Tonganas were aboard, getting ready to cast a net overboard. Damn, I thought. There go all my fish. I turned to ask Jack, the 11-year-old resident we were visiting on Fofoa, if he knew who was in the boat and how often they came.

“Oh, they’re from Hunga, the neighboring island. The come all the time to fish here,” he told me through his snorkeling mask.

Back at the house in the fading light, I stared at the floats that held the 100-meter net suspended just below the deck. It would stay there until at least dawn, passively trapping all the fish I visited each evening. It bothered me that all those fish were floundering in the net, their gills caught, struggling and flailing and gasping for deliverance. I felt their struggle viscerally. I wanted to go cut through that net and free the fish.

But I talked myself out of my monkey-wrench urge, reasoning that the Tongans from Hunga have been fishing this spot for thousands of years, and I have no right to deprive them of dinner. According to this recent Seattle Times article (discovered thanks to one of our blog readers), one-sixth of animal protein consumed by humans comes from marine fish — in many remote villages here in Tonga, nearly all of their protein comes from fish.

I love to eat fish, and we’ve caught our fair share this past year. Yet something about that net niggled at me all night. It left me feeling disappointed, frustrated, sad, angry. No amount of reasoning erased my feelings, even if I logically understood the social or economic need for catching and eating fish.

The net was gone before sunrise. My morning investigation found that the reef still had fish. Fewer, no doubt, but plenty of colorful critters flitting about. That afternoon, we kayaked through the lagoon to visit friends on neighboring Hunga island. As Caroline doused us with delicious coffee and passion fruit, she and her husband talked about the changes they’ve seen over the past 14 years in the waters off Tonga: mega-long-liners from Japan that caught hundreds of mahi-mahi each day, leaving none of these beautiful fish in Vava’u for two years. No more spinner dolphins visiting the lagoon. Fewer turtles, since the locals eat any they find. Over 200 fishing ships en-route from China this year, each one measuring 400 feet long with its own fish processing and packaging plant aboard.

Suddenly, when faced with 200 commercial fishing boats offshore, the measly 100-meter net that hung off the beach last night didn’t seem so bad. The overall state of the ocean fishery, however, felt even more dire. (Watch the video below for a great synopsis of what’s up in the seas.)

The depletion of our oceans makes me feel helpless. And hypocritcal, since I enjoy my fish. Even if I boycott everything but what Rob and I catch ourselves, how do I deal with the knowledge of dwindling fish populations? And what about the other several billion people in the world that eat fish regularly, who depend upon fish to survive?

Can the oceans keep up with human demand? Not at this rate. Not with this technology, that allows us to catch, kill, clean, package and ship to your plate in the blink of an eye.

Something’s gotta give.


Turning into Tinker Bell

Turning Into Tinkerbell

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Mamalode, Ocean Tales

I jumped in beside my sister, gasping as the sparkly green-white lights encircled my legs and torso. “I feel like Tinker Bell,” I exclaimed.

We shrieked our excitement, our voices as high-pitched as school girls. We reveled in making our breasts glow in the dark, and in the feel of the jet-black water. We were as bright and shiny as the diamond-sharp stars overhead, and as light as the bubbles of plankton that tickled our tummies.

“Your butt is glowing,” Cass informed me, as she followed me up the ladder out of the sea.

Click here to read the rest of this at

Read more of Brianna’s Mamalode articles here.

Turning into Tinker Bell

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.

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

Our Desert Ocean – South Pacific Fish Part One

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Fishing, Ocean Tales

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

Part One in a series on the state of the South Pacific fisheries.

The first time I got in the water in Vava’u, Tonga, I sighed in disappointment. No blacktip sharks came up instantly to check me out. I didn’t see any giant snapper, or manta rays, or flocks of parrotfish. All I saw were some urchins, dead coral, sea cucumbers and a few random wrasses. Boring.

“Do you think we’re going to be jaded about snorkeling and diving for the next 20 years of our life?” I asked Rob, as I heaved myself up on the wharf I’d just jumped off.

He laughed. “Yeah, it’ll probably be tough for a while, if we’re comparing everything to the Tuamotus and Beveridge Reef.”

This past year, we’ve been lucky enough to swim in spectacular places, with a whole host of crazy-cool underwater critters. Guess why those places were so spectacular? Because nobody lives there. Take Beveridge Reef, for example, the spot we stayed with the most diversity and the biggest fish. It was also the most remote place we sailed to, a submerged atoll in the center of the deep blue, 150 nautical miles from the nearest land.

And that sums up the main take-away from our hundreds of hours spent underwater in the Pacific — the farther you get from humans, the healthier the underwater ecosystem. Whenever we get in the water near civilization, it’s depressing. Fish are sparse and small, coral is damaged, visibility is impaired, algae increases.

It’s not just the near-shore habitat, either. We’ve seen barren reefs that are quite far from any town. We even had a week-long stretch sailing in the middle of the ocean with no sign of anything but flying fish. Some days, it feels like a desert out here in the Pacific.

So, where did all the fish go? Why are many reefs deserted? Hungry humans are certainly part of the answer. But I find it hard to blame hungry locals who have been fishing a certain reef for thousands of years. If you were hungry, didn’t have much money, and had a free source of good protein on your doorstep, wouldn’t you slurp up all those yummy fish, too?

But multiply those hungry humans by billions. And add in the fact that many of those fish-dinner-loving humans live 10,000 miles from that particular reef. Suddenly, the desert ocean makes a bit more sense. Rob and I have seen first-hand many of the pressures facing the ocean and fisheries this past year: international trawlers that sweep up all living things in their path; gill nets the size of football fields strung out daily along the same reef; $900-per-day charter fishing trips whose participants bring in 500-pound wahoo or marlin just to mount the head on a wall.

The memory of those trawlers and nets and trophy fish flashed through my mind the first day I snorkeled in Tonga amidst the scanty underwater life. It left me feeling sad about the state of the sea, and helpless for how to heal it. It left me wondering what will happen to our desert oceans, and the the billions of humans who depend upon them.


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

Happy 4th from Tahiti!

Posted on 4 CommentsPosted in Family and Friends, Traveling

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

Happy 4th of July, friends and family!

First off, Tahiti says hello. She asked me to reach out palm fronds and rainbows, and blow wet sandy kisses toward you. It’s a cool volcanic island. Big. And way more crowded than we’re used to, after our month at sea and another month in more remote and deserted islands east of here. We’re overwhelmed by the choices at the magasin, where food offerings include more than pancake syrup and canned sausage. The hub of the South Pacific.

Second, we miss you all like hell. We think about you often, talk about what you’re up to, and how you’re faring. How odd it is that you all have new successes, adventures, challenges that we aren’t apart of. Most often, though, we talk about what it would be like to have one, two, or (best case) ALL of you with us. We bring you into different moments, visualizing how helpful it would be to have you by our side when we’re seasick or cranky, how awesome to snorkel with you through bright, vibrant fish, how cozy to sip coffee with you while anchored in turquoise water, how much we’d laugh at faux pas as we feel our way through the lessons of sailing and traveling. And then Rob and I sigh. We stay quiet for a few moments to savor the vision, and then return to reality.

Reality is pretty f-ing great, too. But know that it would be exponentially more unbelievable to share it with our favorite people.

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

Which brings us to the third point: come share this reality with us. Anyone want to take a winter vacation south of the equator?

Of course, that would mean we would have to know where we’ll be six months from now … and we rarely know where we’ll be six days forward. This morning, though, Rob and I sat with our map of islands and countries west of here. We had a big-kid talk about realistic goals for the rest of this sailing season. Here’s an update on our potential travel schedule for the next several months. Before reading on, however, a word of warning: this is all subject to change at any moment. Most of the fun for us lies in the ability to be completely flexible!

– Our 90-day visa in French Polynesia ends in late August, so we expect to stay in the Society Islands (Moorea, Bora Bora, Raiatea, Tahaa) for another ~6 weeks.

– Then we’ll likely hitchhike (sailhike? hitchsail?) to the Cook Islands, the next closest island chain, and spend 2-4 weeks exploring.

– After that, Tonga is top on the list of must-see countries. It’s the next major hub for cruisers heading west, and sounds like amazing sailing grounds. Rob and I hope to spend up to two months hopping around these islands.

– By then, it’ll be late October or early November, when sailboats are heading to safe spots to weather the hurricane season. Since we don’t have a boat, we’re in no rush to leave the islands. A couple of options for where we might be from November to February:

1) Head to American Samoa to spend some time on land. The Samoan island chain is diverse, with plenty of places to dive, snorkel, explore. We might even look for some temporary work for a few months. (Might be the key word!)
2) We know of lots of boats that plan to end their trip in November once the weather window ends. Many folks cross the Pacific, and then store or sell their boat in Australia, New Zealand, New Caledonia or even Fiji. Rob and I will put out feelers to see if anyone needs a “boat sitter” during the off-season.
3) Someone offers us a killer deal on a sweet sailboat and we buy our own floating home and take off into the sunset. This is fairly unlikely, since we’re both still reveling in our lack of responsibilities, and owning a sailboat is a lot of work, money and headaches.

After that? Who the hell knows. We can barely wrap our head around where we might end up in the next 3 days, much less next year. But the current longer-term vision is to keep going. We really want to see Indonesia and Southeast Asia, too, and aren’t at all done exploring the South Pacific yet. We hope to hit up Melanesia (Solomans and Vanuatu) next March through July. And we’re even considering a trip home to Montana next summer before beginning the Indo/Asia portion of our adventure, so we can see your new houses, kiss the babies, and celebrate life with all of you.

There you have it, a rough agenda, which will likely change as quickly as the wind. Next season seems like eons from now, across so much space and time, so many un-met people and unknown circumstances that it makes me laugh to write down plans.

We hope you are all enjoying American independence in beautiful places with glorious people.

We miss you!
-Bri and Rob

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

Off To See The Wizard

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Sailing, Traveling

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

The blue-green waters surrounding French Polynesia just turned into a yellow brick road. Rob gets to be the Scarecrow, and I’m gonna try my hand at Dorothy. We’ve nominated a blacktip shark to be Toto, and the thousands of coral heads lurking just beneath the surface play the Wicked Witches and flying monkey things.

I know. You’re asking if I’m writing this while on some weird island mushroom, right? Or assuming I got a tad too much sun, maybe? Nope. I’m just letting you know that Rob and I have joined a new sailboat. It’s motto? “Off to see the Wizard.” Check out the boat’s blog if you don’t believe me. John and Sue Campbell, a semi-retired couple from Sonoma County, California, have generously offered to share their floating home with us for a bit.

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

Wizard is a Choate 40 racer-cruiser, very similar in layout (and speed!) to Kayanos, our last ride. We like her, and we really like John and Sue. The four of us all have a similar sense of humor, which is basically the most important ingredient for successfully sailing around in the largest ocean on earth. Sue’s learning to play the ukelele, and doesn’t mind that Rob and I belt out tunes at all hours. John is a laid-back, mostly-Buddhist captain (unless someone tries to anchor too close) who misses microbrews as much as I do.

We met Wizard and her crew our first day on land in Nuku Hiva after the big passage, and hit it off immediately. A month later, John and Sue offered to take us on a day sail to north Fakarava so we could “look for another ride” when Kayanos sailed to Tahiti. Well, we didn’t look very long … the day sail turned into many days as we sailed north to Toau. We’ll likely make the 2-day passage to Tahiti aboard Wizard, as well. In fact, John keeps mentioning that we should just go ahead and buy Wizard when they finish their sailing adventure this November.

Guess we’ll see where our yellow brick road ends up. Meanwhile, Rob and I will make sure to keep our bare feet from clicking together, since we’re not definitely not ready to go home.

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

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