bri securing s.ails on waking dream

Growing a Baby on a Boat

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Mamalode, Pregnancy

The first question I get after the requisite “how are you feeling?” is “did you find it hard to be pregnant on a sailboat?” Short answers? Really good and not at all.

Actually, I’ve felt eerily not pregnant, based on the lack of first trimester symptoms most of my friends complained about: exhaustion, morning sickness, food cravings. And I attribute my breezy early pregnancy to the fact that I was on a sailboat.  Keep reading my story by clicking here.

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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!)

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Peeing on a Stick

Posted on 1 CommentPosted in Mamalode, Reflections on Life

I always thought I’d pee on the stick in my own familiar bathroom, in my own comfortable home, at just the right moment. I pictured a sleepy weekend morning, rolling out of our cozy, king-size bed and pulling the pregnancy test out of a drawer where I’d cleverly stowed it for that perfect moment. Instead, I peed on a stick in a public bathroom in the Kingdom of Tonga.  …  Click here to find out what the pregnancy test said! 

To read more of Brianna’s monthly Mamalode articles, click here.

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Farewell, Tonga

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Reflections on Life, Traveling

Dear Tonga,

It’s been a fabulous five months.  You really pulled out all of the stops for our stay here, from pretty fish and sandy beaches to dance parties and band performances.  We particularly loved living on a sailboat in Vava’u’s flat, calm waters (nicknamed “lolo,” or oil, in Tongan).

Maybe next time you can hold off on the cyclone, though, ok?

Diving, fishing, kayaking and snorkeling every day around many of your lush green islands was rad.  Riding a quad bike through Neiafu for the weekly grocery runs was way more fun than using a car, and eating ice cream cones along the main drag was pretty cool, too.  Your people welcomed us with open arms, gathering us right into the fold.  It’s nice to live in a community where everyone knows your name.

In Vava’u, we learned to play two new musical instruments (the ukulele and mandolin), hosted my sister for a month, learned to windsurf (well, one of us did), and tried out kite-boarding.  We also got to be pretend-parents for a couple of weeks.  We learned to slow down some, too, and just sit still with friends.

Sadly, we have to say goodbye now.  Or at least “toki sio,” until our next visit.  Why are we leaving your warm waters and happy shores?  Because we’re crazy?  Maybe.  But it’s time to move on.  Rob and I promised ourselves adventure on this voyage across the seas, and it’s gotten just a tad too comfortable here in Tonga.  We’re ready to challenge ourselves again, to be thrilled by foreign languages and customs, and to immerse ourselves in slightly uncomfortable sensations.

We’re ready for a new country.  A new continent.  New sights, sounds, tastes, textures.  Tomorrow we leave for New Zealand, where we’ll spend a few weeks catching up with many of the friends we made as we sailed through the South Pacific.  After that, Rob and I are gonna spend a few months in Southeast Asia, a place that’s new to us both.  We plan to explore by land and by sea, via boats, buses, scooters and our trusty feet.

Thanks for everything, Tonga.  We already miss you.  We hope to be back again soon.  Nofo a!

Readers: go to our Facebook page for a “Best of Tonga” photo album.  And stay tuned for a “Best of the South Pacific” album, too!

Click here to see our "Best of Tonga" photo album.

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.


Satellite photo of Cyclone Ian approaching Tonga.

Nature’s Engine – A ripple that spins.

Posted on 1 CommentPosted in Ocean Tales, Outdoor Adventures

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

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

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

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

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

Satellite photo of Cyclone Ian approaching Tonga.


Click here to see a full photo album of Cassidy's visit to Tonga!

Farewell to our First Visitor

Posted on 1 CommentPosted in Family and Friends, Outdoor Adventures, Traveling

Click here to see a full photo album of Cassidy's visit to Tonga!

It was a typical Randall sister reunion, full of music, good food and lots of novel-reading between the many outdoor adventures. Cassidy left yesterday after a month with us here in Vava’u. I cried tears of joy when she arrived, and tears of sorrow when she left.

If you’re a visual person, check out the full photo slideshow of Cassidy’s month exploring Tonga here. (I still haven’t figured out why some of you can’t see pictures on our blog. Apologies for the inconvenience, and visit this outside link to see some photos while I keep working on the problem.)

For the more prosaic among our followers, read on to see the Top Ten highlights from hosting our very first visitor, who happens to be my favorite person in the world:

1. Rob taught Cass how to scuba dive, and she rocked the underwater world on 4 different dives.
2. We spent a week on Fofoa, an outer island on the west end of Vava’u, kayaking and snorkeling every day.
3. Cass was lucky enough to have close-up personal encounters with a sea turtle, a spotted eagle ray, a couple of sharks, and thousands of cool fish.
4. I took her on a triathalon slog across the main island, which consisted of 4 hours of bike-riding, hiking straight down (and then up) a slippery muddy trail, swimming in a washing-machine current created by huge waves, and getting deyhydrated enough to think that warm Sprite bought in a tiny village was the BEST thing EVER..
5. We took our slow, slow dingy six miles south to Fenua Unga, where we sat in seawater pools and swam under waterfalls created by the cascading waves.
6. Seahorses. Pregnant male ones, even.
7. The “Waking Dream Cavalcade” released its first album, with Rob on guitar, Cass on ukelele, and me on mandolin — new instruments for all of us!
8. Cass spent an afternoon doing ocean donuts in Ben and Lisa’s power kayak, one of the awesomest water toys out there.
9. We ate daily doses of local pineapple, avocado, papaya and mango, along with fresh giant trevally caught on Rob’s fly rod from the sailboat.
10. Cass attained her goal for this vacation: watch every sunset. And there were some glorious ones, too.

Of course, like all of life, there were lowlights, too: rainy days in a leaky boat; all of us getting sick around Christmas; the boat’s solar panel blowing overboard in a storm (and minimal electricity aboard afterwards). But the lowlights tend to accentuate the good parts. At least, that’s what I’m telling myself, now that I’m facing six months apart from my sister. The distance will make our togetherness even more special when next we get to adventure together.


on the horizon line travel blog tonga island language beaches

Parent For One Week

Posted on 1 CommentPosted in Community and Culture, Mamalode, Reflections on Life

parent for one week in tonga - bri and rob sailing adventure

So, what do you really need to be a parent for a week? Turns out you need a lot less when you’re in Tonga, a tropical island-nation in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Hell, kids don’t even need shoes in Tonga. I discovered this within the first hour of a week-long babysitting gig my husband and I set up here.

As the days wore on, I realized shoes were just the beginning of the long list of things the boys didn’t need … things that were on my list of “what I will probably need to raise a kid” after three decades of living in the United States.  We had none of the things on my list.  Read more about our week of pseudo-parenting here!

bri and cass at the wedding in Missoula - on the horizon line

I’m so excited!

Posted on 3 CommentsPosted in Family and Friends

bri and cass at the wedding in Missoula - on the horizon line

Ko hoku tokoua tu ne ha’u heni ahoni.

In Tongan, that means: my sister is coming here tomorrow. After eight long months, I finally get to see my favorite person again. She’s my other half. (Luckily, Rob is totally cool with sharing those two descriptors with Cassidy.)

The Tongan word for a sibling of the same sex is “tokoua.” You use different words when referring to your borther if you’re a woman, or your sister if you’re a man. But for Cass and me, “tokoua” applies in more ways than one. It literally translates to “second person,” since “toko” is person and “ua” is two. We’ve always been two peas in a pod, mistaken for twins, and best friends. She is my second person. With her around, I feel more complete.

It feels like Rob and I have been planning for Cassidy’s visit for about 6 of the 8 months we’ve been traveling through the South Pacific. We would discuss the ideal location to be in December while sailing a multi-day passage in July. We would dive on a reef in Bora Bora and say, “Cass would love it here.” We scoped out beaches in Tonga to map out the best spots to bring her. We busted ass cleaning and repairing Waking Dream to make sure it was a lovely home for her stay (her bed’s been made for over a week, since I’m so excited).

And now she’s flying in. Today. To Tonga. It seems surreal, in many ways, to have our Montana life and our American family pop up in this new home with our new friends. But it also feels exactly right. I can’t wait to have Cassidy meet Vava’u, and for Vava’u to embrace Cassidy.

Ko hoku tokoua tu ne ha’u heni ahoni. Oku ou lahi aupito fiefia!

My sister is coming here tomorrow. I’m so very happy!

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