What do you pack when you are sailing around the world and you don’t really know where you are going or how long you will be at sea?
Brianna Randall and Rob Roberts are still trying to answer that question, and they are running out of time.
Next week, the Missoula couple embark for distant horizons, following a dream they first talked about more than three years ago.
Although they had successful and interesting careers – Randall, 32, the policy director for the Clark Fork Coalition, and Roberts, 37, Clark Fork restoration director for Montana Trout Unlimited – both felt they were at the top of their learning curve and were ready for something new.
Randall, who loves the water and shared a rented sailboat each summer on Flathead Lake had a confession for Roberts, her not-yet-husband.
“I told Rob that I wanted to sail for days on end with no land in sight,” Randall said. “I wanted to know what that experience might be like.”
Roberts, a former Peace Corps volunteer, was not one to back away from adventure – and even though he doesn’t know much about sailing, he knows a lot about problem-solving in the middle of nowhere without a lot of resources.
And so, about three years ago, the couple began talking about sailing around the world in earnest.
A year ago they married, and when they told their employers about their decision to sail around the world, both were given the option to take a year’s sabbatical from work.
Although honored by the generous offers, they decided to decline.
“We realized we didn’t want that hanging over our heads,” Roberts said. “We don’t know when we are coming back. We want to disappear in the world.”
Friday was their last day of work, and next Tuesday, their adventure officially begins when they hand over the keys to their house and board an airplane for Mexico to visit with friends for two weeks.
From there, they fly to Panama City to crew for a Massachusetts couple and their three teenage boys who need help getting their sailboat through the Panama Canal and ultimately to Tahiti.
The voyage will take about two months, Randall said. And when they arrive in Tahiti the plan is pretty simple.
“We will become ocean hitchhikers,” Randall said. “We will cruise the docks and find another boat to crew on. The only goal is to go west.”
Tahiti becomes a busy transit stop for boats crossing the Pacific during late spring and early summer.
Usually, the mass migration moves west to the coasts of Australia and New Zealand.
But with thousands of islands in the South Pacific, Roberts said he and his wife are hoping to take the route less traveled – skipping the hurricane zones, of course.
“There should be a lot of activity in Tahiti and we should have our pick of who and where we want to go with,” Roberts said.
As the couple make their way, they expect to trade work for rides to their next destination, and as they acquire more useful skills, there are more chances they’ll be paid for their work.
Most of their voyage will be on working yachts and other kinds of ocean-going personal sailboats, about 30 to 60 feet long.
Randall said she’s eager to learn more about “sea gypsies” – people who choose to live on the water – and the bartering, nomadic lifestyle that goes with it.
Randall will be blogging their adventures, relying on solar power to charge her lightweight laptop.
What’s left of their time in Missoula is filled with packing and goodbye dinners.
It’s been an exciting and bittersweet time, yet the call of the ocean is stronger than the sadness they may feel as they say farewell to family and friends.
The couple say they truly don’t know how long they will travel the seas.
“I was pretty sad about a month ago,” Randall said. “My family lives here and my sister lives next door. But at this point it feels good – it feels right to go.”
Roberts said he’s eager to get going, and to face whatever wonders and challenges that lie ahead.
“The work at Trout Unlimited was so fulfilling, and I was doing the kind of thing I could do for the rest of my life. But when one day I realized I had been at Trout Unlimited for 10 to 11 years, it seemed like such a long time and I was ready to try something new.”
The past year has been filled with research about trade winds, about living in the small quarters of a sailboat, of South Pacific islands, hurricane patterns and life of the water people.
No matter the intense amount of research, when it ultimately comes time to pack, what to take and what to leave behind is the first, and perhaps, hardest challenge.
Adding to the pressure is the fact that the couple are committed to one dry bag backpack each, with a 50-pound weight limit.
So far, their packing list includes: a spear gun, a guitar, a tiny laptop, a GPS unit, snorkel gear, recording and video equipment, packable life vests, sewing tools and fishing line.
Staring at the pile of gear and clothing spread out before him, Roberts confessed to the enormity and pressure of packing.
“It’s like going on an extended trip in the wilderness, and the ocean is the biggest wilderness in the world.”