How to fight off big, hairy robbers in the Australian Outback

I’m startled awake at 5 am as the sun rises over Western Australia, causing me to sit up too quickly and smack my head. As I try to work out why the ceiling is so low, I realize I’m clutching my iPhone to my chest like some kind of plastic security blanket.

The iPhone screen shows I’ve typed in “000” on my keypad and left it there, presumably waiting for me to hit the “call” button.

I’m confused by the “000” until a vague memory creeps into my consciousness of a dream I had about being on a boat in a storm as the camper swayed to and fro in the wind, playing with my imagination. Then my boat dreams morphed into scenes where big, hairy men with outback hats and enormous hunting knives tried to break into the camper van.

Don’t ask me how I knew they had hats and enormous knives from inside an unlit camper van; that’s just how dreams work.

I remember being half asleep and groggily Googling “Emergency Number Australia” in the middle of the night, arguing to myself that if something bad were to happen, I should have the local equivalent to 911 handy on my phone.

I know this is just a dream and I’m being completely ridiculous, I remember thinking, in a state of almost-sleep. But what does it hurt to look up the number?

I must have woken up half a dozen times to consider the problem of Crocodile-Dundee-look-alike bandits outside our door, resulting in scenes that played out in my subconscious like an Australian “Groundhog’s Day,” where each time I got to try out a new defense tactic against the imaginary robbers.

Me (calling 000): Hi there. I’m trapped in a camper van in the desert and there are big, hairy men outside trying to kill me.

000 Emergency Responder: And where are you exactly?

Me: Um. Somewhere between Perth and Adelaide?


Me (calling 000): *whispering* Hi, can you hear me? I’m whispering so the men trying to kill me won’t know I’m calling. I need your help.

Big, hairy robbers: I CAN HEAR YOU! Open the door and we won’t kill you!

Me: *still whispering* Did you hear that? I’m like an hour outside of Perth. How long before you can get to me?

000 Emergency Responder: Like an hour.


Me (shouting out the window on the other side of the van): Hey robbers! I’m over here!

As footsteps are heard scampering away from the camper door and towards the other side of the van, I unlock the door and, crouching down, bolt towards the front cab to open the driver-side door. Except when I get there, I discover I’m not in the U.S., so what I think is the driver-side door is actually the passenger-side door. I have to act fast, so I open the door and jump into the passenger seat just as the big, hairy robber jumps into the driver’s seat and snatches my keys off me.

Me: Damn it, foreign cars!


Me: Ryan, wake up! There’s robbers outside our camper van!

Big, hairy robbers: Come out now! If you don’t come out, we’ll come in and get you!

Ryan: It’s just a dream. They’re not real, go back to sleep.

Me: How do you know? Shouldn’t we put up a fight in case it’s not a dream?

Big, hairy robbers laugh maniacally as they slash through the camper door with their enormous knives.


Anticipating the arrival of robbers, I grab my pillow and leave Ryan sleeping peacefully as I crawl silently in the dark to the opposite side of the van and into the driver’s seat. I lock the doors, lay down on the front seat and wait for the big, hairy men to strike.

Big, hairy robbers: Come out now and give us all your money!

Me: Not so fast, you bastards!

Turning the key in the ignition, I floor the gas and speed away, kicking dust into the faces of the big, hairy robbers as they run after the camper van, shaking their knives menacingly.


I stretch my arms and wipe cold condensation off my nose while looking around for Ryan. The sun is peeking through our miniature window shades as I hear clanking and shuffling and cheerful humming outside.

The door pops open and Ryan climbs into the camper with a cup of coffee in his hand. “Oh, you’re awake! How was your first night sleeping in the Outback?”

“Not so great,” I say, showing Ryan my iPhone screen.

“What’s 000?”

“That’s Australia’s emergency phone number,” I explain.

“What were you calling that for?”

“I had a dream we were being attacked by murderous robbers that looked like beefed up versions of Crocodile Dundee.”

“That wasn’t a dream,” Ryan says. We were attacked by murderous robbers. I fought them off with an army of drop bears.”

“That’s not funny,” I say. “I’m totally traumatized.”

“LOOK OUT!” Ryan says, pointing up and laughing.

I glare at Ryan. “You have no appreciation for my heroism. Clearly.”

apollo camper van travel in australia

Ryan making coffee, oblivious to the battles of the night before

On travel and the joy of new beginnings

Ryan turns the key in the ignition of our “Adventure Camper” and pulls out onto the long, straight, dusty road that leads to National Highway 94, on to Coolgardie, down to Norseman and across the 1,100 kilometer (684 mile) stretch of Nullarbor Plain.

Every Australian we’ve met has told us this is the longest, dullest stretch of nothingness we will ever regret driving across, but these off-putting descriptions have done little to dampen Ryan’s enthusiasm as he turns up the radio, bounces in the driver’s seat and accelerates towards the desert. You can see from the smirk on his face that his imagination is not dulled, but rather stimulated by the emptiness on the horizon.

There is a distinct feeling like none other when you start a new journey and a world of possibilities is laid out before you like a breadcrumb trail to your future, better self. Whether you are stepping on to the deck of a sailboat, getting behind the wheel of a camper van or standing in front of the departures board at a train station with a backpack and no itinerary, in those still moments before your journey is set in motion, you can almost see your future travel-worn self relishing in the experience of new and strange foods, sharing a beer with a wise old storyteller or taking in the sunrise from a mountaintop. And the motivation to move forward is never stronger than in those moments before a journey begins.

I think back to the many great journeys of my life so far and I feel incredibly fortunate that, 15 years after I first left the U.S. to teach English in Russia, I am still in love with that exhilarating feeling of moving towards the delicious unknown.

That feeling has pushed me onto the platforms of the Trans-Siberian railway, onto a ferry to Finland, into a Jeep driving through the Caucasus Mountains, to the deserts of the Middle East, to the cobbled streets of Spain and onto the colorful buses of South America. And with my English teaching certification in hand, I could get work wherever I went, ensuring my travels would never have to end.

Along the way, that meandering path I forged as I taught English around the world inspired me and Ryan to build Teaching House, now the largest CELTA teacher training school in the world, which has sent thousands of teachers abroad to do just what we’ve done. And, in turn, this inspired us to build IH New York and IH Boston, two English language schools that bring students from all over the world to learn English in the U.S. and experience life in New York and Boston.

So, what may have looked at the time like aimless travels into an unstable future, in fact, formed the very livelihood that allows me to continue doing what I love after all these years – traveling, teaching, writing and discovering new passions, whether it be sailing, surfing, ski racing, roller derby or racing across oceans in the Clipper Round the World Race.

And here I am now, sitting in the passenger seat of a camper van as it rolls towards the Outback, oddly excited to see tumbleweed blowing across a barren landscape. Because against the backdrop of the Australian bush, I can see what lies ahead is another journey, a new experience and an opportunity to grow.

That is the beauty of new beginnings: roads, oceans and train tracks are blank slates on which you can scribble your own route leading to an endless network of beautiful, unimaginable possibilities. The only thing you need to be sure of is the desire to take those first few steps. Knowing where those steps lead is not important, and there’s no point worrying about where you’ll end up because worrying will only slow you down.

As a wild kangaroo bounces alongside us on the road, Ryan shifts into gear, kicking up a cloud of dust as we pull away from Perth. We have no idea how long we will spend in Australia, or even where we want to go next. But none of that matters. We have the open road, our wild imagination and the experience to know that opportunities are created by those who go looking for them.

on travel in australia


What part of a new adventure do you love most? What is it about a journey that speaks to you?

Photo Essay: Animals of Australia

By the time we pick up our dollar-a-day Apollo camper van, Ryan is chomping at the bit to put miles behind us and get out into the middle of the big, wild Australian Outback.

Except I’m still looking for kangaroos.

And I’m concerned that if we start driving, we won’t get very far because I’ll have to chase down every kangaroo I see until it agrees to pose in multiple Tasha + Kangaroo selfies.

“It could take days just to reach the Nullarbor,” I warn Ryan.

“But it’s getting late,” Ryan complains in the Apollo parking lot. “If we don’t get moving, we’re not going to get anywhere by sunset.”

“Yes, but think of how long it could take us otherwise. There are kangaroos, koalas, wombats… so many animals! I could just get it over with now, cuddle ALL OF THEM, and then we’ll be free to drive to your heart’s content.”

“What is this place you want to go to?” Ryan says, looking defeated.

“It’s called Caversham Wildlife Park and it’s like 20 minutes north of here and they have a kangaroo petting zoo, and koalas and tons of weird animals. Can we, can we?” I plead.

Ryan looks at his watch, then looks at the camper van and sighs. “But we’re going east, and we still need to go to the store and pick up supplies…”

“Just think of my safety,” I say, as Ryan squints at me skeptically. “You don’t want me jumping out of a moving vehicle every time I see fur. That will totally happen. I need to cuddle some kangaroos. Pete told me they have Albino kangaroos at Caversham and you can pet them, and feed them and take pictures of them.”

“Pete also said there are drop bears,” Ryan says.


caversham wildlife park animals of australia

We both win! I get kangaroos and Ryan gets his picture taken…as a koala.

feeding kangaroos animals of australia

I am in Kangaroo Heaven. Pete was totally not lying.

caversham wallabee photo essay animals of australia

Wallabees! I had no idea these guys were like tiny, adorable kangaroos. I’m offering this little guy a home in our new camper van. I think he’s considering it.

caversham koala photo essay animals of australia

I once begged my parents for a pet koala and they said, “Eucalyptus trees don’t grow in New York.” What they should have said was, “Koalas don’t do anything but sleep.” Not that that would have put me off…

koala caversham photo essay animals of australia

Yep, still sleeping. But they’re so cute, aren’t they?

parrot photo essay animals of australia

In the “Wombat & Friends” tent, we get to hang out with some pretty birds…

strange bird animals of australia photo essay

And some less pretty ones. Like this guy, who looks like someone glued a frog to his face. (High fives to anyone who can identify this strange bird, BTW.)

animals of australia owl

Anyone know what kind of owl this Aussie relative of E.T. might be?

owl animals of australia photo essay

“Dude, am I the only normal-looking owl in here?”

photo essay animals of australia bandicoot

It’s a mouse! It’s a kangaroo! It’s a kangaroo mouse! No? Oh, of course, it’s a bandicoot!

animals of australia adorable bandicoot

These adorable bandicoots are marsupials, like so many of Australia’s strange animals.

golden possum caversham animals of australia

This is  “Buttercup,” a friendly golden possum, and also a marsupial.

caversham wildlife wombat and friends animals of australia

The audience’s reaction to meeting the “star of the show.” At least the children weren’t alone in their confusion. I was also there, asking “WTF? That’s a BAT?!”

caversham animals of australia wombat

It turns out a “wombat” is not a bat. But a “flying fox” is. Go figure.

apollo camper van australia road trip

“Okay, NOW can we get this road trip started?” Ryan asks.

What other weird Australian animals do you know of? Other than the dubious Nannup Tiger (aka Thylacine), that is… I might just go back and track them down. Seriously.

Watch out for drop bears

The night before we pick up our Aussie adventure-on-wheels, Ryan and I are sitting in a wine bar in Perth with our friend Pete, a native Aussie.

“Don’t drive after sunset,” Pete says. “Kangaroos are stupid. They’re attracted to your headlights and they’ll run towards your car. It’s bad news if you hit one. Some of them are as big as cows.”

“Okay,” I say, nodding my head. I’ve not even seen a kangaroo yet, but I definitely don’t want to hit one.

“And if you DO hit one and it comes through the windscreen, get out of the car immediately,” Pete says. “Sometimes they don’t die right away and they can kick you to death.”

“Okay,” I say, slightly traumatized at the thought.

“And look out for road trains,” Pete continues. “When they come plowing through, they can kick up stones like bullets. I had one kick up a rock that smashed my windscreen.”

“Geez,” I say.

“And bring plenty of water. Like an obscene amount of water. And if you break down in the desert, DON’T leave your car,” Pete says. “Every year some stupid tourist makes the news for trying to walk and get help. THERE IS NO HELP. Stay with the car.”

I nod my head. “But where are these kangaroos? I’ve been here a week and I haven’t seen a single one!”

“Oh, you’ll see them. As soon as you get outside the city, you’ll see them,” Pete says.

“Yay! I can’t wait to cuddle a kangaroo and a koala and I heard you have these mice —  kangaroo mice — they’re like mice but they hop like kangaroos…what other weird animals are out there?”

“All kinds. Just don’t park your camper under any trees,” Pete says.

“Why? What’s in the trees? Pythons?”

“Drop bears,” Pete says.

“Drop bears? What’s a drop bear?”

“It looks kind of like a koala, but he drops out of the trees when you’re standing underneath. They’re really dangerous.”

Ryan and I look bewildered, and then suspicious.

“I’m dead serious. Google it.” Pete says.

I start tapping away on my iPhone and then crack a smile. I look up at Pete, who is now half giggling. “You mean, like a koala with vampire fangs?”

watch-out-for-drop-bears“Yep, that’s him!” Pete says, now laughing uncontrollably.

“And this?”

Drop-bear-dropping“Yeah, you see? They should’ve looked up!”

I scroll through the endless photos and warnings about drop bears in amazement. “Is this a thing you tell children to make them go to bed at night? Is this like the Boogie Man?”

“Bogey Man,” Ryan corrects.

“What? No, it’s pronounced BOO-gie Man.” I insist.

“What is that, like a dancing man? That’s not scary. It’s definitely the Bogey Man in Britain,” Ryan says.

“Yes, this is what we tell kids in Australia,” Pete says. “And tourists.”

“That is GENIUS!” I say. “When I was a kid my parents would tell me to stay in bed so the Boogie Man…”

“Bogey Man.”

I glare at Ryan. “…So the BOOGIE Man wouldn’t get me and I knew it was a lie. But now parents can actually tell their kids to Google it. Parents totally have the internet on their side these days!” I say, now Googling images for “boogie man.”

“Oh, wait. Boogie Man propaganda is not quite as consistent as the drop bear stuff. Ooh. This is horrible, actually. I’m not sure I’d show this to kids.”

boogie man“I mean, what is this? Does the Boogie Man have a side gig as a WWF Wrestler?”

“What and you’d show THIS to your kids to make them stay in bed?!” Ryan says, sticking this image in my face:


“You can TOTALLY tell that’s fake. I mean, look, his hand is rubber. It’s SO obvious.”

“Don’t show this to our kids,” Ryan says.

“You have kids?” Pete asks.

“No, he means our future kids,” I explain. “Okay, maybe we can make up our own scary-but-less-scary monster to keep them in bed,” I say, googling images of “killer unicorns.”

“Like this… that’s totally scary. He can stab you with his horn.”


“What? A cartoon killer unicorn BUNNY? There is no realism in this monster.”

“What about this one. This killer unicorn will stab and kill your stuffed animal and make it bleed stuffed animal blood. That’s pretty scary. I’d stay in bed for that.”

killer unicorn stuffed animal

“That’s totally traumatizing. Killing a kid’s stuffed animals? What is wrong with you?”

“Okay, okay. Realistic but not traumatizing.” I say, tapping on the iPhone. “I got it. KILLER PUPPIES.”

stone cold killer

“Don’t you want these killer puppies to keep our kids in bed?” I say, showing Ryan my iPhone.

Killer puppy adorable

“Awww, they’re so cute!” Ryan says.

“That’s not scary. Drop bears are scary, that’s the point.” Pete says.

“Well maybe it can be like a less traumatizing, less threatening threat,” I say, showing him this photo:

killer puppy boogie man

“Like, hey, if you stay in bed and go to sleep, this killer puppy will come cuddle you. Don’t you want that?”

“I want that,” Ryan says.

“We had drop bears and boogie men…”

“BOGEY men.”

“…and our children will have killer puppies.

killer puppy slobbery kisses

Driving across Australia on the cheap

One of the greatest experiences in travel is turning up to a new country with no plan whatsoever. No guidebook, no stacks of printed recommendations, no bookings. Just you, a grand idea of the adventures that lie ahead and the enthusiasm to go out and chat up locals to find out where they love to go and how they get around.

It allows a journey to develop organically from a seed of inspiration to discover the things you love, which may or may not be similar to what travelers before you loved. Not having an itinerary also means your plans will change often along the way, allowing you to forge a path that is uniquely tailored to your whims and desires.

By the time Ryan and I pull into Albany, Western Australia on our respective Clipper racing yachts, Ryan has spent three weeks at sea with a boat full of Aussies who have a lot of ideas about how we should go about traveling in Australia. “Sydney, Gold Coast, Byron Bay, do some diving, do some surfing, don’t go to Canberra – it’s shit.”

clipper race to australia albany turf to surf

Clipper fleet docked in Albany, Australia, after a 5,000-mile journey from South Africa

But Ryan’s idea is to buy or rent a camper van and drive across the Nullarbor, the expanse that lies between Perth and Adelaide, which every Aussie says is a terrible idea. They try to convince us to get a camper in Adelaide and drive east from there so we don’t die in the desert because we hit a kangaroo and didn’t have enough water to survive until the next car drove past…five days later.

Australia, it turns out, is the 52nd country I’ve visited, and never having been here before, I am positively giddy at the idea of seeing kangaroos, koalas and Crocodile Dundee. Because, really, that is all I know about Australia. So no matter how many times our Aussie friends tell us we’re going to hit a kangaroo and die, all I can think is, “Kangaroo! Where?!” And “Crocodile Dundee will save us!”

Thankfully, we are able to move our Aussie friends past the part in the conversation where they tell us we’re going to die and eventually they give up and tell us how they would go about driving across Australia, if they were crazy enough to think that was a good idea, which they want to make perfectly clear they do not.

And they tell us about car and camper relocations in Sydney, using campervan hire sites like Which turns out to be the single greatest Aussie travel tip EVER. Basically, whenever rental companies like Camperman Australia need to move a car, van or camper from one location to another, they advertise the dates and the type of car on their website and offer super low prices if you want to relocate a car for them during the time frame they need. Genius!

So, sure enough, after a little internet research, we find ourselves an Apollo 4-wheel-drive “Adventure Camper” at, which needs to be picked up in Perth and relocated to Brisbane 12 days later, at the bargain price of $1 a day. Score!

apollo relocations driving across australia cheap

Note: “Perfect for adventurous couples and adventurous mates”

So, as soon as our “Adventure Camper” is booked, the wheels start turning and we start dreaming of all the things we can do with our 12 days on the road. For instance, we can go find some kangaroos (we’ve not seen a single one), hang out in one-horse mining towns, chat to bogans (Aussie rednecks), see some beautiful beaches, visit friends in Melbourne and Brisbane, check out the waterfront bars in Sydney, camp out in national parks… and who knows what else we’ll discover along the way!

For now, we only have a few days left to see Albany and hang out with our Clipper crew mates before they sail off again on their next race to Sydney. But we’re not feeling so sad anymore to say good-bye to our boats.

Because a plan is in bloom and we have a four-wheel-drive adventure-on-wheels waiting for us in Perth. And I cannot wait to see where it takes us.

driving across australia the cheap way

The plan: Drive 5,500 km (3,400 miles) from Perth to Brisbane

driving across australia the cheap way turf to surf

Let’s get this road trip party started!


The Clipper Round the World Race

Tasha and Ryan both raced in Leg 1 of the Clipper Race from London to Rio de Janeiro and Leg 3 from Cape Town, South Africa to Albany, Australia. Tasha competed on Henri Lloyd and Ryan competed on PSP Logistics, and now they are traveling through Australia, Southeast Asia and the U.S., doing a full circumnavigation, before heading to the Dominican Republic to carry on sailing their own boat, Hideaway.

7 sailing blogs to follow in 2014

It’s amazing what a little dry land, a comfortable mattress and unlimited hot showers will do to restore one’s love and nostalgia for the sea.

It was just a month ago that I crawled off the deck of Henri Lloyd and onto the docks of Albany, Australia, with an acute disdain for my crusty foul-weather gear and an intense thirst for beer.

Yet, no sooner did I dry out than I began missing life at sea again. Which compelled me to get back in touch with some of the amazing cruising couples we met as we sailed south from New York to the Caribbean last year.

And when I started reading their blogs again, I was amazed at the incredibly different paths they all took after we left them to go our own way. Which just illustrates the infinite number of options open to cruisers and sailors alike when they ask themselves the question “What’s next?”

So I thought it would be fun to introduce you to some of the great sailors with sailing blogs we met in 2013 and give you an overview of where they are now and where they’re headed in 2014. Though, keep in mind the plans of cruisers (and any travelers, really) are written in sand at low tide.

1. Gretchen and Chris, s/v Alchemy and now s/v Gossamer

chris gretchen s:v gossamer sailing blogs 2014

Chris and Gretchen on their new boat, Gossamer

It was the combination of a marathon, a desperate cry for help on Facebook and an email from Brittany at Windtraveler that brought us together with Gretchen and Chris in Oriental, North Carolina one chilly, serendipitous weekend. Their willingness to help out two strangers in a bind and give us a lift to the airport (not to mention a loaf of homemade bread), totally blew us away. And they have a fluffy white cat. And we have a fluffy white cat. Um, fate?

What they’ve been up to

Gretchen and Chris cruised Alchemy up the east coast U.S. to Maine and then stopped in Massachusetts on their way back down to buy a bigger boat – a 1978 Camper & Nicholson 44 — which means they’re trading the title of “cruisers” for “full-time mechanics” for the time being. So, if you’re looking to buy a boat, you should check out Alchemy, for sale at Crusader Yacht Sales in Annapolis, MD.

2014 Plans

This winter and thereafter, Gretchen and Chris will be doing a refit on s/v Gossamer to get her ready for her trip south to the Bahamas sometime in the distant future (we all know how refits go). For now, they’re based in Annapolis, MD while their new boat rests at the city docks downtown. If you’re interested in the psychology behind the cruising life, Gretchen writes a lot about the mental side of sailing here:

2. Jessica and Matt, s/v Serendipity

MJ Sailing Sailing Blogs 2014

Matt and Jessica (aka Mr. and Mrs. Calvin Klein)

A young couple in their early thirties, Jessica and Matt often look like they’ve stepped out of a Calvin Klein ad and could give Alex & Taru a run for their money at modeling (I mean, look at these guys! No photo-shopping necessary). After meeting them for the first time in North Carolina, we kept close to them for most of our journey down the ICW, until their unfortunate accident in St. Augustine, Florida, which put a stop to their cruising for a bit.

What they’ve been up to

After several months spent in St. Augustine doing repairs on Serendipity, Jessica and Matt went back out to sea with a vengeance and cruised to the Bahamas, Cuba, the Cayman Islands and hunkered down in Rio Dulce, Guatemala for hurricane season. After the weather cleared, they made the jump to Belize and on to Cozumel, Mexico.

2014 Plans

Right now they’re on Isla Mujeres, Mexico and are planning to make their way to Florida before heading to the Bahamas, the BVI’s and the Lesser Antilles and maybe even the Mediterranean. They’d like to cruise around Europe for a while and get off the boat to do some backpacking on land, but you’ll have to follow their blog to see where they actually end up:

3. Stephanie and Brian, s/v Rode Trip

Stephanie Brian Rode Trip Sailing Blogs 2014

Stephanie and Brian, the most hard-core young sailors I know.

We met Stephanie and Brian about the same time we met Jessica and Matt, and our friendships were solidified one drunken Thanksgiving in St. Marys when we boat-hopped from vessel to vessel, drinking up everyone’s booze stores and collecting more cruisers until we finally stuffed everyone into Hideaway to party it up into the wee hours of the morning. Expert sailors and spearfishermen, Steph and Brian are responsible for teaching us how to find and catch fish, which we’re forever grateful for.

What they’ve been up to

After we went our separate ways from the Bahamas – us to the Dominican Republic and them to the Jamaica — they joined back up with Jessica and Matt and sailed with them to Cuba and the Cayman Islands, then went off again on their own path to Bermuda and back to Maine for hurricane season. Right now they’re in the Bahamas again, spearfishing, swimming with pigs and visiting some of the spots they missed the first time around.

2014 plans

This year, Steph and Brian hope to transit the Panama Canal and, as they say, who knows? You’ll have to follow their blog to find out:

4. Brittany and Scott, s/v Asante

Windtraveler Sailing Blogs 2014

Windtraveler family of 3, soon to be 5!

Not only has Windtraveler played a big part in inspiring us to go cruising, but when we finally got to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and started preparing Hideaway for her first big crossing, they also welcomed us into their community of cruisers. Brittany and Scott (and little Isla) had made a home in Fort Lauderdale as they refitted their boat Asante for their trip south and, having stayed there for a while, connected with some amazing couples on boats who we were fortunate enough to meet and stay in touch with.

What they’ve been up to

After we met them, Asante headed south through the Bahamas and on to Grenada before heading north to St. Maarten, finally putting their boat to rest in the BVI’s to prepare for a new adventure: the arrival of twins. Which, when those little babies arrive, will officially make Windtraveler the largest family EVER on a boat, with three kids. THREE!

2014 plans

For now, the Windtravelers have become landlubbers in Chicago as they await the birth of their girls in February. As Brittany says, “Nothing like having a ‘bonus baby’ to throw a major ‘jibe’ in one’s cruising plans!” Their plans are to cruise on Lake Michigan regularly with their girls, and from there they’re going to do a Lake Michigan “test” cruise with the kids before flying south to Asante sometime in 2015. Follow this expanding family afloat as they continue their adventures with three kids in tow:

5. Melody and Chris, s/v Vacilando

melody-chris-vacilando sailing blogs 2014

Melody and Chris, the artist and the musician.

Mel and Chris are an amazingly creative couple who we met through Brittany and Scott at a BBQ in Fort Lauderdale. And we’ve been following their travels up and down the ICW ever since. Melody is tied to waters where they can get a good internet connection because her income depends on it, and Chris is currently working on his music, which is amazing and very affordable on iTunes. Check out him out at He’s like a folksy Bruce Springsteen, but with a better voice. If you want to sign him onto your record label, though, you’ll have to take it up with his manager, Melody.

What they’ve been up to

Since we last saw them, Mel and Chris have been cruising up and down the ICW working on their boat, working on music and making money doing whatever work they can come by. They’re a great example of how you can still take the leap and live the traveling life even if you can’t afford to quit working. Ryan and I know how that is, so we have huge amounts of respect for working cruisers like Mel and Chris.

2014 Plans

Right now they’re in Fort Lauderdale because, well, Polar Vortex. And also because Chris found some solid work doing everything from high fashion to feature films. Their goal for this year is to try to score some music gigs in places like Ireland, where Chris’ music has done well in the past, and get to the Bahamas one day on their boat. You can follow their journey at

6. Alex and Dave, s/v Banyan

s_v Banyan Sailing Blogs 2014

Dave and Alex (aka Troublemakers)

Be warned: these two are a very bad influence. If it weren’t for Alex and Dave, we’d probably have headed back to Florida for hurricane season after a few months of cruising through the Bahamas. But after a few pep talks from these two (and a few rum punches), we decided hurricanes were no longer a problem and we were heading south to the Caribbean, like our friends on Banyan.

What they’ve been up to

Causing trouble all over the Caribbean – these guys have been moving! I can’t even list all the islands they’ve been to, as it would take up too much blog space. But as of now, they’re in Antigua after spending three weeks up to Christmas in Sainte Anne, Martinique.

2014 Plans

Right now these two are undoubtedly in a pub in Falmouth Harbour, Antigua, convincing more unsuspecting cruisers to throw caution to the wind and go follow their dreams. Their plans are to explore the island until they get the itch to head north to the BVIs/USVIs and work their way back down the chain of islands to Grenada for June/July and hurricane season. But aside from their sailing plans, Alex’s last email to me was full of goals for 2014, like run more, write a cookbook and maybe even race in the Dark-n-Stormy regatta in Anegata. They’re as full of energy and ideas as ever. So, as I said, be warned – you can read their blog, but you might start making crazy plans too. Proceed with caution:

7. Genevieve and Eben, s/v Necesse

it's a necessity sailing blogs 2014

Arias and Ellia, the stars of “It’s a Necessity”.

Normally, I wouldn’t forgo a picture of my friends just to show their kids, but are you kidding? Just look at these faces! And if you think they’re cute, you should see their gorgeous parents, Genevieve and Eben (sorry, guys, your pictures come second. What can I say? CUTE!). We met this wonderfully sweet and incredibly photogenic family in Cabarete, Dominican Republic one weekend during our long stay there and they’ve been up to nothing but good ever since.

What they’ve been up to

After we left the D.R., Necesse waited until the end of hurricane season before continuing on to Puerto Rico. But now they’re back in the D.R. in Sosua working with Live Different, a non-profit organization that builds homes for people in need in Puerto Plata. Even the kids are pitching in to help – go to their blog to see pictures of the project. GO! Trust me, it will warm your heart.

2014 Plans

Genevieve and Eben are considering their options for the moment, but it’s possible they may have a job offer to work for Live Different for several months, so if that works out, they’ll be in Sosua. Either way, you’ll have to check out their blog to find out more about the good work they’re doing:

Playa Grande

The lucky parents: Eben and Genevieve.

So there you have it!

If you’re looking for a sailing journey to follow in 2014, these guys are out there and we’ve met them. In person. And it was wonderful. Some of them even have cats.

We’ve also been contacted by scores of other cruisers who I haven’t met in person, but feel like I know through email and Facebook. Like Rebecca and Brian of the blog and boat Summertime Rolls, who have even hung out with some of our sailing friends back in New York. They’re from New York and are currently heading south. They also have cats. Not to be confused with the cat they sail on.

Got a sailing blog to share? (Or motorboat blog?) Comment below with a link so we can follow and share the love!

A conversation about driving across Australia

As Ryan sails from South Africa to Australia on board PSP Logistics, a predominantly Aussie boat, he takes the opportunity to glean some info from his Aussie crewmates about things to do and places to see in Australia. And the conversation goes like this:

Ryan: Tasha and I are talking about getting a camper van when we get to Oz and driving across the Nullarbor. I’ve always wanted to drive across Australia.

Aussie: What, from Albany?

Ryan: Or Perth. Wherever we can find a camper.

Aussie (Frowning and shaking his head): Don’t do that. Internal flights are cheap. Just fly to Adelaide or Sydney and then get a camper van.

(Other crew are nodding their heads in agreement. “Just fly to Sydney. Don’t waste your time,” they all say.)

Ryan: But I really want to drive across the Nullarbor. I want to see it.

Aussie: Why would you want to do that?! There’s nothing to see! It’s just desert. You can fly across it in a few hours.

a conversation about nothing in the southern ocean

What the Southern Ocean looks like…FOREVER  (Photo: British Antarctic Survey )

Ryan (Looking out at the unchanged Southern Ocean expanse): What are you on about?! There’s nothing to see here either! We could have flown from Cape Town to Albany in a few hours, but instead we’ve been on a bloody boat for three weeks!

Aussie (Looking out at the water and shrugging): Fair point. But it’s still a terrible idea.


The Clipper Round the World Race

Tasha and Ryan both raced in Leg 1 of the Clipper Race from London to Rio de Janeiro and Leg 3 from Cape Town, South Africa to Albany, Australia, with Tasha competing on Henri Lloyd and Ryan competing on PSP Logistics. After getting off the boats in Australia, they have continued their circumnavigation of the globe using other modes of transport.

Clipper Race to Australia: The final hours

24 hours to race finish

The final hours of any ocean race are a test of endurance, grit and tactics, as I learned in the Clipper Race from London to Rio.

And this race to Australia is no different. Except for the fact that, this time, we have a good shot at first place. And we want it. Bad.

But, by now, most of the boats have engaged their 24-hour stealth mode, so we have no idea if our competitors — OneDLL and Great Britain — are behind us, ahead of us, or how fast they’re going. All we can do is keep sailing as fast as we can and hope no one catches us.

“What the hell is that?!” Someone shouts and points at the faint glow of what appears to be a mast light just off our starboard bow. “Is that OneDLL?” Last we checked, Great Britain was 25 miles south, and OneDLL was 17 miles ahead before they disappeared off our radar. “Did we catch up with them?”

Our navigator disappears below deck to see if he can detect an AIS signal on the charts. But whoever it is has turned off their transmitter.

Meanwhile, I’ve been drinking coffee nonstop, preparing myself for the inevitable: no sleep till Albany. I have enough experience to know that there’s no way in hell I can rest when the finish line is this close.

But the next several hours will be a true test of the crew’s endurance, especially considering the statistics of the last 24 hours:

Spinnaker changes: 4
Injured crew: 2
All-hands-on-deck situations: 4
Time it takes to retrieve a spinnaker after halyard snaps: 45 minutes
Time it takes to wool and rehoist spinnaker: 16 minutes
Boats in the lead pack: 3 (Henri Lloyd, Great Britain, OneDLL)
Record miles covered in 24 hours: 311 (PSP Logistics)
Highest wind speed in the last 24 hours: 40 knots
Lowest wind speed in the last 24 hours: 4 knots

6 hours to race finish

I’ve been on the helm sailing downwind with the kite flying for four hours now, focused on keeping one particular star between the mast and the shroud in an effort to keep the boat moving smoothly at the perfect heel. Any jerking motion on the helm flattens the boat out instantly and slows it down, costing precious time until the boat is able to regain speed. So I’m staring at that star in the sky with my arms locked on the helm like my life depends on it.

Looking out across the cockpit, I can see the crew all concentrating on their jobs as hard as I’m staring at my star. Dawn is starting to break and through the binoculars, we can finally see the logo on the boat just off our starboard bow: it’s Great Britain, not OneDLL like we thought. And radar tells us they are now 1.7 miles ahead of us and OneDLL is nowhere to be found. Which means there is 1.7 miles standing between us and first place.

Two crew are standing at the grinder, poised and ready and as soon as the trimmer screams “GRIND!”, their arms spin in perfect unison. It’s like watching the inside of a clockwork mechanism: the boat sways, the spinnaker flutters, the trimmer screams, the grinders spin, the boat sways, the spinnaker flutters, the trimmer screams, the grinders spin. And, like clockwork, the crew silently rotate positions every thirty minutes.

The Skipper comes up on deck and announces that we’ve covered 15 miles in the last hour. “If we keep hitting these numbers, we’ll break PSP’s record,” he says.

But we all know we don’t have another 24 hours to break that record. We have 6 hours at best and this race will be over. And with Great Britain looming sometimes larger, sometimes smaller on our bow, we can practically taste the victory. “Just focus,” I tell myself.

My eyes are growing bloodshot from lack of sleep and too much caffeine and the muscles in my shoulders are starting to heat up with a prickly ache, but I dig into my past and try to think of the most painful moments of the hardest marathons I’ve ever run. I think of the mile-long hill I ran up at the finish of the Adirondack Mountain marathon and all the swearing I did under my breath as I fought through the pain in my hamstrings. “You’ve done harder things than this for four hours,” I tell myself, as I grip the helm. “Just keep going.”

As the sun comes up on the horizon, Eric watches the crew operating in perfect unison and breaks the intense silence. “No matter what happens in the end, I want you to take a moment and remember this,” Eric says, as we look at him, surprised. “You guys should be really proud. You’re witnessing something really special here. Something to remember.”

Whether we’re all too tired, too stunned or too focused to respond, no one says a word. We all just slowly nod our heads.

“GRIND!’ Someone shouts, as the arms spin again. “HOLD!”

Eric continues. “I know it’s coming up to the end of your watch, but there’s only a few hours left in this race and you’ve got something really good going here. If you want to stay up and continue racing, that’s up to you. If you want to go down and sleep in your off-watch, you’re welcome to do that, too.”

No one says a word. No one has to. We’ve already made eye contact with each other and nodded our signs of approval. The message communicated silently across the deck is, “I’m not sleeping until this is over. Let’s get ‘em.”

The final hour

In the end, we draw a little closer to Great Britain, and they pull ahead again, and we draw closer again, and they pull away again. And we do this war dance all the way to the finish, until Henri Lloyd crosses the finish line 27 minutes behind Great Britain, in second place. 5,000 miles across the Southern Ocean and the race is won or lost in a matter of 27 minutes.

When it’s that close, 27 minutes can haunt you forever. What if we didn’t snap the halyard on our spinnaker? What if we wooled those spinnakers a little faster? What if those sail changes were a little smoother?

Anything could have made the difference of 27 minutes over the course of 5,000 miles. But, in the end, I’m not thinking about that. Instead, I’m thinking of something I said on Leg 1, in the Race to Rio. “As long as we cross the finish line having honestly fought to the last minute with everything we have, I will be happy. I just don’t want any regrets.”

As we pull into Albany, Australia, all of us on Henri Lloyd are rubbing our bloodshot eyes and giving each other hugs. And as I think back to the last three weeks, and everything we put into this race, I have no regrets. We laid it all on the line and pushed every last ounce of speed out of our boat.

We may have come in second place across the line, but we can proudly say that Henri Lloyd is in first place on the round-the-world leaderboard. And, though I may be biased, I know we belong there.

No regrets. That’s how we finished the race to Albany. And I couldn’t be more proud of my team.

clipper race to australia henri lloyd 2nd place

Team Henri Lloyd: 2nd Place in Leg 3, 1st Place Overall


The Clipper Round the World Race

Tasha and Ryan both raced in Leg 1 of the Clipper Race from London to Rio de Janeiro and Leg 3 from Cape Town, South Africa to Albany, Australia. Tasha competed on CV21 Henri Lloyd – ahem, the winning boat — with Skipper Eric Holden and Ryan competed on CV28 PSP Logistics – ahem, NOT the winning boat — with Skipper Chris Hollis. You can read more about the crew and the boats here at

Trail of tears: Clipper Race Leg 3

As we approach the halfway point of the Clipper Race from South Africa to Australia, the wear and tear starts to show on Henri Lloyd’s crew of marathon ocean racers. We fight the effects of physical and mental exhaustion as we battle it out with Great Britain and OneDLL to stay on top of the leaderboard. But the effects are, well, tearful.

Day 9: Tears of pain…and laughter

Statistically speaking, more crew are injured below deck in the Clipper Race than on deck, sailing.

It’s things like getting pitched out of your bunk while sleeping, falling through an open hatch or slipping when the boat is heavily heeled that will break ribs, crack heads and cause general bodily harm.

But I’m not thinking of this as I stand in a precarious position, trying to hang up my foul-weather gear in my wet locker on the high side of the boat, which is now at a 45-degree angle. I am on my tip-toes, grunting from muscle exhaustion as I strain to reach my coat hook while leaning against the severe heel of the boat.

When we’re pushing the boat hard — like now, as we race for the scoring gate* to pick up points – the simplest tasks (like hanging up a coat or getting into bed) become monumentally difficult. And it only takes one small distraction, a wrong step or a hard lurch from the boat to throw my world upside down.

And being tired and distracted, I’m completely unprepared when the boat is hit by a colossal wave. The floor goes vertical, dropping out from under my feet and in an instant I’m flying from one side of the boat to the other. I try to grab the galley counter as I fall, but it’s like trying to clutch a tree branch as I drop from a second-floor window.

I land with a thud on my knees in the wet locker on the opposite side of the boat, and the pain shoots up from my kneecaps in streaks, rendering me stunned and whimpering on the floor.

As Kevin, the boat medic, rushes to my aid and hoists me onto the settee to check me over, I think of the injuries on board Mission Performance and Derry-Londonderry-Doire, which had forced them to turn back to port for medical evacuations at the start of this race. One crew was thrown into a cleat so hard that it punctured his calf muscle, just missing the bone. And another crew suffered a possible broken shoulder or clavicle – they’re not sure which – when she was thrown across the cockpit in a full-on knock-down.

derry-londonderry knock-down clipper race leg 3

Photo taken from CCTV footage of Derry’s knock-down (Credit: Kristi Wilson & Clipper Ventures, Plc)

I rub my knees and search for signs of injury as I think of the unlucky crew whose races have come to an abrupt end. And I sigh with relief when it seems my knees are in one piece, just badly bruised.

Just then, I hear Brian, the Irish videographer/media crew on board shout, “Fecking hell!” as he climbs down the companionway. His face is obscured by his fully inflated yellow life jacket as he exclaims, “I was lightin’ me cigarette and this monster of a wave came over. I’m absolutely SOAKED! Hey… what happened to you?”

I am in stitches as soon as I see Brian’s face enveloped in a ballooned life jacket. I’m clutching my knees in pain, but I’m now also giggling uncontrollably at the image of Brian trying to light his cigarette as a wave smacks him in the face and inflates his life jacket with a pop.

“I think Tasha’s feeling better,” says the medic as I giggle some more and wipe the tears from my eyes.

*Scoring Gate Results: 1st–Qingdao, 2nd–Henri Lloyd (whoop!), 3rd–OneDLL

Day 11: Tears of boredom

As we fight to keep the boat under control in 45- to 60-knot winds for days on end, I find myself saying a little prayer to the wind gods. And it sounds like this:

Hey there, Wind Gods. How’s it going up there? Having fun? Yeah, so I was thinking maybe you could bring it down a notch? Maybe a few hours or half a day of, say, 30-knot winds? I mean, we’re pretty tired, so we’d love it if we could – I don’t know — make a cup of tea without getting third-degree burns, or even get some actual sleep? Not the kind of sleep where I’m awake and hanging onto a cubby-hole so I don’t fall out of bed. I mean real, uninterrupted sleep. Just an hour, maybe?

Except then, not long after begging for the wind to die down, I’m made to regret it. Because as swiftly and furiously as the wind arrived, it dies.

As the wind speeds fall, we watch our boat speed drop from 25 knots to 15 and then to 10. And when it gets so bad that we’re struggling to hold 5 knots of speed, I feel like I might cry. Of boredom.

Because it turns out the only thing worse than hurricane-force winds, is no wind.

bored to tears clipper race leg 3

That’s the look of someone bored to tears of trimming

Day 14: Tears of exhaustion

Did I say no wind is the worst thing ever?

Scratch that. Fickle wind. THAT’S the worst thing ever. In the last 24 hours, we’ve changed sails from the Code 1 (lightweight kite) to the Code 2 (midweight kite) to the Code 3 (heavyweight kite) to the Yankee 1 (largest headsail) to the Yankee 3 (smallest headsail). And now we’ve got the storm jib up.

clipper race leg 3 trail of tears

Rough weather calls for a headsail drop and raising the storm jib

And, let me tell you, these sails don’t move themselves. The Yankee 1 weighs 250 kilos (550 lbs), so it takes an army of crew to drag its dead weight up on deck, schlep the thing to the bow and wrestle it, with all its cumbersome folds and hanks, onto the forestay and then hoist it. Not to mention the work involved in getting the thing down again in high winds, with its sheets smacking you in the face and the foot yanking itself out of your grasp.

Repeat that process enough times in 24 hours when the crew is physically exhausted and has had very little sleep, and you start to see the many ways in which people crack up and fall apart.

tears of exhaustion clipper race leg 3

Exhausted crew enduring a team meeting in rough weather

Some crew stop smiling, while others get short-tempered and hostile. Some stop getting out of bed for their watches, while others take longer and longer to get their gear on and report up on deck.

During one particularly cold night watch, when none of us have slept because of the rough weather, I see a few of the crew rocking back and forth in place the way the mentally ill sometimes do to soothe themselves.

I feel especially sorry for one crew member who seems to well up with tears at the slightest provocation or the mere question, “Are you okay?” And, eventually, after a few more days of no sleep, I can see she is crying as she is sweating up sails, grinding or trimming. But any time I offer to take a job off her, it seems to bring on more tears.

Isak Dinesen may have said, “The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears or the sea.” But I’d like to raise that one and say that the cure for sweating and crying on the sea… is sleep.

I know this because when the wind finally dies down to a steady and pleasant 20 knots, the crew starts to catch up on some much-needed rest and they start to look a little perkier and a little less like prisoners. The skipper does a good thing and insists a few of the most exhausted crew take a watch off to sleep and, hopefully, rediscover their sanity.

Within a day, the results are noticed. The crew of Henri Lloyd is restored to their smiling, cheerful selves, ready to take on sail changes once again without tears, tantrums or talking to themselves. In essence, Henri Lloyd is transformed from something resembling an insane asylum to something more like a solid, sane racing yacht.

And all it took was a lot of compassion and a little bit of sleep.

trail of tears clipper race leg 3 selfie

After a bit of rest, we can take smiley selfies again


The Clipper Round the World Race

Tasha and Ryan both raced in Leg 1 of the Clipper Race from London to Rio de Janeiro and Leg 3 from Cape Town, South Africa to Albany, Australia. Tasha competed on CV21 Henri Lloyd – ahem, the winning boat — with Skipper Eric Holden and Ryan competed on CV28 PSP Logistics – ahem, NOT the winning boat — with Skipper Chris Hollis. You can read more about the crew and the boats here at

Happy holidays: A message from Tasha & Ryan

“Not too late, but never too early,” my father often says of me and my time-keeping skills. Not to mention my gift giving, considering his Christmas present arrived on December 25th (Thank Jesus for Amazon Prime).

Which is actually giving me too much credit (as parents do). Because, in reality, I’m always late. For everything. Just ask anyone who’s known me for twenty minutes. They’ll tell you they would have known me for half an hour if I’d just turned up on time.

And this holiday greeting is, sadly, no exception.

But I like to think of this less as a “flaw” and more of a “side effect of eternal optimism.” I mean, don’t you wish everyone trusted the world the way I unquestionably believe I’ll be on time because this time I can shower, get dressed and do my make-up in under ten minutes?

Surely, we can never have too much optimism. Especially during the holidays, when New Year’s Resolutions are just around the corner and we’re all promising to exercise more, eat less Chinese takeaway and stop updating our Facebook when drunk in 2014.

Take, for example, this video: I optimistically thought we would be spending Christmas in Australia with our friends Travis and Emily, which is why I started recording this holiday message on their sunny back porch in Brisbane.

But it turned out even that was going too far. That’s right. Recording a Christmas message on December 23rd with the presumption we would still be in the same country on December 25th was too optimistic.

Which is why this is our Holiday Greeting:

Holiday Message from Tasha & Ryan from Tasha Hacker (Turf to Surf) on Vimeo.

But look on the bright side: You’re not getting this on Valentine’s Day. So, though I may be late, just remember I’m not that late. Which, frankly, makes me an inspiration.

Come June, when you’ve not lost the ten pounds you promised to shed for bikini season and, instead, you’ve put on five, you can think to yourself, “I didn’t put on that much weight.” Followed by “Tasha wasn’t that late with her Christmas message.”

And when you’ve drunkenly posted on Facebook that you played hookie from work, and then remembered in the morning that you and your boss are Facebook friends, you can think, “It’s not that bad. At least I didn’t call her an asshole.”

So there. You see? I did it for you guys. Because everyone can use a little optimism and a bank of good excuses…or what I prefer to call “a positive outlook.” Call it a gift. You’re welcome.

Oh and Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

— Tasha

P.S. – Ryan is in the background saying he would totally have had this out on time if this were his blog. But I’ve just reminded him how selfish that would have been of him. Christmas is about being the pillar of imperfection that your friends can look to to feel better about themselves. That is true selflessness. And the meaning of Christmas.