Two-and-a-half years ago Alaskan couple Daren and Robin Traxinger left the life they knew and sailed across the Pacific from Alaska to New Zealand with their two children, Dharma, 7 and Rhett, 11, in a 43ft Hans Christian canoe stern sloop called Solara.
Solara - Daren Traxinger didn’t know a lot about sailing, but he knew boats from his commercial fishing backgound
While Daren has spent much of his life as a commercial fisherman, and had helped his friend put up his sails during brief jaunts in Kachemak Bay and Cordova, his experience was limited and he had not sailed in open waters — but that was not going to stop him.
'We were just seeing if there was a freer place out there,' Daren told Sara Hardan of the Peninsular Clarion in Alaska.
Daren said while helping his longtime friend, Rick Morris, with his boat, he became intrigued with the idea of sailing. Daren and Robin discussed it, she researched boats and what others were doing on their sailing journeys; and the idea of a trip spiralled into a reality.
Solara at anchor
'It just went from there,' Daren said, 'We learned how to sail on the way.'
He may not have known much about sailing, but Daren's commercial fishing background meant he did know how to repair and maintain a boat. They bought the boat on Oct. 16, 2010, and the next day he went to work on rewiring, engine work, electronics and interior work to prepare for the trip.
They had one other advantage. Robin had already home-schooled their two children since they became of school-age, so the sometime difficult transition from class-based learning to one-on-one was not there - for either the mother or the kids.
Solara Dharma and Rhett
The family officially set sail in late March 2011. By 2013 they had become proficient sailors and joined the 'Pacific Puddle Jump in Hilo Hawaii. This is an annual rally across the Pacific, commencing from February to May (varying with individual boats) and ending in Tahiti at the end of June.
The family recalled their time in Fuji and New Zealand and Fanning Atoll, one of the Line Islands. As with most cruising sailors, it was the time spent in remote areas which they found most exciting.
'The most exciting, non life-threatening experience we had was Fanning Atoll,' Rhett confirmed.
The family recalled most of the inhabitants of the islands living in primitive huts, and meeting the only white man on the island named Bruno, who was known by many others they met on their travels toward New Zealand. They also recalled the island children coming up and pulling Dharma’s blond hair and then running away.
'We were like celebrities there,' Daren said.
The trip was not without its share of dangers, including 60-knot winds and massive squalls they experienced at sea, adventures that rate high on the family’s list of sailing experiences.
'It kept you on your toes, that’s for sure,' Daren said.
The four also swam with white tip reef sharks in Fiji. 'That was amazing,' Rhett said.
With many days of sailing without wind, Daren said the small events made life exciting. The family took advantage of the coordinates to swim at the equator in 20,000 feet of water.
'It is special,' he said. 'How many people in the world get to do that? Swim in the middle of the Pacific Ocean on the equator.'
While away, Robin kept an online blog to keep family and friends updated on their progress and position in the world. They posted many photos, coordinates and weather conditions. She transmitted the messages via radio through a single side band on her laptop, called sail mail.
Officially, the family returned to Alaska at Kodiak on Sept. 12, 2013.
Solara Traxinger family
Looking back, the couple said they did not know what the journey would bring.
'We didn’t know what to expect,' Robin said, 'But it’s crossed off my bucket list.'
Daren said the time with his family is an experience he will never forget.
'It made us very close,' he said. 'It was really neat, I am really glad we did it.'
The family now resides in Cordova, but their sailing life isn't over. Their future plans include checking out Southeast Alaska and British Colombia next year.