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Sail away with me

Family spends three years experiencing life on a sail boat

Posted: October 19, 2013 - 5:26pm  |  Updated: October 21, 2013 - 1:32pm
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Dharma and Rhett Traxinger enjoy the ocean breeze on their trip toward New Zealand.
Dharma and Rhett Traxinger enjoy the ocean breeze on their trip toward New Zealand.

Adventurers Daren and Robin Traxinger recently completed a feat few people throughout the world have conquered. The Kenai Central High School alumni, along with their kids, then 7 and 11, sailed from Alaska to New Zealand in a 43-foot Hans Christian single mast sailboat.

“We were just seeing if there was a freer place out there,” Daren said.

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 spiraled into a reality.

“It just went from there,” Daren said.

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 open water experience was limited — but that was not going to stop him.

“We learned how (to sail) on the way,” he said.

They bought the boat on Oct. 16, 2009, the next day he went to work on rewiring, engine work, electronics and interior work to prepare for the trip.

“The wiring was the big deal, we spent three months working on (it),” he said. “We had to make it safe.”

The family officially set sail in late March 2010. With their kids, Rhett and Dharma, the family set off on a once-in-a-lifetime adventure.

Early into their trip Dharma celebrated her 8th birthday and Robin also celebrated a birthday, although she was not dealing well with the eight-foot seas that day. She was the furthest off shore and in the deepest water she had ever been in.

“So Dharma’s birthday was on the boat, so was her mother’s,” Daren said. “Robin had a half of candy bar because she was too sea sick.”

“We pigged out,” Dharma said with a smile.

The family recalled their time in Fuji and New Zealand and Fanning Atoll, one of the Line Islands.

“The most exciting, non life-threatening experience we had was Fanning Atoll,” Rhett said.

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.

“Now I made a big deal out of it because we were bored out of our minds,” he said.

But then again, the event was one of many adventures.

“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.

Robin continued to home school the kids during the trip, as she has done since they became school-age. She said everything was put away while they were out to sea, but when they anchored up, the books came out.

Daren said many of the places they visited were not fond of Americans, but being from the 49th state was OK.

“If you told them you were from Alaska, you were golden,” he said with a smile.

Officially, the family returned to Alaska at Kodiak on Sept. 12, 2013.

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. Their future plans include checking out Southeast Alaska and British Colombia next year.

Reach Sara Hardan at sara.hardan@peninsulaclarion.com.

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