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Pacific Bliss sails to the next island in Fiji

Pacific Bliss sails to the next island.

Sunset over reefs of Leleuvia

The sun sets over the reefs of Leleuvia where Pacific Bliss went snorkeling.

Continuing our adventures in Fiji with Lydia and Helmut as crew, my husband Günter and I sailed our 43-foot ocean-going catamaran Pacific Bliss, to the backpacker’s paradise of Leleuvia. This far into our world circumnavigation, we have learned to treat Pacific Bliss as a person. In this story, she shows human emotions, such as jealousy. The following section has been excerpted from pages 226-227 of Sailing the South Pacific.

Leleuvia, Fiji
17° 48.5 S, 178°43 E
June 11, 2003

Yesterday, the four of us snorkeled through colorful coral in crystal clear waters dappled with the refracted light of a beaming sun. We swam from our anchored dinghy, Petit Bliss, to the palm-covered islet of Leleuvia in a sea of teal glass. We ambled around the islet, digging our toes into the sunbaked sand. Every so often, one of us stooped to examine a shell, a piece of driftwood, or one of the delicate pink-and-white magnolia blossoms that had wafted onto the shore.

Perhaps Pacific Bliss had become jealous. After all, we left her anchored in the bay while we went off in our dinghy, Petit Bliss, to explore. Or perhaps Pacific Bliss was determined to go snorkeling as well. Why else would she allow herself to be pulled into a current and blown onto a coral bed?

Today, before 0500 and still pitch dark, I am rudely awakened to a thumping sound. I head topsides to check it out. It has just begun to rain so the sky remains ink-black. I take the torch (flashlight) and check the anchor chain. It is pulling tightly; the wind has returned. I check the stern. Petit Bliss is bobbing furiously, pulling on the painter and occasionally hitting the swim ladder. Much ado about nothing.

So Petit Bliss is the one making all the noise! No worries.

Then I notice the pale teal color of the water highlighted in the torch’s beam. My pulse quickens. Something is not right. Pale means shallow. I rush back into the salon to turn on the instruments. Yes, the depth meter shows only 3.8 feet! I check the wind direction. South. It was from the northeast when we anchored here. Then the weather turned calm for one glorious day of sea and sand.

Gunter comes up from the starboard hull, and I fill him in. “We have over 90 feet of chain out, but the wind has shifted almost 180 degrees, pushing us toward the reefs.”

“We’ll have to take in some more,” he says.

We pull in about 8 feet of chain by hand. Besides the chain stripper being broken, our up/down windlass only functions intermittently.

During breakfast, we discuss re-anchoring with our crew. We are not comfortable in this small anchorage with reefs on three sides.

The seas are benign and the wind calm as we head for another anchoring location that allows us more swing room. We proceed to a familiar, sandy area that is farther out to sea from our snorkeling area of yesterday. A South African Cat, Sea Rose, had anchored there before they left. It must be safe. Before we can drop the hook, a wind comes up.

“Now we have wind and it begins to piss,” Gunter complains as he grabs his rain gear. “We should have done this before when it was calm.”

Men! Monday-morning quarterbacking.

He motors and stops at our selected spot. “Drop anchor,” he commands.

The crew complies as the wind pushes Pacific Bliss toward the reefs. Then we all realize that by the time the anchor hits bottom, we will be in too close to these new reefs to allow for swing room if the wind changes direction again.

“Pull anchor,” the Captain Gunter commands. This time, the windlass control doesn’t work at all. Helmut has to pull the anchor with all that chain hand-over-hand. Both engines are in neutral.

Then things happen at warp speed—too quickly for us to analyze. A fierce gust of wind appears out of nowhere. And we think we hit the dangerous area of strong current that the Fijians on shore have warned us about. Pacific Bliss is pushed out of control; we haven’t cleated off the anchor line; and the line begins to pay out. Helmut had not cleated it off. Now he cleats it, but we can’t pull it in. It is probably caught on the bottom—and not where we want it.

“Go forward, Gunter,” I yell, but the wind swallows my words. Gunter comes up to the bow to evaluate the situation, with the engines still in neutral. “No. Take the boat forward so that we can pull the anchor loose!” Gunter rushes back to the stern, but it is too late.

Pacific Bliss, stubborn as she can be sometimes, has stopped right in the spot where we had gone snorkeling the day before! What audacity! What obstinacy! Her bottom is sucked into coral and she is not budging!

Helmut and Lydia jump into the water with their snorkeling gear. They find no damage anywhere—so far. But the bottom tip of the starboard dagger board has snagged a coral head. Gunter helps me winch Pacific Bliss forward since the anchor is still out and holding. No luck. Helmut is still in the water, trying to push Pacific Bliss off the coral head from the starboard hull. That doesn’t work either.

Then we get lucky, very lucky.

A dive boat is returning to the islet because of the inclement weather. I wave frantically. The passengers all wave back, nice and friendly.

“Come here! Pull us!” I yell from our bow. Immediately—no questions asked—the Fijian boat roars closer. The driver throws me a long towline, which I tie to the bow cleat. The boat pulls, Helmut pushes, and Pacific Bliss is coerced into deeper water while we all pull in that chain. Her snorkeling escapade is cut short.

They say that there is always a first time for everything. This is the first time during our circumnavigation, though, that Pacific Bliss has gone snorkeling. In over 17,000 miles of sailing, half-way around the world, she had never kissed a coral head. Until now.

And if I have my way, she will never kiss one again!

Later, we sit around the salon table sipping hot chocolate and munching cookies, attempting to nourish our shaken souls. Captain Gunter has finished beating himself up. Now he sits there, glum and dejected. “I don’t need this,” he says. “Lois, what do you think we would be doing if we were back in San Diego right now?”

“Thinking about snorkeling in teal, crystal-clear waters near a sandy palm-covered island somewhere in the South Seas?”

Swimming in Fiji

Gunter swimming alongside the boat.

In the next installment of this series, we explore Levuka, Fiji’s ancient capital. I had researched the town’s past: In the 1830s, Levuka had been a small whaling and beachcomber settlement. It was virtually lawless; ships followed a trail of empty gin bottles into port, and the town was a haven for escaped convicts, ship jumpers, debtors, and other ne’er-do-wells. What will it be like now?

About the Author: Lois and Günter Hofmann lived their dream by having a 43-foot ocean-going catamaran built for them in the south of France and sailing around the world. Learn more about their travel adventures by reading Lois’s award winning nautical adventure trilogy. Read more about Lois and her adventures at her website and stay in touch with Lois by liking her Facebook page.


Gunter and I attended the 10th Puddle Jump anniversary with about 30 cruisers who sailed to the Marquesas Islands in the spring of 2002. (“Puddle” is the name given to the Pacific Crossing, similar to “Pond” for the Atlantic.) Pacific Bliss made the 3200-mile crossing in 21 days, the longest time out of sight of land during our entire eight-year circumnavigation.  The timing was fortunate because many of these sailors are mentioned in my forthcoming book, SAILING THE SOUTH PACIFIC, and I will need to obtain approvals from them.

We returned on Monday from Puerto Vallarta, safe and sound and very happy.

I think the seminar that the “class of 2002” gave in La Cruz was a roaring success. At the close of the seminar, here’s what we said to the new crop of 2012 Puddle Jumpers:  “This voyage will change you.  You will NOT come back the same person you were when you left. You will stare death in the eye…and survive. All of you will face fear and come back a better and stronger person. You will get closer to God and the universe. You’ll become extremely grateful for the opportunity to have taken this voyage. From now on, you will become more appreciative of all you have and for your many blessings. You’ll come back happy, and most likely, remain happy for the rest of your lives.”

We differed somewhat in our favorite destinations, but ranking among the top was: Vanuatu, Tuomotus, Vavau Group (Tonga) and The Heiva Festival in Huahine.

We advised them to take advantage of cruiser camaraderie and to help out fellow cruisers by carrying plenty of spare parts.

Of course, we 2002 Puddle Jumpers had our own events. One was a sundowner, and what a magnificent sundowner that was! It went on and on. Plans were to attend another event at the Yacht Club, but once the stories got going ’round and ’round, no-one wanted to quit telling them!  So we all stayed into the night. I told two stories from my forthcoming book, SAILING THE SOUTH PACIFIC, one about my most embarrassing moment and another about the international incident.  The Puddle Jumpers kept saying over and over, “We returned home to find that no-one ‘gets it’. A gathering of cruisers is the only place we can tell these stories, laughing ‘til our sides ache!”

Other Highlights:

Finally, A Big Thanks to Andy and Latitude 38 magazine for hosting the Pacific Puddle Jump every year!

From the website: “Ever since Latitude 38 editors coined the phrase ‘Pacific Puddle Jump’ nearly 20 years ago, we’ve taken great pleasure in supporting, and reporting on, the annual migration of cruising sailors from the West Coast of the Americas to French Polynesia.

Boats from many nations register with the rally (currently free of charge), and they depart from various points along the West Coast, with the largest concentration of passage-makers jumping off from Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, and Balboa, Panama. Latitude 38 holds annual send-off parties at both locations: Vallarta YC, Nuevo Vallarta, Mexico; February 29, 2012, 3:00-6:00 p.m.; and Balboa YC, Balboa, Panama, March 10, noon-4:00 p.m.

Although these sailors set sail independently anytime between the late February and early May, they share information on preparation, weather routing, and inter-island cruising via radio nets and electronic communications before, during and after their crossings. Their arrivals in French Polynesia can be anytime in April, May or June. And due to the broad-based nature of the fleet, many crews will meet for the first time when they arrive in the islands.”

Duplicating the “Island Look” with swimsuits and pareus

2002 Puddle Jumpers, Vallarta Yacht Club

For an album of individual photos, refer to my Facebook Page.


Happy Hanukkah!

The eight-day Jewish celebration known as Hanukkah or Chanukah commemorates the rededication during the second century B.C. of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. Hanukkah means “dedication” in Hebrew. Often called the Festival of Lights, the holiday is celebrated with the lighting of the menorah, traditional foods, games and gifts.

My husband Gunter and I visited Jerusalem twice, once as a side trip during the 1990s as part of a business trip to Ein Gedi and Tel Aviv, and again during our world circumnavigation, when we docked our catamaran, Pacific Bliss, in Ashkelon.  Stories and photos of that second trip are included in my recently published book, The Long Way Back.

My favorite city in Israel—a country not much larger than New Jersey—is Jerusalem, her capital. To me, Jerusalem is the one place in the world where past, present, and future become one. I felt that portentous-yet-exhilarating sense of past and future both times.

These are some of my favorite pictures and places in that grand city:

318a

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre built with the ubiquitous Jerusalem stone

325a

These olive trees in the Garden of Gethsemane may have been there in Jesus’s day

327a

The wall at the Temple Mount, sometimes called the “Wailing Wall”

Jerusalem had been called some 70 names: Some of the better-known ones are: Ariel (Lion of God), Kiryah Ne’emanah (Faithful City), Kiryat Hannah David (City where David camped), Betulah (virgin), Gilah (joy), Kir, Moriah, Shalem (peace), Neveh Zedek (righteous dwelling), Ir Ha’Elohim (City of God), Gai Hizayon (Valley of Vision), Oholivah (My tent is in her) and, more recently, International City.

Despite its problems, I know I will always love Jerusalem. And despite the danger, I’d very much like to go back again. Have you been in Jerusalem? Would you go back again? If you have not traveled there, is it on your Bucket List?


1. Myanmar is more open to tourism than ever before. The country welcomed some 3 million visitors in 2014, about half of those international tourists. Five million tourists was a target set for 2015, although the numbers are not in yet. The number of tourists to Myanmar (Burma) is exploding because tourists may now enter freely after acquiring a visa online and picking it up on arrival; they can travel freely throughout the countryside without escorts (this was not the case during my first visit in 2006); and Myanmar is the most authentic and untouched of all the countries in Southeast Asia. Tourists are rushing to see it before it turns into another Thailand. So now is the time to go!

My husband and I chose Myanmar as our international vacation destination for 2014. Because of skyrocketing tourism, hotels tended to be scarce during the high season, so we chose to leave in October and return in early November. We booked through Enchanting Travels, Myanmar. They organized an independent “slow travel” tour for us via auto and plane, with a local tour guide at each destination. Our round-trip tour included the bustling city of Yangon, the fertile farms of Shan state, the mountain villages of Pindaya, the fishing villages of Inle Lake, the stupas of Bagan, a two-day cruise up the Irrawaddy River to Mandalay, and relaxing at Ngapali beach, where I had an opportunity to journal before heading home.

12-Novice-monk-in-maroon-ro

You can access my blog posts and photos about my trips to Burma here:

Why Go to Myanmar?

Burma in My Blood

Walking a Village in Myanmar

Burma, My Next Favorite Place

I recommend booking hotel rooms in advance through a local travel company—at least for the first few days of your trip. Cash is king in Myanmar. You can exchange dollars for kyats as you go.  Credit cards are not widely accepted but ATM machines are readily available. WiFi is like dial-up internet of the 1990s in most places, but that only forces you to adapt to the slow travel approach. Just be patient, take it easy, and enjoy the spectacular scenery and friendly people. Pack for hot weather. The “peak season” to visit with the best weather is from November to February. We traveled in October during the “shoulder season” because we wanted to be home for Thanksgiving. If you visit in other months, you’ll suffocate (110F/45C in Yangon) or you’ll soak during the rainy season.

2. Cartagena, Colombia is one of the most charming cities we visited during our entire sailing circumnavigation. Now you can fly there from almost anywhere in the world. The city holds a special place in my heart because this was our refuge from a Force 10 storm that we encountered off the coast of Venezuela during the Maiden Voyage of Pacific Bliss. In fact, I wrote this about Cartagena in Chapter 7 of In Search of Adventure and Moments of Bliss: Maiden Voyage:

Cartagena is a magical place that must be experienced at least once in a lifetime. But a word of caution: Once you come to see her, you will dream about when you can return. From its charming, old walled city to its historic naval and land fortifications to the posh, modern high rises and its tourist beaches, Cartagena dazzles and thrills. However, this is a city that cannot be devoured; she needs to be savored—slowly and deliciously. Mark my words: Gunter and I will be back!

The photos below are taken from Maiden Voyage.

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Although we haven’t returned to this marvelous destination yet, rest be assured, it is on our bucket list! If you want to see the city, just book a hotel and take a city tour or travel around by cab. Be sure to spend a full day in Old Town Cartagena. While you’re there, you might want to take one of the many Spanish language courses offered. Or you might want to book a day sail to Islas del Rosario for some swimming and snorkeling. If you’re more adventurous, contact Worldview Travel about one of their jungle tours.

3. I never tire of Bali, Indonesia. But beware: Once you go there, you’ll return again and again. Bali has a special significance to me because Gunter and I spent our honeymoon there back in 1995. We rented a hotel at world-famous Kuta Beach, not far from populous Denpasar. If you like loud music and crowded beaches, this is for you. If you are more adventurous, you can do what we did. We checked out of our hotel after two noisy days and booked a four-day boat trip to Lombok and then to the Komodo Islands to see the dragons. Back in Bali, we spent the second week at the far side of the island, at a quiet beach resort with a volcanic, black-sand beach. We were instructed to hit the dong of a wooden carving outside our door to call for coffee service. Later, a server asked us, “Did you know that Mick Jagger slept here—in your bungalow?” Hmm. But our favorite part of Bali was the traditional town of Ubud in the interior, where we watched Balinese processions, visited carving and silver shops, and took in a Legong Dance at the King’s Palace.

When we visited Bali the second time, during our world circumnavigation, we knew exactly where we wanted to stay. With Pacific Bliss safely berthed at the Bali International Marina, we took a taxi to Hotel Tjampuhan on the outskirts of Ubud. For one week, we enjoyed a totally hedonistic experience in a secluded hillside bungalow overlooking a lush valley.  Birds called back and forth, their high notes overriding the deeper sounds of rushing water far below. Squirrels raced up tall tamarind trees and red hibiscus blooms added color to the verdant landscape. We swam in a cool, spring-fed pool, and enjoyed side-by-side massages at a spa dug into the hillside above the waterfall. In the cool of the evening, we walked into town and enjoyed performances at The Royal Palace. Later during our sojourn in Bali, we booked a few days with friends in Sanur Beach—a much better alternative to Kuta. I haven’t been back to Bali since the advent of Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love book and movie but rest assured, this island will never lose its charm.

Pool at Hotel Tjampuhan.jpg

4. Vietnam is a must visit that combines history and beauty—and they openly welcome Americans. We visited Vietnam in June 2006, along with a cruising couple who had set up our private tour for four with a local travel agency, Focus Travel. That worked out well because we could share a van and driver. In fact, the total cost for each of us to tour there for 10 days, including guides, private transportation, four-star hotels, tours, a cooking class, 10 breakfasts, 4 lunches and one dinner, plus domestic flights from Hanoi to Danang and from Hue to Saigon was $673. We flew from Langkawi, where Pacific Bliss was berthed, into Hanoi and out of Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon).

Vietnam has over 2,000 miles of coastline and our route from Hanoi to Saigon covered most of it, backed by central highlands and jagged mountain ridges throughout most of it. Fertile farms line the rivers and deltas. We loved Hanoi with its charming French colonial boulevards and landscaped lakes. The city was a wonderful mixture of old and new. In addition to taking in a Water Puppet show and a Vietnamese cooking class, we toured the Military Museum and the sobering Hao Lo Prison Americans called the “Hanoi Hilton.” 

DSCN2056 (2) Rice Fields of Vietnam

We found the people giving, gracious and anxious to please. I was fascinated to learn what the younger Vietnamese think about what they call “The American War:” According to them, that was but a blip in their history, following a1000-year war against China and a 30-year war against France. Yes, the older generation of Vietnamese are battle-hardened, proud, and nationalist. But for the energetic younger generation (the median age is 29) Vietnam is a place to succeed, to earn a lot of money, and to have a good time. They care little about politics; they were born since all those wars occurred.

From Hanoi we drove along the coast to Halong Bay, a World Heritage site, then flew to Danang with its stretches of unspoiled sandy beaches, and drove on to Hoi An to relax at a beach resort for a couple of days. In a town famous for its tailors, we dropped off clothing to be “copied” and picked up the next day. Next we drove over the mountains to Hue, the former capital city of Vietnam where we took an evening barge trip down the Perfume River. We flew to Saigon and checked into a 1920s hotel in the heart of downtown, great for shopping and touring a city that, in 2006, had no McDonalds, KFC, or chain stores of any kind. From Saigon, we toured the Mekong Delta and then drove through industrial areas south of Saigon—car assembly plants, and numerous manufacturing complexes. There, we could see that rapid industrialization was underway.   

DSCN2035 (2) Tourist Boats, Halong Bay

With over 90 million inhabitants in 2014, Vietnam is the world’s 13th most populous country. A full 65% of its population is under 30. Since 2000, the country’s GDP growth in has been among the highest in the world, with the U.S. as its largest trading partner. When we were there, the populace was very excited about joining the World Trade Organization in 2007.  Since then, much has changed dramatically, so if you want to see parts of the old Vietnam with the simpler life, go there soon!

5. If you want a more adventurous vacation, check out Savu Savu or Fiji’s remote Lau Island Group.  We sailed almost all the way around Fiji’s main island, Viti Levu, then left our yacht in Savusavu, on Fiji’s second-largest island, Vanua Levu. We had obtained a special permit in Suva to visit Fiji’s remote Lau Group for a thatched-hut-on-the-beach experience. Not easy, but it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Chapters 8 and 10 of Sailing the South Pacific, my second book in the adventure series, describes two sailing seasons we spent in Fiji, where we had too many adventures to list here. Feel free to ask for advice in the COMMENT section below.

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What are your travel plans for 2016?


Update on Tonga Relief:

Thank you, readers, for your interest in Tonga. International humanitarian aid continues to arrive by air and sea from Australia, China, France, Japan, and New Zealand.

  • Initial Damages Assessment (IDA) data has been completed and being is collected and analyzed by Tonga’s National Emergency Management Office (NEMO).
  • “28,900 people have received water, sanitation and hygiene assistance throughout the country.” (“TONGA: Volcanic Eruption”)
  • “Some 1,000 people (204 households) have received shelter assistance.” (“Tonga: Volcanic Eruption Situation Report No. 3 (As of 3 …”)
  • The Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) has supplied about 1.5 tons of maize and a variety of vegetable seeds to the Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Forests.
  • Donors and international organizations have committed some US$ 27 million in financial assistance plus a considerable amount of in-kind support to the relief effort in Tonga. (“Tonga: Volcanic Eruption Situation Report No. 3 (As of 3 …”)

This Polynesian country of over 170 islands has intrigued me ever since I viewed a TV broadcast of Tongans on the beach greeting the new millennium on January 1, 2000. Their feverish dancing was contagious. Later that year, I was captivated by the news that the 440-pound King Taufa’ahau Tupou IV had gone on a diet-fitness program and lost one hundred pounds! Gunter and I vowed to include this charming island in our circumnavigation plans.

Now, my heart continues to go out to the people of Tonga as I reflect on the few months that Gunter and I spent there during our travels. We sailed our catamaran Pacific Bliss to Tonga from Palmerston Island and arrived at Port of Refuge, Neiafu on August 28, 2002. I wrote this in my journal:

“The Kingdom of Tonga. The name evokes mystery, a sense of the exotic, perhaps because I have never been here before. Or perhaps because it is one of the few remaining absolute monarchies in the world. Tonga has a fierce reputation: It is the only island in the Pacific that was never colonized.”

Friendship, Tongan style. Captain Cook called Tonga the Friendly Islands because the inhabitants welcomed him warmly and graciously provided him with the supplies he needed. We cruisers enjoyed the warmth of the locals as well. One Tongan who became my friend was Lucy, the owner of the Unisex Hair Salon. Her salon was the best because it was the only one in town! A mother of seven, she didn’t sit around—even though she’d had a stroke three years earlier. “Do what you love,” a wise Tongan doctor told her. “You will gradually improve.”

A hairdresser to the Royal Family, Lucy talked about them unceasingly while she did my hair. “We love our princess,” she gushed. “She is a princess of the people. She is beautiful, like Diana.” Lucy continued to let water run through my hair. “And she comes to all our functions. She likes us.” 

I told her that we can’t let the water run that long on our yacht. “We make our water from the sea, so we have to use it sparingly.” 

“You can come here and use my shower any time you want,” she said. That’s the way they are on those islands!

Dedications in Tonga are a big deal. The first one I experienced was shortly after we arrived in Tonga when I attended the dedication of an elementary school. Gunter and I arrived at the stated time, but these events run on island time. And island time means take your time. Being early, we had the privilege of watching the preparations. Teachers decorated the speaker’s podium with Tongan mats, then they fastened them in the back with rolls of duct tape. King Tupou IV was in attendance, but a pole holding up the canopy hid him from view! We changed our seats so we could see him clearly. 

Tonga
The King of Tonga (left) and President of French Polynesia (right) speak at the dedication of a new school in Vavau.

A few weeks later, I attended the dedication of the new Arts and Handicrafts Center. The princess Lucy had praised took her seat on the stage and with a desultory stare, fanned herself during the monotonous dedication speech and long-winded prayer that followed. Halfway through the speeches, an intermission allowed us to walk around the hall and study the handicrafts for sale. The governor and princess dutifully rounded the tables. I watched them walk up to each display and talk with the artist. The ceremony continued. The princess spoke in Tongan and then English. “We have so many guests visiting us in Vavau. Welcome! May you enjoy your stay here.” Her warmth was contagious. I was impressed. After the princess spoke, groups of dancers performed, facing the princess—with their backs to the audience! 

Tongan children dancers
Boys pose after they dance for the Princess.

At the end of the performances, we all rose as the princess and royals stepped down from the dais and walked along the aisles toward the rear of the hall, shaking hands. I was seated on the aisle. The princess reached out and grasped my hand with a firm, confident handshake as she looked me right in the eye. Her smile was genuine, warm, and inviting. I began to understand why the only Polynesian monarchy continues to exist.

These stories, and many more, are told in the second book in my “In Search of Adventure and Moments of Bliss” trilogy, “Sailing the South Pacific.”

  • Catholic Church, Colonial Style, Neiafu
  • Hut in Vavua, Tonga
  • Whale watching in Tonga.
  • Dance in Tonga
  • Boy dancer, Tonga
  • Cruising yachts

The death of King Tupou IV in 2006. The King died on September 11, 2006. Gunter and I were on a passage from Bali to Singapore and didn’t know about it until we read the Singapore Times at Raffles Marina. We realized that was the first King either of us had met. We were sad but weren’t surprised; he was 88.He had been the King of Tonga since the death of his mother, Queen Sālote Tupou III, in 1965. His son was sworn in immediately as King Tupou V, but the coronation would be held in 2007 after an official six-month mourning period. That made sense to us. What blew our minds were the Tonga Riots of November 2006. By then, we were in Yacht Haven Marina in Phuket, Thailand, pre-occupied with preparing Pacific Bliss for our January Indian Ocean crossing. As we worked, we wondered: Why would the peaceful, law-abiding Tongans storm their capital, Nuku’alofa?

The Tongan Riots. Tongans expected democratic reforms under the new monarch; after all, the government had formed a committee to do so following a 2005 strike by government workers. They demanded that a vote on at least some of these reforms take place before Parliament adjourned for the year. That didn’t happen. So on November 16, 2006, a pro-democracy rally of several thousand marched to parliament in Nuku’alofa. After the peaceful march ended outside parliament, an irate crowd of 2,000-3,000 took to the streets. The rioters spanned all ages, from children to the elderly; however, most were young men. As they rampaged through town, they tipped over cars, attacked government buildings, smashed windows, looted businesses and then set them on fire. For many Tongans, it was like a Christmas give-away bonanza that had come early. By the night’s end, the mob had burnt down a remarkable 80% of the Central Business District of Nuku’alofa. Six people were dead, and damage totaled millions of Pa’anga (the currency of Tonga). 

Building burns in Tonga during 2006 riots
Building burns in Tonga during 2006 riots.

The Tongan government, fearing that it was facing a revolution, quickly requested armed assistance from Australia and New Zealand to quell its unruly subjects. About 150 Australian and New Zealand troops and police officers arrived. After a few weeks, over 570 people were arrested, most of whom were beaten by soldiers and police.

Tonga’s Transition to a Constitutional Democracy. The ceremonial accession of King Tupou V was deferred to 2008 due to his decision to focus on the reconstruction of the damaged capital. 

Two ceremonies marked Tupou’s coronation. The first was a Taumafa Kava(Royal Kava Ring Ceremony). The king sat on a pile of handwoven pandanus mats facing the sea while 200 Tongan nobles and chiefs wearing woven skirts and seashells marched around him. He wore a garland of flowers and the traditional Tongan ta’ovala (woven mat skirt). Hundreds of baskets of food and seventy cooked pigs were presented to the King and his assembly of chiefs and nobles. Later that night, schoolchildren carrying 30,000 torches lit the sky to proclaim the coronation. 

A second, European-style coronation ceremony took place on August 2, 2008 in the Nuku’alofa Centennial Chapel, attended by royalty and nobility from around the world. Archbishop Bryce presented Tongan regalia: the ring, scepter and sword; then he placed the Tongan Crown on the monarch’s head. 

As a Crown Prince, King George had been in favor of a gradual transition to democracy. He said that the Constitution of Tonga protected free speech. After his coronation, he announced that he would relinquish most of his power and follow the recommendations of his Prime Minister, who would manage day-to-day affairs. The King also sold off lucrative business interests and announced parliamentary reform and elections in 2010. The royal palace spokesperson announced, “The Sovereign of the only Polynesian kingdom … is voluntarily surrendering his powers to meet the democratic aspirations of many of his people … [The people] favour a more representative, elected Parliament. The king agrees with them.” 

In July 2010, the government published a new electoral roll and called on Tonga’s 101,900 citizens to add their names to the document so that they could take part in the historic vote on November 25. King George would lose his executive powers, including the ability to appoint the prime minister and ministers, but he would remain head of state. Unfortunately, a year later, Tupou V died from cancer. Friends and political leaders from around the world sent condolences. “He believed that the monarchy was an instrument of change and can be seen as the architect of evolving democracy in Tonga,” said New Zealand Prime Minister John Key. “This will be his enduring legacy.”

The politics of Tonga currently takes place within the framework of a constitutional monarchy. The King is the head of state and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. The Prime Minister is appointed by the King from among members of Parliament, after having won majority support of its members. Executive power is vested in the Cabinet of Ministers. Legislative power is vested in the King through the Parliament, and judicial power, in the Supreme Court. 

The “Kingdom of Tonga” we experienced during our circumnavigation is no more. Tupou VI, the younger brother of the late King George Tupou, is now the King of Tonga. The current prime minister is Siaosi Sovaleni, elected on December 15, 2021.

King Tupou VI
King Tupou VI

“If a boat ends up on a reef you don’t blame the reef;
you don’t blame the boat;
you don’t blame the wind;
you don’t blame the waves;
you blame the captain.”

— Tongan Saying

(Tongan riots, 2006 – libcom.org)

The Tongan monarchy eventually got it right. The country may have floundered on a reef temporarily, but now it is solidly on course.

In case you missed them, click to read my Tsunami in Tonga Part I and Part II.

About the Author: Lois and Günter Hofmann lived their dream by having a 43-foot ocean-going catamaran built for them in the south of France and sailing around the world. Learn more about their travel adventures by reading Lois’s award-winning nautical adventure trilogy. Read more about Lois and her adventures at her website and stay in touch with Lois by liking her Facebook page. Lois’s books can be purchased from PIP Productions on Amazon.


Tonga tsunami damage
Images from Tonga’s shoreline to structures and trees following the tsunami.

News about Tonga. “The volcanic eruption in Tonga that triggered a tsunami was hundreds of times more powerful than the atomic bomb the US dropped on Hiroshima during World War Two,” NASA says.

From the BBC: “The eruption “obliterated” a volcanic island north of the Tongan capital Nuku’alofa. Tonga says more than four-fifths of the population has been affected by the tsunami and falling ash. Three people were confirmed killed.” 

Before the eruption, the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcanic island was two separate islands joined by new land formed in 2015. NASA says the eruption was so powerful all the new land is gone, along with “large chunks” of the two older islands.

The widespread emission of volcanic ash, gases and particles from the eruption has proven to be a massive challenge for Tongan officials.  Early on, there were fears that water sources had been polluted by the thick blanket of ash, increasing the risk of diseases like cholera and diarrhea. However, testing in recent days had cleared ground water and rainwater as safe to drink.

Fine volcanic ash and emissions, however, continue to pose a public health risk. Exposure could potentially cause breathing difficulties, affect the cardiovascular system, and irritate the lungs, eyes and skin.

New Zealand naval vessels have conducted contactless delivery of vaccines
New Zealand naval vessels have conducted contactless delivery of vaccines.

An additional complication is that Tonga has been Covid-free. Now the island nation is fearing that the virus will tag along with the aid that’s being delivered. An Australian warship on its way to this South Pacific island nation has recorded about two dozen positive cases onboard, and will now continue in a “Covid-safe manner.” Aid agencies are providing coordination assistance remotely, but local authorities and community groups run the response on the ground. New Zealand delivered vaccines to Pacific Island nations by naval ship, then on helicopters or inflatable boats, before handing them over to teams on land. The international aid community is familiar with non-contact measures during the pandemic. For example, contactless methods were also used to distribute relief supplies to Vanuatu, in the aftermath of Cyclone Harold, in April 2020.

Photos from Tonga are still hard to come by. The country is only now re-establishing some connections through satellite telephone links. Tonga’s only underseas communication cable is still ruptured.  The country’s internet is still down, although a repair vessel is underway.

Here’s another photo from the Tonga Consulate:

The island of Tongatapu has been coated in a layer of volcanic ash. 

In Part I of this blog series, I wrote about the volcanic eruption in Tonga and the tsunami that followed. I ended the blog with the story about the New Year’s Eve cyclone that hit the Vavua Islands of 2000, and how Gunter and I decided to give back.  This is Part II of that story, excerpted from the second book in my “In Search of Adventure and Moments of Bliss” trilogy, “Sailing the South Pacific:”

Giving Is Receiving, Part II

Hunga Lagoon, Ika Lahi Resort, Vava’u, Tonga, August 2002.

I consider how to go about giving back. In the past we have had unfortunate experiences with giving to village chiefs and matriarchs. We would find out later that our gifts were not distributed to the needy families and children. Many times our donations were resold for profit. So after breakfast at the Lodge, I seek the advice of the friendly New Zealand proprietress.

“I’ve had bad experiences with giving as well,” she says, tossing her long red hair. “One of my vacationers, a doctor from New Zealand, gave a box of medical supplies to the clinic in the village up over the hill. Hundreds of dollars worth. That should have lasted the little village an entire year or more! Yet a few days later a villager came asking at the resort for a tube of antiseptic cream. He had a badly skinned knee. ‘Have you been to your nurse?’ I asked him. ‘He should have some.’ It turned out that the nurse at the clinic had sent the entire box to his family in Nukualofa, where they sold them all!”

“Would it be better if I walk house to house and distribute gifts where they’re needed?” I ask.

“Hmm,” she answers. “You could, if you had someone to point out the needy families… I know! I’ll ask Moule to accompany you after her shift. She is done working at the Lodge by noon. She herself comes from a family of nine, and they could use some help.”

I return to our table where Günter is picking up the tab. I tell him what I’ve discovered. Then I suggest that we start with our unopened box of 96 servings of Idaho potato flakes. “Moule’sfamily would be perfect for that.”

Before we leave the Lodge, the owner introduces me to Moule. She is a teenager with a wide but shy smile and an unusually slight frame for a Tongan. She agrees to lead us to her village at noon. When she calls on the VHF, we find that she has enlisted the help of two Tongan girlfriends who live in the village high on the hill.

Tongan women
Gunter poses with the local girls who selected the families in need.

The girls accompany us to Pacific Bliss. There we gather tins of food, clothing, shampoo, bars of soap, and cosmetics. Then, back on land, we trudge up a narrow footpath for what seems like forever, carrying everything in bags and backpacks. Finally we reach the crest of the hill. Cyclone Waka has destroyed everything!  Not a tree stands. There is no longer a jungle, not even a path to lead to the village clearing. Such devastation is shocking. All I see is a pitiful assortment of run-down, hastily built bamboo huts. What misery and poverty! I feel like crying.

Moule leads us to the first hut, where her own family lives. I give the introductory speech I have prepared. Moule translates for her family. “We travel and live on a boat called Pacific Bliss. We are moored by the Lodge in your very beautiful Hunga Lagoon. You are blessed with such wonderful Nature here. Because your lagoon has given us so much pleasure, we want to give back to your village. We understand that your village suffered a horrible cyclone and that it will take a long time to recover. So we want to help by giving you some small gifts and food.” 

I explain how to use the Idaho mashed potatoes by heating water and then stirring it in. Then we let each of the family members choose a T-shirt from our bag. Afterward, I distribute cosmetics and soaps to the women. 

Günter holds up a petite princess-waist dress that we had purchased in a used-clothing store. “Who can fit into this?” he jokes.

“Not any of us!” Everyone laughs.

Moule appears to be the only lean one of the family, but the dress is too small even for her. 

Our second stop is a bent-over widow with scraggly gray hair whose children had left Vavau for Tongatapu, the main island of Tonga. She seldom hears from them. She lives alone in a tiny dilapidated one-room shack. We leave her a supply of tinned food and a bag filled with soaps and shampoos. 

“I’ll begin to eat this today,” she says haltingly, holding up a can of chicken breast. 

Next we visit a man whose leg has been crushed in an accident. He sleeps on the floor, on a woven mat. There is no other furniture in the hut. We leave him cans of stew and trust that someone will come in to make it for him.

After this a wizened grandmother, who looks to be over a hundred years old, breaks into a wide, toothless grin as she sees the food we carry. We can’t imagine her being able to chew!  So Günter hands her a stack of canned soups.

We go from home to home on bare ground that is broken only by thin tufts of grass. No landscaping or flowers grace these homes. 

This is the poorest, most downtrodden village I have ever seen in my life! 

Tongan
One of the families to whom we donated food.

Later, Günter turns to Moule, “You chose the eight needy families well.” He tries to lighten the mood. “But I’m still worried about finding a Tongan girl to fit into this small dress.”

“I know a lady who has a small daughter,” Moule laughs.

We head toward their house. The daughter is quite small. The dress will fit. After my standard speech about our enjoying the bounty of the lagoon, the mother says, “But I don’t have anything to give you in return.” 

Moule assures her that it is okay; we expect nothing in return.

Our trip has been well-planned. Our bags are empty—except for some nail polish and costume jewelry. We give these to the girls who have helped us so cheerfully. They are amazed and flattered. As they walk us down the hill and back to our dinghy, we again emphasize how much we appreciate the beauty of Vavau and the wonderful friendliness of the Tongan people. I do not know whether they understand what I mean, but I do know that Günter and I will treasure this special day in our hearts for the rest of our lives.

A special thanks to each of you who contributed clothing, glasses and gifts during our Bon Voyage Party in San Diego. Some of those items were used in Tonga.

Click here to read Part I of this series. For Part III, click here.

About the Author: Lois and Günter Hofmann lived their dream by having a 43-foot ocean-going catamaran built for them in the south of France and sailing around the world. Learn more about their travel adventures by reading Lois’s award-winning nautical adventure trilogy. Read more about Lois and her adventures at her website and stay in touch with Lois by liking her Facebook page. Lois’s books can be purchased from PIP Productions on Amazon.


I first heard about the volcanic eruption in Tonga when I received an emergency alert on my iPhone. Back in San Diego for the winter, I was surprised to see a tsunami alert for the entire California coastline. (We live in a condo overlooking Sail Bay; on a clear day, we have a view of the vast Pacific.) All we experienced was a high surf, but I was glued to the news about Tonga. Gunter and I had sailed into the port of Neiafu, in Tonga’s Vavau Island Group, during our world circumnavigation and have a special fondness for the area and its people. 

Out of 181 countries in the World Risk Index, Tonga ranks only behind Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands for its vulnerability to natural disasters. The recent explosion of the Hunga-Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano, located about 43 miles north of Tonga’s main island, shot ash and gas nearly 20 miles into the air. Much of that ash fell on Tonga’s islands, including airport runways and wharves, complicating initial efforts to reach and evacuate villages or bring them emergency supplies. Stored rainwater sources were also contaminated with ash. The majority of houses on some islands were destroyed. Not long after the explosion, Tonga’s primary internet and telecommunications cable was severed, and the country lost connection with the world.

The confirmed death toll so far, is three. Tongan officials said the Pacific nation’s practice of running tsunami drills had played a part in saving lives. The first airplanes since the Saturday, January 15 explosion finally arrived on the cleared runway on the following Thursday, carrying emergency supplies and water.

Volcananic Eruption, Courtesy NASA
Image of volcanic eruption in Tonga taken from the Himawari-8 satellite on Jan. 15, 2022, at 5:50 p.m. Tonga Local Time. This volcanic eruption produced a 3.9 foot (1.2 meter) tsunami which struck Nukuʻalofa, the capital of Tonga. Also visible in this image is the remnants of Tropical Cyclone Cody to the southwest. (NASA/public domain)

Tsunami waves may have been as high as 50 feet closest to the volcano. The sound of the final eruption that triggered the tsunami was reportedly like a bomb exploding. “Our ears were ringing,” locals said. “We couldn’t even hear each other.” 

Tonga tsunami 2022
Photo credit, Consulate of the Kingdom of Tonga
Photo credit, Beach, Consulate of the KIngdom of Tonga
Photo credit, Consulate of the Kingdom of Tonga

Tongans are no strangers to natural disasters. Cyclone Waka was one of the worst. Her category 4, 115 mph winds devastated the South Pacific in the waning days of 2001. We arrived in our catamaran Pacific Bliss a full nine months after the storm had wrought her damage, yet we came upon people in remote areas who were still suffering. For them, there was no government safety net, no FEMA disaster supplies, and no officials to help the stranded. We anchored in Hunga Lagoon and brought what supplies we had on board to the villagers on top of the hill. This is our story, excerpted from the second book in my “In Search of Adventure and Moments of Bliss” trilogy, “Sailing the South Pacific:”

Giving Is Receiving

Hunga Lagoon, Ika Lahi Resort, Vava’u, Tonga, August 2002.

Branches flailed against corrugated iron roofs. The wind rose like an approaching freight train, moaning through the shuttered windows and doors of the little village on the hill above Hunga Lagoon. Fierce gusts found their way deep into the homes of the huddled occupants, causing the flames of their kerosene lanterns to flicker and tremble. Entire groves of frangipani trees toppled like lines of dominoes.  The angry wind had already ripped away their leaves and flowers. The delicate flowers of the hibiscus trees had disappeared; then the branches began to break.

But that was only the beginning of Cyclone Waka’s fury this past New Year’s Eve.

What a sadistic irony!  Exactly two years after they appeared on television channels around the world––the first to celebrate the New Millennium––the joyous dancers of Tonga entered this New Year frightened and full of despair.

In Vavau, Tonga’s most beautiful and treasured island group, the sea slammed against the shorelines, devouring anything in its path. Waka destroyed docks, overturned boats, and ground churches, schoolhouses, and hospitals to rubble. Even in the relatively protected harbor of Neiafu, a catamaran broke loose of its moorings and flew right into Ana’s Waterfront Café, where for some weeks afterward, the owners continued to carry on business around it.

Most of the waterfront docks and structures had to be rebuilt. The governments of other South Pacific countries such as French Polynesia contributed workers and materials to rebuild schools and hospitals. Missions and charities rebuilt churches and handed out food necessary for survival. But for the inhabitants of Vavau, there was no such thing as government aid to rebuild. 

Nine months later, these poor people are still recovering.

In Hunga, the village near where our yacht, Pacific Bliss, is anchored, the villagers staggered drunkenly in the wind as their homes fell around them, sand stinging their faces like icy sleet. 

They ran for cover to whatever dwelling was still standing, carrying a few meager possessions with them. Coconuts thudded on roofs and cisterns with the force of exploding cannonballs. Shade trees were uprooted and torn apart until none were left standing in the little village. Every gust of wind hurled more branches and debris against any structures left standing until the landscape was finally flat.

Then came the rains.

Water rushed and swirled until horrid, twisting ravines replaced pleasant, tree-lined paths. When it was all over, the villagers struggled to rebuild their simple homes out of the muddy mess.

But then came the sun.

The rays shone mercilessly upon their barren and ugly world. They had no protecting shade.  They labored under the sun’s cruel glare for weeks on end.

Afa, the storm, was over in a few days. But the devastation it wrought would seemingly last forever.  During this time of misery, the villagers found it hard to believe that beauty would ever again come to Vavau.

But it has! Lush vegetation has returned to Tonga’s beloved Vava’u. Nevertheless, there’s no escaping the lasting after-effects of Cyclone Waka. Overturned boats and canoes still line the shores and reefs of the anchorages and lagoons. And the luxuriant new growth cannot hide Vavua’s uprooted trees, sawed-off tree trunks, and stacks of old wood. For the 80 percent of the population that lives off the land, recovery is painfully slow. It can take ten years for a coconut tree to bear fruit. Replanting right after the storm meant using nuts that the farmers could have used immediately for food. Newly-planted banana plants will not bear fruit until the following year. The most immediate crop is the papalangi (European) vegetables—such as tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, string beans, and cabbage—the produce that we have been enjoying here. These vegetables could be produced quickly and sold at the markets in Neiafu in return for nails and building materials. Fish from the sea, of course, was another source of income.

Tonga from the book, "Sailing the South Pacific" by Lois Joy Hofmann
Path from village to the people we helped in Hunga Lagoon.

Günter and I have enjoyed all the bounty that Vava’u has to offer for over a month now. We have purchased fresh produce at the market every time we return from gorgeous anchorages to the port in Neiafu. We have feasted our eyes on the lush landscapes, pearly beaches, and multihued rock formations of the islands. We have frolicked and snorkeled in the emerald green waters of the lagoons. By the time we anchor off the Ika Lahi Gamefishing Lodge in Hunga Lagoon, Günter and I have decided that we want to give back.

I consider how to go about it. In the past we have had unfortunate experiences with giving to village chiefs and matriarchs. We would find out later that our gifts were not distributed to the needy families and children. Many times, our donations were resold for profit. 

How we decided to give back to the locals in Hunga Lagoon is told in Part II of this story.

Click here to read Part II of this series. For Part III, click here.

About the Author: Lois and Günter Hofmann lived their dream by having a 43-foot ocean-going catamaran built for them in the south of France and sailing around the world. Learn more about their travel adventures by reading Lois’s award-winning nautical adventure trilogy. Read more about Lois and her adventures at her website and stay in touch with Lois by liking her Facebook page. Lois’s books can be purchased from PIP Productions on Amazon.


One cannot circumnavigate the world without sailing to dangerous places. One of those places was Sri Lanka in 2007.  We hadn’t planned to stop at this island nation, southeast of India; we’d flown there a few years before and had taken the country tour then. Our planned circumnavigation route would have taken us across the Indian Ocean from Thailand to the Maldives. But the weather gods were not cooperating. The three of us on Pacific Bliss—my husband Gunter, our crew, Chris, and I—had endured a miserable crossing of the Bay of Bengal, six days of one rainstorm after another. We welcomed any refuge from lumpy seas, even though we knew that Sri Lanka was at war with the Tamil Tigers in the north of this island shaped like a tear-drop.

While underway, I had a pleasant SSB radio conversation with a commercial ship captain with a clipped British-Indian accent:

“Where are you from?”

“America. California.”

“Oh, such a nice place. I’m Sri Lankan. My name is Colombo. Welcome to my country.”

“Thank you. I look forward to being there.”

“Are you coming to Galle?”

“Yes.”

“It is very safe there. But do not be afraid of the depth charges they set off at night. It is to ward off the Tamil Tigers. Tamil divers could swim into the harbor to plant a bomb onto one of our navy ships. The charges will sound like a bomb, and you will feel it with your little ship.”

“Thank you for letting me know”

“It is safe to travel in my country. You must go to Kandy, in the highlands, and to Colombo. Not to the north-northeast though. That is where the fighting is going on.” 

What a pleasant exchange that was!

The following is an excerpt from my book, The Long Way Back:


An Unplanned Stop in Sri Lanka
06º 01’N, 80º13’E
Galle, Sri Lanka
February 9, 2007

Despite the miseries that we’ve endured this past week, part of the joy of traveling is encountering the unexpected…Serendipity brought us to Sri Lanka. And I’m fascinated that the country’s original name was Serendip, an Arab traders’ word applied to the land long before the Portuguese came on the scene. It reflected the lucky circumstance of their discovery and contact. Today, in its native Sinhala tongue, Sri Lanka means Land of the Blessed. For us, being here is indeed blessed and serendipitous.

Günter and I intend to understand its people and culture better—and, yes, even its continuing civil war. This war caused us to strike Sri Lanka from our original circumnavigation plan. Now, though, we cannot avoid its ongoing cruelty. We arrive at dawn’s light, crossing the shipping channels at 90 degrees and deviating course twice to sail behind giant freighters.

“You never want to cross in front of a freighter,” Günter tells Chris, “because it can take one of those monsters up to four miles to stop.”

As instructed via VHF, we prepare the ship for anchoring outside the harbor. It doesn’t take long to see the guns. We’ve never experienced an entrance like this! Two small runabouts, with mounted machine guns, race toward our boat while men wave and point to where they want us to drop the hook. Next, we spot a huge navy vessel—tons of sleek steel glinting in the morning sun—coming around the breakwater. Three Immigration Officers from the navy vessel board Pacific Bliss, while the two speedboats keep circling us. 

The officers conduct a thorough inspection of Pacific Bliss and give us forms to fill out.  These are immigration forms, and each asks the same questions over and over. The process lasts half an hour. Then, after stamping the paperwork, one officer asks for “smokes.” Wisely, we had purchased a few cartons just for this purpose. Chris distributes a pack to each officer.

We’ll have a two-hour wait before being shown inside the harbor, but we don’t mind; we’re happy to have our first onboard breakfast in a week in calm water. After breakfast, via VHF, we hire a local agent, G.A.C. Shipping, to handle the rest of the voluminous paperwork that will allow Pacific Bliss to berth here. 

Later, a navy officer boards our ship to direct Günter to a berth inside the harbor. As we enter, we note that it’s entirely roped off, except for one small lane for fishing boats and yachts. The officer presents us with three choices: to tie up to a black buoy in the center, where we’d have to use our dinghy to get to shore; to Med-moor to a floating dock, consisting of wobbly plastic sections with no handholds; or to raft to one of the monohulls along the sea wall. We choose the third option and raft to a small monohull flying an Italian flag. Now we can walk across the monohull and from there, onto dry land.

“Well, we’re finally safe,” Günter declares with a sigh. “But we’re not going to do any serious touring until we graduate to a berth directly on the sea wall. Tomorrow, we’ll just walk around Galle and mingle with the locals.”

That first night, cradled by Pacific Bliss and swaying with the current, I fall asleep feeling like we are still at sea. KA-BOOM! I jerk awake. I hear and feel the thunderous boom right through the water and the hull. Oh my God! What have we gotten ourselves into?

Günter pulls me over to him and hugs me tight. “It’s the depth charges, remember? They told us this would happen.”

Talk about encountering the unexpected!

“It feels like we’re in a war zone!” 

“We are. It’s the price we pay for taking refuge from the storm.” 

***

Touring Sri Lanka. After exploring Galle our first day ashore, we were invited to our shipping agent’s home for dinner. Later we hired a car and driver and took a South Coast tour, including a one-day safari. Then we drove to Kandy and rode a train through the highlands. A few days later, we explored Sri Pada (Adam’s Peak) a pilgrimage site. Chris rose at daylight to climb the peak; I went there later and made it halfway before turning back.

A fisherman in southwestern Sri Lanka
A fisherman in southwestern Sri Lanka Photo credit: The Long Way Back, page 227
Sri Lanka Waterfalls
Our crew, Chris, at one of the many waterfalls in Sri Lanka’s interior Photo credit: The Long Way Back, page 228
Elephant near Kandy, Sri Lanka
An elephant bathing near Kandy, Sri Lanka comes right up to us on shore! Photo credit: The Long Way Back, page 231

After a week, we three were well-rested, invigorated, and ready to leave Sri Lanka. Chris provided a creative surprise: he brought local monks over to bless our catamaran! They tied a string around the entire perimeter, came on board, and gave their blessing to everything inside, including us! Now we could safely leave this magical land of Serendip.

Monks
Monks bless Pacific Bliss before we sail off to the Maldives Photo credit: The Long Way Back, page 229

About the Author: Lois and Günter Hofmann lived their dream by having a 43-foot ocean-going catamaran built for them in the south of France and sailing around the world. Learn more about their travel adventures by reading Lois’s award-winning nautical adventure trilogy. Read more about Lois and her adventures at her website and stay in touch with Lois by liking her Facebook page. Lois’s books can be purchased from PIP Productions on Amazon.


Taking photos of people while traveling is not as difficult as you might think. If just the thought of walking up to strangers and taking their pictures causes you to break out into a cold sweat, this blog is for you. I encourage you to focus on the reward. How better to demonstrate to friends and family the charm of far-flung places than to show them the faces of the people who live there? Too many scenics without the faces of people (and animals) will bore your audience after a while.

Which of these photos below will leave a lasting impression of Yemen?

Row of Tower Houses in Sana'a, Yemen
Row of Tower Houses in Sana’a, Yemen
Sana'a vendor chewing qat in market
Sana’a vendor chewing qat, yes it IS spelled with a Q and no U.
Sana'a resident in traditional dress, page 278, The Long Way Back
Sana’a resident in full traditional dress, page 278 The Long Way Back.

Which of these photos of Indonesia will intrigue the viewer the most?

Rinca Island, Indonesia
Rinca Island, Indonesia
Indonesian sailboat
Two-masted Indonesian sailboats called pinisi. page 90 The Long Way Back.
Petal girl, Riung, Indonesia
“Petal Girl,” Riung, Indonesia, page 98 The Long Way Back.

Here’s how to find interesting faces and characters. To convey a sense of place, you want to give the vicarious experience of being there. Now that you’ve moved from scenics to people, how do you achieve that? First, you need to go where locals congregate, such as the market, a dance or theater performance, or any park or museum that’s open to the public.

Chinese exercise in a Beijing Park.
Chinese exercise in a Beijing Park.
Performers on Yangtze River Cruise, China
Performers on Yangtze River Cruise, China
Dancer who preformed at the dedication of a new school in Tonga, page 136, Sailing the South Pacific
Tongan dancer who preformed at the dedication of a new school in Tonga, page 136, Sailing the South Pacific.

Next, you need to break the People Barrier.To get over your fear and that of your subject, adopt a positive, cheery attitude. Relax! Approach your subject with a smile and make him or her comfortable with small talk before you ask permission to take a photo.  Set the scene by taking photos of your subject in the wider setting to convey a sense of place. Then when your ready for the close-ups you want, either come in close or use a telephoto lens. I shot the photos below at a 100mm telephoto range with a Canon EOS digital camera. Some iPhones have an excellent Portrait setting, but that requires you to come in close. Eventually, you’ll develop a sixth sense about how much Up Close and Personal a subject can tolerate.

Stilt Fisherman, Sri Lanka, page 227 The Long Way Back
Stilt Fisherman, Sri Lanka, page 227 The Long Way Back.
Guide in her '80s, Adams Peak, Sri Lanka, page 249, The Long Way Back
Guide in her ’80s, Adams Peak, Sri Lanka, page 249, The Long Way Back.
Mohammed, our go-to man in Eritrea, page 292, The Long Way Back
Mohammed, our go-to man in Eritrea, page 292, The Long Way Back

Keep your eyes wide open to find opportunities. While taking a river walk in a Chinese village, I stumbled upon a father taking birthday photos of his daughter. I stood my distance and photographed him taking the photos. Since I didn’t speak Mandarin, I signaled that I wanted to come closer by waving, smiling, and motioning with my camera. He smiled and waved me in—apparently flattered that I wanted to take a photo of his pretty daughter!

Birthday Girl poses for me
Birthday Girl poses for me.
Another pose by the Chinese girl.
Another pose by the Chinese girl.

Avoid “wooden” group portraits. Antonio,an entrepreneurial fisherman, sold us fish for lunch while our yacht Pacific Bliss was anchored near the island of Mamitupu, San Blas Islands. Later, he came back to display the molas his wife had made, and we purchased a few. He then invited us to a Coming of Age Ceremony for his niece. When he saw me taking photos of the event, he asked whether I would take a photo of his family. “Of course,” I agreed, and added, “I’ll print them overnight and give you a set.” After the Ceremony he led me to his hut. The family posed, serious and still as statues. But they loosened up when I joked around with them. Eventually, I obtained one of my best portraits ever—of his daughter, granddaughter, and puppy:

Fisherman Antonio's Family
Fisherman Antonio’s Family
Mother, child and puppy, Mamitupu, San Blas
Mother, child and puppy, Mamitupu, San Blas.
“Wooden” family portrait vs. proud mother with baby and puppy. Maiden Voyage, pages 126 and 130.

If you’re photographing a group of children, don’t line them up in rows.  Just let them enjoy themselves; keep snapping while they do their thing. If props are nearby, like a picnic table or grassy knoll, group them around, some sitting and others standing. 

Boys, San Blas Archipelago
Boys, San Blas Archipelago.
Marquesan Cutie, Tahuata, page 41, Sailing the South Pacific
Marquesan Cutie, Tahuata, page 41, Sailing the South Pacific.
Palmerston Boys
Palmerston Boys.

Animals have faces too. When taking animal photos, do include the human element whenever you can.During an elephant show in Phuket, Thailand, my sister Loretta bravely volunteered to be “tickled” by an elephant. That became one of her favorite vacation photos. During a trip sponsored by Peregrine Adventures, I visited an animal orphanage in the interior of Thailand run by monks. They rescued baby tigers whose mothers had been killed. I asked our guide to allow me to have my photo taken with one of them. Often, such shows will allow tourists to take photos that include the trainers. That adds interest.

Tickled by an elephant
Tickled by an elephant, page 204, The Long Way Back.
Posing with a tiger
Posing with a tiger, page 438, The Long Way Back

Independent Travel and Walking a Village are the best ways to obtain photographs of locals. It was easy to take photos of locals during our sailing circumnavigation because Gunter and I could easily mix with the locals. That’s more difficult when you’re traveling with a group, and nearly impossible when traveling via cruise ship. We chose the independent travel option for many of our trips. You can customize your trip by looking at the agency’s standard itinerary, then skip some destinations and stay an extra day at others. That allows you time to assimilate to the culture of each stop, go off on your own on the “free days,” and write or type up your notes before moving on. Independent travel agencies usually offer a car-with-driver or a car-driver-guide combination. Often, when approaching a small village, we ask the driver to stop and let us off so that we can walk the village on our own, then join the car at the other end. I’ve written about this approach in my photo blogs: Walking a Village…Uzbekistan, Walking a Village in Myanmar and Walking a Village in India

How to make your own FACES slide show. When you’re traveling, you’ll find yourself gravitating toward landscapes and close-ups. Go ahead, but don’t forget to take photos of people for an additional sense of place. When you’re home and you’ve downloaded your photos, select the ones with people and decide which ones can be assembled into a slide show. When entering each new country during our circumnavigation, Gunter and I went to music stores to find CDs—preferably by local artists—to use as a soundtrack for our slide shows.

Here’s a link to a slide show I named FACES OF CHINA. It’s more than a selection of portraits. I’ve alternated close-ups and posed group photos with action and movement to (hopefully) keep the viewer interested. I’ve also interposed a few sculptures, and even pandas, ending with portraits of Chairman Mao at Heavenly Palace in Beijing. 

I wish you the best of luck, taking your own photos from around the world. Feel free to ask me any questions. I’d love to help you if I can!

About the Author: Lois and Günter Hofmann lived their dream by having a 43-foot ocean-going catamaran built for them in the south of France and sailing around the world. Learn more about their travel adventures by reading Lois’s award-winning nautical adventure trilogy. Read more about Lois and her adventures at her website and stay in touch with Lois by liking her Facebook page. Lois’s books can be purchased from PIP Productions on Amazon.


“Kindness is the mark we leave on the world.”

Do memories of a place you’ve visited come back to you with a yearning, an ache, that pulls you back? You just may decide you’d love to re-visit that location that tugged at your heartstrings.

Why? At first, landscapes come to mind. You have visions of sweeping vistas, gurgling brooks, snow-capped peaks. But then your mind focuses in and you realize that it is the friendliness of the locals that make you want to return.

During our world circumnavigation, Gunter and I came across powerful places and friendly people who pulled us in and caused us to fall in love.

Local Women of Waterfall Bay

Two local women walk along the shores of Waterfall Bay collecting shellfish. Sailing the South Pacific, page 254.

The Propeller Thank You Party in Vanuatu. One place that stole our hearts was Vanuatu (formerly New Hebrides), an archipelago of 80 Melanesian islands. Gunter and I had recently attended week-long festivities honoring the installation of a new chief at Waterfall Bay, in Vanua Lava, one of the Northern Banks islands. We left fond memories those villagers behind and anchored in Vureas Bay on our way back to Luganville. As soon as we were settled, rowers came to welcome us. We recognized the men from the festival and remembered that they had to leave early because of a faulty prop. Gunter had looked at it there and tried to fix it, as had other cruisers.

     “How is the prop?” Gunter asked.

     “Still broken. We cannot trust it to go out to fish,” our friend Graham replied.

     We’re concerned. A setback like this could be disastrous for the village.

     Gunter offered them our dinghy’s spare prop. The villagers were surprised to see that it was shiny, black, and brand new.

     “Such a good prop, just for us?”

     “We will not need it. Soon we will leave from Luganville, sail past New Caledonia and on to Australia. We will leave our yacht there during the cyclone season,” Gunter explained.

     Grateful for the prop, the locals invited us to a thank you party.

From Sailing the South Pacific:
When we arrive, we’re amazed at the setting. A fish line has been strung between two lines and a post. Draped over that line is an abundance of tropical flowers and long plant leaves. Inside this boundary lies a western-style, rooster-print tablecloth covered with many mats and containers, all bursting with food: manioc with nuts, yam laplap-and-coconut, baked papaya, chicken with vegetable greens, and prawns.

“Sit,” an auntie commands us. She is a large, plump woman, wearing a flowered muumuu housedress. We settle onto the grass. About a dozen villagers gather around, but they all remain standing. I motion for them to sit on the grass, too. They shake their heads no.None of the locals—including the children—will take their own food until we begin to eat.

I say grace and then they pass the food to Gunter and me. We receive glass dishes and spoons. “Sorry, we don’t have forks,” our host apologizes. The village nurse, another guest, is offered food next, followed by a couple of men. Our host and hostess and the ladies who prepared the food all stand to the side, smiling. They say they will eat later. After we’ve eaten, the men tell us how much they appreciate the new prop. The nurse makes a speech telling us how much she and the village appreciated the bag of prescription glasses and sunglasses we had given them during the festival.Then she hands us a huge hand-woven basket filled with six eggs, one coconut, two pumpkins, and a huge green cabbage. “For your return voyage. Thank you from all of us.”

I’ll never forget this precious moment!

Tomorrow we’ll face the elements and whatever else is in store for us. But tonight, I glow in the happiness and joy that flows from this wonderful group of islanders.

We talk with them about our goal of sailing around the world. Graham asks, “Why would you want to do this?”

“To see how different people live around the world. And to experience happy moments like this one you are giving to us today.” Gunter says.

They smile and nod in understanding.

I may never return to the Northern Banks Islands of Vanuatu. These islands are accessible only by boat. But the locals we met there will always hold a special place in my heart.

Vanuatu hut

Gunter enters a hut in Vanuatu.

Welcome Week in Bundaberg, Australia. Another one of these powerful places was Bundaberg, a small town on Australia’s northeast coast. We had entered the Port2Port Rally from Vanuatu to Australia. Greg and Pat Whitbourne, Aussies we had met in Vanuatu, shepherded us into their country.

From Sailing the South Pacific:
The next day, when I come on watch at 0300, I can see the lights of Bundaberg glimmering on the horizon, as if the town is expecting us.

Australia, the long-awaited Land of Oz!

I make a pot of coffee. Then I sit at the helm taking it all in. A shooting star streaks across the sky. Surprisingly, a white tern appears from nowhere; it circles the bows and then lands on the pulpit seat for the ride on in. I view both events as a sign of good luck. Ahead—to our starboard—the running lights of Rascal Too bounce through the waves. Our new Aussie friends, Greg and Pat, are magnanimously leading us into their country.

Never before have I felt such a sense of elation and destiny upon arriving at a foreign port!

Lois and Pat wearing their hats for the contest

Lois and Pat wearing their hats for the contest.

Pacific Bliss won the Best Dressed Yacht contest.

Pacific Bliss won the Best Dressed Yacht contest.

Lois on board Pacific Bliss.

Lois on board Pacific Bliss.

That elation continued as the town put on a Welcome Week celebration for the arriving cruisers.

Pat and I entered the Melbourne Cup Hat Day contest, scrounging for items from our respective yachts. The four of us entered the Brain Strain, Passage Story, and lethal Bundy Rum Drink contests. Finally, Gunter and I entered our catamaran, Pacific Bliss, into the Best Dressed Yacht competition, with the theme: We Love You, Aussies! We won.

Why wouldn’t we want to revisit such a friendly town?

La Dolce Vita at Vibo Marina, Italy. Our sojourn in Italy did not get off to a good start. While approaching the Strait of Messina, Pacific Bliss was caught up in drift nets, due to illegal bluefin tuna fishing—a modern-day La Mattanza.  Reggio Calabria, a port of entry, was jammed, with no room for yachts-in-transit. We were relegated to a commercial quay to wait while authorities took their time checking us in. Meanwhile, we found that all nearby Italian marinas were fully booked in July, disregarding the 10% international rule for yachts-in-transit. We felt like the Flying Dutchman, destined to travel the seas forever! Finally, we finagled a berth at Tropea for “one night only.” From there, we hired a taxi to drive us down the coast to search for marinas. The Stella Del Sud Marina, owned by an Italian-Canadian couple, was our best bet. The next afternoon, we arrived amid flashes of lightning and cracks of thunder. We approached the breakwater as two men in a dinghy motored toward us. We knew where we’d be berthed so Gunter inched forward. One of the men yelled, “Stop!  We didn’t expect a catamaran. You’re too big!”

I visualized the Flying Dutchman scenario again. We’d be sailing another 40 miles to the next harbor in a thunderstorm. And who knows what we’d find there?

Gunter stands behind Angela and her husband, owners of the Stella del Sud Marina. The Long Way Back, page 410.

Gunter stands behind Angela and her husband, owners of the Stella del Sud Marina. The Long Way Back, page 410.

Angela, the Canadian, came to our rescue. Soon her husband was standing at the end of the dock, gesturing and directing three dock boys, who pushed and pulled on a mess of mooring lines. Eventually, Pacific Bliss was cleverly tied to the end of the pontoon dock with two mooring lines holding the bow in place and two crisscrossed to hold our stern still.  There she stayed, straddling the end of the dock. The passerelle was set up for us to exit from the starboard swim steps. We never saw anything like that, but it worked! We had settled into a sleepy, laid-back Calabrian town. What a relief!

In my third book, The Long Way Back, I wrote about how we fell in love with this place and its people:
We are settling into the sweet life, la dolce vita, in Italy. This little town is growing on us. Vibo Marina is somewhat of a utilitarian place: the buildings aren’t grand—they’re simply old. The streets aren’t paved with ancient cobblestones—they’re simply narrow. The town is stuck in time, situated between two touristy locations: Tropea to the south and Pizzo to the north. And it’s just what we need!

After a week here, we know where to find the best gelaterias (on the beach front road), the best supermarket (Sisas, under the overpass—they even deliver), take-out pizza (a few blocks inland) and high-grade engine oil in four-liter jugs. We’re gaining some familiarity with Italian customs and the language—because we both speak some Spanish, and Italian is similar. But it’s the people who make life here a delight. Angela is becoming a valued friend; her family is gracious and helpful. And the rest of the marina staff treats us wonderfully.

I hope you’ve fallen in love with some special places as well. I’d love to see your comments.

You may also enjoy: Breaking Bread with the Locals

About the Author: Lois and Günter Hofmann lived their dream by having a 43-foot ocean-going catamaran built for them in the south of France and sailing around the world. Learn more about their travel adventures by reading Lois’s award-winning nautical adventure trilogy. Read more about Lois and her adventures at her website and stay in touch with Lois by liking her Facebook page. Lois’s books can be purchased from PIP Productions on Amazon.