Cruising



FESTPAC, the Festival of Pacific Arts and Culture, was first on my Bucket List.

This week’s Sunday paper tells me that there’s a boom in people planning, but not making, travel arrangements. Until Covid clears, people just want to put some joy back into their lives. I’d don’t blame them. As an adventurer with wanderlust in my blood, dreaming of traveling again is like giving a drink of water to a parched soul. So, Gunter and I spent part of the day making out a new bucket list.

Back in 2004, during our world circumnavigation, we attended the Festival of Pacific Arts, the world’s largest celebration of indigenous Pacific Islanders. This festival is hosted every four years by a different Pacific Island nation. At that time, we’d vowed to attend another one when the country and timing suited us. This could be the year! The 2020 festival was cancelled due to Covid and rescheduled for June 18-27, 2021 in Honolulu, Hawaii. The last such event, held in Guam in 2016, drew 90,000 visitors. This year’s festival will be made up of 28 nations, 3,000 delegates and could attract 100,000 visitors. I turned to Günter: “Because we have no schedule for this year, this fits perfectly. Shall we plan but not book?”

That turned out to be the applicable question. The very next day, Günter went back to the website to check on hotel reservations. The 2021 festival is now cancelled! The next one will be in 2024. FESTPAC will remain on my Bucket List but will no longer be Number One.

Fest Pac Logo

The following story about our experiences during 2004 FESTPAC is excerpted from The Long Way Back, the third book in my sailing/adventure trilogy:

A Taste of the Pacific Arts
Palau Marina Hotel, Koror, Palau
August 1, 2004

Even though Pacific Bliss is now berthed in Australia, I’m not quite ready to put the South Pacific islands behind me. I’d love to be able to sample even more of the culture of these islands before we sail on to Indonesia and ports beyond. So, I talk Günter into treating me to the Festival for my birthday. The Festival occurs every four years and changes venues, like the Olympics, but that’s where the resemblance ends. First, it’s a celebration, not a competition. And second, the way it’s organized is island-style: It flows freely from one event to the other; schedules are treated as guidelines. Attending the Festival will be a grand finale to our South Pacific adventures and provide a taste of those islands we haven’t visited.

We arrive at the Palau Marina Hotel after a day’s layover in Guam following a flight from Cairns, Australia. In the lobby—decorated with bamboo furniture and giant shells—our taxi driver introduces us to the Japanese man who owns the hotel. We bow and talk with him while our driver translates. Smiling Filipina waitresses lead us to our table where we enjoy an arrival dinner of sushi and Asahi (Japanese beer). On leaden legs we climb the steps to our third-floor room and crash. We will have two days to rest up before the action-packed Festival begins.

The next day, we order the “morning set” for breakfast: a semi-American breakfast consisting of scrambled eggs and toast, grilled sausages cut at a slant, and finely shredded coleslaw with dressing. For lunch, we order a bento; yakitori for me and squid for Günter. The side dishes here differ from our old standbys at Ichiban’s in Pacific Beach, San Diego: fish balls, poi-like sticky balls, spinach, seaweed, and other odd delicacies. Emily—one of the trio of Filipinas who works here—fans away flies as we dine on the veranda facing the peaceful harbor ringed by the tantalizing Rock Islands. Our view is a kaleidoscope of colors and patterns, the sea’s sun-sparkles giving way to darkening wavelets as the wind freshens. A warm, tropical shower gently drifts past the veranda toward a perfectly domed, mushroom-shaped island, then encloses a backdrop of rounded hills in an ethereal mist reminiscent of Japanese paintings.

I turn to Günter. “Even if this is the rainy season here, I won’t mind.”

Mind? I will soon take back those words as I become intimate with the July-August weather slightly north of the equator!

As we leave the veranda for a sightseeing walk, a second shower appears. This time it’s the real thing. A million sharp-nosed bullets dive into the sea until it’s a mass of perforations, like a high-tech sound studio. We decide to retreat to our room to take our pensioners’ nap, a habit perfected in Australia.

Later, we don rain jackets and slog along the pitted dead-end street to the Palau Aquarium. Outdoor pools hold sharks, a hawksbill turtle, and a variety of large game fish. The magnificent interior contains the best live displays of marine life along a coral wall that I’ve ever seen.

Afterwards, we walk to nearby Fish & Fins to introduce ourselves. This premier dive-and-tour operation is run by an energetic Israeli couple who sailed their sailing vessel Ocean Hunter to Palau eight years ago, fell in love with the fabulous marine life here, and—like many cruisers we’ve met during our voyages—decided to stay in the place that captured their hearts. They charter out their sailboat for overnight excursions to the Rock Islands, along with Ocean Hunter II, a motor dive boat. We check on snorkeling tours for later in the week.

Remarkably, the Opening Ceremony on July 22 begins without the omnipresent rain. “Alii!” begins Palau’s President Tommy Remengesau, Jr. “Our home is your home; our food is your food; our island is your island; everything that we have, we want to share with you…except our spouses.” I chuckle. “The Pacific Way” has evolved! In a ceremony that reminds me of the Olympics, the delegates of 24 of the 27 participating nations march or dance across the PCC Track and Field, each to their own country’s traditional music. Each delegation presents gifts to the dignitaries of Palau according to the custom of these islands, stakes a box-art gift into the soil, and then performs in front of the grandstand. And what a show it is—absolutely awesome! For cruisers, I’d recommend the Festival over the Olympics anytime.

Günter and I privately declare the delegates from Papua New Guinea Best Dressed, not that they wore a lot of clothes! They sported flamboyant headdresses topping their fierce, tattooed faces with grass skirts and bare chests. (We had the good luck to talk to a few of these delegates briefly before the festivities began and noted their friendly dispositions. Later, Günter observed two of these warrior-dancers holding hands, as is their custom, as they ambled past the craft stalls.)

Lois and Gunter with Papua New Guinea Dancers

The Maoris of New Zealand draw gasps from attendees who have never witnessed their indigenous greeting: the warriors march forward—eyes bulging, tongues protruding, and spears thrust—while their women yell threats and twirl balls on the end of bungee-like cords.

The speeches, performances, and gift giving seem to go on forever as Günter and I shift our weight this way and that on the hard stadium seating. Then volunteers hand out box dinners of rice and fish (symbolizing a feast) to all. Yes—one box to every one of the participants: the media, the organizers, the dignitaries, and the attendees in the grandstand—all 8000 of us! Why? Because that is The Pacific Way. Altogether, the opening ceremony lasts five hours—despite a downpour during the last two—and closes with incredible fireworks, courtesy of Taiwan.

The Festival incorporates multiple simultaneous venues and activities—from symposia, movies, and plays to crafts, culinary arts, and natural history tours—forcing us to make difficult choices. We decide to make dancing our priority. Each of the 27 participating islands has entered a dance group into the competition. Taiwan, Japan, and Indonesia, as sponsors, have sent performers as well. The dancing program continues day and night at the ball field, the stadium—and when raining—the gymnasium.

After attending dance venues for days, we narrow our favorites down to half a dozen:

1. Papua New Guinea: for their flamboyant style while displaying fierce demeanors and fabulous headdresses.

2. Solomon Islands: for dancing to the most primitive rhythms while hunched over huge homemade bamboo flutes.

3. The Cook Islands: for the toughest workout: Male dancers sensuously knee-slap to a fast, pulsating drum beat, then twirl their women in perfect sync.

4. Rapa Nui (Easter Island): for the best choreographed routine—sophisticated, yet vigorous—muscled bodies moving to a hot beat.

5. Yap (one of the Federated States of Micronesia): for an astounding Las Vegas style, all-male chorus routine—ending with pelvic thrusts bouncing critically placed feathers.

6. Torres Strait, Australia: to Aborigines for enacting realistic stories from their lives; in one dance simulation of fishing, the performer falls to the floor, catches the bait with his teeth, and follows a fishing line in, writhing all the way across the stage. That performance raises the roof!

The routines of the Hawaiian and French Polynesian dancers, though the choreography was polished, lacked the drama of indigenous dancing.

Festival Ceremony and Dancing

From pages 28-29, The Long Way Back.

As the festivities continue, we note that music of the Polynesians, Melanesians, and Micronesians reflects a common, linked heritage while Asian Special Performances are clearly different. The songs of the Taiwanese highland tribes, for example, are sophisticated operatic arias with the typical dissonant chords of Asian music. They are 1000 years old!

This ten-day extravaganza has to be the ultimate Pacific tourist opportunity! Imagine mingling with locals from 31 islands while you’re shopping in the stalls, having lunch in Koror, or walking through the college campus to attend a symposium. We get to know and love these islanders as never before. We talk with and photograph dancers before and after their stage performances. Often dancers are having their own photos taken with performers from other troupes; we join right in. By the end of the Festival, I realize that the participants themselves are beginning to “mix it up.”

But it’s not only the participants who are learning from each other. About 7000 people attend the Festival events here each day, including about 3000-4000 Palauans. One local says to me, “This is a tremendous once-in-a-lifetime experience. I am proud to be a Palauan; I have seen my Pacific brothers and sisters, and now I know that there is no shame in being an islander.” (In Pidgin, this enlightened view is called Blong One Talk.)

An integral part of each year’s Festival is the Traditional Navigation and Canoeing Program. At sunrise on opening day, news helicopters hover above as smoke rises from a fire, triton-shell trumpets blare, and war and sailing canoes pass below Palau’s KB Bridge. Represented are war canoes from eight Palauan states and sailing canoes from Palau, Guam, and the Marshall Islands. Missing sailing canoes from Yap and Saipan, still underway, put a damper on opening festivities. They would show up days later. The monsoon season in Palau is not an optimal time of year for promoting the canoe program!

A few days after the official opening ceremonies, the “scheduled” races are held, although not one is even close to the time on the printed schedule. Günter and I take a taxi to the Friendship Bridge near the stated finish line for the kabekl (war canoe) race. We stand on the concrete jetty, cameras in hand, on increasingly wobbly knees. Then we spread our rain jackets on the concrete. And we sit. And sit. After about two hours, an announcer explains the rules for the two heats to be held by the canoes, to be followed by the play-off. Then we sit and wait again. About a half hour later, the announcer states that, due to the delay, there will be no final race. They will hold only the 1000-meter and a 500-meter. We wait even longer.

Nearby, a few ladies dressed in red and white—with towels over their heads to protect them from the sun—are cheering for the local Ngiwal State of Palau. I decide to follow their example. I stand and cheer, then sit and wait…and wait. Another half hour creeps by and finally the race begins. Everyone stands to cheer—this time for real. The ladies frantically wave their towels like flags. The red team wins. In the 500-meter, Koror wins.

All this waiting gives me the opportunity to talk with islanders. One stocky man in a red T-shirt that must be XXL explains how the Festival has spurred the sport of canoeing. “We’ve had races here before, but with motorboats,” he says. “Our boys didn’t know how to race canoes. You should have seen them only a few months ago. They couldn’t even paddle!”

Come to think of it, I haven’t seen any sailboats in the harbors except those used for excursions. “Don’t they sail either?” I ask.

“No, ancient Palauans navigated by the stars and all,” he says, “but then they didn’t need to sail to other islands anymore. We have everything we need here. And sadly, the tradition was not handed down.”

Carrying on the island traditions and culture is exactly what the Festival aims to do. Hoping to learn how to navigate by the stars, we attend the Traditional Navigation symposium the next morning. Unfortunately, much of the discussion centers on intellectual property issues—how to prevent the usurping of traditional skills and knowledge by the West—as if we need those skills with the advent of GPS! Then the discussion turns toward how to get funding for the very program that some of the participants don’t want to share. The locals seem oblivious to the contradiction.

The Sailing Canoe Raceis scheduled for 1:00. This time, we take a taxi to where the canoes actually are, thinking that we will cleverly position ourselves at the start rather than at the finish line. By then, we have begun to understand “island time.” So, Günter keeps our cab while I venture toward the group by the canoes, potential racers who are preparing to barbeque their lunch.

“When do you expect the race to begin?”

“At one o’clock,” one of the racers responds.

“But it’s one-thirty now.” I point to my watch.

“I think the race is actually at four o’clock,” another canoeist volunteers.

“No, the program says that is the time for awarding of the prizes. Do you have a program?”

“No.”

“Hold the cab! We’re leaving!” I call to Günter.

Later, we hear that the races did occur that day—at 4:30 p.m. By then, two teams had decided not to race. Guam, Yap, and Palau—although mismatched—managed to paddle to the finish line against the wind and current under the bridge.

Booths and exhibits at the Festival

From pages 26-27 of The Long Way Back.

Festival activities keep us busy for the next few days. We enjoy hanging around Festival Village where we purchase souvenirs from various countries’ booths and sample their native food. We walk through the thatched-roof Pavilion to view tattooists, carvers, and weavers at work. One project, called MAT, calls for each participant country to weave a 2×2-foot square that will eventually be combined into one majestic Quilt of the Islands, to be displayed at the Palau National Museum. This Museum will also display a carved log with each country’s section, and one large storyboard representative of all carvers’ combined efforts. We view architectural displays and attend poetry readings, instrumentals, and plays. In a clever New Zealand stage play, two actresses recount the history of the Maoris from the first sighting of the white man.

During the final days of the Festival, the rains arrive to stay. A typhoon is moving toward Japan; all of Micronesia is drenched in the resulting weather system. The closing ceremony is moved to the college gymnasium. To make space, the country delegations sit on the wooden floor in the center. Even so, the grandstands are overloaded. Many Palauans are left standing outside holding umbrellas. I sympathize with this tiny country of 20,000 that has valiantly tried its best to be the perfect hosts to 4,000 visitors. But I’m proud of them as well. I’m touched by the warmth of the speeches and by the sincere effort to again feed the crowd in keeping with The Pacific Way.

“In today’s strife-torn world,” concludes Festival Host President Remengesau, “it is uplifting that so many of us have come together to celebrate the value and beauty of our heritage.”

May these Festivals continue to uplift, to teach, to inspire, and to celebrate the heritage of the islands. Attending the 9th Festival of the Pacific Arts was a birthday gift that I will cherish forever.

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Other SailorsTales blogs about the South Pacific are:

Breaking Bread with the Locals

The Pacific Puddle Jump 10-Year Reunion

Cruiser Camaraderie: Revisiting our World Circumnavigation

Reconnecting with Crew

Pacific Bliss Goes Snorkeling

The Largest Clams in the World

Visiting Levuka, Fiji’s Ancient Capital, during our World Circumnavigation

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 on Amazon.

 


This the last in the series about sailing Fiji with a new crew, Lydia and Helmut. The stories in the series are excerpted from Sailing the South Pacific, Chapter 10.

Pacific Bliss docks in Levuka, Fiji

Pacific Bliss docks in Levuka, Fiji

Levuka—Fiji’s Ancient Capital
June 13, 2003
When I record the passage from Leleuvia in the logbook, I realize what day it is: Friday the thirteenth. No wonder it was one wild ride! Thankfully, the passage was short and we’re here, although Levuka is on a lee shore, the windward side of the island.

This morning at 1100, the sun appeared just in time to make the passage. It continued to shine while we navigated the Moturiki Channel, then disappeared for good as we sailed up the east coast of Ovalau to Levuka. We experienced 20-knot winds all the way, with occasional gusts to 25. The waves were 3 meters high. One of the huge waves splashed into the cockpit, drenching Helmut.

Lydia did not have a good passage. She spent it lying on her stomach on the cockpit bench, queasy and frightened. These were the highest waves she had experienced because, until now, we had been protected by Fiji’s reefs.

After a well-deserved siesta, the four of us dinghy to the wharf. We walk the length of the town until dusk. We pass by groups of women and children in flowery frocks chatting underneath shade trees lining the seaside promenade. From the sidewalk, we can see Pacific Bliss bobbing in the background. It dawns on us that anyone on Main Street can see her. They all know who we are. Tourists are rare in Levuka.

Pacific Bliss, the only boat at the dock

Pacific Bliss, the only boat at the dock

Main-Street,-Levuka,-Fiji

Main Street, Levuka, Fiji

We pass three lively pool halls—that’s where the men and boys hang out. We amble into the expansive lobby and past the charming curved bar of The Royal Hotel, the oldest continuously run hotel in the South Pacific. No one knows when it was built, but records show that this historic building has existed at least since the early 1860s. Reportedly, ship’s masters, plantation owners, and even the notorious blackbirder, Bully Hayes, frequented this hotel.

A plaque provides the history: In the 1830s, Levuka had been a small whaling and beachcomber settlement. It was virtually lawless; ships followed a trail of empty gin bottles through the passage into port, and the town was a haven for escaped convicts, ship jumpers, debtors, and other ne’er-do- wells. The Royal was the finest place in town and the place to stay. The front rooms faced the sea, so that the captains could keep an eye on their anchored vessels, just as we look out at ours now. A crow’s nest still stands atop the hotel’s top floor.

The next day, after a night as bumpy as if we’d been on a miserable passage, we venture to Ovalau Holiday Resort, a 3-kilometer taxi ride over rutty blacktop roads. We skirt around potholes and gulleys washed out by last night’s high tide at full moon. In many areas, the high seas had taken sections of the road out to sea and left debris behind.

This is the same full moon and strong surf that battered Pacific Bliss. No wonder I couldn’t sleep! God has, yet again, sent His guardian angel to watch over us.

The casual resort contains about a half-dozen bures. We have chicken curry with rotis, pepper steak with rice; and a family-size coleslaw salad. The food is wonderful—especially because we don’t have to cook on board with the rain pelting the cabin roof. We talk about what we’ve seen in Levuka so far.

“It’s the land time forgot,” says Günter.

“It’s a wild west tumbleweed town transposed to the Pacific,” says Lydia.

“Don’t forget the fish factory,” adds Helmut. “PATCO employs 1000 of the 1800 people who live here.”

We call for a taxi back. The rain continues into the night.

The new day begins with more rain. We’ve signed up for Epi’s Lovoni Highlands Tour. We decide to take it despite the rain. Back on Main Street, we pile into the canvas-covered back of a truck, and off we go, bumping and slip-sliding along the muddy roads to the village of Lovoni, built on the crater of the extinct volcano at the island’s center. At the outskirts of the village, we pick up a well-known tour guide, Epi Bole.

Lovoni Village, built on the crater of an extinct volcano

Lovoni Village, built on the crater of an extinct volcano

Epi leads us past tiny homes made of western-style weatherboard. At the community hut, he tells stories of his ancestors who first settled this land. The villagers of Lovoni, he tells us, are a proud people. They are descendants of the strongest tribe in Fiji, the Cakobau, who were never defeated. In fact, they showed their displeasure with the European settlement of Levuka by burning it down three times. Men from Lovoni demonstrate their superiority by wearing hats in other villages, including in the chiefly village of Ba.

From what Epi tells us, the political climate in Fiji is depressing, and the future of the sugar industry does not look good. Epi has the typical Fijian opinions on land ownership (it should all belong to the Fijians; he is pleased that even the former Crown land is being returned) and on Indians (the Queen should have taken them all back when Fiji became independent).

“Don’t the Fijians need the Indians?” Günter ventures. “We see them working the land owned by the Fijians…we see them running the stores, and even most of the tourist operations. Seems like a symbiotic relationship to me.”

Epi nods slowly. “That’s true,” he admits. “Lots of Indians left Fiji during the 2000 coup—mostly the professionals—doctors, lawyers, businessmen.”

How can they reconcile the two positions? They want the Indians gone, yet they like them to do all the work they don’t want to do. They’re not realists, they’re dreamers. Too much kava in the blood?

“Do the people here want large families?” Lydia asks.

“Yes, they want as many children as possible,” Epi replies.

I know that the Indians, when asked, will respond similarly. Both ethnic groups want to increase their own numbers—this without regard for the quality of their children’s lives, the cost of their education, or the hazards of pregnancy.

We watch a relative of Epi making our lunch on a one-burner hotplate in the corner. Two little boys, two and four, hang on her sulu. Another child is clearly on the way. “Where will she deliver?” Lydia asks.

Epi explains, “She will deliver in Suva. The Levuka hospital lost five babies in last month. No ultrasound here. No Cesarean either.”

I imagine life in Lovoni Village. A one-room, weatherboard house. Hotplate in the corner. Washing dishes outside from water out of a bare pipe. Two beds at the edges of the mat-covered room, one for the children, the other for the parents.

No wonder the educated young people go to Auckland to find work and dream of going to America.

Back in Levuka, I ask to be let out of the truck at the ATM on Main Street. After I nonchalantly insert my credit card and pull out a pile of Fijian $20 bills, I turn to see a group of Fijian teenagers close behind me. Curious, they want to see how this new money dispenser works. Later, I would read the headline in this morning’s paper: “Westpac launches Ovalau’s first ATM.” The article explains how this is “launching the old capital into the electronic banking age.” Obviously, this ATM has quickly become the pride of the town!

On Tuesday the port captain is finally on duty after his Monday holiday. We check in and check out on the same day. We’re ready. It has been a very long weekend under mostly rainy skies. We all walk into town with our bags to provision. Then next morning, we turn Pacific Bliss around in the small wharf, and we’re on our way. We look back to see the entire island of Ovalau shrouded in gloomy, low-lying clouds. We can’t even make out the highlands in the center. No wonder they changed Fiji’s capital!

Helmut, Lydia and Gunter at Levuka, Fiji Ports Authority

Helmut, Lydia and Gunter at Levuka, Fiji–Ports Authority

Savusavu, Fiji. The sailing was great during our sail to Vanua Levu, Fiji’s second largest island. Sleepy Savusavu, located on the peninsula that divides Savusavu Bay from the Koro Sea, is Vanua Levu’s second largest town. Because the town is a Port of Entry and a natural cyclone hole, it is a popular gathering spot for cruisers, and we met many of them. It was an ideal place for Helmut and Lydia to end their sail with us.

After docking, the couple packed while Gunter and I found our way to the Planter’s Club. In operation for 46 years, the Planter’s Club was a revelation of how colonial life in Fiji must have been. We entered a compound with a massive, colonial-style building in the back, surrounded by a white porch and picket fence. To the right, we saw a small shed with a sign, “No alcohol allowed.” I wonder whether that is still the case today. Through the open door we could see men drinking kava. To the left, we saw two lawn bowling fields, side by side. Customers with cocktails line the porch, loudly cheering on the teams.

We went inside the building and ordered rums and cokes. Everyone was friendly. All the “planters” we met were Fijian—the best-dressed and most cosmopolitan Fijians we had ever seen! No fraying 1950s-style muumuu dresses for these women: I noticed that one wore a black silk top with black-and-white vertically striped pantaloons. Her hair was straight, cropped short, and swept behind the ears. Smart! Günter couldn’t help but notice how a full-length sarong wrapped another lady’s curvaceous figure! She wore a modern stretch lace top cropped at the waist. The men wore long pants or pressed jeans and bula shirts with short sleeves. There were no T-shirts in sight except among the few white yachties who were there, like us, to observe.

Planters Club, Savusavu, Fiji

Planters Club, Savusavu, Fiji

We were happy to see such apparently well-to-do Fijians and wanted to learn more about the different world of Savusavu. But we needed to go back to Pacific Bliss to spend our last night with our crew.

Saturday went by in a flash with usual frenzy of final packing and goodbyes. Helmut and Lydia continued their own adventure in Australia before returning home to Germany. As we always do, Günter and I had mixed feelings about crew leaving. “On one hand,” I wrote in my journal, “the enthusiasm, optimism, and energy of youth has left Pacific Bliss. We feel sort of blah and alone now. On the other hand, we enjoy our solitude. Schedule becomes less important, as does wearing clothes on board! And now we will have the opportunity to explore this island and others at our leisure. We will cook only when we’re hungry—much easier on our waistlines.”

Churchgoers line up at the storefront on Main Street. Their church, The Lighthouse, is on the second floor.

Churchgoers line up at the storefront on Main Street. Their church, The Lighthouse, is on the second floor.Weighing options and making decisions. Gunter and I spent a week in Savusavu, weighing options. Advice from cruisers did not impart confidence: “This is a rather tricky triangle,” one cruiser warned. “The seas are angry there…and the wind is often gusty and unpredictable.” Clearly, we were afflicted with the local disease, Polynesian Paralysis. We prayed about whether or not to sail to Fiji’s remote Lau Group. We prayed with Darren, the minister of the Lighthouse Church. “Do you know going west is scriptural?” Darren asked. “The Tabernacle always faced east to west. First the entry, the sacrifice, the washing area, then the holy of holies. Also, all major revivals have proceeded east to west.” Perhaps that says something about God’s will for our voyage, I thought. We decided to leave it all in God’s hands.

From then on, events seemed to take over. Instead of attempting to circumnavigate the island of Viti Levu, Fiji, we decided to take the northern route back. We would reverse-navigate through those northern reefs, proceed to Lautoka, make repairs in Denarau, rest in Musket Cove until we had a weather window, then take off with the trades, going westward with the wind toward Vanuatu. But first, we would leave our yacht safely in Savusavu and travel to other destinations in Fiji. We would take a ferry to Taveuni, Fiji’s Garden Island. And then we would to fly to Suva, Fiji’s modern capital, and eastward to the Lau Group.

Those continuing adventures are recounted in the rest of Chapter 10 of Sailing the South Pacific.

In case you’ve missed them, other blogs in this Fiji Adventures series are: Reconnecting with Crew, Reef Encounters of the Worst Kind: Attempting to Circumnavigate Fiji, Part II, Pacific Bliss Goes Snorkeling, and The Largest Clams in the World.

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.

 


Giant Clam

Giant Clam.

Expect the Unexpected

Often when traveling—whether on sea or land—I’ve grown accustomed to taking the road less traveled and coming across unexpected delights. During our Fiji adventures with Lydia and Helmut as crew, we took a sailing detour to visit a little-known research station located on a small Fijian island. We heard about these magnificent clams from another cruiser and decided to check it out for ourselves. We were not disappointed! Here’s an excerpt from pages 230-231 of Sailing the South Pacific:

Makogai Island, Fiji
June 20,2003

0630: Roosters crowing. Birds gossiping. Fish splashing. What an idyllic morning! As I sit in the cockpit, the only sound of civilization is the generator from the research station located farther into the bay. We will visit that facility today. The coffee pot whistles. As I turn to the galley, I notice fountains of cumulus clouds at each of the bay’s entrances. Palms fringe the mountain tops, rimming the dawn. It is the type of morning I love.

Makogai is one of these rare jewels that few know about. It’s not listed in the Lonely Planet. The only way to get here is to sail as we did or hitch a passage on boats visiting the government aqua-culture operation and sheep station. This island, transferred over to
Suva in 1979, has a history as a leper colony. Now it’s a spawning area for an exotic species of giant clams called Tridacna gigas.

Our snorkel over the reefs is perfect. The spawning beds are specially marked. The giant clams bred here are the largest I have ever seen—humongous mollusks with lips of cobalt blue, emerald green, and mottled brown. They are set in corals covering every color of the spectrum. Fan coral in shades of amber and taupe wave at me while iridescent reef fish dart in and out of the coral. A huge sea slug that looks like a fat crooked finger lazily makes its way over the sandy sea floor. What a wonderful day! We enjoy a glorious sunset, sipping cold white wine in the cockpit while we admire the western sky at the opening to Dalice Bay. I feast my eyes while Lydia excitedly snaps one photo after another.

The next morning, we snorkel through the two reef gardens again before heading for the fishery. We learn that the fishery plants hundreds of baby clams along the reefs throughout Fiji and exports some to Tonga and the Solomons.

A supervisor there gives us a tour of the giant clam incubation tanks. He tells us that this species are the largest of the bivalve mollusks. In ten years they can be measured end to end with outstretched arms. They have a 100-year lifespan and can weigh up to 500 pounds. With their shells wide open, they bask in sunlight so the symbiotic algae living with them can produce their food. Interestingly, hundreds of tiny eyes dot their skin, allowing them to sense sudden changes in their environment. The shells then close defensively. The man says that the adult clams here are incapable of slamming their shells completely shut because of their massive bulk. Still, no one volunteers to put that to a test with an arm or foot!

In case you’ve missed them, other blogs in this Fiji Adventures series are: Reconnecting with Crew, Reef Encounters of the Worst Kind: Attempting to Circumnavigate Fiji, Part II and Pacific Bliss Goes Snorkeling.

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.


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.


Lydia and Helmut
Lydia and Helmut on Pacific Bliss, Fiji, 2003

The adventure continues. In the last blog, we left the four of us—Lydia, Helmut, Gunter and me—setting anchor alarms while we tried to sleep. Strong winds were battering our catamaran Pacific Bliss in the Tomba Naloma anchorage in Viti Levu, Fiji. This next section, excerpted from pages 224-226 of Sailing the South Pacific, continues our effort to navigate the reef-strewn northern side of Fiji’s largest island. Our goal: to sail to Fiji’s ancient capital, Levuka.

     “One wouldn’t know by the peacefulness of this morning that this is the bay that I had grown to hate only yesterday. From the cockpit, I watch seabirds soar over still waters; they fly by me in pairs. Golden light breaks through low lying clouds hugging the bay. Hills hug us on three sides, purple-gray, silent, protecting. Yes, yesterday I wanted out of here, never to return.

How quickly and easily the sea changes its face! One minute brooding, the next minute inviting. One minute savage and threatening, the next, calm and pristine. Like she is right now.

Will this be yet another cruising day that points out our vulnerability out here, how simple mistakes can lead to dramatic and immediate consequences?

This morning, Pacific Bliss faces west, pushed by a gentle SSW Force 2, 7-knot breeze. The hills brighten as the sea wrinkles.

How long before the high trade winds roar in from the southeast again, turning the sea into a monster?”

It didn’t take long for us to run into problems again. We turned Pacific Bliss to follow the path on the electronic chart, just as we had the day before. But we were in for a surprise. There was no path between the reef and the marker! From that point on, we knew that we could no longer rely on the reefs being marked. All alone out there on the Northern Passage, we couldn’t afford to take chances, so we crept along until dusk.

     “With a 20-knot wind, we’re afraid of dragging anchor. We head for a big bay instead and set the anchor with 140 feet of chain, in 41 feet at low tide. It’s deeper than we’d like and not very sheltered, but at least we won’t swing into anything.

     Lydia and I fire up the breadmaker to bake wheat berry bread while Helmut continues to fish. Toward dusk, he hauls in a trevella. We gorge on warm bread while the fish marinates, then fry potatoes and plantains. The high wind gusts cool the salon, so we sip on hot Good Earth tea spiked with rum.

     Life isn’t so bad after all!

     As we let down our guard and begin a leisurely dinner in the salon, the day falls apart. It begins slowly— this falling apart—as one event careens into the next.

     First, Günter notices that the anchor alarm shows that the boat has moved 500 feet. “Can’t be!” His face pales. “Must be a mistake—it didn’t go off. Helmut, let’s check our calculations.”

     The computer shows that we have drifted halfway into the bay! We quickly clear our half-eaten dinner. I tell everyone to shut the hatches, in case we end up on a reef today, after all. Then Günter calls us all into the cockpit for instructions.

     The night is pitch black.
     “Lois, go to the nav station. Follow our MaxSea track back to our original anchoring location. I’ll just motor slowly. Helmut and Lydia, after we pull anchor, you’ll use the flashlight and spotlight to warn us when we’re near shore.”

     Pulling anchor is difficult now with the stripper broken, but our new crew makes fast work of it. Günter inches toward shore while I direct our autopilot carefully, using plus or minus one degree, until we are a few boat lengths from our original anchoring spot. Fortunately the wind has died, and the anchor sets easily.

     I never want to see this Nananu–I–Cake Anchorage again. Our crew wanted a learning experience; well, they’re certainly getting it.”

June 4:
     “…As the day drones on, the strong wind returns. It whistles through the rigging, swinging our little home around as she pulls tight on her two anchor chains. We all know that it’s a given that we stay here until the weather cooperates.

     While the men focus on boat maintenance, Lydia and I bake up a storm, creatively using ingredients we have on board. We realize that we will need to provision soon. But how?

     We jump into the bay to cool off after cooking. The current races so fast between the hulls that I dare not let go of the swim ladder. The dinghy goes wild, bouncing on the waves.

     The wind blows so hard that we have our sundowners inside. Lydia compares her expectations with how she feels about sailing now. “I thought we’d be sitting outside, in a calm anchorage, sipping piña coladas in the sunset,” she says, discouraged.

     “Did you expect to have wind for sailing?” I ask.
     “Of course. I dreamt about sails billowing in the wind, pulling us along.”
     “But then when you wanted to sip those piña coladas, the wind would suddenly disappear?”
     “I didn’t think of that…in fact, now I wonder whether I should buy into Helmut’s dream of sailing around the world.”

     The next day, the bay is still too rough to deploy Petit Bliss, so we order a pick-up from Safari Lodge nearby. Günter opts to stay with the boat.

     The three of us take off in the skiff. It turns toward Ellington Wharf, where we receive the brunt of the east wind racing through the channel. The spray comes over the high sides of the launch. Helmut’s T-shirt is sopping, but he laughs.

     “It’s good I brought a spare,” he shouts over the shrieking wind.

     When the launch stops at Ellington Wharf, I’m amazed. I cannot imagine Pacific Bliss—or any large boat for that matter—pulling up to this dilapidated structure. We disembark. On the wharf, angry brown froth smashes against the jetty. Palms bend over in pain.

     Wind-dried and salty, we hike toward the bus stop. After a mile or so, an Indian cane farmer with thick black hair and dusty clothes offers us a lift. We pass field after field of sugar cane.

     He drops us off at the farmer’s market. What a scene! Colorful blankets cover the grass. Fijian mothers hold the babies and toddlers, while older children play games together in the shade trees across from the market. Under the shade of a banyan tree, men drink kava and gossip. The produce is laid out in mounds. A mound of limes: $1 Fijian. A mound of oranges: $1. A bunch of bok choy: $1. One green papaya: $1. Soon our canvas shopping bags are full, with a $1 bunch of bananas topping it off.

     “Bula!” Women wearing colorful muumuus greet us with wide smiles. They even smile when we don’t buy from them. They do not cajole, like Indian vendors.

     We find three grocery stores containing everything else we need, including a Fiji Times and lots of chocolate to placate Günter. After catching a taxi back to the wharf, it’s another wet ride back to Pacific Bliss, where the high winds have continued unabated.

     Finally the next day the sun shines, and the wind decreases enough that we dare to leave the bay. We navigate the reefs past Ellington Wharf and through the narrow Navelau passage to Viti Levu Bay. The process is horrendously slow. Our disturbingly inaccurate electronic chart shows us going over land in many places. We are thankful to have sharp lookouts on board. By the time we anchor twice in the bay, we are all tense and tired.

     The following day, we motor for five hours and are forced to pull in at 1315. The skies turn dark and foreboding; ominous clouds line the entire horizon. Navigating through the reefs had been tricky with full sun; no way do we want to take this route under an overcast sky. We anchor in a muddy area south of the Natori Ferry Terminal. Then we set a second anchor as well. Appropriately, Günter plays Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, one of his favorites.

     We come topsides in the morning, overjoyed to see a flotilla of 12 sailboats passing by the bay’s outer limits. This makes navigation easier; we’ll be following them. Even so, navigation is extremely tricky. By the time we anchor again, I collapse into my berth while Günter takes Lydia and Helmut to a nearby reef to fish and snorkel. I’ll have my chance to snorkel in Leleuvia, a small sandy island that is touted as a backpackers’ paradise.”

Helmut snorkeling

Little did I know then that Pacific Bliss would decide to go snorkeling herself! That story is coming up next. And in the event you didn’t read Part 1 of this Fiji series, you can access that link 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.


Reef Encounters of the Worst Kind: Attempting to Circumnavigate Fiji

This past weekend brought a pleasant surprise: Gunter and I reconnected with a crew we’d had on board our catamaran Pacific Bliss when sailing in the Fiji Islands during the spring of 2003, seventeen years ago. Here’s how I described this couple in my book, Sailing the South Pacific:

Denarau Marina, Viti Levu, Fiji, May 30

Lydia and Helmut Dueck are an adventurous German couple who decided to backpack around the world before they marry and have children. We first met them through our website. Helmut’s dream has always been to sail the world when he retires. He is a sailor, but Lydia, his fiancé, has never been on a sailboat. Crewing is an opportunity to find out whether his dream will work for them. Only in their twenties, they are wisely thinking ahead!

…Lydia is a pert, fun-loving blonde. Helmut is dark-haired and serious, yet I suspect that he can be fun, too.

We had arranged for a taxi to meet the couple at the Nadi airport and to take them directly to Pacific Bliss. They appear to be relieved to see a berth freshly made up for them and towels and washcloths in their own port head. Frugal backpackers, they find Pacific Bliss luxurious. We find them to be a refreshing, happy couple and look forward to spending time with them.

Lydia and Helmut Pacific Bliss

Lydia and Helmut on Pacific Bliss, Fiji

 

Sunset Denarau, Fiji

Sunset in Denarau, Fiji

Since that introduction to the cruising life, Lydia and Helmut married and succeeded in their professions, Lydia as a midwife and Helmut as a businessman and entrepreneur. They raised four children, lived in various countries—including Germany and China—all the while holding onto their dream of sailing around the world. They never forgot their adventures sailing Pacific Bliss in Fiji, where they experienced the highs and lows of the cruising life.

Here’s a taste of what they experienced:

We arrive in Vitago Bay and anchor easily with our new crew working in unison…After a delicious dinner, we all go into the cockpit to watch the stars light the sky with no city lights to interfere. Helmut and Lydia are in their element. They are truly amazed by it all…

Following that high, we’re rounding the northwest point of Viti Levu during our attempt to circumnavigate that island. This is what happens next:

We are all on lookout now as we navigate through the reefs…To make the turns, I take the nav station inside, Gunter takes the helm, Lydia takes the pulpit seat using our powerful binoculars, and Helmut takes the other pulpit seat…Strong gusts hit as we slowly approach Tomba Naloma, our anchorage. We know that this bay is full of reefs close to shore, but because it’s not low tide, we can’t see them. We motor in slowly. I take up my position at the bow, with the anchor windlass control.

“Don’t worry,” Gunter says. “I’ll bring you right to the anchor symbol we put on MaxSea. 30 feet, 28 feet, 26 feet…we should be there in five minutes.”

We creep cautiously. The wave heights gradually decrease but the wind keeps blowing.

“24 feet. Drop anchor,” Gunter commands.

I drop but the wind blows us backward rapidly. The windlass won’t release the anchor chain as fast as the wind is pushing us back. Then all of a sudden, the anchor catches and jerks the boat.

“Let out more chain,” Gunter shouts from the helm. “I’m letting it out as fast as I can,” I shout from bow back into the wind. “I’ve got 120 feet out and she’s still pulling.” Gunter comes forward. “Let’s deploy the bridle with a short leash this time. Let out some more.”

He sets the bridle, but now the entire chain has payed out. At the anchor locker, I can see the rope, all the way to the bitter end. I try to bring some back by reversing the windlass control. The rope binds and bends the chain stripper (the device that pulls the chain from the wheel and lets it fall, pulled by its own weight, into the chain locker.) Helmut helps me straighten out the mess.

Now we have a “broken boat” again. Until it’s fixed, we’ll have to haul anchor hand over hand, which is not only physically strenuous but can also be dangerous when timing is critical. We brainstorm the next port where it can be fixed—Tonga?

We could have scrapped this daring venture and headed back to Denarau but to our crew’s credit, they agreed to continue on with our plans. We set anchor alarms that night and took turns standing watch as 25-30 knot winds howled through the rigging.

Trevella

Helmut catches a huge Trevella along the coast of Viti Levu, Fiji

This was only the beginning of this couple’s adventures on Pacific Bliss. We took a launch from Ellington’s Wharf and hitchhiked to a colorful village market to provision; we snorkeled in Leleuvia while our yacht decided to pull anchor and go snorkeling the reefs herself; we visited Levuka, Fiji’s amazing ancient capital; we viewed the largest clams in the world at Makogai Island; and we sailed on to Vanua Levu, Fiji’s second largest island, where the couple departed to continue their backpacking trip. I’ll share more of those stories in future blogs.

Here is the letter Lydia sent to me last week for inclusion in this blog:

After sailing with Lois and Gunter in 2003, my husband Helmut couldn’t stop thinking of doing this one day in the future. We never stopped traveling but cruising on a yacht seemed very unrealistic to us. Living in China for five years and in Mexico for two, our feeling got stronger that if there’s anything we’d like to do in our lives it’ll be sailing!

Here we are—17 years and four children later, we will start our own journey on a Lagoon 45 Catamaran from Croatia. Not sure where the wind will carry us but for sure we will go back to Fiji where it all began.

Feel warmly hugged,

Lydia

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I strongly urge you, my readers, despite all the obstacles that may be in your paths, do not give up on your own dreams. Continue to pursue your passions, and those dreams will come to pass!

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.

 

 


How can one tamp down your inner wanderlust while following pandemic stay-at-home orders?
As a travel writer, how can I help you through these trying times?

Appreciate where you’ve been.  Embracing an attitude of gratitude can bring you out of the doldrums. Realize that this is temporary and eventually, you’ll put your tabled travel plans back in motion. During this pause, those of us who are intrepid travelers have a rare chance to think more deeply about what we’ve already experienced. We can look into the rearview mirror, learning—or relearning—what our past travels taught us. Or we can take this time to delve further into the history and culture of places we’ve visited but barely scratched the surface because of time limitations. Be thankful for the gift of time you now have.

Celebrate what you did when you could. Gather together your photos and mementos, and consider making them into a travel book. If you no longer print out photos or do scrapbooking, use one of the online photo book services such as snapfish.com. Technology has made it easier than ever to collect travel memories. I have many digitally-produced travel books that I set out on the coffee table to remind us of the good times. And come to think of it, I never did make that book about last years’ trip to Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons. Now is the time!

Engage in armchair reminiscence.  Remembering the high points of a trip has distinct advantages. When we recall a memory, we tend to edit out inconvenient details, allowing what’s left to take center stage. When I recalled and blogged about our trip to Uzbekistan two years ago, I fittingly left out the part about the horrific cold I caught there, and the stomach flu that Gunter endured during the long flight home. That part had faded into the background while our experience staying at a yurt camp, where Gunter fell off his camel, became the primary story. In fact, reliving that adventure made having traveled more fun than actual traveling! I tend to travel in search of a story, but the challenge and fun of shaping the narrative comes only in retrospect when I’m safely home.

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Travel virtually. While you’re sitting at home, consider taking in the pleasures of spring without the pollen: online offerings from impressive botanical gardens around the world allow you to take a tour from the comfort of your home. I missed the Cherry Blossom Festival in San Diego this year, but I could take a tour of similar gardens around the world via Google Earth, complete with satellite images soaring to ten different destinations and quotes by local guides. Vancouver’s cherry blossom festival in Queen Elizabeth Park lasts an entire month—as does the National Cherry Blossom festival in Washington, D.C. For a sidewalk view, go to the National Garden and Joenji Temple in Japan.

As an impressionist aficionado, one of my favorites has been Claude Monet’s garden at Giverny. But after sailing the South Pacific for two years, I fell in love with tropical gardens. One magnificent virtual tour is the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden, which sits on 17 acres in Papaikou, HI. Every year, the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx stages a spectacular orchid show. This year, Jeff Leatham, a “floral designer to the stars,” used thousands of orchids to fashion a series of rooms festooned with orchid-laden arches, vines, hanging baskets and columns. Then it closed on March 15, never to reopen again. This 21-minute narrated tour steers viewers through a kaleidoscopic exhibition, stopping to tell stories along the way. I cannot end a virtual tour of gardens without taking you to Holland for a tulip show. “Because you cannot visit Keukenhof right now, we decided to bring Keukenhof to you!” says the park’s managing director.

Now that I’ve turned you onto virtual tours, you may decide to use them to pursue your own passions. Gunter likes to while away the time watching YouTube videos of ships in monster storms. “Why is that calming?” I asked him.

“Because I’m so relieved that we’re not out there.” Then he added, “And I’m so grateful that we survived all those storms during our circumnavigation—especially that scary Force 10!”

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.


Think back for a minute. Was there a miserable place somewhere in the world from which you were desperate to escape?

For Günter and me, during our world circumnavigation, that place was Gove, in Australia’s remote Northern Territory. You’ve probably never heard of this working port on the western shore of the Gulf of Carpentaria. The nearest town is Nhulumbuy—about ten miles away—which you’ve probably never heard of either! Half the town’s 3,500 inhabitants work for the bauxite mine and alumina factory—the reason for its existence.

Map of the Gulf of Carpentaria.

From Darwin to Cape York showing Gove and the Gulf of Carpentaria, Northern Territory, Australia.

Everything we did in Gove was an effort and an adventure. Fueling was next-to-impossible because the fuel dock was designed for massive freighters, not low-freeboard sailboats.

Rain coat

Michele, from SV MiGitana, prepared for the wet dinghy trip to shore.

A 15-20 knot wind in the bay forced us to fashion garbage bags over our foul-weather sailing gear to protect us during the wet and salty dinghy ride to shore. Taxis and/or rental cars were nonexistent. One cruiser managed to borrow a car from a local Aussie, who loaned it to a  cruiser friend, who loaned it to us for a trip into Nhulumbuy to provision, check out the local scene, and visit the Aborigine Arts and Crafts Museum, an additional 15 miles inland. And on top of it all, I almost lost my little finger!

 

 

Here is my story, excerpted from The Long Way Back, page 74:

We Gotta Get Out of this Place.
July 4

“If it’s the last thing we ever do.” I walk around Pacific Bliss singing these lyrics by The Animals. I’m anxious to move on. I never expected to spend a week in Gove; there are far more interesting places I wanted to see, such as Kimberly Gorge and Kakadu out of Darwin. Every day we spend here in Gove is a day we cannot spend there. But there’s nothing we can do. The weather gods are in control. The wind has ranged from 20 knots to gale force every day; this bay is never calm, so there is no opportune weather window. We’ll just have to go for it.

Günter sits across from me at the salon table entering repairs into the maintenance log:

  • Adjusted Spectra watermaker to get close to specs by changing filter and cleaning fore-filter fine mesh.
  • Took out burned shunt on port engine and connected cable directly. It’s only a measuring device; however, one side had melted and opened so no current could flow.
  • Our VHF can no longer transmit, although it can receive. Roman, the skipper of Dragonfly, tried to fix it, but no luck. He loaned us his ham system until we can replace ours in Darwin.
  • Installed Version 10.2 of MaxSea and all the world charts, a two-day process.
  • Adjusted both fridges with “butterfly farts,” small puffs of Freon.
  • Replaced a toilet handle. Retrieved our last spare from the sail locker, then mistakenly dropped it through the sides of the net. Used our last one from a toilet assembly we had stored for just such an emergency.
  • Repaired lazy jack (and bandaged Lois’ crushed little finger).

Of course, there’s a story behind that so-called “crushed finger” on my right hand. Most likely, it was more than crushed—it was broken. It would head a different direction, going its own way, from that day forward:

We’d planned to wait for a calm day to repair that broken lazy jack line—a part of the cordage that helps guide the mainsail onto the boom when it’s lowered—but yesterday, we concluded that calm waters in Gove are as rare as rain in the Sahara. So, despite the wind roiling the bay, Günter strapped me into the bosun’s chair and slowly winched me high alongside the mast, past two crossbars, up to where the line had broken. Despite weaving in the wind, I managed to tie the parts together. Only then did I dare to look down. Going down from a 63-foot carbon fiber mast would be worse than going up!

“Take it slow!” I yelled, but the wind stole my words.

I descended to the second crossbar—much too fast.

“Stop!” I needed to catch my breath.

Instead of stopping, Günter winched faster. Or so it seemed. But I’d already reached out to hold onto the crossbar and couldn’t release my hand fast enough. Ouch! Fortunately, my little finger came along with me, still attached, as I sped down alongside that mast.

The closer we get to departure the scarier the sailors tales become. Our last stop at the Gove Yacht Club is a case in point. I take my job as Navigator seriously, so I set my little blue notebook within easy reach on the bar as we down our beers. The local sailor sitting next to me is more than happy to tell me what to do. With his long, grizzled beard and plaid shirt hanging out of his red-soil-stained jeans, he looks like he’s been trapped in Gove for years.

“My dear Sheila, when you pass Cape Wilberforce, you’ll find the tide floods west. And when you reach the Hole in the Wall, the tide floods east. Got it?

I nod and jot it down.

“After the cape, passage is best during a flood…much more pleasant,” he continues. “Now, write this down.” He points to my notebook. “You want to reach the Hole during the first hour of an ebb tide, so you don’t face a rough entrance. But even so, it’ll suck you in and push you out the other end like a devil’s vortex.”

Sounds like a fun ride. He can’t scare me. I just wanna get out of this place.

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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.


From time to time, my blog will include an excerpt from one of my books. This story is an example of Serendipity—one of my favorite words.

Excerpted from The Long Way Back, pages 228-29:

An Unplanned Stop in Sri Lanka

06º01’N, 80º13’E
Galle, Sri Lanka
February 9

Despite the miseries that we’ve endured this past week, part of the joy of traveling is encountering the unexpected. We did not plan to stop at this island nation, southeast of India. Our plan was to sail straight to the Maldives. But after our miserable crossing of the Bay of Bengal, we welcome any refuge from the lumpy seas.

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 our crew, Chris, “because it can take one of those monsters up to four miles to stop.”

Maldives flag, Sri Lankan flag

Chris, our crew, with the Maldives flag. Gunter with Sri Lankan flag.

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.

Sri Lanka fisherman near Galle

Stilt Fisherman near Galle, Sri Lanka.

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.”

How has serendipity worked in your life? When you travel, do you make allowances for expecting the unexpected? Please add your own comments.

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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 often talk about the special bond we shared with cruisers and crew during our circumnavigation. It’s a bond so strong that it can never be broken. When you’ve faced down raging seas, broken boats, and frightening situations together, you never forget. We wanted to recreate that “cruiser camaraderie” that we had felt so many times during our sail around the world. We especially wanted to reconnect with some of those special European sailors we hadn’t seen since our circumnavigation party held in Canet, France in September of 2008.

We decided to visit Ireland to spend time with Patrick Murphy whose wife and first mate, Olivia, lost a battle to cancer in 2015. They sailed Aldebaran with us through parts of the South Pacific, Southeast Asia, the Indian Ocean, and up the Red Sea to Turkey. And while visiting relatives in Germany, we reunited with Monica and Norbert Nadler, who crewed onboard Pacific Bliss during the final leg of our circumnavigation: from Italy to France. We added Grimaud, France to our itinerary to visit Jean-Claude and Claudie Hamez, who sailed their yacht Makoko with us throughout the South Pacific and much of the world.

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We reconnected with these cruisers we had last seen ten years ago as if it was yesterday! We picked up right where we left off, whether the subject was cruising then and now, pirate attacks, families and friends, or reliving past adventures (less traumatic but more embellished now).

Patrick Murphy met our flight from San Diego to Dublin and deposited us at our hotel in Howth, Ireland, a nearby suburb, a short distance from his home. Later in the day he and his friend Geraldine took us to Pat’s Yacht Club there. The pennant Aldebaran flew around the world is posted in the clubhouse and his yacht, now ten years older, is docked there. Pat has become quite the celebrity in his beloved Emerald Isle. He gives talks about his circumnavigation and the restoration of the Asgard throughout the land.

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During the week we spent in Ireland, Pat took us took to other yacht clubs, and gave us a great overview of the history of Ireland—especially when it came to yachts and shipbuilding. Pat was part of The Howth Group, a team of yachtsmen who helped install the mast and rigging during the restoration of the Asgard, one of the most iconic sailing vessels in Irish history, now in its own building as part of the National Museum of Ireland. During 1914 the 28-ton gaff-rigged ketch was one of three ships involved in the Howth gun-running expedition that landed 1,500 rifles and 49,000 rounds of ammunition on the Irish coast to arm Irish volunteers. Pat also took us to the new Titanic Exhibit in Belfast. If you go to Ireland, don’t miss this fantastic exhibition of the Titanic and the history of Irish shipbuilding.

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“When you’re getting ready to brave Pirate Alley, you want to do it with sailors whom you can trust with your lives.” This is a quote from the Prologue of my book, The Long Way Back. Patrick Murphy was chosen by our convoy of five yachts to lead us through Pirate Alley, the dangerous route from Salalah, Oman to Aden, Yemen. He will always hold a special place in our hearts.

Patrick Murphy

Patrick Murphy

During our visit to Germany, Monica and Norbert Nadler came to visit. Before long, we slipped into “cruiser talk.” Helga talked about her adventures sailing with us in Greece. After the Nadlers updated us about their recent chartering experiences, the conversation inevitably changed to their sailing onboard Pacific Bliss. We recounted the joy of passing by the erupting Stromboli volcano during the passage to Sardinia and the excitement of crossing our incoming track one mile from Canet, France—thus completing our world circumnavigation.

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In France, the cruiser camaraderie began as soon as Jean-Claude picked us up from the airport in Nice. As we drove to Grimaud, it seemed another memory surfaced every mile! Then when we arrived at Claudie’s champagne reception, we recounted our experiences all over again. Where do I begin? Jean-Claude and Claudie are the only cruising couple whose adventures with us continue throughout all three books. We first met them during our Maiden Voyage when we exited Costa Rica; I write about them in the story on page 182: “Finding New Friends.” They visited us in San Diego while their yacht Makoko awaited them in the Sea of Cortez. In between seasons of Sailing South Pacific, we visited them in Grimaud, France. In various ports around the world, all the way to Thailand, we met up with them again. And in The Long Way Back, they play a major role in Chapter 6, “Crisis in Thailand.” In Chapter 7, they buddy boat with us to the Similan Islands, where they see us off to cross the Indian Ocean. They would also complete their own circumnavigation a year later.

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The cruising camaraderie continued right through to the end of our stay, when our hosts threw a generous dinner party for Gunter and me. The guest list included sailors from Britain as well as France. I was surprised to learn that many of them had read my first two books. This night, they asked me to sign my third book, which Jean-Claude handed to them from the box full that I had shipped earlier. How wonderful!

Dinner Party

A fabulous dinner party.

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, now on sale for the Holidays.

Sailing books by Lois Joy Hofmann

In Search of Adventure and Moments of Bliss Trilogy.

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