Life



During our world circumnavigation, Gunter and I loved Australia and the Aussies so much that we decided to spend another year in The Land Down Under. We stored our catamaran Pacific Bliss on the hard in Mackay, Queensland and took the tilt train south to Sydney. From there, we rented a drive-yourself caravan (camper) to tour inland through the Blue Mountains, Cowra, Canberra, and back to Sydney via the sea route. Although fall was turning to winter throughout the Northern Hemisphere, in Australia we were enjoying the spring-to-summer transition. My favorite holiday flowers for arranging are the red tropicals: ginger, anthurium, and proteas. Imagine my delight seeing fields of such flowers on display at nature preserves!

Field of proteas

Field of Proteas

Following are excerpts from my journal:  

Touring Australia’s Blue Mountains
September, 2004

Katuomba Falls Caravan Park.  Blackheath Caravan Park. Destinations roll off our tongues as the landscape passes by. We experience two days of dreary skies and depressing, intermittent rain, which makes our road trip anti-climactic after the sunny skies and excitement of Sydney. But on the third day, the weather clears and an ethereal, winter-pale sun peeks over the evergreened landscape before it descends below the foothills and treetops. It leaves a soft brush of amber on the clouds. It’s amazing how the van seems cozier, less claustrophobic, when there’s a hint of sun.  

Gorgeous, white parrot-like birds with yellow crests flit from tree to tree as we enjoy our sundowners. Ducks waddle toward the van while we throw out tidbits. I take a twilight walk up a hillside and stumble upon one lone rhododendron bush; the rest will bloom next month.  November 1 is the beginning of the Rhododendron Festival here in Blackheath. 

Called “Australia’s most accessible wilderness,” the heralded Blue Mountains looked like a collection of Sydney suburbs on a ridge of a cut-out valley—eroded highlands with valleys below. “These are certainly not mountains like our western Rockies,” Gunter grumbled.  But as we drove further, he changed his tune. Narrow river gorges wound through the lower mountains. As we rose in elevation, vistas opened to yawning canyons. Mountain streams tumbled over escarpments, falling to thick, tangled vegetation.

Eucalyptus against limestone

Eucalyptus against limestone

Blue Mountains Overlook

Blue Mountains Overlook

Sydneysiders are fortunate to have such a national treasure within a few hours’ drive. A brochure we’d picked up in Sydney stated: “What a better way to uplift the soul than a weekend of World Heritage Wilderness!” This heritage area, made up of eight nature reserves, was established in 2000. It contains 400 animal species, more than one-third of Australia’s bird species, 1,300 plant species, and 4,000 species of moths and butterflies.

For the first twenty-five years of European occupation, the Blue Mountains defied settlers’ quest to expand west of Sydney. Expeditions were turned back by impenetrable undergrowth, wandering gorges, and steep canyon walls. Finally in 1813, three men, Gregory Blaxland, William Wentworth, and William Lawson, broke through after eighteen miserable days.  They were rewarded with a view from the top of Mount York never seen by Europeans. Grassy plains stretched as far as their eyes could see—plains, they believed, that could support a continent of millions.  During the next two years, the Great Western Highway was cut through these mountains and western migration began.  

Morning brings a bright sun and clear blue skies. We are eager to begin the trip to the top of the pass. From Blackheath, we’ll backtrack to Medlow Bath, then double back and proceed on to Bell, drive along the north canyon rim to Mount Tomah, then double back again to Lithgow, finally proceeding on to our reserved cabin near Lake Lyell.  It is a fine, crisp day for touring but the drive is long and tortuous. The two-lane route—the same one followed by those early explorers—is narrow with tight turns and sheer drops. In most places, the ridge is too narrow for turnouts, look-outs, and rest stops. 

Gunter is an experienced mountain driver; even so, this route requires intense focus. 

At Medlow Bath, we stop to see the Grand Hotel, a famous meeting place for world dignitaries. Melba, a famous Australian opera star, sung here. Other celebrities have taken advantage of the hotel’s hydra baths for more than a century. While we stroll through the old hotel, we note that the place still has a regal flair: a smart-suited and suitably aloof male receptionist hands us a typed information sheet about the hotel. We enjoy a cappuccino on the deck with a wonderful mountain view and then we’re off to the next stop: Govett’s Leap.

We joke about the sign saying 15-Minute Walk to Bridal Falls.  “It doesn’t say how long the return is!” I warn. “But let’s go anyway. We need a little pensioner’s walk.”  

We’re back at the parking area in one and quarter hours. We did take our time, though, past the stepping blocks over the river to the other side. The morning sun brightened the deep, verdant valley. The river was wonderful, cascading over rocks banked with yellow blooming acacia, rust-colored banksias (bottlebrush), and delicate yellow, white, and blue mountain flowers. Bridal Veil Falls, a tantalizing stream of water and fine mist overhanging a rock garden of moss and ferns, was well worth it. By the time we returned, huffing and puffing up all those steps, lazy sheep-clouds had drifted in. They stayed with us for the remainder of the day, providing cooling interludes.

Gunter on the path to Bridal Falls

Gunter on the path to Bridal Falls

Bottle Brush Plant

Bottle Brush Plant

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Our next stop is Evans Point. We amble over to a must-see lookout over pulpit rock. Afterwards, Gunter re-parks the van so the view from the rear window has the valley view. This is when driving a campervan pays off! We enjoy our smoko of chicken breast, dressing, and whole wheat bread.      

Our next stop is Mount Victoria. Gunter buys a few used paperbacks from a quaint, old shop attached to a house that has been in the owner’s family since the early 1900s.  Across the street stands the historic Victoria and Albert Guesthouse and Restaurant, where dining on the wooden, green-railed veranda has been a tradition for over 100 years. The street is lined with blooming pink and white ornamental and fruit trees. What a wonderful time of year to tour the Blue Mountains! 

From the GWH (Great Western Highway) the Darling Causeway links Mount Victoria to Bells Road, which takes us toward Mount Tomah. We continue on to the Mount Tomah Botanical Gardens (called Australia’s Coolest Botanic Gardens) developed by Sydney’s Royal Botanic Garden. Here, at 1000 meters above sea level, many plants not suited to Sydney’s climate can be grown successfully. 

I’ve fallen in love with these gardens—and especially with the collection of the largest proteas I’ve ever seen. Their wide-open pink blooms remind me of sunflowers backlit against a glowing sunset. The pond’s rock garden, with shimmering lime-colored reeds complementing its gray rocks, is the perfect setting for contemplation and meditation. The blue haze from the mountains turns this place into a heavenly delight.

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Other SailorsTales blogs about Australia are: 

Climbing the Coat Hanger

The Challenge of Writing about Australia

Pavlova from Heaven? No, Australia

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 for the holidays on Amazon.


“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” —Albert Einstein

Seasonal change. Growing up on a Wisconsin farm, I failed to appreciate the fall season because that meant winter would follow—and I disliked cold weather. My father grumbled about how frigid weather made his arthritis act up: “As soon as I retire, I’m moving south.” His attitude must have rubbed off on me because I decided to do him one better: I would move to gentler climes before I retired!

Here in San Diego, the changing of the seasons is subtle. During October, the summer heat finally subsides; the deciduous trees droop their crinkled leaves onto parched ground; and all of nature sighs and waits for restorative winter rains. The first years after Gunter and I acquired Northern Bliss, our lake home in northern Wisconsin, we treated it as a summer place. We opened it up prior to Memorial Day and closed it after Labor Day.

That was a mistake.

This year, because of Covid, we left San Diego in March when authorities closed the beaches, bays and boardwalks. We returned in late October, just days before the first snow fell on White Ash Lake. There, we experienced all the seasons: the fickleness of April—with tulips bursting forth one day and snow flurries the next—the blush of spring in May, the flowery fullness of June and July, the dog days of August, the transitional month of September, and the magical leaf-peeping month of October.

What Einstein said is true: Everything is a miracle. But spring has been graced with poetry and prose, glorified with the promise of new beginnings. Autumn? Not so much.

Preparation. I had not realized how much nature prepares for fall. Growing up on a farm, I knew all about “harvest time.” My father and my grand-father built wagons and fixed up a rig for silo-filling, and then pulled their “train” to neighboring farms to cut and store their corn silage. My mother and grandmother were busy canning garden produce and storing root crops in the earth cellar. Consumed with our struggle for survival, we did not have time to enjoy nature back then. Nature just was.

This fall, I had the luxury of time to focus on all of nature’s activity on our one acre of land and 200 hundred feet of lakeshore. From the middle of placid White Ash Lake, a pair of loons cried during September nights. One called “Where are you?” The mate wailed, “I’m here.” The call of the loon is an evocative sound you will never forget.

Every day, bald eagles screeched overhead, dominating the scene. Sometimes they spotted a fish and swooped down to the lake’s surface while every other bird scattered. The pair will stay the winter; they need to fatten up. Our resident hummingbirds flew south, so we washed and stored their feeders. Goldfinches followed. Flocks of red-winged blackbirds disappeared from our platform feeder. Only our pair of blue jays, along with ladder-back and pileated woodpeckers, remained at the suet feeder. Below, robins pecked at the ground. Black-hatted and bibbed chickadees continued to flit through treetops searching for insects while calling chick-a-dee-dee- dee. They visited their own “private” feeder often—after the goldfinches disappeared. Undaunted, with their winning personalities, they sat in a pine tree watching me plant bulbs. After Jack Frost paid us a visit, it was time to pull up the annuals and prepare for spring. This year, I added a dash of cayenne pepper to each bulb to foil the squirrels who dug up my bulbs last spring. As I dug and planted, those squirrels dashed about in a frenzy underneath our remaining oaks, burying acorns like prized treasures. Living among nature is never boring; there is always something to observe.

Jack Frost Collage

Our favorite experience this autumn was watching the pair of trumpeter swans teaching their three cygnets how to fly. The swans usually hang out in the marsh at the north end of the lake, where their little ones were born. Females typically lay 4-6 eggs and keep them warm for 32-37 days until the eggs hatch, while the cob helps defend the nest from predators and intruders. Unlike most birds, female swans do not sit on their eggs; instead, they use their feet to keep the eggs warm. Their young are born precocial, with downy feathers and eyes almost open. They are ready to swim from their nest within a few days of hatching but remain close to their parents for the first year. When we crept by on our pontoon, we marveled at how fast the three cygnets had grown since spring: fully feathered and one-half the adult size in less than 10 weeks. The swans still had some pale brown feathers. Apparently, they do not develop white plumage until their second winter.

Swans about to fly

Five swans getting ready to fly.

Trumpeter Swans are the kings of waterfowl. They are North America’s largest and heaviest native waterfowl, stretching to 6 feet and weighing more than 25 pounds—almost twice as large as Tundra Swan. Their first attempt at flying occurs at 90-119 days. Getting airborne requires a lumbering takeoff along a 100-yard runway. One fine September day, Gunter and I heard a commotion on the lake and rushed to see what was happening. The parents were teaching their three children to fly! Quite a racket accompanied the flying lessons. During courtship, trumpeter swans spread their wings, bob, and trumpet together. These flying lessons, however, reminded me of a shouting match! During takeoff, the swans slapped their wings and feet against the surface of the lake. Finally, the family of five took to the air, mother in front, children in the middle, and father bringing up the rear—just like they swim across the lake. We cheered them on, clapping until they were out of sight!

The name for trumpeter swans, cygnus buccinator, comes from the Latin cygnus (swan) and buccinare (to trumpet). (We humans have buccinator muscle in our cheeks; we use it to blow out candles and to blow into trumpets.) These swans produce a variety of sounds, but they are known for their low bugle call. In addition to that call, they use head bobbing to warn the flock of impending danger or in preparation for flight. Listen to the sounds they make here. Both sexes make a flat-toned, single-syllable “hoo” call to locate each other. Younger swans make a more high-pitched sound. But when they want to keep the family together, defend territories, or sound an alarm, the make the characteristic deep trumpeting “oh, OH” call.

A few days before leaving Northern Bliss in mid-October, the trumpeter swan family—all dressed with black bills, feet, and legs—paid us a visit. They arrived in the morning and hung around during the day, heads underwater and tails bobbing in the air, foraging for underwater weeds. At night they left, presumably for their nesting grounds. But each day they returned. We liked to think they were saying goodbye. What a treat! We hope this pair survives the winter. They are truly soulmates, the symbol of true love. Did you know that if one partner dies, the other could die of a broken heart?

Nature’s Miracle: A Sense of Time

I learned so much more about trees after replanting 20 of them after the 2019 tornado.
After one of the young maples dropped its rust-red leaves this fall, I examined a stem to see what was left behind and was I surprised! Little buds were already in place, just waiting for the right time to open. How do they know when to bud? Can trees tell time?

Shedding leaves and growing news ones depends not only on the temperature but how long the days are. The folded leaves, resting peacefully in the buds, are covered with brown scales to prevent them from drying out. When those leaves start to grow in the spring, you can hold them up to the light and see that they are transparent. It probably takes only the tiniest bit of light for the buds to register day length. Tree trunks can register light as well because most species have tiny dormant buds within their bark. Amazing!

Leaf-peeping in Wisconsin.

In-between “closing-the-cabin chores,” Gunter and I took day trips throughout Northwest Wisconsin, on leaf-peep expeditions. Wisconsin back roads are wonderfully maintained; during the summer, most of them gained another coat of smooth blacktop, making autumn road trips a pleasure. I hope you enjoy my photos below:

Fall decorated mantle

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Other blogs in the Northern Bliss and Wisconsin series are:
Wander Birds: Migrating North https://sailorstales.wordpress.com/2019/06/22/wander-birds- migrating-north/
April is the Cruelest Month https://sailorstales.wordpress.com/2020/04/25/april-is-the-cruelest- month/

Road Trippin’ Across Northern Wisconsin https://sailorstales.wordpress.com/2020/09/15/road- trippin-across-northern-wisconsin/
Recovery from Natural Disasters https://sailorstales.wordpress.com/2019/09/28/recovery-from- natural-disasters/

Tornado! Disaster at Northern Bliss https://sailorstales.wordpress.com/2019/08/16/tornado- disaster-at-northern-bliss/
Memories of Wisconsin Tornadoes https://sailorstales.wordpress.com/2020/07/20/memories-of- wisconsin-tornadoes/

I Never Promised You a Rain Garden https://sailorstales.wordpress.com/2015/08/26/i-never- promised-you-a-rain-garden/
How to Drain a Wet Lot https://sailorstales.wordpress.com/2014/09/29/how-to-drain-a-wet-lot/

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.


“I take to the open road. Healthy, free, the world before me.” Walt Whitman

Let’s go. The northwestern Wisconsin summer had succumbed to the dog days of August. Flowers continued to bloom at our happy place, Northern Bliss, but the lakeshore was beginning to look a little drab. Water lilies faded. Ferns and hostas curled and turned brown at the edges, recoiling from the heat. I felt that I might shrivel too if I hung around much longer.

I turned to Gunter, my soulmate, travel companion, and best friend. (He also happens to be my husband.) “The gardening’s all caught up—finally. The housework—well it’ll still be here. It’s not going anyplace. So let’s just take off and go.”

“Where?” Gunter asked, raising one eyebrow to show he was really listening.

“Cornucopia.”

“And what is that? Sounds like something you’d use as a Thanksgiving centerpiece.”

“It’s a town. On Lake Superior. My gardener told me about it.”

“Have you been there before?”

“No. That’s why I want to go. Adventure is out there. The freedom of the open road and all that.”

Gunter leaned forward in his recliner. That was a good sign. I pressed my advantage.

“It’s close to Bayfield, and I have been there. That town is the launching point for the Apostle Islands, where I learned to sail.

“A piece of your history I don’t know about. Hmm. Could be interesting.”

“We could take a car ferry to the largest of the Apostles, called Madeline Island,” I proposed. “I haven’t done that, because our Sailing Club rented boats and departed right from the Bayfield marina.”

Gunter warmed up to the idea, so we blocked three days off our calendar—Monday-Wednesday, August 10-12—for which we had no commitments. Basically, we would need to book a safe place to stay for two nights. Other than that, we’d play it by ear, keeping to the back roads of rural Wisconsin as much as we could, stopping at small towns along the way. Gunter and I embrace the concept of slow travel; we like to make memories instead of rushing to destinations. That way, we can expect the unexpected.

We’d be traveling across Northern Wisconsin from west to east, through counties in which COVID-19 fatalities were in the range of 0-10. (Our county, Polk, has only two fatalities since March so we’ve become accustomed to low numbers; here we have a .005% chance of dying from this disease. We didn’t want to increase our risk. My task was finding a hotel or B&B that had safe procedures in place. Through my internet search, I came across Timber Baron Inn, a secluded forest get-away that serves up to eight guests. Breakfasts would be delivered to the rooms and they maintain strict cleaning policies. Bingo!

Timber Baron Inn photo Timber Baron inn, back view.

We set out to drive the rolling hills and lush green valleys of Wisconsin under a cobalt blue sky and puffy white clouds—a perfect morning with temps in the low seventies. Our SUV was stocked with a well-balanced diet of caffeine, salt, and sugar. We would stop along the way for “real food.”

Spooner. Our first stop was the town of Spooner in Washburn County. At the River Street Family Restaurant we enjoyed a late breakfast of bacon, eggs, and homemade potato fries. There was not a mask in sight! Spooner, with a population of 2700, calls itself the Crossroads of the North, because Hwy 53 and Hwy 63 meet there. But in the past, it was a busy railroad hub. The Wisconsin Great Northern Railroad still operates a historic train line centered in Trego on 26 miles of track, between Spooner and Springbrook. The Railroad Memories Museum, unfortunately, was closed due to COVID. We stopped at a wood-carving museum instead where we garnered advice about putting a bear statue atop our high oak tree stump.

Hayward. From there, we followed the Namekagon River, part of the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway, to Hayward, Wisconsin, 2300 population. The county seat of Sawyer County, Hayward is best known for its chain of fishing lakes. It is home to the National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame. That facility contains a 143-foot (44 m) musky, the world’s largest fiberglass structure. It is also known for the Lumberjack World Championships, an event I attended one summer with Gunter and his sister Helga.

Ashland. Our next stop was Ashland, Wisconsin, 50 miles away on the shores of Lake Superior. This port city of 8200 is known as the Historic Mural Capital of Wisconsin, where the ghosts of the past appear in living color. Strolling through Ashland’s lively business district was a treat: I loved walking past all the old brick and brownstone buildings—still open for business. Along the way, we stopped to view more than a dozen murals depicting the city’s history.

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Ashland has been a working trade town, ever since French fur traders Radisson and Chouart landed on its shores in 1659 and built a shack that became the first European dwelling in Wisconsin. Two hundred years later, Chequamegon Bay was filled with rafts of cut timber and boats ferrying locally quarried brownstone to the cities in the east. Later, when the Upper Peninsula’s Gogebic Range began producing iron ore, freighters carried it out of Ashland’s docks. Now, none of those docks remain.

Before leaving town, we filled up at a rare gas station—with a beach. Lake Superior stretched out in front of us, for as far as the eye could see. This magnificent lake is the largest of the Great Lakes of North America, the world’s largest freshwater lake by surface area (31,700 square miles), and the third largest by volume. There, we sauntered along the Lake Superior shoreline, stopping occasionally to photograph sun-struck, red-iron boulders and wave-weathered driftwood. Afterward, we sat there for a while, thinking about that busy port of long ago. I turned toward Gunter. “This lake looks calm right now. But did you know that she’s dangerous? She caused about 350 shipwrecks and she’s known for keeping her dead in the deep? I had his attention. “Yes, over 10,000 lives have been lost in these waters.”

Lakeshore Superior

Lakeshore, Superior.

Lake Superior boulder

Lake Superior boulder.

During a road trip in America, one must down at least one big burger. We fulfilled that goal on the way from Ashland to Bayfield. I picked up my burger so Gunter could take the photo. I tried to take a bite, but it wouldn’t fit into my mouth!

Big Burger

Big Burger.

We drove through the town of Washburn and followed the GPS where it said to turn, three miles south of Bayfield to Ski Hill. I could understand how this road got its name! We drove up and up and up, to the foot of Mt. Ashwabay, and took a left onto a long dirt driveway. There it was—The Timber Baron Inn, our secluded forest getaway. Through the trees, one could see the waves of Lake Superior dancing under the sun.

Ski Hill

Ski Hill.

Sunrise view

Sunrise view through our window.

Tuesday morning, we could have slept in. We knew that the first departure of the Madeline Island Ferry was not until 9:30 a.m. But at 6:30, a gorgeous sunrise beamed through our sheer curtains, daring us to join the day. Gunter went for coffee in the lobby and by 7:30, our breakfast tray arrived filled with goodies: scrambled eggs, sausage, blueberry scone, and yogurt-with-granola. That could fuel us for the entire day!

Breakfast

Our breakfast platter.

Bayfield and Madeline Island. The town of Bayfield—with a population of 500 and many times that during tourist season—is a popular resort, yachting, and vacation destination. It is also known as a lumber and commercial fishing town. But to me, this town has always been the gateway to the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, the group of islands where I learned to sail. These islands are a national treasure, with lighthouses, sea caves, and some of the best kayaking in the world. The year 2020 marks fifty years as an official National Lakeshore. You can take a virtual tour here that includes a hike around Stockton’s Julian Bay and Raspberry Lighthouse, one of nine lighthouses within this national park.

Gunter at the wheel on the car ferry to Madeline Island.

Gunter at the wheel while on the car ferry.

View of Bayfield Old Mansions from ferry.

View of Bayfield Old Mansions from ferry.

Bayfield Yacht Club

Bayfield Yacht Club as seen from ferry.

The process of taking the car ferry on the 3-mile trip from Bayfield to Madeline Island, the largest of these islands, went like clockwork and soon we were driving through the quaint town of La Pointe. Unfortunately, the museum was closed but as we drove, we came upon a garden store with gnomes and fairy garden figures. These would be our souvenirs of the island. After that stop, it was time to find some nature. The island is home to Big Bay State Park and Town Park. Since we would only be there for the day, we chose the Town Park rather than buying a sticker. We were not disappointed! A conifer-lined walking path took us down over a bridge to an islet with a wonderful sandy beach and fantastic views. We sat on a log and took off our shoes. I dipped in a toe, then my entire foot, and then walked in up to the hem of my shorts. Brrr! It was then I realized that only children were in the water. The parents—those wimps—sat watching them from their portable chaise-lounges on the sandy beach! It was then that I remembered another statistic: The average temperature of Lake Superior is 36ºF, 2ºC.

Madeline Island Road Sign

Madeline Island road sign.

Lois

Testing the water.

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Back in Bayfield, we enjoyed smoked lake-trout salad for a late lunch and purchased more smoked lake fish to take home.

Smoked Lake Trout Salad

Smoked Lake Trout Salad.

“This was nice, but I look forward to Cornucopia,” Gunter said as we left Bayfield.

Washburn. We returned to The Timber Baron for a rest and then drove further south to the town of Washburn (population 2200) for dinner. We stopped for made-to-order pizzas at Dalou’s Bistro & Wood Fired Pizza Oven. Mine was one of the best pizzas I’ve ever had! We preferred the laid-back, hometown feel of Washburn to tourist-filled Bayfield. After our dinner, we discovered a local city park where we watched the sun set over Lake Superior—just the two of us—along with a group of friendly seagulls.

Dalou's Bistro

Dalou’s Bistro.

Cornucopia. “I want to finally see Cornucopia!” Gunter said during our second home-cooked breakfast at The Timber Baron. He was practically jumping up and down.

I laughed. “Today’s the day.”

We plugged our destination into the GPS. It was not a straight route. We didn’t mind the scenery, even though the track took us inland from Lake Superior most of the time. But when we hit detours and then a miles-long stretch of road construction, we both grew impatient. A supposedly-27 minute drive stretched to two hours. Finally, the official green sign came into view. “Cornucopia!” we shouted in unison. A mile later, we spied another sign. This one contained a drawing of huge cornucopia right in the center—just like the Thanksgiving centerpiece Gunter had envisioned.

Cornucopia sign

Welcome to Cornucopia sign.

On our way into town, we spied at a rest stop—if you could call it that—with one picnic table under a colorful wooden pergola. We pulled off the road into a sandy parking area large enough for about five cars. We followed a nature path to a deserted sandy beach, complete with two worn Adirondack chairs. We walked the narrow beach for a while, stepping over more weathered logs and gray driftwood. As we returned to our SUV, another vehicle pulled in. A family of five poured out, each carrying his or her own container, promptly pumping the handle an artesian well. “Oh, that’s what this stop is for,” Gunter muttered. “Wish we had a container.”

We drove toward a small marina, with working fishing boats, surrounded by a few cute tourist shops. “Stop!” I demanded. “This must be where the Siskowit River meets Lake Superior. “They’re bound to have some shops there.” The harbor was quaint and picturesque, old fishing boats and quaint shops reflected in clear water. But I was disappointed to see that they were all closed with “Due to COVID” signs. We never met a soul.

Further on, we saw a commercial fish factory. That was open! We purchased smoked whitefish, all cut up and deboned for a salad, and loaded up on ice for our cooler. It felt wonderful, just to talk with someone! Outside, we found unlocked, public restrooms. Hooray!

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Expect the Unexpected. Surmising that was the town, we were more than a little disappointed. But as we drove on, we noted that the business district was off the main drag. There was more! There we found “Wisconsin’s Northern Most Post Office,” Ehlers General Store, a large brick building that could be the town hall, one café, and a few businesses fronting two sides of a wide, paved street.

Little Nikki's Restaurant

Little Nikki’s Restaurant.

Ehlers Store

Ehlers Store.

Siskowit Farmhouse

Siskowit Farmhouse.

Beyond that, the road led to the Siskowit River waterfalls my gardener had raved about. We ventured down a path to the lower falls, but it was dark, with fleeting river views between the foliage, and full of mosquitoes. The best photo op was from the gravel road that crossed the wooden bridge. There the upper falls dropped energetically from a ledge in the stream to a twelve-foot-wide sparkling pool of foam. We sat there for a while and ate one of our salty snacks.

“So this is Cornucopia.” I said. “A population of only 100 souls.”

“Pretty in its own way,” Gunter volunteered.

“Yes, it is. Just not what I expected.”

River walk alongside waterfall

River walk alongside falls.

Siskowit Falls, Cornucopia

Siskowit Falls, Cornucopia.

Road trips are the equivalent of human wings. Ask me to go on one. Anywhere. We’ll stop in every small town and learn the history and stories, feel the ground, and capture the spirit. Then we’ll turn it into our own story that will live inside our story to carry with us, always. Because stories are more important than things.

–Victoria Erickson

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.


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.

 

 


April is the cruelest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
–T.S. Eliot

April isn’t over yet, but I’ve felt her cruelty for long enough. Spring bliss has yet to arrive at Northern Bliss, our Wisconsin retreat. There were signs of spring that first week after we arrived: stalks of iris and tulips had pushed through the mulch, allium had grown to three inches, and most of the snow had melted. “It just may be an early spring this year,” I crowed.

During that week, Gunter and I saw the lake ice gradually disappear, forming a convenient shelf for the pair of eagles who nest in a tall evergreen on White Ash Lake. I’d watched them fish during the summers, swooping down from the sky. While gardening near the lake bank, I’d watched one of them steal a fish from the beak of a heron. But we’d never been here in April to see eagles fishing from the ledge of the retreating ice. Every day, the ice pack grew smaller until the majestic couple was reduced to two specs at the middle of the lake.

Eagle at White Ash Lake

Eagle nesting at White Ash Lake
Photo credit: Lynn Bystrom

With the lake opening, a pair of trumpeter swans flew across the lake to check it out. The next day, they swam by, making a racket as if they owned the place. An otter swam close to shore. We heard the familiar, plaintive cry of a loon. And then a raft of wood ducks swam around our “natural” area, as if looking for the duck house in which they may have been hatched. I called Mike, my son-in-law, who came over and re-installed the house in the shallow water. As if by unanimous consent, one pair stayed around while the others moved on.  About a week later, Gunter saw the female fly into the house. Her mate hangs around the house faithfully every day now, waiting patiently for those ducklings to hatch and jump from the house.

On shore, red-headed and ladder-back woodpeckers, blue jays, and goldfinch flocked to our red feeder full of sunflower seeds. But we wanted to attract the huge pileated woodpeckers we’d had here every summer. Mike built and installed a T-shaped pole structure with ropes to pull and hoist suet and a platform for the pileateds. One came right away, but since then, nothing. The tree that was their home was downed by the last July’s tornado. Perhaps their new home is not close by—even though I heard their call and the staccato sounds of their drumming from my yard. We did, however, enjoy the birdsongs of redwing blackbirds who perched on the new feeder.

Red wing blackbirds at T feeder

Red wing blackbirds at T feeder

All was well, but I yearned for warmer weather for gardening; every night brought freezing temperatures. “April showers bring May flowers,” I repeated each day. But that was not to be. All that spring passion was just a setup to break my heart. Instead, it snowed…and snowed…and snowed once more. That first snow was beautiful, even though I wondered how those brave flower shoots would survive. Snow drifted down in big chunky flakes, cloaking the gray trees and dull ground with white perfection. “It won’t stay,” the locals told me. “It’s April.” But I recalled their stories about last spring, when April brought 17 inches of snow and it stayed for a while. After a few days, white perfection turned to mushy gray and I was tired of it all. When will we have spring? “It’s coming,” they said. But when the ground was bare, the snow returned and this time, it was not nice or beautiful. It was Easter weekend, and even though we were sheltering in place, we wanted some semblance of normalcy. This was nasty, with hail and ice turning to snow. Even if we could, we wouldn’t have wanted to go out in it. We hunkered down and never ventured outdoors. I spent my time flipping through nursery catalogs and dreaming of glorious flower gardens in bloom. That snow gradually disappeared and then a third snowstorm arrived. I spent that day down in the dumps with S.A.D. (seasonal affective disorder). Thank God, this storm fizzled out quickly and my mood improved.

Today, I sense the end of this cruelest of months. And not just because the calendar shows one week until the end of April. I can feel it in the air. This morning there was no frost and the sun is out. The thermometer reads 60 degrees F. Backyard birds are chirping with glee. And the crocuses are blooming—a sure sign that spring is truly on its way.

Update: On April 27th, the young pileated woodpecker appeared at the T-feeder to enjoy the suet. Yay!

Pileated Woodpecker at feeder

Pileated Woodpecker at T feeder.

Pileated Woodpecker close up

Pileated Woodpecker Close-up

 

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.


     Happiness is not a destination. It is a way of life.
—Lois Joy Hofmann

As a travel writer, I often write about destinations.  Now that we’re amid a worldwide pandemic, most of us are staying put, sheltering in place, or “hunkering down,” as we called it when at anchor on board Pacific Bliss waiting out a storm. As this gale surrounds us with fear and anxiety, it’s important for us to sustain and strengthen our immune systems and mental health by maintaining an interior calm. This too, shall pass.
     All these squalls to which we have been subjected to are signs that the weather will soon      improve and things will go well for us, because it is not possible for the bad and the good to endure forever, and from this it follows that since the bad has lasted so long, the good is close at hand.
                                                                                                     —Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote

The Silver Lining. It’s painful to know that many have died and many more will. And it’s fearful to realize that this crisis compels us to confront our own mortality. But the silver lining in all of this is that we can use this time to appreciate what really matters: the preciousness of life, family, friends, living in the moment, and interrupting the rush of time for a while. As we come out of this valley—and we will—let’s hope we learned how to find more compassion, meaning, and happiness in the additional years we’ve been given.

Prayer and Meditation.This solitary time is an opportunity to learn how to pray and meditate. New York Times award-winning author Marie Chapian introduced a new book last December called Quiet Prayer that combines Christian prayer with meditative techniques. That book was invaluable to me while recovering from a recent illness. “The world around us teems with chaos and noise,” she says. “We can change this turmoil by first changing the turmoil within us.”

Quiet Prayer

I passed the time last week immersed in a novel called This Is Happiness. One of the dozens of my favorite quotes by Irish award-winning author Niall Williams is this:
     You live long enough prayers can be answered on a different frequency than
the one you were listening for. We all have to find a story to live by and live inside,
or we couldn’t endure the certainty of suffering.

This is Happiness

The book is a poetic portrait of a fictional Irish community, its idiosyncrasies and traditions, its failures and its triumphs, on the cusp of change as it is wired for electricity. Niall’s writing is so exquisite and expressive I wanted to press the pages to my skin as one would press a flower into a book, to absorb just a smidgen of his way with words!

Moments of Bliss. This book reminded me of what it’s like to live fully, deeply, in the present. It also reminded me of how often Gunter and I—during our world circumnavigation—would stop and say: “This is a moment of bliss.” This passage is the essence of the book:
     But I came to understand him to mean you could stop at, not all, but most of the moments in your life, stop for one heartbeat, and no matter what the state of your head or heart, say “This is happiness,” because of the simple truth that you were alive to say it…I think of that often. We can all pause right here, raise our heads, take a breath and accept that This is happiness…

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.


A Guest Blog by Julie Smith.

A few weeks ago, Gunter and I attended a fundraiser for The Polk County Historical Society. This deserving organization is celebrating 60 years of vision from 1959-2019. It runs the award-winning Polk County Museum, which contains three floors of physical, pictorial, and written artifacts from 1842 to 1943. The volunteer-staffed museum contains extensive exhibits of local agriculture and logging, as well as educational information about the Kalapuya tribe that originally occupied Polk County. Also attending the fundraiser was fellow blogger Julie Smith, who subsequently wrote the following story first published in the Amery Free Press about the theme of the evening: Celebrating Wisconsin Supper Clubs. Thank you, Julie, for allowing me to share this cultural icon with my readers.

Polk County Museum

Polk County Museum

Throughout Wisconsin, there are approximately 260 supper clubs…give or take. The number is frequently changing because the clubs change hands and/or close and re-open again later. The restaurant business is fluid and subject to change. Our neighbor to the west, Minnesota, also has supper clubs…but not nearly as prevalent or pervasive on the landscape as Wisconsin.

So, herein begs the question that keeps on popping up: “So what is a Supper Club, anyway…just another restaurant? Oh Nooooo! Don’t speak of such blasphemy. It is hard to explain, and I had this discussion with my son. We discussed the history of prohibition, the establishment of the speak- easy and how supper clubs, to some extent anyway fit in that part of history. I believe that you just have to experience supper club dining to appreciate them and to know the difference. My son and I did however come to the conclusion that: “A Supper club is a restaurant, but not every restaurant qualifies as a supper club.” Kind of simplistic in nature, but I think it helps to drive the point home: Supper Clubs are in a category all of their own.

I was prompted to write about the uniqueness of Wisconsin supper clubs after attending a fund raiser dinner and presentation by our local historical society: The Polk County Historical Society. The event was entitled: Celebrate Wisconsin Supper Clubs and celebrate I did!  I really enjoyed learning about the diversity and amazing history behind this fabric that makes up the Wisconsin landscapes and in many ways is the pride of many a Wisconsinite.  The two presenters at the event helped to expand those definitions and help to explain what makes a supper club a supper club…and not just another restaurant?

Mary Bergin, a Midwest features writer, discussed the inspirations that led her to publish a cookbook of over 60 recipes from 40 different supper clubs. Mary is the author of several books, many of which focus on adventures in Wisconsin. The cookbook she published is entitled: Wisconsin Supper Club Cookbook. The book includes not only tasty recipes, but also interesting tidbits of historical content about particular clubs and why loyal customers help to create each supper club as a local treasure. She explained that the popularity of the supper club has sustained because of their predictability; you know you can expect great service and food when you walk through the door. That predictability gives them lasting quality. Some may call it “stuck in a rut,” but others view it as the comfort of tradition.  Her books are currently available on Amazon and you can follow Mary on some of her adventures at: www.roadstraveled.com

Holly L. DeRuyter, a documentary filmmaker, presented her video entitled: Old Fashioned–The Story of the Wisconsin Supper Club. The film took a delightful tour of several clubs at locations throughout the state and portrayed why these iconic clubs have remained popular and a staple in many Wisconsin communities. The video not only highlighted the supper club culture, but also helped the viewer to grapple with the continuing question of how a supper club differs from a restaurant. The supper club patron is welcomed to a slower pace where one can relax and connect with family and friends. One of the club owners summed it up well by stating: “Dine Leisurely, Dine Well.”  Most supper clubs are in rural places and usually open for dinner only. The supper club includes a bar and a separate dining room. Even after prohibition was repealed, many women felt uncomfortable going to a tavern for a drink. (Some taverns were considered “seedy” and not the place for a lady…) However, women felt more comfortable having drinks if the bar was located inside a supper club. This helped to make all the patrons feel comfortable for both eating and having cocktails together. For more information on Holly’s film, you can check out her web site at: http://OldFashionedTheMovie.com

Old Fashioned CocktailSpeaking of cocktails, the classic cocktail of the supper club is the Old Fashioned. The drink itself dates back to the 1700s, but was revived during the Prohibition days. With the preponderance of “rot gut liquors” and “bathtub gin,” these tonics were made more palatable with the addition of fruit slices and/or cherries to garnish the drink. A taste for something sweet just evolved the Old Fashioned into a staple cocktail at many of the supper clubs.

Another staple of the supper club is the Friday Night Fish Fry. Wisconsin is the perfect place for the popularity and success of a Friday Night Fish Fry. First, Wisconsin has 15,074 lakes filled with delicious perch, walleye and trout that provides an abundance of fresh and local fare. Second, there are many religions that abstain from eating meat on Fridays, so the Friday Night Fish Fry quickly became a family tradition for many Wisconsin families.

When I first moved to Wisconsin, my realtor gave us a wonderful gift to welcome us to Wisconsin: a book about Wisconsin Supper Clubs. It is entitled: Wisconsin Supper Clubs, An Old Fashioned Experience by Ron Faiola.  It became a great resource and also soon evolved into a journal for documenting my trips to the many supper clubs in the state. Since there are so many, I added my own entries and photos for the clubs that were not listed. It has been fun to document the memories of special meals, but also makes me feel a little like a restaurant critic. Yet, most of the things I document are about good food and great experiences. I rarely have negative criticisms. Imagine my surprise when a copy of “my” book was there on the bar when I visited a supper club close to us. As you can imagine, that club had “made the cut” and was featured in the book.  Good job guys.

Julie Smith is a resident of Amery and is a freelance writer/blogger and photographer. You may see more of Julie’s writing on her 2 blogs: americantrekkerblog.com and julieetta1982.blogspot.com

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.


At 6:15 pm on July 19th, the sky looked weird and the air turned deathly still.

We had planned to go to an outdoor concert in Amery, Wisconsin that fateful Friday night. We had packed four folding chairs and packed them in the trunk along with rain jackets, just in case. Fortunately, we’d left the car in the garage with the door shut.

“Can’t tell whether it’s going to rain or not, said Gunter, my husband. “If it does, we can go to the fish fry instead.”

The four of us—Gunter and I along with his younger siblings, Helmut and Helga—remained on the patio, staring at the sky. It was turning greenish-black.

“I don’t like this,” I said. “Let’s get inside.”

We entered the sunroom with picture windows facing the gardens and White Ash Lake. Then it hit. Suddenly the sky roared like an oncoming freight train—and then whooshed through the treetops like a jet engine. We stood there, transfixed. Our feet were riveted to the floor. We were seeing, firsthand, the sheer, raw power of nature. One huge pine twisted, uprooted, and crashed to the ground in a slow, deliberate motion. Then another. And another. Altogether, our six trees at the shoreline fell on top of each other like dominoes. Their trunks and branches carpeted the entire lawn between our house and dock. Beyond, we could see White Ash Lake kicking up angry waves. My heart pounded but common sense prevailed.

“Move away from the windows; they could break!” I yelled.

Terrified, yet fascinated, the others just stood there.

White Ash Lake Tornado 2019

The pines along the lakeshore fell across the yard like dominoes.

“Move!” I insisted. “This is a tornado. I’ve been in one before. Follow me down to the bunk room. That’s our safe space.”

They didn’t get it.

Then a dull, heavy THUD shook the house. The roof! The sky turned black and the power went out.

We all raced down to the bunk room, a windowless Man Cave we had fashioned out of the utility room for our grandsons. Gunter grabbed flashlights but our trusty generator kicked in after 10 long seconds. We had lights! Five minutes later, the generator stuttered and stopped. My stomach clenched and my tongue felt like sandpaper. To drown out the godawful noise, I chattered about the tornado I’d experienced in as a child in 1952. My Bavarian husband and his siblings had never experienced one in Germany; they had no first-hand knowledge.

When the racket subsided, we ventured upstairs. It was only 6:45 although it had seemed like an eternity. The sky was no longer black; the storm had moved on. Our first impulse was to go outside. We were shocked to discover there was no way out. Fallen trees and branches filled every window and door. Out of the lakeside windows, I could see nothing but trees across our entire lower patio and yard. We couldn’t see the dock, but I thought we saw a glimmer of white beyond the tangle of trees. “That must be our pontoon,” Gunter said softly, still in shock.

Helga called our attention to water dripping onto the kitchen counter and splashing onto the floor. “Looks like the roof is leaking,” she said. We sprang into action, positioning every wastebasket and bucket we could find. Later, we found water dripping from our rec room ceiling. We covered the sofa below with towels.

Because we couldn’t exit through any of our doors, Gunter manually opened the garage. We all filed out behind him, astonished at the destruction. Our driveway was blocked by fallen trees; but no matter, so many trees had fallen from the woods onto South White Ash Lane that we could barely make out the road!

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My daughter Kim and son-in-law Mike insisted on driving to Northern Bliss as soon as they could. They had experienced straight-line winds but even those downed six trees on their property—thankfully, none near their house. The downpour had created a river of rushing water down their driveway. We begged them not to try; they wouldn’t be able to get through. But they were determined. Their usual 20-minute trip took 2.5 hours, chainsawing their way through. The worst devastation they encountered along the way was my four-acre wooded property, with hundreds of trees down, some of them across the road. There they joined the drivers of five other blocked cars who were also chainsawing their way through. Their last challenge was to move parts of trees blocking our dead-end road. Mike and Kim wanted to bring us back to their home, but we said no. We were the bucket brigade, protecting our property from further damage from the rain. We four spent the night the old-fashioned way: by candlelight. We collected rainwater from the buckets to flush the toilets.

White Ash Lake Tornado

Holly removes branches from my hydrangea and hosta garden.

Early Saturday morning, Mike called on all our relatives living in Minneapolis to come on down to help. Six arrived, each with his or her own chainsaw. Mike’s brother-in-law helped him tarp the roof, which was broken right at the peak with a massive oak branch inside the hole! A huge tree had uprooted and tipped the propane tank partly on its side. The jolt had cut the buried line from the generator to the propane tank; Mike went to Menards to purchase copper tubing. Then he built a new line. The others focused on cutting the trees that had fallen from the woods across the street onto our driveways. Downed power lines crossed the driveway exit, but they could clear the entrance. My granddaughter Holly especially impressed me. She owns a “Queen” battery-powered chainsaw and cut and removed branches from my hydrangea and hosta gardens. Seeing six relatives—without helmets, chaps and boots—wield those chainsaws impressed Helga. In Germany, such work would require licensing, training, and special clothes. Chainsaws would not be a common item in their garages.

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By Saturday afternoon, we had generator power again. Those in the White Ash Lake area without generators waited 1-2 weeks for the electric company to repair all the lines. They had 6000-7000 customers without power in Polk County and brought in 100 linemen from Minnesota. The following week, The Wisconsin National Guard arrived to help open the roads to remote homes on the other side of White Ash Lake.

In addition to structural damage to the house roof, minor damage to the cabin, a destroyed dock and boat lift canopy, arbors, and numerous smaller items, Northern Bliss lost 22 mature oaks and pine; it will never be the same in my lifetime. A similar story can be told among all the property owners around North and South White Ash Lake. Not one of 80+ properties was spared. I expect to hear the buzz of chainsaws, the grinding of stumps, the roar of heavy machinery, and the pounding of hammers until frost—as the recovery continues. How ironic! My latest blog was about migrating north to the sounds of silence here in the land of lakes and woods. The silver lining is that all are safe, and no lives were lost, thank God. We will rebuild.

Next: The Recovery Begins

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 https://loisjoyhofmann.com.

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