“A kiss is just a kiss…and Bliss is who I miss,” Gunter sings as I hum along.  I put my hand in his as we power walk around Sail Bay on the sidewalk fronting our condo in San Diego. It’s an unusually warm day in February, the lovers’ month. And we’re both thinking of another love, one we both shared.

Go-with-the-wind

Her name is Pacific Bliss. We knew her well. She’s the 43-foot Catana catamaran who faithfully sailed us around the world. On August 28, 2008, we crossed our path in Canet, France where we had started out eight long years before. Seven voyages. 34,000 miles. 62 countries. So many adventures and misadventures. So many Moments of Bliss.

Forlorn and seemingly forsaken, Pacific Bliss waited patiently on that same dock outside the factory where she was built. She pined for a new owner throughout the turbulent winter and the balmy Mediterranean spring while the stock portfolios of expectant buyers descended into a financial sinkhole.

Meanwhile, back in San Diego, my friends inquired, “In your entire circumnavigation, which was your favorite place?”  I searched my memory bank, struggling for answers. 

My most precious memories relate to people we met along the way. I admired how the teeming masses of Sri Lanka managed to eke out a living.  Regal women in bold saris and determined men in crisp shirts defied the steaming climate and the diesel-polluted streets clogged with tuk-tuks, taxis, bicycles and even the occasional working elephant.  When the 2004 tsunami devastated that lively southwestern coast I had photographed, I sobbed my heart out.  I mourned the wizened “lace lady” in Galle who sold me the intricate tablecloth I will forever treasure. I remembered the blind man with the missing front teeth at the souvenir-stand-by-the-sea, the one who taught us the many uses of a coconut. I pictured the family with handsome dark-eyed sons who ran the turtle rescue operation south of Colombo. All gone now.

The remarkable Ni Vanuatu of Waterfall Bay, in the Northern Banks Islands, stole my heart. They have no electricity, no cars, and no landing strip. Their island is accessible only by boat. Yet they are the happiest, most generous locals we met. We had the good fortune to anchor off their bay while we attended a festival honoring the installation of a new chief.  After three days of dancing, kava drinking, and teaching us how to make lap-lap (a pizza-like food that is their national dish) a chorus of young people belted out a song honoring the gathered sailors. Each one came forward to sing a special tribute, “My name is Joy and I love you, my name is Peter and I love you.” By the end of the song, we were all in tears.

vanuatu chieftan

Photos from pages 270-271 in Sailing the South Pacific

I first fell in love with the Aussies during the Port2Port Rally from Vanuatu to Oz, sponsored by the town of Bundaberg. A farm girl from Wisconsin who grew up in the fifties, I found it easy to relate to the sugar cane farmers of Queensland and the cowboys working the vast ranches of the Outback. Many of them became our friends. We decided to spend an entire year in Oz, traveling the length and breadth of that great land.

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Bundaberg: “I love you” balloon and bouquet, page 292, Sailing the South Pacific

 

I also find it impossible to rank the flora and fauna of my favorite places.

An avid flower-lover my entire life, my heart stopped when I viewed acres upon acres of winsome wildflowers north of  Perth, then stopped again when a child guide in Borneo led me to one lone flower, two feet wide. The bloom was a rare Rafflesia—a flower that took nine months to mature.

DSCN9652 Rafflesia, Borneo, RTW 2004

Rafflesia, World’s largest flower, Borneo (this photo will likely appear in my third book, The Long Way Back

My heart soared when I came upon the ancient, graying Tane Mahuta, the Lord of the Forest, in Waipoua, New Zealand.

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Lord of the Forest, page 197, Sailing the South Pacific

Which rates higher: the majestic rock the outback Aborigines call Uluru, rising red in the pale dawn, or the brooding widow’s peak of Mount Kota Kinabalu, the symbol of Borneo, “the land beneath the clouds?”

Were the deadly saltwater crocs and ubiquitous kangaroos of Australia more thrilling than the playful orangutans in the Sepilok Forest Reserve of Borneo, the cute baby elephants in Sri Lanka’s orphanage, or the magnificent tigers raised by the monks in Thailand’s lush interior? 

Petting the Beast, Tiger Temple, Thailand

Petting the tiger; this photo will likely appear in my third book, The Long Way Back

Because I could not begin to answer the question posed by my friends, I invented a stock, smart-ass answer:  “My favorite place is the one I haven’t been to yet.” Then I would add a few lines about my next dream destination, such as:  “Right now, I’m researching Bhutan. I like the idea that they have a national happiness index. Instead of our GNP, they have a GHP. I want to check that out.”

Then we sold the boat. They say that the two happiest days in a sailor’s life are when he or she buys the boat, and when it is finally sold. 

On the one hand, I am happy to know that Bliss is no longer pining for Gunter and me, her Captain and Navigator of years gone by. She is no longer alone. Now she has other masters to care for: a family of four traveled from England to France to make her their home. They sailed her across the Atlantic to the Caribbean, as we did during our Maiden Voyage. Anticipating new adventures to come, enthused about new places to discover, they settled in. They learned to use her high-tech systems, evaluated her strength, and tested her resolve to keep them safe and secure, just as she did for us.

On the other hand, I’m sure of this: despite achieving my mission of sailing around the world, I’m still affected with wanderlust. I must continue to travel! I just may go around the world again, this time by air, land and sea. There might even be a few elephants, camels, mules and trains—and who knows what else—thrown into the mix. But it won’t be the same; this much I know. Any other mode of transportation from now on will be just that—mere transportation. 

Because now I realize that this question is all wrong. It’s not about the people, places, flora, and fauna I loved, after all. It’s about who took us there. Pacific Bliss is where I left my heart. 

WHERE I LEFT MY

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I’m honored that my dear friend and New York Times Bestselling Author, Marie Chapian, included our experience surviving a Force 10 storm into her latest book. She tells the story about Günter and me surviving the Force 10 storm referred to in Maiden Voyage. Here’s a excerpt from her new book, How to be Happy in an Unhappy World:

My good friends Lois and Gunter Hofmann circumnavigated the world for eight years in their forty-three-foot custom-built Catana catamaran called Pacific Bliss. They tell of a harrowing, life-threatening experience in the Colombian basin where they were heading for W. Gallinas Point, the northernmost cape in South America…suddenly the wind increased from force 8 to force 9. (Force 8 equals a gale.) The waves crashed all around them. Within hours, the wind speeds increased to fifty-plus knots, a force 10. The waves were as high as four-story buildings. Force 12 is a deadly hurricane…

In life, you’re going to hit force 12 winds. Wild, unpredictable, screeching storms will hit as your journey along on your sea of life. It’s a given. But you have a choice. You can fight against the crashing waves in a furious assault against the beast of the sea, or you can coil into a fetal position in fear of death. Or you can take the advice of experienced life sailors and “run with the wind.”

About How to be Happy in an Unhappy World
happy-500h

In this explosive new book Marie shows how it’s possible to know and live a lasting happy life without awful and debilitating ups and downs. Utilizing new brain research, exercises, Scripture, spiritual awareness and prayer, she proves that it’s our rightful inheritance to be happy, and HOW TO BE HAPPY IN AN UNHAPPY WORLD gives us the tools and the loving guidance to get there. Buy the book on Amazon.

About New York Times Bestselling Author, Marie Chapian

portrait-vignetteMarie Chapian is the author of more than 30 books, translated into 17 languages. Her books, teaching materials, art, fitness classes and coaching are inspired by a passionate love for God and His people. God has given Marie a vital sensitivity to the Holy Spirit and a powerful prophetic anointing. Signs and wonders follow her ministry. As a certified life coach and fitness instructor, Marie is the founder of JC Wings of Wellness, the ministry offering Christian life coaching, health and fitness classes to restore, renew, and bring healing and wholeness to every part of our lives. Marie leads Wholly You seminars, retreats and classes to, as she says, “help bring us into a more beautiful life spirit, soul and body.” These life-changing spirit-soul-body events here and abroad are dynamic Holy Spirit empowering experiences designed to bring life-long changes and spiritual growth to each individual.

 

 

During our world circumnavigation, while our catamaran Pacific Bliss was docked at Langkawi Island, we took a short flight to Penang and stayed at the Blue Mansion there. Then we fled the coast to cool off in the Cameron Highlands like the colonial Brits of yore. South of Brinchang, Malaysia near the town of Ringlet, we checked into a 25-room, Tudor-style inn called The Lakehouse. Its manicured gardens sit atop a hill overlooking rolling hills, lush woodlands and tea plantations. The lobby is filled with English antiquities that could have come straight out of a storybook! We checked in and were supplied with one old-fashioned turnkey that opened the massive door to room number 15. A wooden four-poster bed was weighed down by a thick ivory-and-white brocaded spread and surrounded with a filmy ivory mosquito net. Although the room was dark and heavy with its high beamed ceilings and period furniture, white painted walls and a pale mauve leaf-print carpet lightened the room somewhat.

After unpacking, I sighed with relief and sat opposite Gunter in a matching wingtip chair at the lone, draped window. A bouquet of fresh pink and white roses graced the table between us. This is just the escape from the boat we needed. I updated my journal while Gunter continued to read Somerset Maugham’s Up at the Villa. How appropriate!

Later we explored the gardens and then hiked toward the mountains behind the inn. It wasn’t long before we were huffing and puffing and looking forward to cocktail hour in the bar area, hoping to run into some interesting fellow travelers. That didn’t happen. We were disappointed to find the bar and restaurant largely deserted.

After dinner though, Gunter and I struck up a conversation in the lounge area with a couple sitting on a sofa near the fireplace. We plopped into another set of wing-backed chairs and ordered Tia Marias. They ordered brandy. We introduced ourselves. Edward is Swedish but left home at age eighteen to attend college in Los Angeles. His father, deceased, had been a neurosurgeon in Dubai; Edward left the U.S. to live with him there. His mother lives in Sweden. Natasha is Malaysian, a flight attendant for Emirates Air.

“It’s British organized and run,” she said.

“If it were run by the Arabs,” Edward interrupted, “it would never work.”

They both laugh. The couple lives and works in Dubai, has a summer home in Sweden, and spends holidays in Malaysia. Edward converted to the Muslim faith; he had no religion before.

“But you drink?” Gunter chided, as he ordered another brandy.

“Touché. I’m not that religious,” he answered. “Did you have sex before marriage?” he joked.

“Touché. This is not my first wife.”

One subject flowed into another, as good conversations often do. Our waitress—looking like a French maid in a starched white apron with a white hat perched on her drawn-back hair—appeared again and we ordered another round of brandies and coffees. Afterwards, we four exchanged e-mails and called it a night. We had made new friends.

IMG_0043 Lois on an overlook to the Lakehouse property.

Lois on an overlook to the Lakehouse property.

IMG_0032 The Lakehouse,Cameron Highlands, Malaysia

The Lakehouse,Cameron Highlands, Malaysia

IMG_0055 Cozy Fireplace Lounge, Colonial style.

Cozy Fireplace Lounge, Colonial style

Our room at The Lakehouse, with Gunter reflected in the mirror

Our room at The Lakehouse, with Gunter reflected in the mirror

Named in honor of William Cameron, a British surveyor who traveled the area in 1885, Cameron Highlands, at 6000 feet, is awkwardly called the “Green Bowl of the Country.” This area of rolling hills is one of the largest producers of fruits, vegetables and tea in the country. Over the next two days we toured a rose garden, a butterfly farm, a strawberry farm, and of course, numerous tea plantations.

Log Fence with multicolor flowers, Cameron Highlands

Log Fence with multicolor flowers, Cameron Highlands

The Robertson Rose Garden was our first stop. We climbed level after level of stunning roses until we came to a spectacular view at the top overlooking terraced tea plantations. We took a different path down that passed by every type of flower one can imagine: hibiscus trees of salmon, yellow and red; sunflowers standing like sentinels on a ledge overlooking the valley below; and “blue butterfly”—a variety of flower I’d never seen—hanging upside down on a vine swinging in the breeze.

Next we toured a butterfly farm with thousands of screen-caged, stick-like caterpillars and frogs that barely moved. Perhaps they were all at the end of their life cycles.

IMG_0891The Rose Centre, Cameron Highlands

The Rose Centre, Cameron Highlands

IMG_0906 Frog in Butterfly Garden

Frog in Butterfly Garden

DSCN0451 The colors of the butterflies are wonderfully vibrantt

The colors of the butterflies are wonderfully vibrant

DSCN0439 Hanging blue butterfly flowers

Hanging blue butterfly flowers

The tour guide rushed us to our appointed tea time at the Boh Tea Estate, south of Tanah Ra ta, eight kilometers off the main road. The drive into the estate was lined with tea planted in 1929. “They will last another 100 years,” our guide told us. “They harvest the new shoots every three weeks.” Indians were brought in during Colonial times to harvest the tea; now their descendants live here and the process is mechanized. Five kilograms of leaves make just one kilogram of tea. Roller machines crush and stir the leaves, then they are “withered,” a process in which fans blow across the leaves to reduce the moisture content. Leaves are then heated to boiling and rolled to release juices for fermentation. Fine leaves are separated out and longer ones are rolled again. These are used in the special varieties of “garden teas.” The next higher grade is Boh Gold, and after that, Cameron Boh tea. Tea dust is used to “pull” tea, pouring it back and forth, Malaysian- style.

Tea Plantations in Cameron Highlands

Tea Plantations in Cameron Highlands

IMG_0957 Crushing tea leaves

Tea Leaf Crushing machine

The last stop on the tour, a strawberry farm, was nothing like my grandmother’s! These strawberries are mounted on waist-high beds picked year-round. At a stand on the way out, we resisted offers of strawberry sundaes and instead, purchased a tray of delicate, crimson berries dusted with powdered sugar.

Back at the Lakehouse, we enjoyed a good-bye dinner served by an Indian waiter dressed in a white shirt and spotless black vest, trousers, and shoes. Then it was time to rejoin Pacific Bliss and our simple cruising lifestyle.

I’m reminded that spring is here when I hear the birds chirping outside my bedroom. A pair of house wrens have a made a nest in my trumpet vine, protected under the eaves. They have only two babies to feed this year. Another couple perch on the balcony railing, chatting away—probably deciding where to build their own nest—until the new parents screech and chase them off. Possession is nine-tenths of the law.

P1080384 Baby birds

Spring is often the birth of new beginnings for Gunter and me as well. During the eight years of our circumnavigation, spring often brought the sailing season. It was during the spring of 2002 that we embarked on our longest voyage, from San Diego to the Marquesas Islands—twenty-one days at sea. “This will be a voyage of risk, of that I am sure, but I suspect it will also be one of renewal and reward,” I wrote.  I knew that we would never regret taking off to sea in our 43-foot catamaran, because I believed that we would eventually achieve our mission to sail around the world. And we did. It took us eight long, but rewarding, years.

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“A man is not old until regrets take the place of dreams,” said John Barrymore. Continuing to fulfill our dreams after retiring is what keeps us young.

Accomplishing much, whether it’s sailing around the world or something else, takes planning… and courage…and dreams. So I don’t fault the Kaufmans for wanting to achieve their dreams. But great gain also involves great risk. How much risk is too much is a question only they can answer. They had to suffer the setback of being rescued and sinking their sail boat, their home for eight years. That’s enough already. I wish them well.

I had a wonderful weekend attending the West Coast Multihull Rally on Catalina Island. Friday morning, I was the keynote speaker to an attentive audience of catamaran sailors. Günter and I showed the multimedia presentation “Come to the Islands” and explained how my latest book, “Sailing the South Pacific,” aids those desiring to cruise to there and how my first book, “Maiden Voyage” helps those who plan to cruise down the Pacific coast of Mexico and Central America and on to the Caribbean.  This was the longest Q&A session we’ve ever had! Sipping a Bloody Mary, no-one was in a hurry in laid-back Two Harbors.

Watching the presentation, while Bloody Marys were served at the bar.

Watching the presentation, while Bloody Marys were served at the bar.

Lois speaks to sailors attending Multihull Rally

Lois speaks to sailors attending Multihull Rally

The highlight of the three-day event was the Mardi Gras celebration on Friday night. The generous hosts, Lori and Kurt Jerman, even shipped in Louisiana crawfish. Seafood boiled in a huge pot near the harbor while we all lined up for “Hurricanes,” a New Orleans cocktail made with two kinds of rum, grenadine, and fruit juice. Picnic tables were covered with paper. Along the middle, the servers poured mountains of potatoes, corn-on-the-cob, and spicy sausage. The feast was complimented with the best cole slaw I ever tasted. As the celebration concluded with music and dancing, I was relieved that I didn’t have to speak on Saturday morning! That was to be the day of the “rally” (although when any two sailboats are headed in the same direction, everyone knows it’s a race).

Lori Jerman, Lois Joy Hofmann, and Gunter Hofmann up on the bandstand for the 8th Annual Multihull Rally

Lori Jerman, Lois Joy Hofmann, and Gunter Hofmann up on the bandstand for the 8th Annual Multihull Rally

Mardi Gras night at the Multihull Rally

Mardi Gras night at the Multihull Rally

Because we had arrived by ferry, we had time to explore Two Harbors on Saturday. I’d been to Avalon a few times, but never to this off-the-radar port. Catalina is known as “Hollywood’s Back Lot,” where Clark Gable mutinied on the Bounty, Dorothy Lamour fought off the waves in “Hurricane,” and a mechanical shark ripped tourists apart in “Jaws.”

They say that if Catalina calls to visitors across the sea, the hamlet of Two Harbors whispers. One has a feeling of stepping back in time. For example, The Isthmus Yacht Club, where we stayed, is a converted Civil War barracks, managed by the club since 1951. In 1864, the U.S. army sent soldiers to survey the area as a proposed reservation for “militant” Native Americans. That plan was never completed. The barracks were used, however, by the U.S. Coast Guard during World War II as a training station for new recruits. Nearby is one of the oldest one-room schoolhouses in the U.S. It serves grades K-5; students travel to Avalon for grades 6-12. The only hotel in Two Harbors was built by the Banning brothers as their hunting lodge. They made Avalon into a resort community and then paved the first dirt roads into the island’s interior, built lodges and led stagecoach tours. The development by the Bannings ceased after the Avalon fire of 1915 and the onset of World War I. By 1919, the Bannings were forced to sell shares. The island was used for smuggling, otter hunting, and gold digging until chewing gum magnate Wrigley bought out nearly every shareholder and began to develop it for tourism during the 1920s. Two Harbors is also one of the last remaining “company towns” in the U.S. The single restaurant, general store and Banning Lodge are all owned by the same Wrigley corporation.

We hiked from Isthmus Cove to Cat Harbor to see where the pirates, smugglers and otter traders operated in the past. These days, there is nothing other than a harbor full of yachts. On the way back, we spied buffaloes up on the hills.  (In the 1920s, 14 bison were brought to the island for the filming of “The Vanishing American” and left there.) After returning to the Yacht Club, I hiked up the nearby hill to the Banning House Lodge and asked for a tour. What a view those 12 rooms have! The Lodge overlooks both harbors—it’s an ideal place to stay and chill out for awhile.

On the ferry ride back to San Pedro, I discovered that easy-going Isthmus Cove has a recent claim to fame: According to the Catalina Express magazine, an investigation into the 1981 “drowning” of Natalie Wood was re-opened in November 2011. In the final report, issued in January of 2013, the LA coroner’s office removed the word “accidental” from the cause of death, causing new speculation. Officials said that wounds found on the actress’ forearm, wrist and knee and a superficial scrape on the forehead open the possibility that she was assaulted before drowning. Rumors of an affair between Wood and Christopher Walken, her co-star in the film Brainstorm, had circulated for weeks and her husband, Robert Wagner, later admitted that his wife had been “emotionally unfaithful.” The three of them had sailed along Catalina’s coastline and spent the day drinking at Harbor Reef Restaurant. The article continues, “The drinking and arguing continued aboard Splendour, reaching a climax when Wagner shouted at Walken and shattered a wine bottle on the table. Wood retired to her room. She was never seen alive again.”

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I’m busy writing another chapter in the second book in my nautical trilogy In Search of Adventure and Moments of Bliss: SAILING THE SOUTH PACIFIC.  This chapter is about our adventures in Fiji. I laughed about this story of our circumnavigation and decided to share it with you here:

Beaching the Cat

Before we leave Denarau to go cruising again, we will need to replace the zincs—a maintenance that must be performed every one to two years or whenever they are eaten up by electrolysis. These sacrificial electrodes are not-so-conveniently located on the bottom of the propeller shaft which entails pulling the craft out of the water or simply beaching the boat on an incline that allows access.

At 1000 we pull anchor to head for such an incline. Buried in oozy mud, the anchor makes a giant sucking sound, like the hundreds of U.S. jobs that Ross Perot said would go to Mexico with the implementation of NAFTA.

Now Pacific Bliss sits in the still bay, waiting patiently. Her instruments show Force 0 wind.  The sky is baby blue with white fleece clouds, serene as the scene on a toddler’s pajamas.

Yet Günter and I sit here watching the clock, shaking with trepidation. We are waiting for a certain moment: exactly 45 minutes after high tide. Then we will motor on to the mud bar and attempt to beach our catamaran. We ask God to make sure that our Guardian Angel comes along. Then, together, we let loose with a primal scream, “A-a-ah!” waving our hands above our heads. After sailing over 17,000 miles—one-half way around the world—we will beach Pacific Bliss for the first time.

Günter starts the engines. Events unfold as in a film set in slow motion.  We snake through the well-marked Denarau Marina channel, meeting two excursion yachts, Captain Cook Cruises and Whales Tale.  Their passengers cheerfully wave us on. A pair of moon jellyfish glide along our hull: one floats flat like a purple-rimmed plate, the other puffs open its bell, trailing translucent tentacles. We motor slowly to the row of posts where the workhorse vessels tie and straight for the post bearing the huge sign: an anchor symbol with a red slash running diagonally through it and the words NO ANCHOR.

It goes against my grain to continue to inch forward.

“Nice and easy now,” I caution Günter, who is still at the controls.

We kiss the bank, surrounded by water. No scraping. No scratching. Just a gentle settling in. We are beached.

Günter deploys the dinghy, Petit Bliss. He checks the depths at the props, dagger boards, and rudder. I dutifully mark down the measurements. “She must be resting on her belly,” says Günter.

“Two bellies. Like a pair of beached whales.”

“Piece of cake. Beaching a Cat.”

But beaching the Cat is only part of the story…the worst is yet to come.

Günter calls David, the trusty mechanic at Denarau Marine. He arrives in a small powerboat with his assistant. They get out at the same time and promptly sink up to their knees. David reaches back into his boat for a tarp and lays it down lightly over the mud to catch anything that might fall.

He knows what he’s doing.

But to get at the zincs is not easy. Both struggle to wrench the propeller free.

It’s a race against time. I can’t help holding my breath.

They finish the job before the tide rises again and take off.  Now we must stay here overnight and wait for the rising tide to free Pacific Bliss.

Pacific Bliss on Sandbar

Unbeaching the Cat

I awaken at 0600 after a fitful sleep. The most difficult part of our maneuver is yet to come. Today we must unbeach the Cat!  As I sit at the helm seat with my morning coffee, the sun breaks dramatically over the highlands of Viti Levu. The tide is rising nicely. Pacific Bliss shifts in her muddy cradle, adding a little more weight toward the stern. I see that as a good sign, perhaps she will float off all by herself at high tide!

Captain Günter is not persuaded. His dire ruminations kept him awake most of the night. He fears that we have miscalculated.

“How could that have happened,” I ask, “despite our careful planning? We beached Pacific Bliss at exactly one hour after high tide, so that the high tide the next day would float her off.”

“Here’s the problem,” Günter says. “Every night since the highest tide at the recent full moon, the high tide is less. So for May 20th the tide table forecasts 1.7 meters at 0932.  For May 21st, it predicts 1.6 meters at 1029. Remember, the evening tide at 2227, which we stayed up for, was a little lower than the daytime tide: 1.5 meters. We didn’t want to float her off in the dark anyway…but when we walked around the top deck at 10:30 p.m., she was clearly not floating.

“What else could we have done?”

“We should have been more conservative. Maybe we should have waited until two hours after high tide. We left little margin to allow for a falling high tide… in fact, to be really conservative, we should have planned this maneuver during a rising high tide, before the full moon.

Waiting on this mud bank for the next full moon, however, was not a viable option. Why bring it up?  But I know better than to talk out loud right now.

Fortunately we are in mud instead of sand,” Günter continues.  “It should be easy to hire workmen to dig two channels to pull the hulls back.  But that would mean at least another day here…Unfortunately, we are in the mud instead of sand. Pacific Bliss could have settled in with all her weight, nesting comfortably in a cradle of mud. After all, she didn’t budge at high tide last night.”

We decide to tie our extra long “palm-tree line” to one of the poles to which the barges tie up. We winch it tight. The tide rises slowly—much too slowly. Günter takes a measurement at the swim ladder. It is 3.1 feet versus 3.5 feet when we beached. The bottoms of the dagger boards are stuck tight into the mud. Günter has lifted them up as far as they will go.

He starts the engines. “Let’s just give it a little test.” Pacific Bliss does not budge.

“See that barge over there!” I point. Maybe he could help.”

Günter talks to the barge captain on VHF Channel 69. The captain agrees to deploy his powerboat at 1015, 15 minutes before high tide. It has a 30 horsepower outboard motor. If that fails to work, he’ll use the big barge proper. “But I do not think that will be necessary,” he says.

For a five long minutes we agonize over the potential damage to the dagger boards, or worse yet, the rudders. Then we pray again for the safety of Pacific Bliss.

Now it is time for action. Günter deploys a second heavy line to use, if needed, as a towline for the barge. Promptly at 1015 a man motions to me from the barge. I signal for him to come over. Günter offers the captain and crew $50 Fijian to help get us off, money well spent.

Mechanic Changes Zincs on Sandbar

We fashion a bridle to the powerboat and cleat it at each stern hull of Pacific Bliss.  Günter begins to rev both of our 40hp engines in reverse. The men in the boat pull their line taut. We have also winched the long line to the pole taut.

It is 1030, high tide.

“Let her roll!” Günter says.

Engines scream. The reluctant mud makes another giant sucking sound and gives up her prey.  Pacific Bliss leaps back with joy. Her engines purr. She is so happy to be out of the mud!

After all, she is a sailing vessel, not a pig. 

But it’s never over until it’s over. I always find it amazing how fast a positive situation can deteriorate on a boat. The barge crew fails to watch the towline. They let it go slack. Their line begins to drift underneath our prop. Thank God, our engines are back to neutral! Günter quickly dons his mask and fins and dives underneath the hull to free the line.

We have arranged to berth on Denarau Marine’s dock, next to the mega yachts.

But first, we anchor in the bay, wash down the Pacific Bliss decks with our salt-water hose, and share a can of ice cold Fiji Bitter. “To no…more…adventures,” I toast.

“Here’s to no more adventures for a very long time…but I know they’ll come,” Günter adds.

Hurricane Irene and Cyclone Waka

There is no comparison between the intensity of Hurricane Irene, now downgraded to a Category 1, and Cyclone Waka (renamed Wiki due to the severity of damage).  Her category 4, 115 mph winds devastated the South Pacific in the waning days of 2001. During our eight-year circumnavigation on our sailing catamaran, Pacific Bliss, Gunter and I visited the Vavau Island Group in the Kingdom of Tonga. We arrived a full nine months after the storm had wrought her damage, yet we came upon people in remote areas who were still suffering. For them, there was no government safety net, no FEMA disaster supplies, and no officials to help the stranded. We anchored in Hunga Lagoon and brought what supplies we had on board to the villagers on top of the hill. This is our story, excerpted from the second book in my “In Search of Adventure and Moments of Bliss” trilogy, to be called “Sailing the South Pacific:”

Giving Is Receiving

Hunga Lagoon, Ika Lahi Resort, Vava’u, Tonga

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

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

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

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

Most of the waterfront docks and structures had to be rebuilt. The governments of other South Pacific countries such as French Polynesia contributed workers and materials to rebuild schools and hospitals. Missions and charities rebuilt churches and handed out food necessary for survival. But for the inhabitants of Vava’u, there was no such thing as government aid to rebuild. Nine months later, these poor people are still recovering.

In Hunga, the village near where our yacht, Pacific Bliss, is anchored, the villagers staggered drunkenly in the wind as their homes fell around them, the sand stinging their faces like icy sleet. They ran for cover to whatever dwelling was still standing, carrying a few meager possessions with them. Coconuts thudded on roofs and cisterns with the force of exploding cannonballs. Shade trees were uprooted and torn apart until none were left standing in the little village. Every gust of wind hurled more branches and debris against any structures left standing until the landscape was finally flat.

Then came the rains.

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

But then came the sun.

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

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

We arrive here, almost nine months later, to find that the lush vegetation has returned to Tonga’s beloved Vava’u.  There’s no doubt about the lasting after-effects of Cyclone Waka as we cruise through the islands: Overturned boats and canoes still line the shores and reefs of the anchorages and lagoons. The luxuriant new growth doesn’t hide the uprooted trees, sawed-off tree trunks, and stacks of old wood that contrast with the few newly-constructed buildings. For the 80 percent of the population that lives off the land, recovery is painfully slow. It can take up to ten years for a coconut tree to bear fruit. Replanting right after the storm meant using nuts that the farmers could have used immediately for food. Newly-planted banana plants will not bear fruit until the following year. The most immediate crop is the papalangi (European) vegetables such as tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, string beans, and cabbage—the produce that we have been enjoying here. These vegetables could be produced quickly and sold at the markets in Neiafu in return for nails and building materials. Fish from the sea, of course, was another source of income.

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

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Path from Village

Tongan Family in Hunga