I’m sitting on the top deck of the Ariana while the sun shines on the rippled but peaceful Danube River below. Controlled by numerous dams and locks, the medieval wildness of the Danube has been tamed centuries ago. We began our trip in Passau, Germany; we’ll reach the delta of the Black Sea before turning around to head back.

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The view from our cabin while traveling through Germany to our first destination in Austria

Called the King of Rivers by Napoleon, the Danube is really the Prince. The King title belongs to the Volga, the great River in Russia that drains into the Caspian Sea and is 500 miles longer than the Danube. And even though the Danube is the second longest in Europe, it is only the 25th longest in the world. The Danube begins in Germany’s Black Forest and ends on the Romanian and Ukrainian shores, in the delta region of the Black Sea, 1777 miles away.

While sailing, I’m reading “The Danube, a Cultural History, by Andrew Beattie.” He relates the stories of empires that have risen and fallen along the Danube, from Macedonians, to Romans, to the Hapsburgs, the Ottomans, to the Nazis, and most recently, the countries that have shrugged off the yoke of Communist Socialism.

I wondered how such a river affecting so many countries could be governed. The book covers this in its last chapter. In 1946 a council of European foreign ministers announced the creation of the International Danube Commission, with headquarters in Budapest, Hungary. At first, only the Eastern bloc countries, along with Yugoslavia, formed this new body; then Austria joined in 1960. Germany did not join until after the  fall of communism. With the break-up of the Balkans in the 1990s, the commission rose to ten countries, with Slovakia succeeding Czechoslovakia, Serbia and Croatia succeeding Yugoslavia, and Moldova and Ukraine succeeding the USSR. There is probably no other river in the world whose navigable length is of such international complexity!

During this trip, we will see a panoply of flags displayed on the boats that ply this river. Just as during our world sailing circumnavigation on Pacific Bliss, it doesn’t matter much what one’s nationality is. In this river, we are all Mariners.

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During our sailing circumnavigation, Pacific Bliss anchored near a resort called Sea World on the island of Flores in Indonesia. From there, hired a guide to take our group up to the legendary crater lakes of Kelimutu. The following is excerpted from my forthcoming book, “In Search of Adventure and Moments of Bliss: The Long Way Back.”

As I photograph the unfolding panorama surrounding me, a mysterious mist appears and disappears over the crater lakes. At first I wait for the mist to clear to take my series of photos.  Then as the mist wafts in again, I realize that I like this eerie effect. It fits with the legends of the many moods of Kelimutu.

To think that only yesterday, we stood at a concrete tower at the summit of the topmost volcano, at 1600 meters (4800 feet), where we could look down on all three crater lakes at once. What a sight! The largest lake gleamed like an emerald, but reflected a deep green teal. The lake nearby looked rusty brown, and the third, pitch black. But they are not always so. These legendary lakes have a reputation for changing colors, depending on their moods.

According to the Lonely Planet, Indonesia, “Of all the incredible sights in Nusa Tengara, (comprising the islands of Sumba, West Timor, Alor, Solar, Flores, Lombok, and Sumbawa), the colored lakes of Kelimutu are undoubtedly the most spectacular…A few years ago, the colors were blue, maroon and black. Back in the 1960s, it is said that the colors were blue, red-brown, and café au lait.”

The cause of the colors and the reason why they change is a mystery. When the mist blows over the desolate moonscape at the top, the entire area takes on an ethereal atmosphere that makes one think of ghosts and goblins and myths. The locals say that the souls of the dead go to these three lakes: young’uns go to the warmth of Tiwu Nuwa Muri Koo Fai (the teal lake); old people go to the cold of Tiwi Ala Mbupu (the brown lake); and the thieves and murderers to Tiwi Ata Polo (the black lake).

Scientists say that different minerals are dissolved in each lake, but how does that explain its many moods? The Indonesia Handbook, published by Footprints, claims that the lakes changed colors 37 times in the last 50 years! In the 1970s, they say, the lakes were red, white, and blue—giving way to black/maroon, iridescent green and yellow-green. In 1997, they supposedly underwent a transformation to brown/black, café au lait, and milky blue. 

These lakes, legends have it, are resting places for souls called by the Mutu (hence the name Kelimutu; keli means mountain.) When those eerie mists come, someone is thought to be passing on. I capture mists drifting over the mountain every five or ten minutes. Lots of spirits here today. Snap. Snap. Snap.

Have you traveled to places with local legends? Where? What did you think of them?

You’ve probably heard of “slow travel” but not of “slow cruising.” Previously, I thought of slow travel as being the type of travel we did when we traveled inland on trains, planes and caravans through Australia. And slow cruising was sailing our catamaran Pacific Bliss. During our recent Mexican Riviera Cruise, however, my husband Gunter and I created our own version of slow cruising, but on a Cruise Ship, no less.

For my birthday last January, Gunter wanted to take me away on a trip. But he knew I’d be working on my book, so he asked me how we could accomplish both goals. “Let’s just do something that doesn’t involve flying, changing time zones, or packing for different climates,” I suggested.

Gunter chose a Mexican Riviera Cruise on the Veendam. We’d cruised on around South America two years ago on board this smaller-size Holland-America ship (See that blog at https://sailorstales.wordpress.com/2012/04/05/bigbucketcruise/). “This cruise has three sea days for you to write, lounging on our veranda deck while the ocean passes by,” he cajoled. “And only one of the three ports-of-call—Mazlatlan—will be a port where we have not visited together before. Should be easy and relaxing, only seven days.

Perfect!

We found that taking a vacation along with 1300 passengers need not be stressful. During the process, we developed a few guidelines for slow cruising:

  • Don’t sign up for shore excursions. Do your own thing, so that you can leave and return to the ship when you want. Avoid standing in long lines and crowding into packed elevators by departing after the tour groups have gone.
  • Do take advantage of the pool and Jacuzzi deck when it’s quiet—with most of the passengers off touring. Enjoy those hamburgers and drinks brought right to your lounge chair on deck.
  • Don’t dress for those pictures and formal nights each time they are offered. You can always go upstairs for casual dining.
  • Only mad dogs and Englishmen tour in the heat of the day. After your trip to shore, do come back to the ship to enjoy a well-deserved siesta in your air-conditioned room.
  • Get off the grid for as many days as you can. You’ll avoid roaming charges on your cell phone and you’ll escape the pressures of waiting in lines at internet cafes or paying per- minute fees on board for satellite connections.

Slow cruising can be an easy, pressure-free way to take a relaxing break. Remember, adversity is inevitable; stress is optional!

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We recently spent three weeks in Europe. My husband Günter was born in Munich. Everyone in his family—except for Sabine and Markus—still lives in the area. During this trip, in addition to the usual relative visits, we managed to squeeze in some city tours. Our French friends came to stay at a hotel with us for the first week and we explored Munich together. During the second week, we took a 3-day bus trip to Prague. And during the third week, we took a 3-day train trip to Vienna. A quick tour of these European cities only made me want to see more. Someday! I’ll be sharing the highlights with you as I download my photos.

Friends Forever

August 27, 2013

Forever is a very long time; that’s why I question the casual BFF phrase that’s currently in vogue in social media. Best friends do not see each other for years and yet they pick up right where they left off. The close connection goes well beyond time and space. We know that wherever we are in our lives we will always remain friends.

When one couple becomes best friends with another couple, that relationship becomes doubly special. Such is the relationship Günter and I have with our friends, Claudie and Jean-Claude.

Jean-Claude and Claudie in Munich

Jean-Claude and Claudie in Munich

We met this delightful French couple while waiting in line at the immigration counter to exit Costa Rica. That encounter is described in my first book, Maiden Voyage, beginning with page 182. From there on, we became Buddy Boats, sailing—and sometimes racing—Makoko, their Super Maramu, hard on the wind, up the Pacific Coast as far north as Acapulco, Mexico.

Cruisers make friends quickly. No matter what their previous stations in life, at sea, they all face the same challenges—storms, navigation issues, and boat break-downs. We cruisers see each other at one port or another, and whether five days or five months have passed, we pick up our shared pasts in a flash. We bond, because we have all been there, done that, in the same wars. Despite that closeness, the end of a voyage is often the end of the close friendship, unless the cruisers make definite plans to meet again, either during another voyage or on land.

In our case, Jean-Claude and Claudie have become best friends. They visited us during the off-season at our home in San Diego. Then the following year, we sailed with them throughout French Polynesia. Some of those adventures with them are described in my second book, Sailing the South Pacific. During another off-season, we visited them and their family in Grimaud, in the south of France. And so our friendship continued. We weren’t always on the same schedule or even in the same parts of the world, but we kept in touch. And finally, they attended our circumnavigation party in Canet, France, where we “crossed the line” after eight years of sailing. That was the last time we saw them, in 2008.

This week when we all checked into the Glasl’s Landhotel in Zornedig near Munich, the four of us found that—really—nothing had changed.  Our grandchildren had grown, of course, but we picked up right where we left off, laughing and joking as before, while Gunter proudly showed off his birthplace.

The following poem says it all:

Friends will
Come and friends
Will go.

The seasons
Change and it
Will show.

I will age and so will
You.

But our
Friendship stays
Strong and true.

© Travis D. Phillips

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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Two plaques hang in our guest bathroom, one of a humpback whale surfacing, another of a baby humpback swimming atop its mother’s back. They are both signed by the artist, Sheri. Like most of the art in our home, this piece has a back story.

P1040744 Humpback Whales in Tonga

Humpback Whales in Tonga

Gunter tells the story on page 148 of Sailing the South Pacific:

The Eye of the Whale: A Moment of BlissBy Günter

Our guide spots a mother humpback whale with her calf; she orders the driver to approach them slowly. Then at the spot where we had last seen them, the four of us on this excursion, along with our guide, take to the water with our snorkeling gear. With my face down, I do not see anything right away. Suddenly, I see something right below me—big and white. Then I realize that what I am seeing is the mother on her back, letting the calf drink her milk. In the next moment, the calf begins to surface very close to me, just a few arm lengths away. It comes up and looks at me with a large black eye as large as a dinner plate. I am mesmerized. I cannot move.

I feel intimately connected to this animal in a very friendly way. I have a very strong urge to touch it. So I swim a few feet toward it and reach out with my arm. That is too close for the whale’s comfort! The calf rolls on its back and paddles away from me with a few powerful strokes of its large flippers. In doing this, one of its flippers hits me on the right shoulder. It feels like being slapped with a big piece of wood. I’m not injured, but the spell is broken. I become concerned that the mother will surface and toss me into the air. However, she doesn’t; she is a gracious creature who forgives my intrusion.

The Moment of Bliss in which I felt deeply connected to this fellow animal is gone. What is left is a scolding from the guide. I had violated the rules of engagement in the Whale Watcher’s Guide. I feel like a little schoolboy being reprimanded by the principal. But she is right. It is a very dangerous thing that I did.

Back in the anchorages, we find a houseboat with a sign saying ARK GALLERY. We motor over with our dinghy. We tell Sheri, the artist/owner, about Günter’s experience. “Then you will want a souvenir of that experience,” she says. “Here’s a set of plaques that I painted of those whales. One of the humpback surfacing. The other, as you can see, of the baby swimming above the mother.”

I love them!  There is no need to negotiate. I pay the price. I know exactly where they will hang in our home.

I love voyages!  I love mixing it up: the inner spiritual voyage and the outer physical voyage. While taking the “outer voyage,” circumnavigating the world––34,000 nautical miles in a 43-foot catamaran––I was taking an inner voyage as well.  Our ship’s library was stocked with hundreds of books.

After becoming a landlubber again, I began to consolidate my eighteen journals into a trilogy called “In Search of Adventure and Moments of Bliss.” In the process, I undertook yet another voyage. Because, as Henry Miller once said, “Writing, like life itself, is a voyage of discovery.  The adventure is a metaphysical one: it is a way of approaching life indirectly, of acquiring a total rather than a partial view of the universe. The writer lives between the upper and lower worlds: he takes the path in order eventually to become the path himself.”

After the creative exhilaration of writing each chapter of the second book in my trilogy, “Sailing the South Pacific,” came months of grueling rewriting, editing, polishing, and proofing.  And just when I thought I was sailing toward the home stretch, all kinds of production problems reared their ugly heads.  But finally, all of them were solved, and there I was at LightSource Printing in Anaheim, watching the cover of my new book roll off the press.

Last Friday, the first copies of the book came out of Bindery, and were delivered to my home.  The remainder will be delivered to Amazon and other outlets this week.

I tell my audiences that I write to share with them the stories of my adventures and moments of bliss. That’s true. I do write to share.

Today though, I realize that Miller was right. Writing also allows me to take yet another Voyage of Discovery. It has been quite the trip!