Gunter and I first landed on Turkey’s shores in the summer of 2007. We confidently left Pacific Bliss “on the hard” in Marmaris Yacht Marina. The following spring, we returned to Turkey for the final leg of our sailing circumnavigation. While touring Istanbul, I was surprised to learn that tulips and St. Nick both originated in that country.

That spring, Istanbul was alive and glowing, in a festive mood. The city was celebrating its annual tulip festival, and colorful blooms were everywhere. Istanbul, with its bridges across the Bosporus Strait, straddles the two continents of Europe and Asia. After enjoying the city for two days, my husband Gunter and I took a ferry trip to view the city from the river. It was a sun-splashed Sunday. We spent hours relaxing and chatting about Turkey’s past and its hopes for the future. Much of the conversation centered around the peoples’ love and respect for Atatürk, a charismatic leader, military genius, and celebrated reformer who modernized Turkey. “He made Turkey a secular country,” our said proudly.  “As a result, Turkey will never be like the other Muslim countries; in fact, we look forward to joining the EU.” The future for Turkey looked as rosy as those tulips fronting every landmark from the Blue Mosque to the Aya Sofya.

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We ordered coffees, and while we waited for them, our guide changed to another topic, the legend of St. Nick. “Did you know he came from Turkey?”

“I had no idea!” I replied. “I thought the Saint might have come from Russia. Our own legend is that he and his elves and reindeer live at the North Pole.”

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“I know your popular image is of the big belly, the white beard, and his reindeer, but that depiction came from your Coca-Cola ads in the 1930s.  Here’s the real story: Centuries before the Ottoman Empire, St. Nick got his start as a fourth-century bishop in what is now Turkey. He was born a rich man’s son, but he took his inheritance and gave it to the poor, supposedly dropped down chimneys. Poor people in Turkey are very proud; they would not have accepted gifts if he had just handed them to him.”

We all take a sip of our Turkish coffees while we listen intently. “Mainly, St. Nicolas helped the children and gave them gifts.”

“Where in Turkey did he come from?” Gunter asked.

“There is a statue of him with children in Demre, a town in Southern Turkey, and the old Byzantine Church of St. Nicholas is there.  Lots of Russians go there, but it’s not big on tourism.”

Reportedly, the Islamist government of President Erdogan has worked hard to promote the country’s Ottoman history, but he has repeatedly ignored Turkey’s rightful place in Christian history. I don’t expect the current government to promote the St. Nicholas story.

This Christmas of 2016, I look back on that Turkish Spring of eight years ago. And I fear for Turkey’s future. Turkey is overwhelmed with problems—frequent terror attacks, huge populations of Syrian refugees, and mass arrests and incarcerations after a failed coup. All this makes the country dangerous and drives tourists away. I don’t know whether I’ll ever visit Turkey again, but the country and its people will always hold a special place in my heart.

A very merry Christmas to you and yours!

 

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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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“We are all in the same boat, and we only have one boat.” –Paul Anastas

Circumnavigators, of all people, appreciate how the earth is one. While sailing from San Diego to the Marquesas Islands, twenty-one days without the sight of land, I would marvel at the curved horizon all around us; we were right in the middle of the dark blue sea.

Breathtaking days were followed by overwhelming nights. I wrote these words in my journal and later in my book, Maiden Voyage:

Pacific Bliss glides gently forward, skimming the ocean waves. I know she’s moving because I hear the slosh-slosh of her hulls against the waves and the occasional creak-creak of the mainsail swaying as it tries to touch the stars. I feel like I’m encased in a giant dome, surrounded by stars crowded together so tightly they resemble a thousand Milky Ways. I am mesmerized. I find many sections of the sky so dense with stars that I cannot separate the individual star from the primordial soup. I am seeing constellations that I’ve never seen nor heard of before, lights that have taken millions of light years to come to me.

I feel unimportant, insignificant. That’s how it is at sea, a mystical experience almost impossible to duplicate on land.

“A wonderful, starry night,” I write in my logbook at the end of my watch, “the stuff of dreams.”

NASA astronomer John O’Keefe said that, to the astronomer, the earth is a very sheltered and protected place. A marvelous picture from Apollo 8 show the blue and cloud-wrapped earth, seen just at the horizon of the black-cratered, torn, and smashed lunar landscape. The contrast would not be lost on any creature. The thought, “God loves those people,” cannot be resisted. Yet the moon is a friendly place compared to Venus, where, from skies 40 km high, a rain of concentrated sulfuric acid falls toward a surface that is as hot as boiling lead. Then O’Keefe goes on to say that Venus is friendly compared to the crushing pressure of white dwarfs or the unspeakable horrors of the black holes of neutron stars. He writes:

We are by astronomical standards, a pampered, cosseted, cherished group of creatures…If the Universe had not been made with the most exacting precision we could never have come into existence. It is my view that these circumstances were created for man to live in…Someone made a lot of special arrangements and took a lot of time so that each of us could be alive and experiencing this just-right world.

 

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As shown from page 28,  In Search of Adventure and Moments of Bliss: Maiden Voyage

“The earth is what we all have in common,” said Naturalist and writer, Wendell Barry. During this Earth Week, and every day of the year, is up to each of us to cherish this gift and to treat it with the respect it deserves.

 

Those who know me understand why I thought of our 43-foot catamaran as a person. And yes, she has a “voice.” Here is one of her sailors’ tales, written on the 6th day of a passage from the Maldives to Salalah, Oman. Position: 14º17´N, 59º23´E

Pacific Bliss

I’m Pacific Bliss, and I have my own story to tell. I wasn’t too happy last night. I droned along—as blissful as can be on a glassy sea—giving my wings a rest. My navigator was busy at the nav station entering comments into the logbook about the three fishing boats at the horizon to my port. “3-4 miles off,” she wrote. She could see that horizon under the light of a half-moon, beaming a silvery path right to the port helm seat. My able-bodied seaman Chris had just gone off watch. And my Captain was sawing logs, storing up energy for the dogleg watch.

All of a sudden, I was trapped like a hunted prey, my engine gasping for breath. And I’m a huge whale of prey, at 12 tons. My daggerboards were trapped at one side of a huge black net, and both my hulls were wrapped at the stern. I was helpless! I must say; my crew rose to the occasion. Lois ran to the helm. Chris was out of his bunk like a flash and shut off the engine. Gunter heard the commotion breaking through his dreams and arrived topsides, wearing nothing but a pair of shorts. My crew does take care of me. I’m important—and they know it.

Even so, it took them awhile to get me out of this predicament. First, they took down my sails so I couldn’t press forward. Then they raised both daggerboards all the way up to free the forward side of the net. But it was still wrapped around my stern—on both sides. White floats held the net, and one big float, the bitter end I think, was bobbing at the port side, trying to sneak underneath.

My crew used every hook on board to try to get that net free, to no avail. They discussed going down below me, into that deep dark sea, but no-one wanted to do that at night. I don’t blame them; that net was heavy and still attached to a fishing boat over four miles away.

As Lois and Chris peered over the port side, they heard the blow of a whale coming for air— three times to be exact. I wonder what happens to one of those whales caught in a net like that. I know what happens to dolphins and sea turtles; they struggle and drown. Poor things!

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Well, Chris managed to push that big float underneath me with that big hook we have on board. The float slid underneath me, past the rudder and sail drive, and out into the sea. That left only a small section of the net at my starboard stern. He pushed that down with the same hook and finally we were free. My engines started again, and we continued motoring to our destination.

Later on Captain Gunter’s watch, another fisherman hailed us on the VHF. He didn’t speak English well, but he gave his position. “Is that your net or your boat position?” Lois asked him three times. (She was still up after her watch, keeping Gunter company, “teaming up,” they call it.) Finally, the man gave her two lats and longs, one for the boat and another for the net. Turns out his net was 10 kilometers long (that’s about 6 miles for you Americans who still do not understand the metric system). We had to deviate course for some time.

Frankly friends, I’m relieved to hear that we have only 350 miles to go to Salalah. I’m tired of these Indian Ocean fishing nets, tired of sailing, and quite ready for a rest!

“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.

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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.

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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.

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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? 

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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

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
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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.

 

 

With the world news focused on wars in the Middle East wars and the plight of more than 50 million displaced people, highest since World War II, we tend to pay scant attention to a few disputed reefs in the South China Sea. But this sea and what’s above and below those reefs are more important than you may think.

First, this is the geographical meeting place where Southeast Asia’s 600 million people converge with China’s 1.3 billion people and the Indian subcontinent’s 1.5 billion people. The South China Sea is the throat of the Western Pacific and Indian Oceans, where sea routes merge.  More than half of the world’s annual merchant fleet tonnage passes through the choke points of the Malacca, Sunda, Lombok, and Makassar straits. When Gunter and I sailed through the Malacca Strait, the most dangerous in the world, we were astonished to learn that the oil transported through that strait was triple the amount that travels through the Suez Canal and fifteen times the amount that transits the Panama Canal. Last week, while researching the Asian section of “The Long Way Back,” I learned that approximately two thirds of South Korea’s energy supplies, nearly 60 percent of Japan’s and Taiwan’s energy, and 80 percent of China’s crude imports come through the South China Sea.

Second, more important than its location, is the fact that this area has proven reserves—lots of it—seven billion barrels of oil, as well as an estimated 900 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. China calculates that this sea will eventually yield 130 billion barrels of oil, more than Saudi Arabia! A second “Persian Gulf” in Asia could overcome the need for oil to pass through the dangerous Malacca Strait.

A third reason why the South China Sea is important is that it is on its way to become the most contested body of water in the world. Countries lining the South China Sea are scrambling for territory and power. Anyone who speculates that with the onset of globalization, territorial disputes have become “so last century” should observe what is happening here, where geography is destiny.” Just maybe Mark Twain was right in quipping “God created war so that Americans would learn geography.” The South China Sea is home to more than two hundred small islands, rocks, and coral reefs—only about a dozen of which are permanently above water. Yet the geostrategic importance is significant. Take the Spratlys, with significant oil and gas deposits, for example: These reef islands are claimed in full by China, Taiwan and Vietnam, and in part by Malaysia, the Philippines, and Brunei. China has built concrete helipads and military structures on seven reefs and shoals. On Mischief Reef, China has constructed a three-story building and 5 other military structures. On Johnson Reef, China put up a structure armed with high-powered machine guns. On other reefs, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia and the Philippines have naval structures, runways, piers, and storage tanks. See figure 1.

FIGURE 1: Spratly Islands military settlements by countries claiming rights.

FIGURE 1: Spratly Islands military settlements by countries claiming rights.

China’s maps dating back centuries (see figure 2) claim a historic nine-dash line, or “cow’s tongue” looping the entire South China Sea from China’s Hainan Island 1,200 miles south to Singapore and Malaysia. All of these weaker, littoral states are more or less arrayed against China and dependent on the United States for diplomatic and military backing. Conflicting claims will only increase; energy consumption in developing Asian countries is expected to double by 2030, with China accounting for half of that growth.

FIGURE 2: The nine-dash line, or tongue, (highlighted in green) of the South China Sea claimed by China but disputed by others.

FIGURE 2: The nine-dash line, or tongue, (highlighted in green) of the South China Sea claimed by China but disputed by others.

China has built dredged platforms with runways long enough to land her jet fighters and has been declaring maritime sovereignty in the area for some time. Under President Xi Jinping, China wants to break an American circle of alliances that reaches from the Korean peninsula through Japan and the Philippines. America’s future as a maritime power in the Asia-Pacific and the security guarantees to its allies—all of them concerned about China’s growing military might—is at stake. The U.S. sent a blunt but restrained message last week by sailing the USS Larsen, a guided missile destroyer, within 12 nautical miles of Subi Reef.

This struggle for balance of power will most likely continue for decades. “…there is no philosophical enemy to confront,” postulates Robert Kaplan, author of Asia’s Cauldron. “The fact is that East Asia is all about trade and business…While the language at Asian summits will be soft, the deployment of warships in disputed areas will be hard.”

The trajectory of this huge region could change, making the Pacific I love not so pacific in the future.

BLOG SOURCES:

Wall Street Journal, Oct. 28, “Horizon Shifts in Spratly Islands Dispute” 

China’s Pacific Overtures,” Simon Winchester, New York Times

Credits: Wikipedia commons.

Books: Asia’s Cauldron, Robert D. Kaplan; Pacific, Simon Winchester