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

Pacific Bliss docks in Levuka, Fiji

Pacific Bliss docks in Levuka, Fiji

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

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

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

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

Pacific Bliss, the only boat at the dock

Pacific Bliss, the only boat at the dock

Main-Street,-Levuka,-Fiji

Main Street, Levuka, Fiji

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lovoni Village, built on the crater of an extinct volcano

Lovoni Village, built on the crater of an extinct volcano

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Helmut, Lydia and Gunter at Levuka, Fiji Ports Authority

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

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

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

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

Planters Club, Savusavu, Fiji

Planters Club, Savusavu, Fiji

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About the Author: Lois and Günter Hofmann lived their dream by having a 43-foot ocean-going catamaran built for them in the south of France and sailing around the world. Learn more about their travel adventures by reading Lois’s award winning nautical adventure trilogy. Read more about Lois and her adventures at her website and stay in touch with Lois by liking her Facebook page.

 


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

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

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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

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

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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

Patrick Murphy

Patrick Murphy

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

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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

Dinner Party

A fabulous dinner party.

About the Author: Lois and Günter Hofmann lived their dream by having a 43-foot ocean-going catamaran built for them in the south of France and sailing around the world. Learn more about their travel adventures by reading Lois’s award-winning nautical adventure trilogy, now on sale for the Holidays.

Sailing books by Lois Joy Hofmann

In Search of Adventure and Moments of Bliss Trilogy.


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.”

This slideshow requires JavaScript.