A Wild Ride

JC rain pic.sm

A sailing passage can be like a small-scale version of life. There is joy and hardship, wonder and despair. It was only eight days from Key West to Panamá aboard Flying Fish, but it seemed like forever–and that is a good thing. How many more times will two brothers sail together with a father who introduced them to this world?

Each of us knew that this passage south would be a test. None of us realized how close this test came to be the final exam. There was a sweeping low pressure system that dropped deeper into the Caribbean than was forecast and it brought with it gale force winds and huge disoriented seas. We could not outrun this storm. Torrential rain and breaking waves shut down our temperamental navigation system. An electrical fault in the ship’s generator filled the cabin of Flying Fish with smoke from burning wires. Our landfall at Bocas del Toro, Panamá, at 1AM in a shrieking squall with zero visibility through an unmarked channel, was nothing but by the grace of God.

Selective memory usually means bad things that happen are forgotten and good things are retained. On this passage we took such a beating that those moments of wonder and joy are returning more slowly. The takeaway is (after two days of solid sleep), that despite this first passage nearly terminating in a catastrophic end, I have never felt more alive.

I remember a short period of time off the northwestern coast of Cuba when the winds moderated at sunset and we were able to tune in the radio to a baseball game between the Havana Industriales and the Vegueros of Pinar del Río. Our stomachs even tolerated a Cuban Cerveza Cristal and some salted peanuts in the shell.  In the Yucatán Channel, the fishing rod bent double and brother Bob pulled in a bull dolphin (mahi) which he then cooked into one of the best meals of the passage. And on one evening watch off Nicaragua’s Miskito Coast, during the intense black of night that precedes a moonrise, we sailed through a massive school of our namesake flying fish. Illuminated by the green glow of the starboard running light and their own bioluminescence, the flying fish exploded away from the hull of the boat like a fuselage of fireworks. Watching this with Dad at my side I asked, “Is this a dream?” The question was immediately answered with a thud to the back of my head. A flying fish had miscalculated its airspace.

These are the memories we keep. To be able to share them with family is an extraordinary privilege. I am stronger today because of these eight days together on Flying Fish. In life, and on this sailing passage to Panamá, my brother and my father have always had my back.

12 thoughts on “A Wild Ride

  1. That’s amazing Jeffrey! Glad you guys are all ok.
    Really enjoyed the part about the school of flying fish. Picturing that in my mind from that great description was fantastic!


  2. What a fantastic adventure! This first passage sounds exhilarating, & exhausting. So glad you made it through the storm, & you got to share this voyage with your dad & brother. I too love the tale of the flying fish school, & could picture it as you described the scene. I’m so enjoying reading, & wish you smooth sailing & many moments of wonder in your next passage!


  3. Back home in spite of Panamanian customs and immigration desire to keep us in Boca. I want to discuss plans with you. Call me when you have a few minutes. I loveyou and thank you for the wonderful opportunity to spend time with you and Bob on your start of plans for a journey of a lifetime. Dad >


  4. Well written. We could picture your experience vividly through your words. Having your trip start as a “lion”, let’s hope you are now in “lamb” mode. Sail on with safe seas and may your exhilaration come from the sights and people you meet along the way.


  5. Aileen shared your blog with me. What a wonderful description of your perilous voyage to Panama. I especially enjoyed the ‘flying fish’ encounter, and felt like I was sharing your “dream.”
    Be safe, Jeffrey. You are a courageous soul.


    • Jeffrey “Ahab” Cardenas….Vicarious is the only word that comes to me….You are a watermans “waterman” – truly unbelievable…. the challenges you take on boggle my mind…Godspeed brother…Hope you can ride some waves during your voyage…. dave


  6. Thank you for sharing this. Nice to get some heavy weather early. Build confidence in yourself and your boat. Sounds as if both are good. I read somewhere once that, when coming through a storm, sailors begin to really believe in God. Vaya con Dios!


  7. You took my friend and i on our very first key west flats fishing trip 35 years ago. Just found a pix of you poling us.Read your book to the Marquesas.You
    are my idol! Fish and sail on!


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