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.