The Rhythm of a Passage


Flying Fish running hard before the wind on passage from Vanuatu to Australia. © Jeffrey Cardenas

There is a peculiar rhythm to a sailing passage. It often takes a few days for a sailor to become completely in synch with the boat. The ocean is a foreign environment for human beings, but that is exactly why some of us go to sea. We want unpredictability, to break out of routine, to be surprised. Be careful what you wish for.

Log Entry / 22 June 2019–Underway!

Flying Fish is departing Mele Bay, Vanuatu for Cairns, Australia 1,326 nautical miles west. I am making a rare sunset departure on this passage but weather conditions are perfect–a clear sky and 15 knots of tradewinds from the east. I am rested and eager to sail. As the light fades there is a bright but waning moon over the island of Efate. Low tide and an offshore breeze fill the air with the fecund aroma of Vanuatu’s rich volcanic earth.

Log Entry / 23 June–A quick nap on the first night offshore and erratic dreams crowd my subconscious. Why can’t they be erotic dreams instead? I wake with a shutter convinced that there is an oversized wharf rat scuttling across the cabin floor of Flying Fish. Of course there is no rat, but the dream was so vivid. Why a rat dream? Where is that coming from? This passage feels different. There is a sense of foreboding. Careful, careful, careful…

Despite the bizarre dreams, there is a sublime reality to the beginning of this passage. I love the feeling of all three sails on this cutter pulling tightly together on a broad reach over an easy sea. Flying Fish moves through the water like music; there is the pitch of the wind, the tempo of the boat’s motion among the waves. When all the sails are trimmed correctly Flying Fish sings along in the key of the sea.

Log Entry / 24 JuneThere is a change in the weather. It is expected but not welcomed. Wind gusts push over 30 knots and are combined with increasing sea conditions. The course to Australia is due west but a strong swell is developing from the south. Waves are hitting the boat broadside.

The concern is not the strength of the wind, or the size of the seas. At issue is swell direction. The tops of some waves are breaking. I cannot push out of my mind the freak wave that knocked down Flying Fish–mast horizontal to the water–on her passage north from New Zealand in April. I understand now that wave was an aberration. But it is like being bitten by a friendly dog–you know it’s (probably) never going to happen again but the memory of it leaves you wary.

Log Entry / 25 JuneProximity alarms integrated into my electronics alert me to a 1,000-foot merchant vessel on an intercepting course with Flying Fish.  The massive ship with the decidedly unromantic name of FPML B 104, en route to Taiwan, diverts to pass several hundred meters astern of Flying Fish . I make radio contact with FPML B 104 but our communication is lost in translation. 

I am fully into the rhythm of the passage now. The boat is pitching and rolling but my body is moving with the sea instead of against it. It is a bizarre dance, a dance that always leaves one hand free for the boat. Despite the rough sea conditions I manage to take a much needed shower. Inspired to achieve even greater things, I bake three loaves of banana bread in the wildly swinging gimbaled stove. It is a triumph, considering I don’t know how to cook. I feel like a Renaissance Man.

Aus passage banana bread

Log Entry / 26 June 2019I awaken from a short nap to the screeching sounds of birds. Birds? Seven hundred miles from land? Clearing my eyes I look into the ocean and it is teeming with life. Gannets are diving on whorls of sardines that are being driven to the surface by hundreds of ravenous yellowfin tuna. As far as my eyes can see there is a predatory maelstrom. It seems at first as if this must be another dream… but no, a blast of spume from a beaching humpback whale reinforces reality in the ocean surrounding me.

Let there be life! Acres of tuna boil on the surface devouring sardines in a spectacle worthy of the Roman Coliseum. My automatic reflex is to drop back the fishing lines. I hesitate. These fish have somehow avoided the commercial factory boats scouring this part of the Pacific Ocean. I let the tuna enjoy their meal of sardines unmolested. I already have enough food onboard.

Log Entry / 27 June 2019–I am euphoric. I am 63 years old, in the prime of my life, alone in the Coral Sea, driving a magnificent sailboat toward Terra Australis. I am abashed to admit that the phrase King of the World enters my consciousness. It is a privilege and a blessing to be here now.

And then I am bleeding badly.

I am in the galley of Flying Fish at midnight celebrating my good progress and making a cup of hot chocolate when the sudden roll and lurch of the boat causes a heavy hatch board to become dislodged from the companionway and it flies with great velocity, edge first, onto my bare right foot, nearly severing a toe.

I switch on a light and I am astounded by the amount of blood pooling under my foot. I don’t like the sight of my blood. In 30 knots of wind and 12-foot seas the boat is twisting and turning and jumping like a bad carnival ride. The pain in my foot is mind-numbing. I’ve got to stop the blood flow. I grab a wad of paper towels and press them between my toes. Ouch! Then I am on my back on the floor of the cabin looking at the ceiling and seeing stars. I reach for my satellite phone. In Key West my wife Ginny is drinking coffee and reading the newspaper. “How much blood does a person have in their body?” I ask, as I explain the injury. Compassionately, and without hesitation from 12,000 miles away, she says, “Get your foot up. Now. Over your head.” 

My friend and surgeon, Dr. Byron Bailey, helped me outfit a medical emergency kit for Flying Fish. He provided a surgical staple gun for times like this. We practiced with it on a skinless chicken breast in his kitchen.  I know I need to close this wound but the thought of powering staples into my toe right now is nauseating. I change out the wad of paper towels instead and stare at the spinning ceiling of the cabin while the boat races forward on autopilot, through the night.

Aus Passage Injury Aus passage bandaged

Log Entry / 28 JuneFuck my foot hurts!

Morning. I am still on my back on the floor of the cabin with my bloody foot resting on the companionway steps above my head when my eyes open to first light. The cabin sole looks like the floor of a slaughterhouse. I hobble upright. The boat is still on course but I am in the shipping lanes and there is traffic–the AIS signature of three merchant ships light up the chart plotter. The wind is still 30 knots. And Flying Fish is tearing across the open ocean like an ambulance on its way to the hospital. I am still more than 500 miles from shore.

Log Entry / 29 June–I must focus now. Oxycodone is calling me from my surgical kit but I cannot succumb. The shipping traffic is skirting an area of reefs to the west that I must  sail through in the next 24 hours. Got to keep it together, got to stay sharp…

The Coral Sea is a patchwork of reefs. There is a dangerous spot called Atoll de la Surprise. The chart also marks numerous areas along my route as “Unsurveyed.” Another shallow patch is titled “Presumed Position of Sandy Island.” I do not want the presumed position of Sandy Island, I need to know the exact position of Sandy Island. The moon is waning now. The nights are darker.

Log Entry / 30 June–All night I hear breaking waves. My mind tells me to believe the instruments–I am in deep water–but my senses tell me that waves are breaking, just ahead, on jagged patches of coral.

Daylight reveals that the seas have increased to 15 feet and the wind remains gusting at 30 knots behind me. I am flying a triple reefed mainsail and the tiny shred of jib set wing-and-wing. Each swell lifts Flying Fish to the top of its crest and then sends her heavy hull with a traditional keel surfing down the face of the wave. The ensuing roar of 22 tons of sailboat exceeding hull speed sounds exactly like waves breaking on a reef.

Then at mid-day do I see waves breaking over coral. I cannot see any land but I know that these waves are breaking over one of the Seven Natural Wonders of Earth. I have arrived at Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.

Australian Passage whole numbers2

Whole Numbers–10 knots of boat speed surfing downwind in 30 knots made for a fast passage to Oz. © Jeffrey Cardenas


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To see where Flying Fish has sailed in the past year click here:

For current weather along the route click here:

Text and Photography © Jeffrey Cardenas 2019


54 thoughts on “The Rhythm of a Passage

  1. Jeff thanks for this vivid installment of your exploration of planet and soul (and kudos to brave Ginny and her sage first aid advice from afar). I presume by now that toe is on the mend… Sending thoughts of calm seas while you discover Oz.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Good to know you completed another passage. I guess it’s a success when you are able to overcome the “adventure” and tell the tale? Glad you’re safe and thanks for sharing!

    Sent from my iPhone

    Liked by 1 person

    • I appreciate your thoughts, Ken, but I don’t think about this in terms of success and failure. I’ve just got to stay focused and not make mistakes. Part of the attraction in all this is that it is not easy. As an endurance athlete, you understand that.


    • Love your writing and your voyage. I’m 59, just retired 5 weeks ago and road tripping in my VW Westfalia camper until mid October when I launch my IP 350 from Savannah and head to the Caribbean. You have been an inspiration! Thanks, and keep on!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Alex I loved my VW Westfalia. Enjoy your road trip. Sounds like you have found the best of both worlds. The IP350 is a great boat. Thank you for your generous comments about Flying Fish.


  3. Wowwwzaaa😮 I had been thinking that we hadn’t seen a post from you and was delighted to see this today. The highest of highs moderated by freakish accident 😮😳- thank goodness it was your foot and not your eyes!
    Your excellent descriptions and details are a joy to read. You look great with those 3 loaves of banana bread.😊

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Sharon. I should yelped Wowwwzaaa instead of the crude oath I uttered when my foot was crushed by that hatch board. I like your word better. I appreciate your kind and encouraging thoughts.


  4. Yikes, nothing hurts like damage to a hand or foot or toe, so many nerves. You are so close I can al,
    Most see you. We are at Port Bundaberg famous for the favorite Australian rum. Got a bit of a rigging issue, we hope now to leave towards Whitsunday Thursday. You are making excellent time. Tell me you don’t have Banana on board?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hahaha bananas. When I was fishing for a living I always made it a point to bring bananas aboard the boat—and we always caught more fish. It was counter intuitive but I always have liked swimming against the current.


  5. It’s half past 0300 and as I lay awake with phone in hand surfing Facebook for interesting articles, nothing excites me more than a sailor’s log or tales from the sea. I thoroughly enjoyed sailing along on your descriptive passage and hope to catch another cruise aboard FF. You’re an eloquent and fascinating writer. Best wishes for your injured toe.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Steady as she goes,Jeffrey !!
    Please make sure there is no sign of infection in that footsie.
    Looking forward to the day I will stand on the dock of KWYC and welcome you home..
    Onward and upward !!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Great stuff, Jeffrey. Maybe upon your return we could invent some steel-toed flip flops. Nothing worse than foot injuries. Safe travels!


  8. Jeffrey, I’ve been thinking about you this past week, wondering exactly where you were and sending good thoughts. I, too, had a bit of a foreboding, knowing that you were on your way to Australia and that it was a tricky passage. So glad to hear from you, and so sorry about your toe. Yours, Michael P.S. Even if you aren’t a good cook, you truly are a Renaissance Man.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Michael. There is a stimulation to these passages that really feeds my mind. I know it sounds cliche but this kind of travel on the edge makes me think better and feel more. Thanks for sharing this with me.


  9. Yikes Jeffrey! I also was thinking it had been too long since I heard from you. So sorry about your foot. I hope that you will be back to dancing the cha-cha-cha as well as you ever could 😎. And great job on the banana bread.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Jesus…That entry had me on the edge of my seat. Thank god and ginny, that all is right with you…I smelled a rat!
    Much love and care,

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I forgot to mention how impressed I was with your baking skills. I look forward to sharing bread with you upon your return. I’m sure this rocked Ginny’s world as well!
    Love and laughter,

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Glad to see that you traded in your shortboard for something with a little more float. Hopefully, Rodeo Hands will be making an appearance when you drop anchor in Byron Bay. Safe travels, buddy!


    • The board pictured on my deck is one that is propelled with a paddle. I was sorry to miss the surf in Fiji but maybe I will find good waves in Bali. Thanks for following Flying Fish, Alex.


  13. The hatch board’s flight onto (into actually) your toe is memorable, for sure!
    Back to the rat! Did the rat speak to you in your dream? I’m sure you know, in the Land of Oz, animals can speak if enchanted by a magician. Thanks for sharing your magical journey. Amazing!

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Jeffrey, what a riveting span of the days on your passage to Australia, with the high wind and seas , the shipping lanes, and unfortunate injury it sound like chapters from a Tom Corcoran mystery. Great job on the bread! Wishing you safe travels. Thank you for sharing.
    Best to you!

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Hi Jeff. I just finished a book about the 1998 Sydney to Hobart race. I know you are not that far south, but I can “feel” a smaller version of the waves you experienced. I hope your toe is healing nicely. The banana bread looks DELICIOUS! Have a save voyage.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. There you are! We were wondering about you last week… Love, love, love the musical metaphor- perfect.
    Thank you for sharing not only your travels and discoveries but your hopes and dreams as well.
    Hope that toe is on the mend! xo

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Wow, rat dreams, large broadside swells, an oceanic predatory frenzy, and a nearly severed toe. What a wonderful read. The line about the humpback whale flashed me back to Tom Hanks in the film, Castaway.

    You are on a spectacular adventure, Jeffrey. I look forward to your book.

    Liked by 1 person



  19. Oh my Jeffery…….I have been so busy I haven’t kept up with your adventures. I too, love reading your words and was horrified by the photo of your foot. I loved that Ginny gave you sage advise! Did you ever use the staples? Travel safe xoxox

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for your thoughts, Karen. I am bold enough to sail thousands of miles of open ocean by myself but I’m a little embarrassed to say I didn’t have the cojones to press a staple gun to my bleeding foot 😦


  20. Hi Jeffrey, so glad to discover your blog and had no idea you’d embarked on this amazing adventure! Look forward to following and reading more “ripping good yarns” of your travels. Hope to catch up with you in Key West in 2021!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Dave. It has been exciting so far, and a little bit more adventure than I bargained for on a couple of days. I am grateful to be able to do this. I appreciate you following Flying Fish.


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