Passing in the Night

Early morning landfall in Italy after crossing the Stretto di Sicilia between Africa and Europe. © Jeffrey Cardenas

From the Log of Flying Fish: 10 May 2021

I am sailing tonight through a chokepoint of continents.

Sicily and Europe are to starboard; the bright illumination of Palermo is visible far out to sea. To port, in darkness, there is Africa and the Tunisian shoreline once known as the Barbary Coast.

At 04:00 on this moonless night, I see the jaw-dropping silhouette of a mega yacht pushing fast to the east. My AIS shows the vessel as the 532-foot pleasure craft Eclipse, bound for Dubrovnik. Owned by Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, Eclipse is said to be valued at nearly $1 billion. As it roars past, purple vanity lights under its hull shine deeply into the Mediterranean Sea.

This chokepoint is also one of the primary transit routes for migrants fleeing poverty and politics in Africa. Over 700,000 Africans crossed the Stretto di Sicilia to Italy in the past decade with the hope of opportunity and a new life in Europe. Most migrants leave the African shoreline entrusting their fate to human traffickers who grossly overload small boats of questionable seaworthiness with men, women, and children who can pay the price. Many pay the ultimate price; thousands have drowned making this passage. Human cargo passing through these waters continues to be a frequent, sometimes nightly, occurrence.

I have been thinking about this narrow passage in the Stretto di Sicilia for some time, wondering how I would respond if the shadow of a struggling migrant boat appeared to port, just as the silhouette of Eclipse had appeared to starboard.

If a private vessel, like Flying Fish, makes contact with migrants in the Mediterranean–even to lend assistance–it is an offense punishable by imprisonment from European Union authorities. Captains have been convicted of “human trafficking” for aiding migrants they felt were in distress. The irony is that international maritime law requires a captain to lend assistance to anyone in distress at sea. This legal contradiction would be fascinating to hear debated in a courtroom, but preferably not as a defendant.

Radio traffic is silent from the surveillance aircraft and patrol vessels in the straits tonight. I encounter no migrants on this dark expanse of water.

Larger questions loom: As I sail onward aboard Flying Fish, I wonder what am I doing for the greater global good? How do I reconcile my privilege and opportunity while others flee their homes with only the clothing on their backs? What is the solution? And if I am not a part of the solution, am I a part of the problem?

Along the Barbary Coast, some might argue that what is truly barbaric is the vast economic disparity of those of us aboard ships who are simply passing each other in the night.


Sailing is not just about the wind and the sea; equally important are the places to which this boat takes me.

Please click Follow at the bottom of this page so that you don’t miss a new update, and please consider sharing this post with others who might enjoy following the voyage of Flying Fish. I welcome your comments. I will always respond to your comment when I have an Internet connection. And I will never share your personal information.

You can follow the daily progress of Flying Fish, boat speed (or lack thereof), and current weather as I sail into the Mediterranean by clicking this satellite uplink: the “Legends and Blogs” box on the right side of the tracking page for en route Passage Notes. 

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Text and Photography © Jeffrey Cardenas 2021

Let this be a time of grace and peace in our lives   –Fr. John Baker

23 thoughts on “Passing in the Night

  1. I often struggle with the same basic question:
    Am I doing enough to help others?

    I can tell you this: Your observations and insights about people and cultures different from my own certainly remind me how closely we are all connected, and that this is, indeed, a very small world. And, your stories also remind me to be grateful for the beauty of the world around me, and recognize the fragility of life itself.

    Thank you for sharing your struggles – both with the physical difficulties of traveling as a single-handed sailor and as a conscientious person seeing the world with your eyes and mind wide open. You inspire me, and I’m certain you must be inspiring many others, to open our eyes a little wider, think a bit more about our own actions, and perhaps be a bit more compassionate nd helpful, as a result.

    As someone once said, “In the end, we are all just walking each other home.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • I know this post may discourage readers who want to see sunsets, pretty beaches, and full sails. There has been plenty of that and more to follow. But I intent on making this voyage memoir as accurate as my memory allows. This log excerpt was written in the predawn darkness after watching a billion-dollar motor yacht steam through this corridor of the sea that has been witness to so much tragedy. I don’t pass judgment, but I also do not want to forget that each of us has a heart that pumps red blood, despite our differing circumstances.
      Thank you so much, Noreen, for sharing your thoughts.


  2. Card, nice thoughts while sailing indeed. But don’t forget you are the byproduct of that same flight to freedom, so you are the hope that that continues to allures those held in some form of captivity, political or economic, towards freedom. That is not meant to imply that you do nothing, but its meant not to forget that hope abounds, and that we often plant seeds for tress we aren’t around to see grow. Your ruminations here, may be part of that seed planting. Stay safe and be well.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Paul, these are very kind words, and I will never forget that Cubans have been fleeing their homeland much in the same way as Africans. It has always been about economics and politics. This is a very positive response–“…hope abounds…” Thank you for your thoughts.


  3. Captain
    Please note the early season hurricane in the Arabian Sea off of India. The season there starts June 1. MY FORECAST 2020’s Atlantic season was like 2004 and 2021 will be like 2005. These perfect conditions last 2 or 3 years.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I am not worried; I am cautious. As much as I would like to get an early start on the Atlantic crossing I know I need to wait until December 1 to leave the Canary Islands if I want to remain clear of late-season hurricanes.


  4. Jeffrey,
    Great in-site, like you watching the distress this world and our country is in can be overwhelming.
    Still training new pilots for the upcoming fire-season, like you, doing something I enjoy.
    All the best and safe travels,

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Very interesting Jeff! Well written. Since I am in the business of saving lives I would be faced with such a moral dilemma!! You really got me thinking!! One realizes how lucky we truly are to live in this country! Thanks Jeff! Always a special prayer for you! 🥰

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Where would we we be without moral dilemmas? I think of our European ancestors who also fled their homes for a better life in completely different times. We are the lucky. Well written, as usual. Safe travels, Jeff.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Exactly!
      Paul, your words describe precisely what I was trying (ineffectually) to say myself. We do live in a world of moral dilemmas and there is no one right answer of how to accept or deny them. It is an individual response. You have seen so much of the world. Thanks for your insights.


  7. Jeffrey, your writing, your postings, your photography is like none other. This is really a fantastic post that tugs at my heart strings as well. We all, at times thing the same thoughts. I am not sure what the answer is, and all I try to do is help others where I can. Thank you, my dear friend. YOUR BOOK will be a best seller. I want one a signed copy please.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hayden, even though you and I are hard-core sailing guys we both understand that there is so much more to what we do than deciding which knots to tie and how to trim the sails. We steer our boats on a course of curiosity. We want to know what is over the next horizon. These beautiful boats provide the wings to takes us there.


  8. Hayden, your observations are very interesting and thought provoking. Always good to get your emails and know you are well and safe at sea. Sail on. Fair winds!


  9. Capt. I assume you are now heading to Menorca in the Balearics. Although you haven’t stated asmuch you must be in Teulada waiting for clear weather. Having been in your exact position and having experienced Force 8 there you must wait. 4.5 days can easily turn into 10 days of hell. This may sell be the most dangerous 5 days in the Med.


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