Gibraltar & the Barbary Apes

The Rock of Gibraltar is home to Europe’s only wild primate, macaque monkeys, locally known as Barbary Apes. © Jeffrey Cardenas

Aboard Flying Fish, I sense the Rock before I even see it. Gibraltar remains hidden by dense fog until Flying Fish is just a few hundred meters offshore. Then, the Rock appears like a specter off the starboard bow. Huge and close. I have frequently felt the presence of places I have visited on this voyage, but few affect me as powerfully as seeing this monolith emerging from the foggy Mediterranean Sea. A Gibraltar landfall is a rite of passage for many ocean sailors.

Neanderthals walked here, as did the Cro-Magnons. Arriving later were the Phoenicians, Goths, Moors, Romans, and centuries of European powers. Overlapping many of those civilizations, one group of survivors remained established on the Rock–Gibraltar’s Barbary Ape.

The “Ape” is an Old World monkey species, a Barbary macaque, originating in the Atlas and Rif Mountains of Morocco and Algeria, 20 kilometers across the Strait of Gibraltar. Some scientists speculate that the monkeys may also be related to macaques that migrated 5 million years ago across southern Europe. Regardless of their lineage, Gibraltar’s Barbary macaques are iconic to the Rock. Wrote historian Alonso Hernanández del Portillo of Gibraltar in the early 1600s: “There are monkeys, who may be called the true owners, with possession from time immemorial.”[1]

I cannot sail past the Rock of Gibraltar without reacquainting myself with this wild band of free-roaming monkeys I first met some 45 years ago. Much has changed, but the Barbary macaques are still the main attraction in Gibraltar.

A popular belief holds that as long as the macaques exist on Gibraltar, the territory will remain under British rule.[2] In 1942, after the macaque population dwindled to just seven monkeys, Winston Churchill ordered their numbers be replenished from North Africa (in the midst of World War II and Rommel’s Afrika Korps). The monkeys became so important to Gibraltar’s interests that until 1991 their care was entrusted to the British Army, and later, the Gibraltar Regiment. A “Keeper of the Apes” maintained up-to-date records for each macaque, listing births and names and supervising their diet. The War Office in 1944 gave the macaques a food budget of £4 a month for fruit, vegetables, and nuts. Each macaque was issued a serial number with its name. The Gibraltar Chronicle would announce births: “Rock Apes. Births: To Phyllis, wife of Tony, at the Upper Rock, on 30th June 1942— a child. Both doing well.” The names would often be associated with someone of stature in British society, like Elizabeth, named for the Queen, or Winston, for Churchill. If Elizabeth or Winston, or any ill or injured monkey needed surgery or medical attention they were taken to Royal Naval Hospital in Gibraltar, where they received the same treatment as an enlisted serviceman.[3] Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh, along with Prince Charles and Princess Anne, met the Barbary Apes while visiting Gibraltar in 1954. A photograph shows the Queen and royal family happily feeding the macaques.


Click on any photo for a slideshow of high-resolution images with captions showing the many personalities of Gibraltar’s Barbary Apes. All photographs © Jeffrey Cardenas


About 250 macaques remain on the Rock. Although the human population of Gibraltar numbers only 34,000 people, this tiny territory of 6.8 square kilometers recorded 11 million visitors in 2019 (pre-COVID). It is one of the highest tourist-to-resident ratios in the world, and many of those visitors come to co-mingle with the free-roaming Barbary Apes. These days if the Queen fed a macaque in Gibraltar, she (or anyone else) could be fined £4,000. That penalty, however, doesn’t stop tourists from acting badly.

Early one morning, I pack a bag of cameras and climb to the top of the Rock at Prince Philips Arch, where I hope to see a troop of Barbary macaques. When I arrive, there is already a gridlock of taxi vans disgorging a mob of tourists insistent on capturing selfies with a monkey. Prince Philips Arch is in the Gibraltar Upper Rock Nature Reserve, an official feeding station for the macaques, and it is stocked today with carrots, corn, and watermelon. The monkeys, however, are more focused on the bags of snack food, candy bars, and surreptitious peanuts in the possession of the tourists. There are squeals of delight every time a macaque jumps on somebody’s head or unzips a backpack. Two young men speaking Russian tease the macaques with a peanut butter sandwich. The men are shirtless and sunburned, and possibly drunk because one man slaps the open face of his sandwich onto the bare back of his buddy, and they howl with laughter as the macaques go berserk and chase them.

Tourism reached its peak in Gibraltar in 1985, when, after years of hostilities with Spain, the border finally reopened. A flood of visitors poured onto the Rock. Some 45,000 people entered Gibraltar within the first week, increasing to over 10,000 per day. Within six months, a million people had visited. By 1986, five million visitors a year were arriving in Gibraltar. Nearly everyone who came wanted to see the Barbary Apes. To make room for visitors’ cars on Gibraltar’s crowded roads, 1,000 old vehicles were rounded up in Gibraltar and pushed off the cliffs into the sea at Europa Point on the southern tip of the territory.[4] The number of macaques rapidly increased as a result of illegal feeding by tourists. It also led to an increase in aggressive behavior as the monkeys associated humans with junk food. The problem culminated in 2008 with the Government of Gibraltar ordering the culling of a rogue troop of monkeys that was breaking into hotel rooms and scavenging garbage cans. Researchers and animal rights activists protested the cull, but the Government justified it because overly aggressive monkeys would frighten tourists and damage the economy.[5]

More recently, the Government of Gibraltar says it is making efforts to crack down on human interactions with the macaques, including daily patrols and microchips in the monkeys. In addition to fines for feeding the macaques, a new law was passed last year, making it an offense to touch or interfere in any way with the monkeys. In the 20 hours over several days that I recently spent among the monkeys in Gibraltar’s Upper Rock Nature Reserve, I saw many tourists feeding, touching, and interfering with the macaques. Not once did I see any official presence or enforcement of the tourist misbehavior.

Later, I hike to an isolated promontory above Europa Point, between what the Athenian philosopher Plato called the “Two Pillars of Hercules”–the Atlas Mountains of Africa to the south and the Rock of Gibraltar to the north. I think of the prehistoric description of this piece of land by Gibraltar Museum evolutionary biologist Clive Finlayson: “While the rest of Europe was cooling, the area around Gibraltar back then resembled a European Serengeti. Leopards, hyenas, lynxes, wolves and bears lived among wild cattle, horses, deer, ibexes, oryxes and rhinos – all surrounded by olive trees and stone pines, with partridges and ducks overhead, tortoises in the underbrush and mussels, limpets and other shellfish in the waters.”

Gibraltar’s Barbary Apes are survivors in a rapidly changing world. Among the dense pines above Europa Point, I watch a troop of macaques interact, away from the melee of tourists. They forage naturally and groom each other, a sign of reduced stress. I watch a female macaque nurse an infant while a male moves close to gently participate in the parenting. This idyllic scene has me questioning whether my presence among the macaques also makes me part of the problem. I may not torment the monkeys with peanut butter, but I am, along with millions of other visitors, encroaching upon the space of a wild thing that was here first. I wonder: How can humans learn to interact with less impact and more equitably share this natural world?

In an 1887 satire by Jules Verne, the Spaniard Gil Braltar invades the Rock with a macaque troop after disguising himself as one of them. Drawn by George Roux. Credit: Public Domain

References:

[1] “Historia de la Muy Noble y Más Leal Ciudad de Gibraltar,” Alonso Hernanández del Portillo (1605-1610)

[2] “The Curious Case of the Last ‘Wild’ Monkeys in Europe,” Atlas Obscura, Dan Nosowitz, 2019

[3] “Gib Monkeys,” Internet Archive, 2011, Wikipedia

[4] “Gibraltar: British or Spanish?” Peter Gold 2012, Wikipedia

[5]  “Tourism Management: An Introduction,” Clare Inkson, Lynn Minnaert, 2012, Wikipedia


Sailing is not just about the wind and the sea; equally important are the places where Flying Fish carries 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 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: https://forecast.predictwind.com/tracking/display/FlyingfishClick the “Legends and Blogs” box on the right side of the tracking page for en route Passage Notes. 

To see where Flying Fish has sailed since leaving Key West in 2017, click here: https://cruisersat.net/track/Flying%20Fish.

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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

Andalucían Flamenco

Flamenco is one of the symbols of Spanish national identity.
“I’ve often lost myself,
in order to find the burn that keeps everything awake.”

Federico García-Lorca

In the Andalucían city of Granada, one of the birthplaces of flamenco, there is a heightened state of emotion, expression, and authenticity known as duende. It is a “mysterious and ineffable charm” that seems to emanate from the whitewashed walls and ancient cobblestones in the gitano neighborhoods of Albayzín and Sacromonte. Poet Federico García-Lorca said, “To search for the duende there is no map or exercise.” Except when one spends a late night in the hills above the city among the tablaos and cuevas where flamenco is performed with intimate intensity.

All photos and video: © Jeffrey Cardenas

Sailing is not just about the wind and the sea; equally important are the places to which Flying Fish carries 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: https://forecast.predictwind.com/tracking/display/FlyingfishClick the “Legends and Blogs” box on the right side of the tracking page for en route Passage Notes. 

To see where Flying Fish has sailed since leaving Key West in 2017, click here: https://cruisersat.net/track/Flying%20Fish.

Instagram: FlyingFishSail
Facebook: Jeffrey Cardenas

Text and Photography © Jeffrey Cardenas 2021

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

Flamingos of Las Salinas

The earth’s Prime Meridian transits the salt flats of Calpe, where Flying Fish lays at rest after a passage from Ibiza. In a sense, this line of longitude is where time begins and ends each day. Time modifies and reorders the natural world: adaptation or extinction. These random thoughts occupy my mind as I share space on the salt flats with one of the world’s most iconic bird species. The greater flamingo has adapted and survived thousands of years of extraordinary change along Spain’s Costa Blanca.

The salt flats of Las Salinas were first utilized during the great Roman era of the 2nd century AD. Now, a busy marina and a European holiday center surround the edges of these ancient alluvial deposits. The greater flamingo continues to thrive here despite the high-rise apartments, Jet Skis, and música electrónica that have changed the shadow and sound of its environment. These flamingos are wild birds. Their wings are not clipped. They are not fenced in or fed. That they choose to return to Las Salinas, in the middle of this urban setting, is a testament to how nature adapts.

The salt flats and the city of Calpe are at the base of the massive rock Peñón de Ifach, a 1,000-foot massif of limestone rising from the Mediterranean Sea. Ifach is an important homing beacon for birds. Some 173 species, both nesting and migrating, have been recorded here, including black-winged stilts, avocets, the black wheatear, and the white wagtail. There is some ornithological tourism in Calpe, but most tourists come instead for a different variety of wagtail, and to get sunburned and drink sangria.

Tourists sharing Calpe with the birds date back at least two millennia. Across the sandbar delineating the salt flats and the edge of the sea, archeologists excavated the “Baños de la Reina.” Ancient Roman engineers designed a thermal complex including pools of different temperatures, a sophisticated heating system, and a piscinae for sunken gardens and the farming of live fish. But for whom this ultimate vacation villa was constructed is still unknown. Archeologists know that hidden tunnels allowed private access to the Baths of the Queen, but they do not know who the queen was. Whoever merited this elaborate architecture of marble and mosaics was most certainly “a person with a high purchasing power.”[1] Marcus Aurelius is famously quoted saying, “Accept the things to which fate binds you, and love the people with whom fate brings you together, but do so with all your heart.” Perhaps Marcus Aurelius kept a mistress at the salt flats of Calpe.

The history that has shaped the landscape of Las Salinas has also helped maintain its natural habit and biodiversity. Salt was a necessity for fish preservation, which Calpe used to market its catch. Eventually, salt from these lagoons supplied fishing industries in over 40 Spanish municipalities. At the end of the 18th century, Salt production declined when Las Salinas was thought to harbor yellow fever. In 1993, Spain declared Las Salinas a protected maritime-terrestrial zone.

While many species make up the Las Salinas habitat, the population of flamingos generates the most attention. The coloration of all flamingos comes from the carotenoid pigments in the organisms that live in their feeding grounds. The greater flamingo, one of four distinct species, is less flashy than some of its genetic relatives like the hot-pink American flamingo. That doesn’t prevent them from wanting to look good. Secretions of their uropygial “preening” gland contain carotenoids–red pigments. During the breeding season, greater flamingos preen to spread these uropygial secretions over their feathers, enhancing their color. Ornithologists have described this cosmetic use of uropygial secretions by greater flamingos as “applying make-up.”[2]

The greater flamingo is an enthusiastic eater. It feeds with its head down; its upper jaw is movable and not rigidly fixed to its skull.[3] Using its feet, the bird stirs up mud, then sucks the slurry through its bill to filter small shrimp, seeds, blue-green algae, microscopic organisms, and mollusks. It is a healthy diet. Wild greater flamingos have an average lifespan of 30 – 40 years. The oldest known greater flamingo, named Greater, (duh) lived in an Adelaide, Australia zoo for between 85-93 years.[4] The bird’s exact age is unknown; he was already a mature adult when he arrived in Adelaide in 1933. Greater was euthanized in January 2014 due to “complications of old age.”

It is zero hundred hours, at zero degrees longitude. A full moon has risen in direct alignment with Jupiter and Saturn. Flying Fish is secure nearby at her mooring. Somewhere in the ruins of a partially submerged palace, the legacy of an unknown queen waits to be discovered. And on the salt flats of Las Salinas, flamingos secrete pigment over their feathers. Some days I, too, feel the complications of aging, but I’m not ready to be euthanized yet. There is still so much to see and so much to know.

###


References:

[1] “The Baths of the Queen, a Roman Palace,” The World (2012)

2] “Greater flamingos Phoenicopterus roseus use uropygial secretions as make-up,” . Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, J.A., Rendón, J Garrido-Fernández, A Garrido, M, Rendón-Martos, and A Pérez-Gálvez. (2011).

[3] Flamingo, Wikipedia

[4] “Flamingos at Adelaide Zoo,”  Vaughan Wilson; at Conservation Ark / Zoos South Australia 2008

Ornithologists have described the cosmetic use of secretions on the feathers of greater flamingos as “applying make-up.” Photograph: © Jeffrey Cardenas

Sailing is not just about the wind and the sea; equally important are the places to which Flying Fish carries 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: https://forecast.predictwind.com/tracking/display/FlyingfishClick the “Legends and Blogs” box on the right side of the tracking page for en route Passage Notes. 

To see where Flying Fish has sailed since leaving Key West in 2017, click here: https://cruisersat.net/track/Flying%20Fish.

Instagram: FlyingFishSail
Facebook: Jeffrey Cardenas

Text and Photography © Jeffrey Cardenas 2021

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

Posidonia

The lush carpet of a Posidonia prairie in Spain’s Balearic Islands. Photograph: Jeffrey Cardenas

The Spanish Posidonia Police came calling on Flying Fish today. I was happy to see them.

Posidonia is a seagrass species that is endemic to the Mediterranean Sea. Like the turtlegrass of the subtropic Americas and the Caribbean, Posidonia forms large underwater meadows vital to the ecosystem. The aquatic grass has a high carbon absorption capacity. It is said to soak up 15 times more carbon dioxide every year than a similar-sized piece of the Amazon rainforest.1 In 2006, a vast colony of Posidonia was discovered south of Ibiza and is estimated at around 100,000 years old. It may be one of the largest and oldest clonal colonies on Earth.2

Posidonia grows best in clean waters, and its presence is a marker for lack of pollution. It is found only in the Mediterranean Sea, where it is in decline. The UNESCO world heritage site around the Balearic Islands includes about 140,000 acres of Posidonia, which has global significance because of the amount of carbon dioxide it absorbs. The meadows are being threatened by rising temperatures, slowing its growth, as well as damage from anchors.3 The Posidonia meadows of Ibiza are fiercely protected. Drop an anchor on Posidonia, and you are breaking the law.

This is why it astonished me when I watched the superyacht Chuck Taylor drop its anchor in a bed of Posidonia at an anchorage on Mallorca that we were sharing. (I don’t know that it was the shoe guy Chuck Taylor; who would name a boat after themselves?) Nonetheless, I wish the Posidonia Police had been in the bay that day. When Chuck Taylor departed, an entire square yard of the living colony was impaled on the tines of its anchor. 

Granted, anchoring in the Balearic Islands in July and August–especially during this post-lockdown year–is a challenge. Nowhere in the world have I seen so many boats, and so many inconsiderate boat operators, as I have here during the past two months. Because anchorage space is limited, boats battle for every square foot of sea bottom available without Posidonia. Many boats anchor regardless of the protected areas. Bays are so tightly packed that adequate anchor scope for holding is frequently compromised. Two nights ago, at 03:00, katabatic winds ripped through my anchorage at Benirràs, Ibiza, and tore the fleet apart. One sailboat dragging an anchor collided with two other sailboats, pulling their anchors from the bottom and sending them adrift. A boat ended up against a ragged rock wall. Two large powerboats also dragged and collided in the wind. In the darkness, shouts and curses in foreign languages echoed across the anchorage. Flying Fish somehow escaped the carnage, but the Posidonia meadow at Benirràs was most certainly plowed into oblivion by the dragging anchors.

The Posidonia Police encounter a repeat offender in the Illa Sa Conillera marine park who insisted that it was his “right” to drop an anchor anywhere he wanted. Photograph: © Jeffrey Cardenas

The Posidonia meadows are carefully identified on every chart. This morning over coffee, in the lovely anchorage of the Illa Sa Conillera marine park, I was startled by a heated argument coming from two boats. The Posidonia Police had arrived and warned a visiting sailboat owner (for the second time) that he anchored on the protected grass. His anchor was crushing the habitat of plants, fish, and juvenile crustaceans. The sailboat captain maintained it was his “right” to anchor where he wanted. The park ranger explained otherwise. The argument increased in volume and acrimony, and continued for 30 minutes. Then the guilty sailor pointed at me. I was anchored nearby.

The Posidonia Police motored up to Flying Fish with an underwater viewing scope. I passed the inspection; my anchor was embedded in a pocket of sand, where I had carefully placed it when I arrived.

“May I take your photograph,” I asked?

“¿Por qué?” was the reply.

“Because,” I said, “I think what you are doing is important.”

###

Park rangers inspect the placement of the anchor of Flying Fish at Illa Sa Conillera, Ibiza. Photograph: © Jeffrey Cardenas

References:

  1. Ibiza’s Monster Marine Plant, Ibiza Spotlight, 28 May 2006
  2. Oldest living thing on earth’ discovered, Jonathan Pearlman, The Telegraph. 7 February 2012
  3. Posidonia oceanica, Wikipedia

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: https://forecast.predictwind.com/tracking/display/FlyingfishClick the “Legends and Blogs” box on the right side of the tracking page for en route Passage Notes. 

To see where Flying Fish has sailed since leaving Key West in 2017, click here: https://cruisersat.net/track/Flying%20Fish.

Instagram: FlyingFishSail
Facebook: Jeffrey Cardenas

Text and Photography © Jeffrey Cardenas 2021

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

Marine Medicine

Are extracts from the Fried Egg Jellyfish a possible cure for breast cancer? Never underestimate the power of life in the ocean. Photography: © Jeffrey Cardenas

Good news from the ocean: Just when you thought it was unsafe to go back into the water… along comes Cotylorhiza tuberculata, commonly known in the Mediterranean as the Fried Egg Jellyfish. There is virtually no sting in its tentacles, and researchers are beginning to study the possibility that specific toxicity from this jellyfish may even eliminate certain breast cancer cells.

In a report from the scientific journal MDPI, “Marine Drugs,” very early studies have shown that elements in Cotylhoriza tuberculata may be a “putative action mechanism for anticancer bioactivity,” selectively killing malignant cells while leaving healthy ones intact.

No one is saying that the Fried Egg Jellyfish cures cancer. Still, additional studies are proposed to further research of its cytotoxicity in targeting breast cancer. The nutraceutical and pharmaceutical potential is also being discussed. The Fried Egg Jellyfish, it seems, may not just be another pretty face in the sea.


Photographs: © Jeffrey Cardenas

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: https://forecast.predictwind.com/tracking/display/FlyingfishClick the “Legends and Blogs” box on the right side of the tracking page for en route Passage Notes. 

To see where Flying Fish has sailed since leaving Key West in 2017, click here: https://cruisersat.net/track/Flying%20Fish.

Instagram: FlyingFishSail
Facebook: Jeffrey Cardenas

Text and Photography © Jeffrey Cardenas 2021

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

Octopus’s Garden

An octopus has the highest brain-to-body mass ratio of all invertebrates and a camera-like eye that can distinguish the color and polarization of light. The eye follows me as I swim past. Photograph: © Jeffrey Cardenas

I’d like to be 
Under the sea 
In an octopus’ garden 
In the shade
…”

It seems you can’t swing a cat in the Mediterranean this summer without hitting a movie star. Meet my new neighbor, the Oscar-winning Octopus Teacher. Actually, I’m the new neighbor; the octopus lives here. And this isn’t really the Octopus Teacher (that famous cephalopod lived in South Africa). But here in the Mediterranean, during the summer, everybody is whoever they want to be. No questions asked.

I am who I want to be, and in the summer where I want to be is under the sea. My tropical island blood has finally acclimated to the ambient water temperature at latitude 40° north. In about six weeks, the Mediterranean Sea begins getting cold again. Today is my first dive of the year. “Dive” is an exaggeration. I float in the shallows with a mask and snorkel, and camera. It is otherworldly. There are shrimp and crabs and anemones. The variety of life that lives among the rocks and Poseidon grass in the Mediterranean is astounding. To see these shallows come to life it is only necessary to move slowly and pass over the sea bottom like the shadow of a cloud.

Life underwater is always a surprise. Today I am swimming along part of the Menorca shoreline supported by an antique seawall. Giant blocks were laid here in 1793 to build the Llatzeret, a sanatorium to quarantine patients during the Bubonic Plague. It seems ironic with a history of so much death above at Llatzeret that these rocks in the water below the fortress would support such a thriving community of sea life. It is here I meet my octopus friend.

I am enchanted. From the depth of her cave, she holds her ground by siphoning bursts of water at me and never breaking eye contact. (A note on gender reference: It takes more skill than I have to determine the sex of an octopus but, for personal reasons, I’ll reference this amazing creature as female.) She is confident and beautiful. Her body pulsates and changes color with emotion as we meet eye-to-eye. Nonetheless, it is clear that this is a creature that will not suffer fools gladly. In a Live Science article titled, “Animal Sex: How Octopuses Do It,” writer Joseph Castro says females are the dominant gender. If a male displeases her, she may show her disappointment by eating him alive. He writes, “Mating for males is a dangerous game due to the female’s penchant for cannibalism.”

I’m not here to mate. I’m just as curious as she is.

Friend or foe? With eyes blazing, the octopus leaves her lair to investigate a curious intruder in her territory. Photo: © Jeffrey Cardenas

Much of the circumnavigation of Flying Fish has been along the equator in warm water rich in sea life. The Mediterranean Sea has been less inviting. There were freezing temperatures (literally) in Turkey this past winter. In my boat cabin without heat, I would sleep under quilts and blankets, and a zipped-up down jacket to stay warm. For much of the year, swimming was out of the question. I remember dropping an essential ratchet wrench overboard at a mooring one February morning. The water was only three meters deep. I looked at that wrench under the boat every day for a month, but I could not bear the thought of diving into 57-degree water to retrieve it.

Now it is mid-July. I can swim again. The pleasure of the summer sun warms my skin. The water caresses me as I float with the tide. Below the surface of the water, a new world awaits.

“We would be so happy, you and me
No one there to tell us what to do
I’d like to be under the sea
In an octopus’s garden with you…”

–Octopus’s Garden / The Beatles 1969


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: https://forecast.predictwind.com/tracking/display/FlyingfishClick the “Legends and Blogs” box on the right side of the tracking page for en route Passage Notes. 

To see where Flying Fish has sailed since leaving Key West in 2017, click here: https://cruisersat.net/track/Flying%20Fish.

Instagram: FlyingFishSail
Facebook: Jeffrey Cardenas

Text and Photography © Jeffrey Cardenas 2021

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

Casu Marzu

Eating the Rare Sardinian Delicacy of Maggot-Infested Cheese

Cheese aficionados pair maggot-infested casu marzu with traditional carasau bread and a good local red wine such as Cannonau. Lots of Cannonau. Photograph: © Jeffrey Cardenas

In the spirit of, “I may never pass this way again,” I could not leave Sardinia without first having eaten casu marzu–the rare and illegal delicacy of maggot-infested cheese. What could go wrong?

Translation first: Casu marzu in Italian literally means, “putrid, rotten cheese.” The beauty of the Italian language is that it is direct; Italians say exactly what they mean. Casu marzu is not a “fragrant” cheese or a “bold” cheese. Casu marzu is a decomposing cheese. It is crawling with worms. And Italians will risk breaking the law just to get a taste of it.

The creation of a fine casu marzu begins normally enough as a classic sheep’s milk pecorino. Then the process gets a little weird. The cheese is left outside in the heat of summer with part of the rind removed. This attracts the cheese fly, Piophilidae, which can lay more than 500 eggs at one time. The larvae hatch and emerge as translucent white worms eating through the cheese. The process then goes from fermentation to a stage of decomposition, brought about by the acid from the maggots’ digestive system breaking down the cheese fats. The cheese texture becomes soft and creates a weeping liquid called làgrimas–teardrops. By the time it is ready for consumption, a typical casu marzu will contain thousands of maggots.

When I first asked about casu marzu, the local formaggiaio in Carloforte wagged his finger at me and then turned away. A street vendor was more forthcoming. “There is an open market on Wednesday,” he said. “Follow your nose.” At the open market, there were several cheese vendors. One said, in English, “Casu marzu? Of course. We have.” When he showed me the cheese, I asked where the worms were. “Ah,” he said, “the worms were here, but now they have gone away.” Casu marzu is considered by many Sardinians to be unsafe to eat when the maggots in the cheese have died.

Another cheese vendor, working out of the back of a truck, was cautiously watching our exchange. That’s the guy, I thought.

When I asked him for casu marzu he looked to his right, then looked to his left, and said, “Sei la polizia?” I laughed, “Do I look like the police?” He laughed and pulled out a white plastic construction bucket he had hidden under a table near his truck. When he took the towel off the top of the bucket it was filled with wheels of foul-smelling cheese crawling with worms. “I’ll buy a half-kilo,” I said, “but please hold the cheese in your hands so that I can make a photograph.” His face went serious. He shook his head no and then held out his arms with his wrists crossed like he was in handcuffs. “No photo,” he said. “Formaggio, si. Io, no.”

Casu marzu presents an interesting paradox for Italian cheese aficionados. It has been considered illegal by the Italian government since 1962, due to laws that prohibit the consumption of food infected by parasites. Those who sell casu marzu can face fines up to €50,000. European regulators in 2002 reinforced the law making the cheese illegal not only in Italy but also in all the common EU markets. Casu marzu is also illegal in the United States.

The cheese remains a revered delicacy. Despite official health concerns, Sardinians consider casu marzu safe. (Sardinia has the highest percentage of people living to 100 years or beyond. The proportion of centenarians in the population is twice the rate considered normal for the rest of the world.) Also, as a traditional product of Sardinia, it is locally protected, although it still remains available only on the black market. There is, however, a formal proposal pending before the EU to give casu marzu DOP (Protected Designation of Origin) status like other cheeses and fine wines.

So what is it like to eat cheese infested with worms? You had better enjoy eating strong cheese, and cover your eyes. Casu marzu has the taste and texture of aged gorgonzola, but it moves. Writer Kara Goldfarb describes it best:

“When eating the cheese, one is meant to close their eyes. It’s not to avoid looking at the maggots as you eat them but to protect your eyes from them. When bothered, the maggots will jump up, sometimes going as high as six inches. Next tip, it is imperative for one to properly chew and kill the maggots before swallowing. Otherwise, they can live in the body and rip holes through the intestines… The next step is less of a safety precaution and more of a way to just enhance the culinary experience. It’s advised to enjoy the casu marzu with a moistened flatbread. It also pairs well with a glass of strong red wine. Potentially because the two go well together, possibly because of the added liquid courage.”

In the end, being able to taste casu marzu is a cultural experience that I consider a necessity of travel. I remember eating the fruit durian when I was sailing through Sumatra. It smelled like raw sewage but tasted like a rich custard. Years ago, in a no-name restaurant in the Chinese ghetto off Tiananmen Square, I asked for the house specialty and was served a bull’s penis. These are the things that make our journeys rewarding.

Yes, those are maggots crawling out of the cheese… Photograph: © Jeffrey Cardenas

Sources:

“Maggot Cheese,” Gordon Ramsey, https://youtu.be/vZ_-JzM-YQg

Casu Marzu Cheese Is Dangerous, Illegal, And Filled With Maggots,” ATI, Kara Goldfarb

“Cazu Martzu,” Wikipedia

Most Rotten Cheese,” The World’s Worst: A Guide to the Most Disgusting, Hideous, Inept, and Dangerous People, Places, and Things on Earth, Mark Frauenfelder


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: https://forecast.predictwind.com/tracking/display/FlyingfishClick the “Legends and Blogs” box on the right side of the tracking page for en route Passage Notes. 

To see where Flying Fish has sailed since leaving Key West in 2017, click here: https://cruisersat.net/track/Flying%20Fish.

Instagram: FlyingFishSail
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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

Welcome Aboard, Ginny!

Ginny and I have a history together under sail. As kids, we fell in love with each other on boats. We sailed together in the Bahamas and the Caribbean, from the Azores to Portugal, along the Spanish Mediterranean coastline, and throughout our home waters in the Florida Keys. On a sail back from Bimini, she asked me to marry her… at least that’s the way I remember it. That was 40 years ago. We are celebrating that anniversary in Sardinia aboard Flying Fish.

Our partnership allows great latitude in our lifestyles. Sometimes we only see each other for a few weeks each year. It works for us.

In 1976, Ginny and I were students at the University of Florida when we said our first bon voyage. I was sailing across the Atlantic with my family. My mother and father had a dream to go sailing and sold everything to buy a 43-sloop. With my two sisters and my brother already scattering into the wind, Mom and Dad’s plan brought us all back together. We had a glorious passage from Florida to Europe but the money ran out faster than expected and our family voyage was abbreviated. Mom and Dad left the boat in Spain to go back to work and asked me to help bring it home where it could be sold. Ginny joined me in Alicante for a few months as I waited on a weather window for the return ocean crossing. That summer Ginny and I sailed like pirates through the Mediterranean surviving on young love, mountains of fresh sardines, and bodega wine that we drank from goatskin bags. Ginny was always the responsible party in this partnership and after that summer she returned to school while I continued sailing.

In 1981, we had only been married about a week when I set sail again, this time solo across the Atlantic in my 23-foot sloop Betelgeuse. Ginny met me in Horta and we continued to Portugal together. I sold Betelegeuse in Europe and returned to college where it took me 10 years to earn a four-year degree. I was distracted by saltwater; Ginny, however, was focused and working her way through law school.

Our daughter Lilly was born in 1986. In our connubial re-telling of history, the story once again diverges here but I am fairly certain that my “enthusiastic” operation of an open skiff across rough water, with Ginny late in her pregnancy, induced labor and Lilly ultimately entered our world. She is Capt. Lilly now, a 100-ton USCG-Licensed Master.

While I continued to mess about in boats, Ginny created a notable legal career as a State Prosecutor, a City Attorney, and a brilliant lawyer in private practice. I clearly remember Ginny’s face on the dock in Key West as I departed in Flying Fish in December 2017 on this passage around the world. This wasn’t her dream, but in her eyes I saw her confidence and encouragement of my dream. She has given me a generous gift.

As the voyage of Flying Fish progressed, Ginny and I would rendezvous in ports around the world. We celebrated Christmas together in Panama City with a 2 AM supper in the historic quarter of Casco Viejo. Ginny flew to Tahiti and we swam in the natural aquariums of Moorea. In New Zealand, we sailed and road-tripped, and even worked as grape pickers in a vineyard in exchange for a wine-country lunch and a box of vintage Cabernet. At the end of each visit Ginny would return to Key West to a house, friends, and job she loved–and where a dog was always waiting for her. I would trim the sails aboard Flying Fish and set a course for another distant horizon.

It will be interesting to see how our lives will dovetail once this trip around the globe in Flying Fish comes to an end. I suspect that there will be a period of adjustment, at least for me. But for my wife of 40 years, who always sails through life on an even keel, the potential of stormy weather ahead does not concern her. Ginny is an optimist. She has strength and patience, and we are in it together for the long run.

Ginny Stones, June 2021, at the base of the 15th Century Torre di Porto Giunco overlooking Flying Fish at anchor. Photo: © Jeffrey Cardenas

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: https://forecast.predictwind.com/tracking/display/FlyingfishClick the “Legends and Blogs” box on the right side of the tracking page for en route Passage Notes. 

To see where Flying Fish has sailed since leaving Key West in 2017, click here: https://cruisersat.net/track/Flying%20Fish.

Instagram: FlyingFishSail
Facebook: Jeffrey Cardenas

Text and Photography © Jeffrey Cardenas 2021

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

Kidney Stones at Sea

Okay, I’m in Italy; a little drama is permitted… But, trying to pass kidney stones while sailing alone is no laughing matter. This fashionable model for the anti-spasmodic tonic Schoum Forte clearly shares my pain. Illustration credit: Soluzion Schoum Forte

There was that full horizontal knockdown from a rogue wave roaring out of the Southern Ocean. Also during these travels around the globe aboard Flying Fish: I cleaved open my scalp on a sharp edge of fiberglass, I broke a tooth, I nearly severed a toe. And, by the grace of God, I somehow avoided COVID-19 despite being in a crowded market in Langkawi during Chinese New Year in February 2020. Yet, no drama I have experienced compares with trying to pass a kidney stone alone on this boat.

I am on the island of San Pietro in Sardinia today. Carloforte is a lovely town, even through this lens of pulsating pain emanating from the area of my kidneys. There are no internists or urologists here, so I am self-diagnosing. I sought confirmation from a local pharmacist who winced at my Italian and then recommended an anti-spasmodic kidney detox tonic called Soluzione Schoum Forte. The tonic looks like a local Vermentino, but unfortunately, it doesn’t taste like one. First failed lesson: Understand the dosage: I thought, “due cucchiai da tavola, quattro-sei volte al giorno” meant, “take four to six spoonfuls twice a day.” Wrong. I got it backward. In the aftermath of that first triple dosage, I thought I would see that little girl with the spinning head from the Exorcist

It is estimated by the National Kidney Foundation that one in ten people will have a kidney stone at some time in their lives. Hopefully it won’t happen on a boat in a distant port-of-call. Kidney stones form when certain chemicals become concentrated enough in the urine to form crystals. These crystals grow, and as they make their way through the urinary tract, it hurts.

“Is this what killed Popeye?”

Peta Owens-Liston, ARUP Laboratories Science Writer

There are a lot of myths about what causes and prevents kidney stones. They can be caused by various conditions, including diet, dehydration, medications, infections, and genetics. Foods rich in oxalate, such as spinach, can contribute to stone formation. One thing is sure, passing a kidney stone is memorable. “It woke me up in the middle of the night. It left me gasping and sobbing. Screaming. Someone was sticking a knife in me and slowly turning it,” medical correspondent Petra Owens-Liston writes.

Preventative measures include changes to your diet. I don’t drink enough water when I am on the boat, I use too much salt, I enjoy coffee and good wine. Those can all lead to dehydration and, ultimately, kidney stones. Remedies can include medically blasting the kidney with sonic waves to break up stones. As a last resort, kidney stones can be surgically removed. One friend suggested a more straightforward solution. Her brother had a kidney stone and he felt the pain move down his back as the stone proceeded through the urinary tract. “Jump up and down a lot,” she said. “Gravity is your friend.” My Plan B to help move things along is to try a massage therapist; my happy ending would be the exorcism of this demon that lives in my plumbing.

Those are not seashells. A collection of kidney stones from ARUP Laboratories

With all seriousness, I realize that passing a kidney stone is a “first world problem.” To those who are truly suffering from more severe events in their lives, I mean no affront. We tend to focus on our own little orbit, especially when we are alone. Still, it is helpful to remember that there are more serious issues outside of our personal bubble.


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: https://forecast.predictwind.com/tracking/display/FlyingfishClick the “Legends and Blogs” box on the right side of the tracking page for en route Passage Notes. 

To see where Flying Fish has sailed since leaving Key West in 2017, click here: https://cruisersat.net/track/Flying%20Fish.

Instagram: FlyingFishSail
Facebook: Jeffrey Cardenas

Text and Photography © Jeffrey Cardenas 2021

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

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: https://forecast.predictwind.com/tracking/display/FlyingfishClick the “Legends and Blogs” box on the right side of the tracking page for en route Passage Notes. 

To see where Flying Fish has sailed since leaving Key West in 2017, click here: https://cruisersat.net/track/Flying%20Fish.

Instagram: FlyingFishSail
Facebook: Jeffrey Cardenas

Text and Photography © Jeffrey Cardenas 2021

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

Traditional Maltese Boats (and Kannoli)

A boat owner paints his luzzu with pride (and a little music from the earbuds) at the traditional fishing harbor of Marsaxlokk in Malta. © Jeffrey Cardenas

Maltese fishermen come from a long line of seafarers. I watch them moving about in the early morning of Msida Harbour, readying their traditional boats for another day on the water. Brightly painted luzzus and handcrafted rowing dories are loaded with nets and provisions. I am preparing for another day on the water, too. I will leave in a few hours on a 320-mile passage from Malta to Sardinia. I have a long to-do list this morning in Msida, but my attention is diverted by the scent of fresh-from-the-oven Maltese kannoli coming from the Busy Bee Bakery. Hmmm, I think as I turn toward the bakery. A sailor can’t go to sea without proper provisions…

The images of Malta’s traditional boats (not to mention the island’s kannoli) created memories I will carry on departure from this unique island. I arrived in Malta at a difficult time. The island was still in pandemic lockdown. Bars, restaurants, churches (even bakeries!) were closed indefinitely. Life was at a standstill, except at the waterfront. Each day, the sea came alive with fishermen in their traditional multicolored boats. Not even the worst virus in a century could stop the Maltese from going to sea.

It is interesting which images of a place etch into the grey matter and which fade away. I will sail from Malta with a little bit melancholy–there is never enough time–but also with a debt of gratitude. And, if things get rough, I have a sack of fresh-from-the-oven Maltese kannoli to help me along my way.



Malta’s Busy Bee kannoli. Passage provisions.

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: https://forecast.predictwind.com/tracking/display/FlyingfishClick the “Legends and Blogs” box on the right side of the tracking page for en route Passage Notes. 

To see where Flying Fish has sailed since leaving Key West in 2017, click here: https://cruisersat.net/track/Flying%20Fish.

Instagram: FlyingFishSail
Facebook: Jeffrey Cardenas

Text and Photography © Jeffrey Cardenas 2021

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

24 Doors Malta

The walled medieval city of Valletta withstood centuries of siege and world war and remained the spiritual center of Malta. Photograph © Jeffrey Cardenas

As I sail through a pandemic that seems to have no end, the significance of finding a portal allowing me to move onward has more meaning to me. Mediterranean Europe is on fire again with a new wave of coronavirus. As I prepared for my departure from Malta to Italy, my destination in Sardinia went from COVID Condition White (completely open) to Orange and then to Red (completely closed) in only three days. Much of Malta, where Flying Fish is currently moored, also remains closed. The cure for my restlessness this day is to walk through the medieval city of Valletta… and look at doors.

Doors control entry or exit, depending on which side you are on. They represent a border; doors divide and connect two worlds. They provide a passageway for starting something new or leaving something behind. A door is a universal symbol that implies transition, giving way from one domain to another. It is the place of passage between two completely different states. A door can divide a hostile and dangerous space from the comfort of a safe place.

“There are things known and things unknown, and in between are the doors.” –Jim Morrison

In Valletta today, most doors remain closed and locked. Some show centuries of use and wear. Others feature details of pride. All provide protection. And so it is with sailing in a pandemic. One day, the doors will reopen.



Sailing is not just about the wind and the sea; equally important are the places to which this voyage delivers 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: https://forecast.predictwind.com/tracking/display/FlyingfishClick the “Legends and Blogs” box on the right side of the tracking page for en route Passage Notes. 

To see where Flying Fish has sailed since leaving Key West in 2017, click here: https://cruisersat.net/track/Flying%20Fish

Instagram: FlyingFishSail
Facebook: Jeffrey Cardenas

Text and Photography © Jeffrey Cardenas 2021

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

Gregale

Gale force wind lashes Malta’s Marsamxett Harbour. Photo: © Jeffrey Cardenas

There is a Maltese expression: bahar jibla’ l-art, which translates as an event “when the sea wants to swallow the land.” It is a perfect description of the Mediterranean gregale that is sweeping over Malta this morning. Weather warnings for gale force winds reaching 40 knots from the northeast add an exclamation point to what has already been a winter of unstable Mediterranean weather.

The wind in Malta should abate by tomorrow, but a gregale is never taken lightly on this island with a rich maritime history. In February 2019, gregale winds in Malta reached Force 8 and 9 (50 knots), flooding streets and uprooting trees. The sea did “swallow the land” in Malta’s worst recorded gregale in 1555, causing waves that inundated the city of Valletta, drowning 600 people.

Today’s wind map for Malta and the Central Mediterranean Sea, with a future course line to Sardinia. Image Credit: PredictWind Offshore

Weather and religion frequently coincide, especially in this part of the world. The gregale is also known as euroclydon, meaning “a violent action.” Euroclydon was the Biblical cyclonic wind that wrecked the ship of St. Paul on the coast of Malta. “…About midnight the shipmen deemed that they drew near to some country; And sounded, and found it twenty fathoms: and when they had gone a little further, they sounded again, and found it fifteen fathoms. Then fearing lest we should have fallen upon rocks, they cast four anchors out of the stern, and wished for the day.

“And when neither sun nor stars in many days appeared, and no small tempest lay on us, all hope that we should be saved was then taken away.

Aboard Flying Fish, I have underestimated the severity of winter (now spring) Mediterranean weather. In Turkey and Greece, there was the Meltemi. Ahead lay the easterly Levante that funnels through the Straits of Gibraltar, the summer Sirocco is filled with Saharan sand, the Libeccio raises high seas in Corsica, the violent Mistral of southern France shoots cold air out of the Rhône Valley, and the northerly Tramontane is generally defined as “anything seen as foreign, strange, or even barbarous.”

With all of its idiosyncrasies, the weather is one of the most captivating aspects of sailing across the world’s oceans and seas. Weather can be fascinating (like a cobra coming out of a basket), it can be frustrating, or it can be otherworldly glorious. Weather always reminds me that I am human and that there exists a higher power than me.

Not even a gregale will move this canon embedded in Valletta’s shoreline. Photo: © Jeffrey Cardenas

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: https://forecast.predictwind.com/tracking/display/FlyingfishClick the “Legends and Blogs” box on the right side of the tracking page for en route Passage Notes. 

To see where Flying Fish has sailed since leaving Key West in 2017, click here: https://cruisersat.net/track/Flying%20Fish

Instagram: FlyingFishSail
Facebook: Jeffrey Cardenas

Text and Photography © Jeffrey Cardenas 2021

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

Passage to the Middle Sea

The rigging and foredeck of Flying Fish on passage in light air from Turkey to Malta. © Jeffrey Cardenas

A passage has a life of its own. Like a good book, there is a beginning, various plotlines, drama, and then it ends. The 680-mile passage of Flying Fish last week across the eastern Mediterranean from Turkey to Malta was no exception.

  • I felt some anxiety about my routing to Malta through Greek territorial waters. Greece and Turkey prohibit transit between their countries, and their war of words has recently escalated to saber-rattling.
  • Weather became an issue. A ferocious meltemi wind developed, unforcasted, soon after I departed from Turkey.
  • I experienced a startling “bump in the night” as Flying Fish’s keel met unseen rocks in a dark anchorage.
  • The meltemi turned into winter with freezing rain coating the deck.
  • As I continued into the Mediterranean, hundreds of merchant ships were stalled en route to Suez because a massive container ship had gone aground, closing the entire canal.
  • And in the middle of it all, I once again lost critical onboard electronics. Both the AIS and the autopilot became inoperative. I was electronically invisible to shipping traffic and, with my autopilot gone, I couldn’t even take my hands off the wheel to pee overboard.

Nobody said this was going to be easy.

The route from Turkey to Malta was an initial point of concern. Travel between ports in Turkey and Greece–COVID notwithstanding–has been shut down for months because of territorial sea disputes. Tensions are inflamed over an area of the continental shelf in the Aegean Sea believed to hold rich oil reserves. Territorial waters give the respective state(s) control over shipping. However, foreign ships usually are guaranteed “innocent passage” through those waters. Nevertheless, the Greek military continued a non-stop VHF radio broadcast, warning all vessels from Turkey not to “violate sovereign waters.” Short of heading several hundred miles south toward Egypt, transit through Greek territorial waters would be the only routing option for Flying Fish to sail west.

The passage began with a raging meltemi wind out of the Aegean. Meltemi winds form when a high-pressure system over Greece meets a low-pressure system over Turkey. North winds near gale force are often created in the chute between the two counter-rotating systems. Flying Fish struggled to make forward progress in steep, short-period seas between the islands. Temperatures plummeted as the northerly wind increased. Fortunately, there are abundant sanctuaries for protection from the meltemi among the Greek Islands. I dropped anchor to get some rest in a protected bay at sparsely inhabited Levitha Island, despite the questionable legality of doing so.

At 3 AM, I awoke to the sound of rock meeting fiberglass–never a good sound–and I realized that Flying Fish was not where I had dropped the anchor. In nearly 12,000 miles of sailing since leaving Key West, I had never, until this night, grounded the keel of Flying Fish. As the meltemi roared in the tight anchorage of Levitha, it created a vortex of wind spinning the boat around the anchor and into a rock below the surface. In my state of exhaustion hours earlier, I had made the cardinal error of situational awareness: I did not thoroughly examine my anchorage and allow adequate swing room. Awakened by this startling bump in the night, I sprung out of my berth, started the engine, winched up the anchor, and checked the bilge. There was no water ingress (external inspection would have to wait.) Flying Fish was floating. In pitch-black darkness and violent wind, I reversed my inward GPS track and motored out of the bay to deeper water. Only then I realized that I was half-naked and very, very cold.

“Being from the tropics, I like ice. I’m just not too fond of it when it comes out of the sky.”

By morning there was sleet on the deck of Flying Fish. Temperatures were above 0°C on deck, but freezing rain was falling from the sky. I was still wet from the night’s activity. Being from the tropics, I like ice. I’m just not too fond of it when it comes out of the sky. I needed to find shelter and regroup. The Greek Waters Pilot guide recommends a secure anchorage at Nísos Íos. The book says of the Manganari Bay anchorage: “The island is extremely popular with young sun-lovers. Nude bathing is tolerated here.” A caïque brings beachgoers “topless and bottomless” daily from Íos. But that wasn’t happening today.

News about the blockage of the Suez Canal was scarce over my satellite reports, but I began to see an unending line of merchant ships jamming the shipping lanes toward Port Said. Deciphering lights, radio calls, radar blips, and other electronic information can be like reading code. Why is one ship moving one way while all the others are doing something different? Much of that information transmits by AIS (Automatic Identification System) to my mapping electronics. The AIS tells me who is navigating the same water as Flying Fish, essential information for collision avoidance. Most of the ships noted on AIS were tankers (empty tankers, it turned out, heading to the Middle East for more oil). One vessel was moving much faster than the others. It was listed on AIS as a “Dredging Operator,” expertise much needed considering the current circumstances. The Suez Canal blockage was now a critical event with global economic implications.

And then–poof!–all of the AIS targets vanished from my navigation screens. Simultaneously, Flying Fish turned abruptly to windward as the autopilot disengaged. Not again! A year earlier, as I began a 3,000-mile passage across the Indian Ocean, Flying Fish experienced an identical system failure. Unable to resolve the problem, I diverted first to Sumatra and afterward to Phuket for repairs (and then came COVID and a circumnavigation interrupted… but that is a different chapter for another day.) Now, 150 miles out of Malta, the situation (it always happens at night) was frustrating but manageable. I would sail the final stretch into the historic Valletta harbor the way my forebears did, using my eyes for navigation and my hands to steer. Even at night, every cloud has a silver lining.

The historic walled city of Valletta, Malta glows in the evening light. Photograph © Jeffrey Cardenas

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: https://forecast.predictwind.com/tracking/display/FlyingfishClick the “Legends and Blogs” box on the right side of the tracking page for en route Passage Notes. 

To see where Flying Fish has sailed since leaving Key West in 2017, click here: https://cruisersat.net/track/Flying%20Fish

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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

Easter Celebrations Canceled

The rounded dome of the Basilica of Our Lady of Mount Carmel and the iconic spire of St. Paul’s Anglican Cathedral’s in Valletta’s harbor. Photograph: © Jeffrey Cardenas

Good Friday. In this context, it has always been difficult for me to understand the use of the word “good.” In Malta today, as COVID lingers like the plague it is, Good Friday takes on an even darker tone. The Archdiocese of Malta suspended the celebration of public Masses on Easter to contain the spread of coronavirus.

On Good Friday, according to the Bible, the son of God was whipped bloody and humiliated as he carried a cross upon which he was nailed before finally being put to death. Good Friday? Historians believe it was simply a question of etymology, a word developed from an older name, possibly “God’s Friday.” Theologians look at it differently. Good Friday is holy, they believe, because on this day when Jesus Christ gave his life in sacrifice for people’s sins it was an embodiment of compassion, love, and empathy.

I think about this as I walk the narrow streets of Valletta on this tiny island with 359 churches. I look out at the rounded dome of the Basilica of Our Lady of Mount Carmel and the iconic spire of St. Paul’s Anglican Cathedral. Easter Sunday Mass, with the parishioners of Malta and Caravaggio’s masterworks in St. John’s Cathedral, is canceled. I resolve to dig deep into my faith to recognize the true meaning of Good Friday.

malta-waterfront-pram.sm_


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, my boat speed (or lack thereof), and current weather as I sail into the Mediterranean by clicking this satellite uplink: https://forecast.predictwind.com/tracking/display/FlyingfishClick the “Legends and Blogs” box on the right side of the tracking page for en route Passage Notes

To see where Flying Fish has sailed since leaving Key West in 2017, click here: https://cruisersat.net/track/Flying%20Fish

Instagram: FlyingFishSail
Facebook: Jeffrey Cardenas

Text and Photography © Jeffrey Cardenas 2021

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

Underway Again

Heading due west. The joy of being underway again is beyond words. Photograph: © Jeffrey Cardenas / Flying Fish file photo

It has been 181 days, 12 hours, 17 minutes since Flying Fish was last underway. But who’s counting? What matters is that I am sailing today. I am departing Turkey where, despite the struggle of the pandemic, I was warmly welcomed. My destination today is Malta, 680 nautical miles due west.

I will transit the Greek Dodecanese islands. These ragged nuggets of rock piercing the sea are the tops of mountains that once stood upon the great plain of the Aegean. The Cyclades come next. I hope to sail inside the crater of the drowned volcano at Santorini. Sadly, I will only be able to see the storied whitewashed villages of Santorini at a distance from the deck of Flying Fish. Greece is still in COVID lockdown and entry is not permitted to those holding U.S. passports.

Peloponnesos will pass to starboard, its forbidding coastline hanging from the southern tip of Greece like the roots of a wisdom tooth. The people here are descended from Spartans, warriors who successfully defended this ancient trading route of silk, pearls, and opium from both the Ottomans and Romans. Weather in the Southern Ionian Sea can be equally fierce. Authors Rod and Lucinda Heikell write that the twin capes here, Tainaron and Maléas, “have acquired a reputation as minor Cape Horns.”

What follows is 425 miles of open water to the geographical center of the Mediterranean–Malta. Although the European Union is still closed to Americans, Malta (a member state of the EU) is currently admitting travelers holding U.S. passports, if they meet certain conditions. Flying Fish, because of an extended time spent in the “corridor country” of Turkey, meets Malta’s entry conditions.

Malta is located about 200 miles north of Libya and 200 miles east of Tunisia. It is one of the world’s smallest and most densely populated countries with a population of nearly 500,000 people living on 122 square miles. The ancient Greeks called the island Μελίτη (Melitē) meaning “honey-sweet”, probably for the endemic subspecies of black bees living on the island. There is a unique natural history in Malta. Pleistocene fossil deposits reveal the existence and extinction of dwarf hippos, giant swans, and pygmy elephants. With creatures like that maybe mythology was closer to real life than we imagine.

Mythology and region have always been conjoined in this part of the world, and Malta has a long-standing relationship with both folklore and the Catholic faith. Christianity came to Malta in the form of a shipwreck. In 60 AD, St. Paul the Apostle had been arrested for his religious teachings and was being transported to Rome by ship. A Mediterranean storm overwhelmed the vessel. New Testament Acts 27:41 describes the wreck: “But striking a reef, they ran the ship aground; the bow stuck and remained immovable, but the stern was being broken up by the force of the waves.” St. Paul survived by swimming ashore in Malta where he continued to preach the euaggelion, the “good news,” of the gospel.

“But striking a reef, they ran the ship aground; the bow stuck and remained immovable, but the stern was being broken up by the force of the waves.”

–New Testament Acts 27:41

Religion and art are also integrated into the culture of Malta. There are no fewer than 359 churches in Malta and many of them feature the works of Old Masters. The St. John’s Cathedral in Valletta is a Baroque crown jewel with “intricately carved stone walls and a floor that is an iridescent patchwork quilt of marble tomb slabs.” (A sign reads: “Stiletto Heels Not Permitted.”) Painted ceilings and side altars chronicle the life of the namesake of the cathedral. In the Oratory is displayed the Caravaggio masterpiece, The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist. I hope to celebrate Easter Sunday Mass here.

When I am asked why I leave the comfort of home on these extended journeys, I can only respond that I am moved by a sense of place. I want the see the headlands where Spartan warriors defended the Spice Routes. I want to touch the earth that supported dwarf hippos and giant swans. I want to immerse my body into the water where an Apostle of Jesus Christ swam ashore after a shipwreck. These are the things that motivate me to raise the sails today and press onward.

Flying Fish in the deep cerulean blue of the Eastern Mediterannean. © Jeffrey Cardenas

Please subscribe (for free!) 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 once I have an Internet connection.

You can follow the daily progress of Flying Fish, my speed (or lack thereof), and current weather as I sail into the Mediterranean by clicking this satellite uplink: https://forecast.predictwind.com/tracking/display/Flyingfish. Look for en route notes and log excerpts on the right side of the tracking page.

To see where Flying Fish has sailed since leaving Key West in 2017, click here: https://cruisersat.net/track/Flying%20Fish

Instagram: FlyingFishSail
Facebook: Jeffrey Cardenas

Text and Photography © Jeffrey Cardenas 2021

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

Oracle of Apollo at Didyma

The oracle, situated within what was one of the world’s greatest temples of Apollo, was said to foretell the future. What could it tell us about tomorrow? Photograph: © Jeffrey Cardenas

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan this week announced the end of COVID lockdown restrictions for most parts of Turkey including Didim, where Flying Fish is undergoing final preparations for departure westward and the continuation of her circumnavigation. Didim is also the location of an archeological site, the Temple of Apollo at Didyma, where pilgrims consulted an oracle and received a divine prophecy of future events. Some divination would be helpful in these uncertain days. Released from lockdown, I spend the day wandering among the marbled Doric columns of the Didyma ruin and reflect on the bizarre history of this place. Maybe the oracle will tell me how the proverbial winds will blow for Flying Fish in the coming year.

Didyma was once the most renowned sanctuary of the Hellenic world. Some of the earliest archaeological pieces discovered here date back to the 8th century BC. In its heyday, the colossal Temple of Apollo was larger than even the Parthenon in Athens. Its size and influence grew around a small natural spring which was believed to be the source of the oracle’s prophetic power.

Apollo was one of the Olympian deities in Greek and Roman mythology. He was the son of Zeus, the king of the gods. In the Iliad, Apollo is a healer. He cured people during pandemics, yet he was also a god who could bring about disease and death with a shot from his arrow. Apollo was a god who could spread disease, but he could also prevent it. He was a god of limitless power.

Apollo was said to have been born under a palm tree on a floating island named Delos in the Aegean Sea. When his mother Leto gave birth “everything on Delos turned to gold and the island was filled with ambrosial fragrance. Swans circled the island seven times and the nymphs sang in delight.” Apollo’s birth fixed the floating island of Delos to the bottom of the ocean. It lies 100 miles due west of Didyma and Flying Fish.

I became fascinated with Apollo because of his distinction as a patron and protector of sailors, a duty he shared with Poseidon. In mythology, Apollo is seen helping heroes who pray to him for a safe journey. Once, when he spotted a ship of Cretan sailors caught in a storm, he assumed the shape of a dolphin and guided their ship safely to Delphi. When the Argonauts were foundering at sea, Jason prayed to Apollo for help and the god used his bow and golden arrow to shed light upon an island where the Argonauts found shelter. Apollo helped the Greek hero Diomedes escape from a great tempest during his journey homeward, and he sent gentle breezes that helped Odysseus return safely from the Trojan War.

If a god had such powers over mortals then surely, it was thought, he could also foretell the future. Temples to Apollo were built throughout the Aegean but among the most extravagant was the grand temple to Apollo built over a sacred spring in the Anatolian region of what is now Turkey. Rows of Ionic columns were ornamented with reliefs of griffins and gorgons. A frieze above the columns featured monumental heads of Medusa. At the entrance to the temple there was an altar for Apollo, which, according to Greek historians of the second century AD, was made of the blood and ashes of sacrificed animals. A festival was held each year in Didyma called the Didymeia. Pilgrims walked 20 kilometers along the Sacred Way from Miletus to Didyma to participate in the celebration of Spring. Poets, musicians, and artisans strolled among the courtyards. A theater and stadium at the temple hosted events. Believers consulted the oracle. In the oracular procedure, reconstructed by historians and archeologists, a priestess inspired by Apollo sat on a foundation above the oracle spring. It is likely that the priestess delivered Apollo’s predictions in classical hexameters, as at Delphi. Nothing was written, however, and there was no record of whether the oracle predicted what would happen next.

The Temple of Apollo at Didyma was plundered and destroyed in 494 BC by the Persian king Darius, known for his skill of deception and of lancing his enemies. (In an interesting footnote, Darius was said to have been crowned after winning a wager with three other candidates for the monarchy. They agreed to meet before daybreak, each on his horse, and the first horse to neigh at the sunrise would be named the new king. Darius cheated. His servant made the horse neigh by letting the animal smell scent rubbed from the genitals of a mare. The horse’s neigh, accompanied by lightning and thunder from a storm, convinced the other candidates to accept Darius as the new king.) During the raid of Didyma, the Persians carried away a bronze cult statue of Apollo and it was reported that the sacred spring ceased to flow. The oracle was silenced. Didyma remained a ruin until 331 BC when Alexander the Great, who by the age of 30 had created one of the largest empires of the ancient world stretching from Greece to northwestern India, conquered the Persians and re-consecrated the Didyma site. Callisthenes, the great-nephew of Aristotle and historian of Alexander, reported that the spring had once again begun to flow. The temple itself, however, seemed forever doomed.

Caligula had the heads removed from various statues of gods located across Rome and replaced them with his own.

Cassius Dio, Roman History Book LIX

Didyma was looted again in 277 BC, this time by the Galatians as they raided Greek cities in Asia Minor. Then pirates plundered Didyma in 67 BC. Julius Caesar declared Didyma a refuge for people facing persecution but still, the Temple of Apollo lay in ruin. Another Roman emperor, this time the notorious Caligula, also tried to resurrect the Didyma Temple of Apollo. Historians focus on Caligula’s cruelty, sadism, extravagance, and sexual perversion, presenting him as an insane tyrant. Once, during some games at which he was presiding, Caligula was said to have ordered his guards to throw an entire section of the audience into the arena during the intermission to be eaten by the wild beasts because he was bored. Caligula had the heads removed from various statues of gods located across Rome and replaced them with his own. He began referring to himself as a god when meeting with politicians, even dressing occasionally as Apollo. Meanwhile, Didyma languished.

The Roman emperors were not yet done with Didyma. In 303 AD, the emperor Diocletian sent a delegation to Didyma to ask the oracle what he should do about the growing number of Christians within the empire. The Christians were accused of upsetting the gods and preventing accurate prophecies. The oracle’s supposed response inspired Diocletian to launch the most severe and systematic religious persecution of Christians in Roman history. They, too, were thrown into the arenas with wild beasts. This marked the end of the oracle. And in 1493, an earthquake destroyed the Temple of Apollo at Didyma. It was never rebuilt.

Modern Didim is now a place fueled by a tourist industry that has gone into stasis during the COVID pandemic. Vacation villas pave the hillsides. Massive hotels remain virtually empty. The ruin of the Temple of Apollo at Didyma is incongruously located in a high-density neighborhood of modern apartment complexes. It is difficult to reconcile the immense history of Didyma–funded by the riches of Croesus, destroyed by Darius, resurrected by Alexander the Great, defiled by Caligula–with the current reality of people going about their business in Didim. There are banks and real estate offices, a home goods store, gas stations, mobile phone stores, and recently re-opened cafes and restaurants. And then, as you pass the Mine Market Liquor Store located near what was once the Sacred Way, there is the monumental Temple of Apollo. The ruin has been sparsely visited since COVID. It is as if daily life during the pandemic has made it too difficult to revisit the past. I walk alone among a great field of fallen columns. In the southeast corner of the ruin, next to the screaming face of a carved gorgon, I see a sliver of green among some moist ground. It is the sacred spring emerging from the earth.

Medusa had made Athena angry so the goddess transformed Medusa’s beautiful hair into serpents so that the mere sight of her would turn onlookers to stone. Images of monsters like Medusa were believed to protect temples from harm. Photograph: © Jeffrey Cardenas

SOURCES

  • Didyma” Encyclopædia Britannica Premium Service
  • Didyma” The Oxford Dictionary of Classical Myth and Religion, Simon Price and Emily Kearns
  • The History of Apollo’s Temple at Didyma, As Told By Marble Analyses And Historic Sources“, Barbara Borg and Gregor Borg, Martin Luther University Halle Wittenberg
  • “Darius I” World History Encyclopedia, Radu Cristian.
  • Hymn to Delos”  Callimachus, Greek poet and scholar at the Library of Alexandria 310–240 BC
  • The Iliad” Homer 

Please subscribe at the bottom of this page so that you don’t miss a new update, and consider sharing this post with others who might enjoy following the voyage of Flying Fish. I welcome your comments.

I hope to be underway aboard Flying Fish in late March 2021. Once the voyage restarts you can follow the daily progress of Flying Fish into the Mediterranean, and onward, by clicking this link: https://forecast.predictwind.com/tracking/display/Flyingfish

To see where Flying Fish has sailed since leaving Key West in 2017, click here: https://cruisersat.net/track/Flying%20Fish

Instagram: FlyingFishSail
Facebook: Jeffrey Cardenas

Text and Photography © Jeffrey Cardenas 2021

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

The Other Side of Sailing

Why do boat builders build boats knowing that fully grown human beings will never be able to access the essential areas necessary to maintain them? Photograph: © Jeffrey Cardenas

Okay, full disclosure: Sometimes I do not know which is the correct way to turn a wrench. I think with a different part of my brain. I can sail upright through a gale. I can calculate in an instant the photographic exposure of a bird flying against a fading sunset. But ask me to change the impeller on a diesel engine and I’m a deer staring into the headlights of an 18-wheeler.

After four months on the hard, Flying Fish was re-launched last week in Didim, Turkey. Sailboats, like all machines (and many people), do not work well after sitting idle. It’s the Tin Man syndrome. It requires attention, motivation, and lubrication to start moving again. Complicating things is the fact that my beloved 46-foot cutter is not a simple sailboat. Systems designed to make sailing more efficient and enjoyable often bring about the exact opposite result. In an effort to attract buyers, marine manufacturers stuff modern sailboats with features many sailors like me are challenged to repair themselves. And it is not just the sophisticated stuff like air conditioners, computer-driven engines, and high-tech navigation systems that baffle boneheads like me. It’s the simple stuff, too. Like why put a threaded shaft bearing that needs frequent maintenance into an area of the bilge that is inaccessible with a wrench? Or, why design an engine that requires partial disassembly to service a simple but essential engine cooling impeller.

Flying Fish, with a freshly painted bottom and buffed topsides, returns to the water in Didim, Turkey. Photograph: © Jeffrey Cardenas

When standard engine service is necessary on a new vessel, Certified Factory Authorized Technicians are often required or warranties will be voided. That level of service can be tough to find in remote places like Fatu Hiva or Pukapuka, or Sumatra. So when I pass through major population centers I have the engine on Flying Fish serviced by pros. Earlier in my voyage, a Certified Factory Authorized Technician I hired in New Zealand asked me, “How do you access the impeller?” I said, “You’re the one making the big bucks. You tell me.” Soon there were two Kiwi technicians onboard scratching their heads. And then there were four of them–all Certified Factory Authorized Technicians. Bewildered, they then called in a carpenter with a reciprocating saw who said, “These guys tell me I need to cut a hole in the cabin floor (a gorgeous new teak-and-holly cabin floor) for them to access the impeller.” I said some bad words and pointed the Certified Factory Authorized Technicians, and their carpenter with the Sawzall, to the dock.

A kind sailor named Matt Stence from the sailboat Nimbus was watching the departing parade of mechanics. He said, “Hey, let me try.” With his face squished against the engine’s flywheel, his shoulder in the bilge, and his hand bloody and bent at an impossible angle, Matt blindly removed and replaced the impeller on Flying Fish. There is a place in heaven for people like Matt Stence. I have never been able to reproduce his effort.

Eighteen months and 750 engine hours later, it is time to replace the impeller again. Flying Fish is in a reputable boatyard with trained Certified Factory Authorized Technicians. “It is a difficult job,” I tell them when they arrive. “It’s not impossible but I cannot figure out how to do it,” I say. “It will only take one hour,” the service manager assures me. He tells me to watch and learn. Four mechanics open their toolboxes and roll up their sleeves. I feel their confidence; there are no reciprocating saws in their toolboxes. But the mechanics cannot access the impeller with a blind hand under the engine as Matt Stence did. The lead mechanic asks for more tools. Then he begins to remove the heat exchanger, essential for cooling the engine with seawater. This will allow him to access the concealed cooling pump and impeller. He unclamps a hose and suddenly there is a fountain of seawater in the engine room. “Close seacock,” he tells an assistant, who tells the service manager, who translates and then asks me: “Where is seacock?” When the seacock has closed the ingress of water is stopped. I feel chest palpitations. “Is everything okay now?” I ask. “Yes,” the service manager says, facing the engine room “Is okay, except for a little fire.”

A little fire…?

The seawater leakage has shorted exposed wiring in the alternator.

“Please sir,” the manager says urgently. “Turn off electricity.” I pull the master switch to shut down the batteries.

“A little fire?” I ask again, incredulously.

“Is okay,” the manager reassures. “No fire, only sparklets.”

Sparklets…?

In the end, the issue resolves amicably and professionally. The technicians address my concerns and disassemble, clean, and test the alternator. The seawater impeller is replaced. The engine is cleaned and reassembled. No human beings were harmed in the making of this drama.

I understand that it is on me to maintain and fix what breaks aboard Flying Fish. It is the captain’s responsibility, especially if he is sailing shorthanded, to see that his vessel is seaworthy. Some sailors have it–they can build a boat with their bare hands and fix anything that breaks with their eyes closed. And some captains like me have trouble remembering which way to turn a wrench. There are resources available to me when systems become too complicated for my artistic-oriented brain to compute. The kindness of strangers like Matt Stence is one welcomed resource. There is also a helpful organization called the Island Packet Yacht Owners Association, men and women who have seen and resolved nearly anything that could go wrong in both simple and sophisticated boat systems. You never know how many friends you have until you need help on a boat, and the long-distanced IPOYA members have always had my back. There are circumstances, however, when you need boots on the ground right now and you have to call in the calvary.

Today is one of those days. The mission is addressing the shaft stuffing box bearing that allows no access with a wrench. The bearing needs adjustment because if it is too tight it can burn up the shaft seal. If the bearing is too loose the ocean can enter the sailboat and everything gets wet as the boat sinks. I go online to look for ideas of how to adjust the correct tension on the two large bronze nuts of the stuffing box bearing. The yacht owners group has some excellent suggestions. Try heat and penetrating oil, is one idea. Another Island Packet owner writes that he tightens and loosens the large nuts on his bearing by pounding on their edges from above with a hammer hitting a crowbar. It works for him but not for me. I have visions of the crowbar slipping off the nut as the force of the hammer drives the crowbar through the bottom of Flying Fish. There is one more option and it saves the day–using resourceful local boatyard engineers. They are going to brainstorm the problem and make a tool from scratch that will adjust the shaft bearing nuts.

The three engineers arrive, walking shoulder-to-shoulder like the Ghostbusters down the dock. They introduce themselves. “I am Mehmet,” says the first one. “I am Mehmet,” says the second one. “I am also Mehmet,” says the third, who speaks English. “We are the Three Mehmets,” he says proudly. “In Turkey when you are in the company of three people named Mehmet it is a sign of good luck! Make a wish and your wish will come true.”

Meeting people like the Three Mehmets, and receiving the kindness of strangers from around the globe who help me in a time of need, makes me realize that my wish has already been fulfilled.

The “Three Mehmets” will fabricate a tool from raw steel to adjust the stubborn and inaccessible shaft bearing aboard Flying Fish. © Jeffrey Cardenas

Please subscribe at the bottom of this page so that you don’t miss a new update, and consider sharing this post with others who might enjoy following the voyage of Flying Fish. I welcome your comments.

I hope to be underway aboard Flying Fish in March 2021. Once the voyage restarts you can follow the daily progress of Flying Fish into the Mediterranean, and onward, by clicking this link: https://forecast.predictwind.com/tracking/display/Flyingfish

To see where Flying Fish has sailed since leaving Key West in 2017, click here: https://cruisersat.net/track/Flying%20Fish

Instagram: FlyingFishSail
Facebook: Jeffrey Cardenas

Text and Photography © Jeffrey Cardenas 2021

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

Three Years Before the Mast

Thoughts, Lessons, and Observations

A thousand miles from land… what happens out here can only be resolved out here. © Photograph: Jeffrey Cardenas / image by remote

“There is a witchery in the sea –Richard Henry Dana, Two Years Before the Mast, published 1840.

On this day three years ago, Flying Fish slipped the lines from her berth at Safe Harbor in Key West and was underway on a passage that has carried her nearly 22,000 miles and two-thirds of the way around the globe. Along the route there have been wonders and joy, injuries and illness, moments of fear, revelation, and accomplishment. There has also been disappointment. This year, as the COVID-19 virus infected the world, Flying Fish traveled 5,000 of those miles alone–from Thailand to Turkey–on the deck of a freighter as I waited impatiently in quarantine on the other side of the world. I certainly do not seek sympathy for being separated from a boat when millions of other people are separated from their families, some permanently. These are days in which we all live in some form of isolation–physically and emotionally–as a result of health issues, personal decisions, or just simple fate. My isolation was self-imposed when I set off from Safe Harbor. It has been a journey both inward and outward, and one with eyes wide open. Here are some of the thoughts and lessons learned from these three years aboard Flying Fish.


Patience

When things become complicated I have learned that I have two simple choices: I can either let impatience darken my horizon, or I can seek strength in what I cannot control. When I sail alone, I navigate a fine path between what is manageable and what is not. It is essential at sea to know the difference. On a 1,300-mile passage between Tonga and New Zealand in October 2018, I knew that even the best weather window at this time of year would include at least one full gale raging eastward from the Tasman Sea. We can understand the weather but we cannot control it. On this passage I watched satellite weather maps, and, later, the darkening clouds themselves. As the gale approached I braced for impact. Howling wind and massive breaking seas made it seem as if the world was ending. It wasn’t. It was just a gale. I knew that this would pass. And it did.

A face reflecting the wear-and-tear of sailing through consecutive gales en route to New Zealand. Photograph: © Jeffrey Cardenas / image by remote

Sanctity of Life

Who doesn’t believe in the sanctity of life? But the complex decision of what lives and dies at our hands is a gray area that can only be defined individually. These three years before the mast have given me a different perspective regarding co-existence on this planet. Aboard Flying Fish some days pass with no sign of life, nothing beyond my own beating heart–not birds or porpoise, not even any fish. Fish have been an important part of my life. I earned much of my livelihood as a fisherman. For decades, my job was to catch fish every day and catch as many of them as I could. In this pursuit the fish themselves became something less sentient. Sportfishing was entertainment and fish were a commodity. Catching or not catching represented profit or loss. But aboard Flying Fish, when sea life finally did appear, the creatures around me became companions during my long solitary journey. I loved watching shoals of tuna feed on the surface. My eyes followed the flight of every airborne flying fish. I was fascinated by the predatory saga when flying fish soaring above the wave tops were pursued by dorado from below and frigate birds from above. When I was hungry, I would catch one of the dorado. As one fish came to the boat it was often accompanied by dozens of its brothers. Initially, there was an overwhelming impulse to drop a line back for “just one more.” As the days and weeks at sea passed I wondered why I felt I needed more. I was just one person aboard Flying Fish. Why catch two fish when I could only eat one? I began having difficulty justifying why I wanted to feel the life struggle of another living creature? Two thoughts evolved as I gradually transitioned from anthropocentrism to a modified and more Eastern philosophy that holds all life as sacred: I learned that it is important for me to tread more softly. Equally important, I learned not to judge how others view the sanctity of life. I can live only within my own skin.

Co-existence. A Humpback whale breaches next to Flying Fish in Tonga’s Ha’apai Islands. © Jeffrey Cardenas

Changing Environment

I keep a worn copy of Rachel Carson’s The Sea Around Us aboard Flying Fish. Published in 1951, she wrote: “It is a curious situation that the sea, from which life first arose, should now be threatened by the activities of one form of that life.” I was horrified when I learned of Indonesian fishermen who poisoned and detonated homemade explosives on their pristine coral reefs. Granted, it is an effective method of fishing. The stunned reef fish float to the surface which makes gathering them more efficient. But how was it possible that those who were throwing explosives could not see that they were killing the reef for future generations? I considered this in the log of Flying Fish on August 25, 2019: “Many areas of Indonesia, including Flores Island, show evidence of reef bombing and cyanide fishing. I spent six hours on the not-yet-bombed shallow reefs of Sabibi Island yesterday. I was immersed in a dazzle and diversity of life that was simply difficult to comprehend. It was also beyond my comprehension that a person could drop explosives and poison a reef like this for the one-time opportunity to put some fish in a basket. That said, who am I to judge? My child has never been truly hungry. But would I blow up a coral reef to feed her?” How do we identify the line between immediate need and preservation for the future? And who gets to define that line?

Shallow water reefs still thrive in many parts of the tropical ocean where water quality is untainted by runoff, effluent, poison and explosive fishing devices. Photograph: © Jeffrey Cardenas

Orangutans Meet Global Economics

On the rugged island of Borneo in Southeast Asia’s Malay Archipelago there is a limestone cave believed to contain the oldest figurative art on earth, a depiction of a bull, carbon-dated to 52,000 years ago. Nearby is one of the largest coal mines in the world. Borneo is known for its ancient rainforest, home to wildlife including orangutans and clouded leopards. Soon, because of sea level rise and overpopulation, the Indonesian government will move its capital of Jakarta and 1.5 million new residents into what is left of the East Kalimantan rainforest. I have learned that even in the most remote areas of the world nothing is sacred when global economics are at stake. My daughter Lilly and I hoped to see the remaining wild orangutans so we sailed Flying Fish upriver from the south coast of Borneo. At the town of Kumai we anchored the sailboat and hired a riverboat guide to take us to the headwaters of Sekonyer River in Tanjung Puting National Park. Our destination was Camp Leakey, named after the legendary paleo-anthropologist Louis Leakey. We were amazed by the wildlife: Proboscis monkeys vaulted from the trees along the river. We heard the call of a rare rhinoceros hornbill. A False gharial crocodile warmed itself in the sun on the riverbank. And, finally, we saw wild orangutans. At the junction of two tributaries, the tannic but clear water flowing into the clear Sekonyer became jaundiced yellow in color. I asked what was causing it. Was this mud from a rainstorm upstream? “It’s always like this now,” our guide replied. “This tributary brings the runoff of mining and palm oil cultivation into the Sekonyer. Nothing lives here now.” Nothing lives here except more people with better jobs and higher incomes. But what is the cost to the natural habitat in one of the most remote places on earth?

From the security of her arboreal perch, a wild Kalimantan orangutan nurses her infant. © Jeffrey Cardenas

Vulnerability and Strength

I underestimated the level of mental and physical strength required to sail a boat around the world. It’s just sailing, right? It’s not that complicated. But when things go wrong at sea, they can go very wrong. Minor complications are exacerbated when sailing alone. Preparation is essential but even the most organized and experienced offshore sailors cannot completely prepare for the unexpected. In April 2019, I departed New Zealand for Fiji, a solo passage of 1,200 miles. Flying Fish was in better-than-new condition following a months-long refit in Opua. I was personally tuned up, too, eating “heaps” of healthy local produce and strength training daily in a nearby gym. My April departure date was based solely upon readiness and weather conditions. A dozen different weather routing sources finally established my best departure date as April 13. With a fresh Antipodean fall breeze aft of the beam I set sail from New Zealand to Polynesia. Fast forward three days to Latitude 29° 22′ 56” S and 174° 8′ 58” E, or about 700 miles SSW of Fiji. I am asleep in the cabin. Flying Fish is sailing a broad reach on autopilot in moderate but manageable conditions. All is well onboard, until it is not. I awaken suddenly to the roar of water. My world seems to turn upside down as an awful shower of glass, canned food, cookware, and a drawer full of cutlery rains down upon my head. I leap out of my berth onto shards of broken glass that tear into the soles of my feet. Water is pouring through an open hatch. In my semi-wakefulness I am convinced that Flying Fish is sinking in 13,000 feet of water. The boat has been knocked down–mast to the surface of the ocean–rolled broadside by a wave that must have exceeded by multiples any wave I had experienced since my departure from New Zealand. This rogue wave, perhaps caused by seismic activity near the Kermadec Islands, has flooded the cockpit of Flying Fish with nearly a ton of water. Gallons of seawater are inside the cabin and engine room. The boat is sitting heavy and deep. The breaking wave has stripped the deck of loose gear and canvas. A spare container of diesel on the deck has opened spreading a sheen of fuel oil and noxious fumes across the boat. I am disoriented, hyperventilating, and bleeding from the head and feet. I have never felt more vulnerable. Or alone. When my heart rate slows I realize this was a single, freak wave. The sea is once again normal. I pump water from the boat and assess damage. The hull is intact. The initial sense of vulnerability is replaced by an odd and unexpected feeling of inner strength. With the engine dead and the interior of the boat in shambles I deviate course to New Caledonia, the closest boatyard for repairs. I am still hundreds of miles and days from land but something within me has changed. I feel now as though I can face adversity at sea with a different level of confidence. I go below to make a pot of tea and attend to the debris aboard Flying Fish.

Prepping the foredeck of Flying Fish in anticipation of a gale in the Coral Sea near New Caledonia. Photograph: © Jeffrey Cardenas / image by remote

Gratitude

I returned briefly to Flying Fish in Turkey during the 2020 COVID season, but I sailed with a sense of survivor’s guilt. Was it right for me to be on a boat while others were quarantined in their homes? Now, in retrospect, I have replaced that guilt with gratitude. When we can choose the course of our lives we should consider it a privilege and act upon it. When fate chooses a different course for our lives we should seek positives along that route, even when none are immediately apparent. I recognize that this opportunity to navigate the globe is a privilege. I also know that at some point it will end. It may end sooner than I choose. Health, politics, and natural aging constraints are factors that will determine what remains possible for me aboard Flying Fish. It is essential that I live my best life, regardless of whether that life leads me to Borneo or to my backyard. During these three years before the mast I have learned that I cannot waste a single moment.

Turkey’s spiritual peak Babadağ, rising directly from sea level to a summit of 1,969 meters, watches over Flying Fish at anchor. © Photograph: Jeffrey Cardenas

Please subscribe at the bottom of this page so that you don’t miss a new update, and consider sharing this post with others who might enjoy following the voyage of Flying Fish. I welcome your comments.

I return to Flying Fish in January 2021. Once the voyage restarts you can follow the daily progress of Flying Fish into the Mediterranean, and onward, by clicking this link: https://forecast.predictwind.com/tracking/display/Flyingfish

To see where Flying Fish has sailed since leaving Key West in 2017, click here: https://cruisersat.net/track/Flying%20Fish

Instagram: FlyingFishSail
Facebook: Jeffrey Cardenas

Text and Photography © Jeffrey Cardenas 2020

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

2020 Photo Year in Review

The Turkish Mediterranean 

Turkish flag and sail.sm

It has been a blessing to spend part of 2020 on a sailboat instead of in quarantine–or worse, in a COVID-19 hospital ward. More than a million people are dead of the virus. To have been able to isolate onboard Flying Fish during this health crisis was a privilege that I did not take for granted. Flying Fish is grounded for now.  My Turkish visa expired, requiring that I leave the country. The European Union, which controls most of the remaining Mediterranean coastline, is closed to visitors with U.S. passports. I cannot sail onward to Greece, Italy, France, or Spain until the virus is under control. Going forward during this time of politics and pandemic will require creative navigation at a date unknown. For now, it provides solace to look back at 2020 aboard Flying Fish


Coastline

Isolation during the time of COVID was essential. Often, this quiet time alone was also euphoric. As I sailed along the Türk Rivierası, also known as the Turquoise Coast, it was my personal objective each day to seek out something positive. There was joy in the simplicity of a quiet anchorage. Where mountains met the sea I was utterly absorbed by the power of the Mediterranean landscape. Isolation in nature, I learned, has its own healing efficacy.

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Ruins

At every anchorage on the Turkish Mediterranean coastline there is evidence of ancient civilization. The ruins are a reflection of the greatness, the fallibility, the faith, and the arrogance of the human species. In 334 BC, Alexander the Great, at age 30, rampaged through what is now modern-day Turkey conquering the Persians and creating one of the largest empires of the ancient world stretching from Greece to northwestern India. Mark Antony is said to have chosen the entire Turkish Riviera as a wedding gift for his beloved Cleopatra. The volcanic mountains near Dalyan, are believed to have been the inspiration for the mythical Chimera — a fire-breathing monster that the heroic Bellerophon slew while riding into battle on the winged back of Pegasus. The ruins of Turkey were a constant reminder to me, coming from a nation less than 250 years old, of the fragility of great civilizations.

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Underwater

On this journey around the world, the keel of Flying Fish has passed over some of the most remarkable underwater landscapes imaginable. But along the Turkish Mediterranean the subsurface is in many ways understated. Instead of delicate tendrils of live coral and a multitude of colorful tropical fish, the Turkish Mediterranean sea bottom is often, like its shoreline, rugged and raw. Still, to a careful observer, there is life and color among the rocks. There is also history below the surface of the water. In a remote area of the Datça Peninsula I made a free dive to check that the anchor of Flying Fish was secure and I discovered nearby a mound of ancient pottery including pieces of amphora and several unbroken clay cooking pots. In the seaside village of Gümüşlük I dove over the ruins of ancient Myndos with its submerged roads, jetties, and walls made of interlocking stones perfectly cut and each weighing several tons. I wonder if future generations will see these same underwater treasures.

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On Shore

The Turkish people welcomed me as if I were a part of their family, despite the fact I could not master the language with its distinctive characteristics of vowel harmony and extensive tongue-twisting agglutination. Usually a smile was the only translation necessary. The food is savory and fresh, often prepared and served only hours after being harvested from the garden or sea. Turkish wines are spectacular. The history of the Turks covers a time frame of more than 4,000 years. They endured invasions by the Mongols and Huns and Crusaders. Modern-day Turkey shares borders with Russia, Iran, Iraq, Syria, and parts of the Balkans. Yet, when it came to confronting a major global enemy–the infection of COVID-19–the Turkish government controlled the virus with early lockdowns and prudent precautions. Virus numbers never spiked in Turkey as they did elsewhere in Europe, Asia, and the Americas. The Turks are as resilient as they are resourceful.

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The route of Flying Fish in the Summer of 2020

Please subscribe at the bottom of this page so that you don’t miss a new update, and consider sharing this post with others who might enjoy following the voyage of Flying Fish. I welcome your comments.

Once the voyage of Flying Fish restarts you can follow the daily progress of Flying Fish into the Mediterranean, and onward, by clicking this link: https://forecast.predictwind.com/tracking/display/Flyingfish

To see where Flying Fish has sailed since leaving Key West in 2017, click here: https://cruisersat.net/track/Flying%20Fish

Instagram: FlyingFishSail
Facebook: Jeffrey Cardenas

Text and Photography © Jeffrey Cardenas 2020