The Resurrection of Flying Fish

ff-under-sailFlying Fish on its maiden sail near Sarasota, Florida. Image courtesy of Deb at theretirementproject.blogspot.com

After two years of a stormy passage on land that included the financial failure of a legendary boat company, legal challenges, and three different owners of the Island Packet brand, the magnificent Flying Fish has finally been launched in Palmetto, Florida. The course ahead has never looked brighter.

A parable: Threatened by sub-aquatic predators, a flying fish instinctively leaves its element and becomes airborne. Once in flight, however, the trouble is multiplied. The flying fish that was driven skyward by pursuing mahi-mahi is now also being attacked from above by diving frigate birds. Survival for the flying fish is predicated on its ability to navigate the contours of the water until the path forward is clear sailing.

The new owners of Island Packet Yachts, Darrell and Leslie Allen, have provided that path forward, not only for Flying Fish but for the thousands of sailors who for decades have come to know and love this boat company. The Allens are sailors with a strong moral ethic, which is refreshing in these days of temporary corporate ownership. The Allens are in it for the long haul. For those of us who have invested our life’s savings, and will depend on our boats to carry us safely over rough water, that kind of commitment is priceless.

There are heroes and villains in every drama. The men and women at Island Packet who physically built, and then against all odds completed Flying Fish, are heroes. They will have my highest regard every time I set sail. The trade craft in the construction of this boat was flawless, even at a time when there was real concern that the workers at IPY might never see another paycheck. When I look at their spectacular woodwork in the interior of Flying Fish, or the meticulous mechanical systems they assembled, or the minute detail of finish work that they focused on this boat, I realize that their calling was to a higher purpose than simply an hourly wage.

So where does Flying Fish go from here? The sea trials and inspections are complete. Darrell Allen and his crew are addressing every item on the punch list with patience and extraordinary customer service. Flying Fish sails like a dream; in light air the boat speed is half of the apparent wind speed, and yet the boat is built solidly enough to cross any ocean.

Those distant oceans still beckon but there will be complications restarting the planning of a voyage that had been put on hold indefinitely while bankers and lawyers decided whenor if—Flying Fish would ever set sail.

But sail she does, and for now my next passage will be the 375-mile run from Tampa Bay to Miami for the Strictly Sail Miami Boat Show, which begins February 16. Come by to take a look at Flying Fish in Miami because after that there is no telling where she might be. I only know that I will be grateful to be at the helm for every mile that passes under her keel.

Familiar Water

betelgeuse underway small

Setting sail on a singlehanded transatlantic passage in 1981, Betelgeuse my Ranger 23, departs Port Everglades in Ft. Lauderdale bound for Europe.

It is the summer of 1981 and I am crossing the Atlantic Ocean alone in my 23-foot sloop Betelgeuse.

It had been a week since I had known definitively where I was. I had been becalmed for days in the Sargasso Sea. I barely escaped disaster as a freighter on a collision course passed less than a boat length away on a moonless night. I was hungry and I was ill prepared. These were the days before GPS and I was depending–without much confidence–on celestial navigation to find my first landfall. I had never before used a sextant in real world conditions. Four legal-sized pages of scribbled calculations showed my noon sight intersecting with an earlier celestial line of position. It created an X on the chart. The black magic of celestial navigation told me I was over the Challenger Bank, some 20 miles southwest of Bermuda, a landfall surrounded by coral. How accurate was that position, I wondered? I scanned the horizon and saw nothing.

It is now the summer of 2015 and I am once again on the water over the Challenger Bank.

The circumstances are radically different this time, and yet there are some eerie similarities. I am fishing for tuna with friends in the Bermuda Flyfishing Invitational. We are with an experienced captain in a seaworthy boat but there are elements outside of our control. Wind speed is consistent at 25 knots and seas are 10 to 12 feet. The ocean swells meet the relatively shallow water of the seamount creating steep, anvil-shaped waves that that throw the sportfishing boat on its beam ends. Portuguese man-o-war and flying fish navigate the sloppy seas but there is a feeling by those of us aboard the boat that maybe human beings don’t belong out here today. A vicious squall drops down on us from the northwest and with it comes driving rain powered by gusts of 40 to 50 knots. Our anchor loses its hold and now we are drifting.

Adversity on the ocean is what attracts many of us to it. While it may seem that Divine Providence is what sees us through  difficult times, other people view it less theologically and say personal experience and even luck helps resolve challenges. I consider it a combination of all three. When I left Ft. Lauderdale at age 26 to sail alone across the ocean I was not adequately prepared for the endeavor. I survived that ocean crossing by the grace of God, by good fortune, and by a determination to learn at sea what I should have known before I set sail.

Now, as I look at this familiar water on the Challenger Bank, I think back to that day in Betelgeuse when anxiety and lack of confidence prefaced the moment of triumph that accompanies landfall. I realize now that I am on the same piece of water, on the same day of the month, at exactly the same time of the day, when I made that celestial calculation 34 years ago.

Then, as the sportfishing boat drifts wildly across the bank with a dragging anchor, the squall suddenly breaks. There is sunshine to the northeast. We crest a wave I see the faint outline of Gibbs Hill, Bermuda etched upon the horizon. It is without question–then and now–that we have been delivered by Divine Providence.

Sustainable Sapele Wood

The wood shop at Island Packet Yachts. Most of the finished interiors are now constructed with the beautiful--and sustainable--sapele wood.

The wood shop at Island Packet Yachts. Most of the finished interiors are now constructed with the beautiful–and sustainable–sapele wood.

As the Flying Fish evolves from a bare hull, craftsmen at Island Packet Yachts are transforming the interior of my boat from raw fiberglass into a finish of gorgeous sapele wood.

Sapele is a member of the mahogany family sourced from sustainable growers in Central Africa. In the Island Packet production assembly, sapele has replaced much of the traditional teak wood which often comes from clear-cut, old-growth forests.

Sapele is a highly sustainable, relatively fast-growing hardwood. It comes from a large tree that has a widespread growth range across Africa. It is common for the trunk to exceed 6 feet in diameter on a tree that may reach a height of 150-200 feet with minimal branching. This yields straight-grained lumber that is almost twice as hard as other types of mahogany.

Sapele grows with an interlocking grain pattern where the fibers twist around the tree as they grow.  When quartersawn the interlocking grain aligns to form beautiful ribbon striping. The innate properties of sapele, known as “figure”, can be spectacular. Sapele figure can include bird’s eye, burl, fiddleback, flame, and quilted grain patterns.

Sapele wood produces beautiful wood grain figuring.

The innate properties of sapele wood produces a beautiful wood grain figuring.

Among its more exotic uses sapele is often found in musical instruments. Taylor Guitars uses the wood on the back and sides of their acoustic guitar bodies. It is also used in manufacturing ukuleles and harps. The car maker Cadillac also uses sapele for interior wood trim on some of its vehicles.

The tree is also known as aboudikro. There are protected populations and logging restrictions in place in various countries including Sierra Leone and the Ivory Coast where sustainable sapele plantations have been created. The Congo is one of the largest producers of sapele and while the area is often in political turmoil, logging companies still embrace strict regulation and verification programs like Timber Legality & Tracing Verification (TLTV) and Verification of Legal Origin (VLO).

While TLTV covers all the company processes during harvest, processing and export, VLO takes a closer look at the legal right to harvest the tree in the first place. VLO timbers have an in-depth and highly-maintained chain of custody system that can be audited at any point.

Island Packet Yachts buys sapele from a supplier who provides TLTV and VLO stock offering documentable and verifiable chains of evidence showing that the tree was responsibly harvested from a sustainable area.

Responsible forest management and the verification of legal harvest may not be cost effective with some manufacturing companies but in my eyes this sustainable ethic will make the wood inside Flying Fish all the more beautiful.

Key West Yacht Club

KWYC burgee

I would like to welcome the Key West Yacht Club as the newest sponsor of the Flying Fish Transoceanic Odyssey.

The KWYC was founded in 1938 in one of Henry Flagler’s bridge tenders’ houses on the Garrison Bight. It remains the southernmost yacht club in the United States.

The KWYC members have been part of Key West boating for generations. From the era when members stored their provisions in individual lockers and played cards with wooden chips to today’s full bar and restaurant facility with fully serviced boat slips and dockside facilities, the KWYC has grown with the times. It continues to be the gathering place for those who value strong friendship, camaraderie, food, drinks and waterborne adventures.

I am proud and grateful for the opportunity to represent the Key West Yacht Club as Flying Fish circumnavigates the globe next year.

The KWYC original building, Henry Flagler's  bridge tender's house.

The KWYC original building, Henry Flagler’s bridge tender’s house.

Some original members of the Key West Yacht Club

Some of the original members of the Key West Yacht Club pose on the new site at Garrison Bight.

The aftermath of Hurricane Betsy at the Key West Yacht Club, circa 1965

The aftermath of Hurricane Betsy at the Key West Yacht Club, circa 1965

Dad’s Sailing Log

My father at age 85 on the island of Bimini. He is still ready to set sail for distant horizons.

My father at age 85 on the island of Bimini. He is still ready to set sail for distant horizons.

I am reading the logbook my father wrote of a Pacific crossing he made from Panama to Vanuatu 20 years ago. On the first page Dad has handwritten these words, quoted from an anonymous poet:

A small boy heard the ocean roar,
There are secrets on my distant shore,
But beware my child, the ships bell’s wail,
Wait not to long to start to sail.

So quickly come and go the years,
And a young adult stands on a beach with fears,
Come on, come on, the ocean cussed,
Time passes on. Oh sail you must.

Now it’s business in mid-aged prime,
And maybe tomorrow there will be time,
Now is too soon, it’s raining today,
Gone all gone–years are eaten away.

An old man looks, still feeling the lure,
Yet he’ll suffer the pain, than go for the cure,
The hair is white, the steps with care,
The tide has turned, he is aware.

So all too soon the secrets are buried,
Along with him and all regrets he carried,
And it’s not for the loss of secrets he cried,
But rather because he’d never tried.

These words have affected me because I have never known this sentimental side of my father. He is a tough guy. The son of an immigrant. A WW II veteran. A man who earned his daily bread through hard labor. I have never known my Dad to regret anything.

My mother and father have always provided inspiration within our family to encourage adventure. When I was a 21-year-old college student, our parents surprised us by selling all of their possessions and buying a sailboat. They asked my two sisters, my brother, and me if we would like to join them. Are you kidding? Drop out of college for a few semesters and go sailing across the ocean? You betcha! We all stepped aboard.

We sailed from Ft. Lauderdale to Bermuda, to the Azores and then to Europe in a Cal 43 named Free Spirit. The voyage was a grand event in our lives. We made it as far as the Mediterranean, and then the money ran out. Mom and Dad returned home to work while the kids scattered to all points of the compass. It wasn’t easy for my parents to regroup into mainstream America. Money was tight but their dreams were always right there on the horizon.

Then, all of a sudden, Dad was 69 years old. “So quickly come and go the years…” An invitation arrived from a friend asking for help to sail a 43-foot catamaran across the Pacific. “Time passes on. Oh sail you must…” Mom flew to Fiji to meet up with Dad and the crew, and together they sailed through the South Pacific.

Now, at age 59, I am the one who is hearing that ocean roar.

“Wait not to long to start to sail,” said the anonymous poet.

I cannot wait.

Confidence–and a bike

It IS all about the bike. Allen Sports becomes a product sponsor of the Flying Fish Transoceanic Odyssey.

It IS all about the bike. Allen Sports becomes a product sponsor of the Flying Fish Transoceanic Odyssey.

First of all, these will be the last words written here about knee replacement surgery.

I am not going to be one of those guys who dwells on my infirmities. Boring. This is a journal about a grand sailing adventure not some whiny little blog post about how much my knee hurts. Enough!

To emphasize that point, I want to welcome Allen Sports as a new sponsor of the Flying Fish Transoceanic Odyssey. Allen Sports is a multinational company that had confidence in this project despite the fact that the principal of the venture they were endorsing (me) was lying flat on his back unable to walk, much less pedal a bike.

Last week an incredible carbon fiber folding bike arrived on my doorstep. “It will be your ground transportation as you travel the world,” said CEO Alex Allen. “Our Ultra1 model is made of carbon fiber and aluminum so it should hold up really well in a salty environment. With 20 speeds and high pressure tires it makes for some bad ass transportation.”

This tangible expression of confidence from Allen Sports is better than any medicine. It is also a wake up call for me to get off my ass and out of bed and make my knee bend again. Ocean sailing is all about self sufficiency. If there is a problem, you resolve the problem or the problem doesn’t get resolved. I have been land bound for a few years and I may have forgotten that simple gospel truth about sailing. Likewise, it’s not up to surgeons, or therapists, or narcotics to make me feel better. It’s up to me.

This week my goal is to walk again.

Next week I’m getting on that bike.

This time next year…I’m going overland across Fatu Hiva on my new wheels!

The anchorage at Fatu Hiva, Marquesas. Photo: Mon Odyssée

The anchorage at Fatu Hiva, Marquesas. Photo credit: Mon Odyssée

Sailor Boy

As a boy sailor I was given a long lead to chase my dreams. Here I pose with with 18-foot Icarus during a teenage sailing adventure from Ft. Lauderdale, FL to Newport, RI

As a boy sailor I was given a long lead to chase my dreams. Here I pose with 18-foot Icarus during a teenage sailing adventure from Ft. Lauderdale, FL to Newport, RI

Sailing memories flood my mind as I lay restless in bed today, still unable to walk 10 days after a knee replacement surgery.

 

I could obsess about the excruciating pain and second-guess my decision to have a prosthesis inserted into one of the most critical parts of my body–but it is better for me to meditate on the positive.

 

I am remembering myself as a sun bleached 14-year-old South Florida boy. I was restless then, too. With hormones raging and frustrated in school, I was trying to figure out what I wanted from life. All I knew was that I wanted to go sailing.

 

“I’m running away from home,” I told my parents one day. “I love you, but I gotta go.”

 

Why? Who knows? No child could have asked for better parents, or for better siblings. My life was perfect. I just needed the time to discover that on my own.

 

I had a 12-foot wooden sloop that I had named Cutty Shark. I wasn’t thinking about the nautical history of the great clipper ship Cutty Sark when I named my boat. I was thinking about the Scotch whiskey by the same name. I painted the boat bright yellow to match the label on the whiskey bottle. My parents did not think it was nearly as funny as I did.

 

My Dad said, “Well, if you are running away in that boat let me give you a ride to the boat ramp.” And my Mom said, “I’ll pack up some food for you.” It was not exactly the response to my rebellion that I had in mind.

 

“I’m going to Key West,” I told them. The year was 1969. Key West was 150 miles away. “Give us a call when you get there,” Dad said, waving goodbye. And that was that. I ran away to sea at age 14 in a tiny yellow boat named after a bottle of whiskey.

 

The story has a happy ending. A couple of weeks later, Mom and Dad drove down to Key West in our family station wagon towing my boat trailer. There were smiles all around. They even treated me to a seafood dinner at the A&B Lobster House. I was hungry.

 

What amazing parents I have. To allow their 14-year-old kid to leave home, in the middle of the school year, and just go sailing alone over the horizon. It was remarkable. It was probably the single best example of parenting I have ever known. It cured my restlessness (for a while). I was a better boy because of it.

 

Right now these memories are better than morphine for the knee pain. I close my eyes and smile as I think of a fresh breeze filling my sails. Those were days when I had the freedom to be anybody I wanted to be.

 

Those days will come again.

All is (not) Lost

IP460 Flying Fish shows her lines as the bare hull is released from the mold

IP460 Flying Fish shows her lines and traditional full keel as the bare hull is released from the mold

It may not be prudent to view the Robert Redford film All is Lost when you are planning a long, singlehanded ocean passage.

It is definitely not a good movie to watch if you are also recovering from knee replacement surgery and you are semi hallucinating on the narcotic painkiller Percocet.

In the film, Redford is sailing alone through the Indian Ocean when his boat collides with a partially submerged shipping container. His hull is gashed by the collision and much drama ensues. The nightmare scene for me, however, is when the boat is being ravaged by a storm that turns the hull upside down. The view through the hatches and portholes becomes one of bottomless ocean–a view I hope never to see when I look out of the windows in my boat.

This is why in the selection of a builder for Flying Fish I wanted to know about stability curves and ratios, and the critical point of boat heel and recovery. In physics, these forces work like a lever arm. The center of gravity pushes down on one end and the center of buoyancy pushes up on the other. This combined force is known as the righting moment and it works to rotate the hull back to an upright position. But it is not enough that the design simply resist rollover; if a capsize does occur what is critical is the recovery time for the hull to return to the upright position. A more detailed explanation of stability curves and righting moment is attached here.

Heavy displacement full keeled sailboats like the IP460 being built for me are not considered very sexy in this new world of lightweight wing keeled supersonic sailing machines. I’m okay with that. I’m not one of those sailors who needs to get there first; I just need to get there. And when I look through my hatches, I want the view to be sunny side up.

Anatomical Refit

A complete knee replacement is what I need to become seaworthy. Leg issues didn't seem to slow down Ahab in pursuit of his obsession.

A complete knee replacement is what I need to become physically seaworthy. Leg issues didn’t seem to slow down Ahab in pursuit of his obsession.

I don’t want to be a bionic anything.

I am attached to my own flesh and bone. But when I walk, my knee joint grinds bone against bone and that’s when the neuropathic fireworks begin. The cartilage in my left knee is gone. Aging and accidents and osteoarthritis have taken a toll. God’s own caulking compound in my knee has worn away leaving a raw set of nerve endings that hurts so bad it makes me want to whack a white whale.

So tomorrow I go to the University of Miami Hospital where a surgeon will replace my flesh and bone with titanium, ceramic, and ultra-high molecular-weight polyethylene (UHMWPE). I’m getting a new knee. I’m going in for an anatomical refit.

I have been assured that knee joint replacement surgery is hardly more complicated than filling a tooth cavity. More than 600,000 knee replacements are performed each year in the United States. With an aging population and obesity on the rise, demand for total knee replacement surgery is expected to exceed 3 million by the year 2030. Note to daughter Lilly: Forget about sailing for a living and consider orthopedic medicine–ka-ching!

Recovery is said to be quick. A healthy person can be ambulatory in six to eight weeks, if they pay attention to the counsel of their physical therapist. Pay attention? Heck, I’m thinking about moving in with her! I want my legs back.

I would never consider setting sail across three oceans if my boat was in any way unseaworthy. Likewise, I feel I have a responsibility to myself and to my family to be physically fit for this voyage. I need to be kneeworthy.

Home Port

The Schooner America reefed and reaching through Key West Harbor

The schooner America reefed and reaching through Key West Harbor

While it may seem odd to become nostalgic about a home port before having even left it, Key West is the kind of place that a person cannot leave lightly. I am thinking about my home port today as I watch schooners tack across the harbor in preparation for the annual Wreckers Race.

The schooners represent a golden age of sail when over 100 ships per day passed by Key West. The waters they were sailing were known as some of the most treacherous in the world. On average, at least one ship per week would wreck somewhere along the Florida reef. The captain of the first ship to reach a wreck became the “wrecking master” and he controlled the salvage operation. The goods salvaged from the wreck would later be sold at auction in Key West with the wrecking courts awarding anywhere between 25 and 50 percent of the profit to the wreckers.  In 1822, the U.S. Navy chose Key West as its base for suppressing piracy in the West Indies but by 1860 wrecking had made Key West the largest and richest city in Florida, and the wealthiest town per capita in the United States.

The Key West economy has always been fueled by a little bit of piracy. The wreckers were followed by sailors running guns and ganja. Refugees still wash ashore clutching figurines of the virgin Caridad del Cobre, the patron saint of Cuba and protector of those who go to sea.

These days the schooners race to the reef with a cargo of sunburn tourists but Key West is still a seafaring town. From the vantage point of a balcony on a widow’s walk over Duval Street it is possible to look north to the Gulf of Mexico and south to the Atlantic Ocean. Our little Island in the Stream is less than a mile wide. I’ve made my living on the water in Key West for more than three decades. Our daughter was born here. It is home.

Two thousand years ago the Roman philosopher Pliny said, “Home is where the heart is.”

I will keep those words close to me as I set my sails for points west next year. It may end up being a voyage of 36 months and 36,000 miles, but I know if I just keep following the setting sun that it will eventually lead me back to Key West.