A Mother’s Gift

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My mother bids me farewell as I embark on my first solo sailing adventure

This image from a half-century ago is etched into my heart. I am a 14-year-old boy running away from home in a 12-foot sailboat. Or so I’ve told my parents. I’m sick of school, I don’t have any friends, I want to be alone. Mom watches from the shoreline as I prepare my sails for departure. Instead of lecturing me, locking me into my bedroom, or simply saying, “No you can’t go”– as another parent might–my mother encourages me to set sail. She tells me to be safe. She tells me that home will be waiting for me when I want to return.

It was 1969. I was living between ages. Kids a few years older were hitchhiking to Woodstock that year. Many others were dying in Viet Nam. A quarter-million were marching in Washington to protest the war. Richard Nixon had been elected president. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon. And a British sailor, Robin Knox-Johnson, became the first person in history to sail alone non-stop around the world. At age 14, it was clear who I wanted to emulate.

Mom was born Alvina Sorzickas, the daughter of conservative Lithuanian immigrants who lived in Chicago. She rebelled against her strict upbringing. She was the first in her family to go to college, graduating from the University of Illinois with degrees in both Journalism and English History. She was also crowned as a beauty queen. Mom dated Hugh Hefner (once was enough). Then Mom met Dad and they fell in love in front of the bronze lion at the Chicago Art Institute. They quickly married and moved to South Florida to live an independent life closer to the ocean.

In 1969, Mom had just turned 40. She was a high school teacher raising four children and a squirrel monkey named Sandra. We lived in Ft. Lauderdale with a yard big enough to work on a couple of boats. I acquired a plywood sailing dinghy. Inspired by the image of a clipper ship on the label of a bottle of scotch whiskey, I painted my little boat bright yellow and called her Cutty Shark.

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School sucked, I was “going to sea” in a 12-foot boat

One day during the middle of my 9th-grade school year I announced to my parents that school sucked and I was “going to sea” in Cutty Shark. I would sail from Ft. Lauderdale to Key West, for starters. After that, I thought, who knows? The world is my oyster.* I hadn’t read Shakespeare yet but Mom was a drama teacher so I’m sure she understood that sentiment. I remember the conversation, my parents looking sternly at me across the dinner table. Dad said, “Well, when you get where you’re going give us a call.”

Sadly, I have misplaced the log from the voyage of Cutty Shark. Fortunately, Mom, now at age 91, has a better memory than me and she has filled in some of the details. Because my little boat would founder in seas rougher than a knee-high whitecap, I decided to sail the backcountry route of 175 miles from Ft. Lauderdale to Key West. I couldn’t afford charts so I navigated with a Gulf Oil road map of the Keys. My plan was to stop each night on a deserted island and sleep in a jungle hammock tied to the mangroves. I would catch fish to eat, I thought, but I had forgotten my fishing pole. Later, a fisherman in Biscayne Bay would take pity on me and loan me his rod and reel. He trusted me to return it one day, he said, because I wasn’t “one of those long-haired hippies rioting in the streets.”

In the Middle Keys, I encountered rough weather late one afternoon and I ran Cutty Shark hard before a squall for the sanctuary of an island. As night fell I hurried to get my jungle hammock rigged before the thunderstorm hit. Having no time to cook, I stuffed my mouth with cold beef stew from an open can. I zipped myself into the hammock just as the sky opened with a torrent of rain and lightning. Soon I had a nauseating feeling in my stomach. Then that feeling quickly went south to my gut. Uffft! I had to get out of the hammock. Fast. The hammock zipper was jammed. The bellyful of bad beef stew erupted into diarrhea as I thrashed in the enclosed jungle hammock. Crazed, I tore my way out of the hammock’s mosquito netting. Lightning bolts were arcing into the mangroves. I was covered in mierda. Suddenly, in the strobe of a lightning flash, there was the form of something big crashing toward me in the mangroves. Was it the mythical Everglades Skunk Ape? (I had a vivid imagination). Free from the tangle of the hammock, I ran through the darkness–seemingly for my life–tripping over prop roots and through spider webs. I could see a distant light coming from Long Key State Park. A bathroom in the park was open. Safe! I crawled under the open sink and fell asleep on the floor. When I awoke the next morning the squall had passed. Excrement and mud were still caked on my clothing and skin. I wasn’t alone. I peered out from under the sink. A more civilized camper was watching me, warily, while he shaved and brushed his teeth. I missed home.

Things always look more positive in the light of day and so I continued my little voyage in Cutty Shark. On a sandbar near Sawyer Key, I saw naked people walking along the flats. Ever curious, I jibed to a starboard tack for a better look. A man and a pretty woman, with two young children in tow, greeted me warmly. “You look hungry,” the woman said. I was a 14-year-old boy and she was naked. Of course I was hungry. Sawyer Key is a part of the Great White Heron National Wildlife Refuge but a corner of the island remained private. The couple, sea hippies, had staked out a modest homestead and were living off the land. They had a garden and a few fruit trees with key limes and papaya. I had caught a couple of small barracudas earlier in the day. “Bring your fish and join us for supper,” the woman said. I wish I could remember their names, they were so kind to me. The children ran unattended around the island like baby barbarians. The man, hair to his shoulders and skin tanned brown from the sun, rolled a homegrown smoke. After dinner, we soaked in the warm tidal pools on the rocky shoreline at the edge of the Gulf of Mexico. I don’t recall discussing any of the momentous news events that were swirling around us in the outside world. We were in a bubble of calm. The woman took my hand softly and said, “You can sleep here tonight.”

I arrived in Key West like so many other wanderers. It was the end of the line. The island was a quiet little fishing village. Green turtle, lamb’s wool sea sponges, and Tortugas pink shrimp were still being harvested in Key West. It was apparent, however, that times were changing. In 1969, the first cruise ship docked at the Navy’s pier in the Truman Annex. Key West was moving toward a tourist-based economy. Traditional Conch houses were being replaced by hotels. Still, I was grateful to have the opportunity to arrive under sail at this unique island. It would eventually become my home. I tacked my little yellow boat into Key West Bight, tossed a line around a piling, and dropped a dime into a payphone. Mom and Dad said they would be happy to drive down to Key West to pick me up. They’d even buy me a lobster dinner at the A & B Lobster House. I was ready to return to school. The ocean would call me back soon enough.

Mom and Dad went on to encourage all of my sailing adventures. They didn’t stand in the way three years later when I left Florida for New England in 18-foot Icarus. A few years after that I was sailing alone across the Atlantic aboard 23-foot Betelgeuse. Among the ship’s stores I found stashed onboard Betelgeuse was a box with dozens of small, individually wrapped gifts. “Open one each day of your passage across the ocean,” said a note from Mom. The wrapped packages contained little treats like chocolate, smoked oysters, and books–something each day to bring a smile and thoughts of a mother’s love.

Our best moments as a family were spent aboard sailboats. In a wonderfully reckless burst of inspiration, Mom and Dad once took all of the kids in our family out of school to sail from Florida to Europe. For a teacher, Mom didn’t always have strict regard for organized schooling. Instead, she taught us the lessons of fully living our lives. Now in their 90s, Mom and Dad are healthy and still fully living their lives. “Who knows,” my Dad said at the beginning of the coronavirus lockdown, “maybe your Mom and I will meet you aboard Flying Fish later this year to go sailing with you in the Mediterranean.”

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* Why then the world’s mine oyster, Which I with sword will open. –William Shakespeare

 

As the coronavirus recedes, and when it becomes safe to travel again, I hope to rejoin Flying Fish where she is moored in Fethiye, Turkey to continue my journey onward. Please subscribe at the bottom of this page and you will be among the first to know when I am back aboard my little ship.

I welcome new readers. Please consider sharing this post with others who might enjoy following the continuing voyage of Flying Fish.

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

Instagram: FlyingFishSail
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Text and Photography © Jeffrey Cardenas 2020

 

Into Suez with No One at the Helm

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The satellite track of Flying Fish as she transits the Red Sea and into the Suez Canal. Map courtesy of PredictWind

From thousands of miles away, I watch Flying Fish today on a computer screen as she transits the great Suez Canal without me. It is painfully disappointing.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I clearly understand today’s reality: We are in the midst of a global crisis. Tens of thousands of people are sick and dying. More each day. Our world is changing by the moment. By the grace of God, I am healthy now and so are the people I love. My gratitude far outweighs my disappointment.

It seems like yesterday that borders around the world began closing because of COVID-19. Less than two weeks ago I made the decision in Phuket, Thailand to put my circumnavigation on hold and find a safe place for Flying Fish. I wanted to return to Key West to be closer to family. I secured a last-minute passage for Flying Fish aboard the freighter Annegret. There were only two destination choices available, Turkey or Norway. I choose  Fethiye, Turkey for Flying Fish and then I began shuttling from airport to airport until I reached home. By the next morning most of the planet was in lockdown. I immediately went into, and I remain in, strict quarantine. I have no regrets about leaving the boat behind but I carry some weight of survivor’s guilt. What karma in my life allowed me to find a safe place isolate and be with my family while so many others struggle?

As for Flying Fish, she sails today with no one at her helm on the back of the freighter through the Suez Canal. She transits this gash in the sand where engineering triumphed over nature and severed Africa from Asia. Flying Fish passes the Middle East to starboard. To the west are the great pyramids of Giza, the massive Nile River Delta, and the storied Mediterranean port of ancient Alexandria. In two days, some 400 miles north in Fethiye, the freighter will attach a crane to Flying Fish and lower her into the Mediterranean Sea. I won’t be there to take her lines and guide her into port. A shipping agent has been hired to do that. It will be the first time since Flying Fish has left the builder’s yard that I will leave her helm in the hands of someone else.

I realize that speaking of sailing during times like this can be offensive when so many other people are simply trying to breathe. But there is one thing that unites all of us and drives forward. It is a hope for normalcy.

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M/V Annegret in Phuket loading cargo bound for the Mediterranean Sea. © Jeffrey Cardenas

 

I am not aboard Flying Fish but you can see where she is the Mediterranean Sea here: https://forecast.predictwind.com/tracking/display/Flyingfish

Please subscribe at the bottom of this page and you will be among the first to know when I rejoin my little ship. And please consider sharing this post with others who might enjoy following the (future) voyage of Flying Fish.

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

Sailing in the Time of COVID-19

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Flying Fish is hoisted out of the water in Phuket, Thailand for transport on the back of a freighter to the Eastern Mediterranean. Photo: © Jeffrey Cardenas

It has become clear to me, perhaps later than it should have, that this is not an appropriate time for me to be wandering around the world on a personal adventure. For those of us who are not sailing with our families it is a time to point the compass in the direction of home.

With that in mind, yesterday I had Flying Fish loaded on the back of a freighter in Phuket, Thailand  bound for the Mediterranean Sea. It will bring me nearly 5,000 miles closer to home. After that… who knows. The world is spinning so quickly now that it seems impossible to plan for the future.

Ports worldwide are closing as the pandemic–and the panic–sends cruising sailors in search of a safe harbor. Most islands and countries around the Indian Ocean have closed their borders. Some sailors have been denied entry into countries that had already issued them visas. A number of boats are backtracking as they scramble to find legal dry land. It is rapidly becoming a real-life Waterworld.

Remaining in Thailand was an option for Flying Fish, but it would have been short-term security. Thailand has the virus like nearly every other spot on earth. Once a U.S. citizen  is officially in Thailand their visa is limited to 30 days. I had only a couple of weeks before my visa expired and I would be required to leave the country. But to where? The number of countries accepting foreign visitors was rapidly diminishing as borders closed. Turkey was still open. I accepted transport by freighter (the shipping company would not allow me to ride along) and I booked a flight to Istanbul.

It is interesting how priorities shape in a crisis. While many have suggested that being on a boat in the middle of the ocean might be the safest place in the world to avoid getting sick, being healthy while your family may be at risk is not how families take care of each other.

I am not home yet. Flying Fish will be unloaded in Fethiye, Turkey at the end of March. Once she arrives I will look for a secure place to moor the boat while I determine if and when I can re-enter the United States. My family is healthy now, by the grace of God, but if any of us do become ill the distance between us is now 5,000 miles closer.

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A Pacific Ocean rainbow and hope for a brighter future. Photograph: © Jeffrey Cardenas

I am not aboard Flying Fish but you can still follow her daily progress as she hitchhikes aboard a freighter from Southeast Asia across the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea. Click this link: https://forecast.predictwind.com/tracking/display/Flyingfish

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.

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

Malacca Won’t Release Me

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Flying Fish, sails furled, motors into the port of refuge at Sabang, Banda Aech, Sumatra. Photograph: © Jeffrey Cardenas

I thought I had put my squabble with the Strait of Malacca behind me. Apparently not. I am diverting Flying Fish to Sumatra.

Geography: The southern end of the Strait of Malacca is the bottleneck at Singapore. Langkawi is at the northern end, and to sail to the Maldives it is necessary to cross the mouth of the Strait, which is about 300 miles wide east to west. During the NE Monsoon season—now—weather comes into the Strait from the Bay of Bengal. It can provide a glorious broad reach all the way to the Maldives resulting in what a Swiss friend described few weeks ago as “champagne sailing.”

Champagne sailing was also the forecast for my passage. Unfortunately, the bubbly was served flat. Contrary to the weather prediction, there was no wind. I motored over a calm sea for more than 36 hours. What concerned me more, however, were two new electronics failures aboard Flying Fish.

The AIS (Automatic Identification System) tells other boats where I am. It is essential, and also a legal requirement, in high-traffic locations like the Strait of Malacca. My AIS failed last night whileFlying Fish was in a traffic jam of supertankers. Course confusion reigned as the big iron tried to pinpoint exactly where I was and how to avoid crushing me. Within moments of losing the AIS, I was in the glare of an Indonesian patrol boat’s spotlight.

Next was a warning alarm aboard Flying Fish announcing that my GPS signal was lost. This system, of course, tells me where I am. The GPS continued to flicker on and off through the rainy night, not the kind of instrument I want to depend on for the next 15,000 miles.

Sabang, in the Banda Aceh province of Sumatra, provided a port of refuge. It will give me an opportunity get online and on the phone to resolve my issues.

Being here also helps me to understand how minor my issues are. I am humbled by a life-sized statue of a woman, arms raised in terror, as a flood of water presses against her legs. My boat problems are insignificant compared to the reality of the world around me. In this province 164,000 people—a third of the entire population—drowned when a 2004 tsunami swept ashore.

NOTE: On passages when I have no cell or WiFi signal, I activate a satellite tracking link that shows my daily position, current weather, and includes a few personal thoughts from the daily log of Flying Fish. I will not be able to respond to messages via satellite but I love the idea that you are sailing along with me. If you would like to follow the daily progress of Flying Fish into Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean via satellite you can click this link: https://forecast.predictwind.com/tracking/display/Flyingfish

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.

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

Memories of Icarus

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A French version of the SAIL Magazine article I wrote as a 17-year-old resurfaced this week. It was published nearly a half century ago about a voyage I made from Florida to New England in a small wooden boat named Icarus.  Courtesy: Thibaud Deves

I am not one who has ever been comfortable waiting around for things to happen.

Today I am in Langkawi, Malaysia waiting for parts to repair the navigational electronics aboard Flying Fish before I set sail across the Indian Ocean.

Forty-seven years ago, I was also waiting. I was counting off the days until high school ended so I could set sail along the eastern seaboard of the United States in an 18-foot plywood sailboat I owned named Icarus.

My brother Bob joined me aboard Flying Fish on the first leg of this circumnavigation. He was also aboard Icarus for the first leg of that voyage. In 1973, Bob was already in college following a sensible path in life studying marine biology, working on a Chinese vegetable farm, and cultivating a crop of high-potency marijuana. He took time off from his busy schedule and we had a delightful passage together. Some days we sailed offshore, on other days we cruised through the Intracoastal Waterway. At Little River, South Carolina Bob went back to Tallahassee for graduate school (and harvest season) while I took a job as a fish gutter on an assembly line with spirited Low-Country black women who sang while they worked and taught me a few words of Gullah. I was broke and happy, and had all of the pan-fried croaker I would ever want to eat.

It was a notable summer. Secretariat had just become the first Triple Crown winner in 25 years. Former White House counsel John Dean began his testimony before the Senate Watergate Committee. The U.S. bombing of Cambodia ended after 12 years of combat activity in Southeast Asia. But then, like now, I felt insulated from world events. Aboard Icarus, I was lost in the fog–both figuratively and literally.

By mid-summer I was alone on Icarus, transiting Delaware Bay from the Chesapeake to New Jersey. I had no navigational gear onboard and I encountered a fog bank. I am a South Florida boy, born and raised. I had never experienced fog. It was a novelty. I could see the air move when I blew it out of my mouth. But couldn’t see anything else. I could certainly hear things, though. The booming fog horns of ships passing me unseen at close quarters echoed out of the gray nothingness. My intention was to sail toward Cape May, New Jersey while estimating my location by dead-reckoning speed, direction, and time. My charts showed buoys with horns and bells, but nothing made sense to me. I remember the day becoming late. I should have made landfall by mid-afternoon. It was transitioning into night. I’ll turn due north, I thought, and that way I can’t miss the New Jersey shoreline of Delaware Bay. I sailed on through the night. There was no shoreline. Just before daybreak the fog lifted and I finally saw some lights. Land ho? Unfortunately, no.

The lights were from commercial fishing boats trawling the Continental Shelf well offshore of New Jersey. It was calm. I thought I was still in the bay. Instead, I was 35 miles out at sea. I pulled alongside a large trawler and shouted out to a mate on deck, “Where am I?” Soon there was a cluster of crewmen and they tossed me a line and lowered a ladder. Icarus tugged at the end the line like a toy poodle on a leash. “You look like you need food and a bunk,” one of the crew said to me. I was escorted to the captain’s mess for breakfast. The captain walked in, wiped sleep from his eyes, raised a fork to his mouth, then set it it down and looked at me. “Who the hell are you?” he roared. I’m from Icarus, I replied meekly. My boat is tied on rope behind your trawler.

The captain could have called the U.S. Coast Guard and ended the voyage of Icarus at that moment. Instead, after some intense interrogation, he said he would tow Icarus within sight of land and then release the tow line once he was sure I wasn’t going to get lost again. This memory is from so long ago now… but I think I remember seeing the captain’s face soften a little. Maybe it was my youthful naïveté, or maybe he saw something in my face that reminded him of himself. He let loose the tow when I was in sight of the amusement park of Atlantic City. Once again I was alone under sail.

How exciting it was to sail Icarus past the Statue of Liberty, along the shoreline of New York City, under the Brooklyn Bridge, through the Hell Gate passage, and into Long Island Sound. I was full of confidence (somehow forgetting about being lost at sea just days earlier). I was Master and Commander of my little ship–and then I ran Icarus onto a rock in the Stamford, Connecticut harbor and put a hole the size of a basketball through her hull.

I was was sinking. I careened Icarus onto a beach and remembered that a year or two earlier I had crewed on a sailboat race from Florida to Jamaica with Mr. Morgan Ames, Commodore of the Stamford Yacht Club. Help from his club was immediately on hand to haul Icarus out of the water. With his instruction (and checkbook) a crew, including his son, immediately began the necessary repairs. That evening Commodore Ames welcomed me into his magnificent Stamford home. “You’ll stay here,” he said, “and we’ll get you some clothing.” At dinner he introduced me to his family. Then a girl entered the room and he said, “And this is my daughter Bambi.” I nearly swallowed my tongue. I was 17 years old, had been alone on the ocean for weeks, and she was very pretty. I was paralyzed. My mouth finally moved. “B-B-Bambi?” I stammered, “Like the baby deer?”

We were the same age. Bambi showed me around Stamford, introducing me to her friends. My selective memory 47 years later remembers her flaxen hair blowing in the summer breeze. I was enchanted. I had dreams of joining the yacht club, of wearing freshly pressed shirts and a navy blue blazer, maybe even attending a debutante ball! In reality, I was just a wild Florida boy who had suddenly turned up on the Ames family doorstep, dirty, broke, and aboard a homemade boat with a hole in it. Mrs. Ames was having none of it. After a few days she took me aside and I remember her words to me as if they were spoken yesterday. With perfect New England elocution she said, “You should know, Jeffrey, that Bambi already has a beau.”

In quick order, Icarus was repaired and I was sailing again. I will always be grateful to the Ames family for their kindness and generosity, and for the life lessons they imparted upon my young wandering soul. Clearly, I had flown too close to the sun.

At the end of that magical summer I found myself in the storied harbor of Newport, Rhode Island. I put a cardboard sign on Icarus that read: “Send A Kid To College, Buy This Boat.” Somebody did, and all too quickly. Within weeks I was enrolled at the University of Florida. I tried to focus on a formal education but I realized that I was waiting again. Waiting for the next opportunity to set sail.

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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

NOTE: On passages when I have no cell or WiFi signal, I activate a satellite tracking link that shows my daily position, current weather, and includes a few personal thoughts from the daily log of Flying Fish. I will not be able to respond to messages via satellite but I love the idea that you are sailing along with me. If you would like to follow the daily progress of Flying Fish into Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean via satellite you can click this link: https://forecast.predictwind.com/tracking/display/Flyingfish

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.

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

Instagram: FlyingFishSail

Text and Photography © Jeffrey Cardenas 2020

Dodgeball in the Strait of Malacca

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Whacked out from the lack of sleep and constant maneuvering in heavy shipping traffic–with 500 miles to go. Photograph © Jeffrey Cardenas

It’s not just any dodgeball. The ships I am dodging in the Strait of Malacca are displacing up to 500 million pounds. A collision with one of those is gonna leave a mark. Underway on a rainy night in poor visibility, it is all I can think about. That, and the dozens of unlit fishing boats in front of me laying nets and longlines from the edge of the shipping channel to the shoreline.

I had always known that getting adequate sleep underway aboard Flying Fish was going to be the greatest challenge of sailing alone. A neurosurgeon who moonlights as my health counselor suggested that lack of rest might become more dangerous than any other risk I would encounter on this voyage around the earth. Until this week, lack of sleep had not been an issue. Then I entered the Strait of Malacca.

The Strait is a narrow, 550-mile stretch of water between the Malay Peninsula and the Indonesian island of Sumatra. As the main shipping channel between the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean, it is one of the most important–and busiest–shipping lanes in the world. It is only about 1.7 miles wide at its narrowest point near Singapore but nearly 100,000 vessels pass through it each year. This shipping traffic accounts for one-quarter of the world’s traded goods, including some 16 million barrels of oil each day.  In addition, in 2018, there were eight reported piracy and armed robbery incidents in the Strait of Malacca and near Singapore, according to ReCAAP Information Sharing Centre, an agency that tracks attacks against ships in Asia. In 2019, China raised the alert status to its highest level of security for their flagged vessels transiting this choke point. 

So what was Flying Fish doing among this volatile mix? Answer: Trying to get from Point A to Point B without coming into contact with rocks, drift nets, long lines, high-speed ferries, or tankers displacing a half-billion pounds of crude oil.

Flying Fish covers an average of 130 miles per 24-hour day. The 550-mile leg from Singapore to Langkawi is about four days of sailing. No big deal on a journey that has already taken me halfway around the globe, right? Wrong.

On the open ocean, I can sleep. I go over a formal checklist before I close my eyes: I review my charts for shallow water. I do a thorough 360-degree horizon scan. I look at my radar and check for AIS returns. I check current satelite weather charts, I set a course and confirm the autopilot is holding accurately. Then I arm multiple alarms–depth, wind, shipping, proximity, and time. I set two alarm clocks with different tones and I wear a watch on my wrist that shrieks and vibrates like a creature in extremis. Then I can sleep for an hour or two and sometimes longer in the open ocean with good weather. This is how singlehanded sailors rest offshore.

Inshore there is always high anxiety when I close my eyes. I still use the formal checklist but the alarms are set for 15 or 20 minutes. In the Strait of Malacca I would sometimes find traffic converging in less time than that. In the 15,000 miles until now I had never encountered such busy water. Anchoring outside of the Strait was not always an option so I decided to stay awake at night and take quick catnaps during the day. That didn’t work, either. I became deliriously exhausted.

From the log of Flying Fish 14 January 2020:

“All is well at 03:00. There is traffic in the Strait, commercial vessels and fishing boats, but the spacing is good. An overcast sky hides the moonlight. There is light rain and a fresh breeze. Flying Fish is sailing well to windward. I am tired. There is no place within 20 miles to anchor. It is only three hours before first light, daybreak always energizes is me.

In the next moment it is 03:08! I stare at my watch in disbelief. What just happened? Proximity alarms are blaring. Control lights at the helm are flashing. I immediately look to the bow and see a bright green starboard running light directly in front of the mast. What is happening?

As I jump up from the cockpit seat my head, and then my mouth, collides with force against the hard fiberglass surface of the spray dodger. I hear my front tooth crack and taste shattered enamel.

I disengage the autopilot and swing the boat hard to port. The rain on the windscreen of the dodger distorts everything. I brace for impact.

Within seconds I realize that I am looking at MY starboard running light. There is NO collision imminent. The shipping traffic priority alarm is just notifying me that a fishing boat has entered my radar’s Guard Zone perimeter a mile ahead. Everything is working just as it should—except for the captain.

I lost 8 minutes somewhere. I fell asleep sitting up. I was disoriented and nonfunctional when the alarms went off. It is unquestionably the worst mistake a helmsman can make. I fell asleep at the wheel. In a busy sea lane. With poor visibility … The blessing is that I did not hurt anyone.”

When I am finally at anchor in the lee of a small Malaysian island I put myself through a mental review to understand how to prevent this scenario from ever happening again. I realize that publishing this log opens me up to a rush to judgement regarding this mistake. A ship’s log is something different to each captain but I believe it should be a personal testament. Writing it helps me to organize my thoughts. In this situation, it is also a catharsis.

I understand I must better manage fatigue at the helm when I am sailing alone. I have also decided I am not going to fix my tooth. Every time I look in the mirror and see the chip out of my front tooth it will be a visual reminder to me of how a simple mistake can have serious consequences in a place like the Strait of Malacca.

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The AIS (automatic Identification System) returns shows shipping traffic in only a few miles of the Strait of Malacca near Singapore. Flying Fish is in the crosshairs at the lower left.

NOTE: On passages when I have no cell or WiFi signal, I activate a satellite tracking link that shows my daily position, current weather, and includes a few personal thoughts from the daily log of Flying Fish. I will not be able to respond to messages via satellite but I love the idea that you are sailing along with me. If you would like to follow the daily progress of Flying Fish into Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean via satellite you can click this link: https://forecast.predictwind.com/tracking/display/Flyingfish

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.

To see where Flying Fish has sailed in the past year click here: https://cruisersat.net/track/Flying%20Fish

Instagram: FlyingFishSail

Text and Photography © Jeffrey Cardenas 2020

 

 

 

Singapore to Suez (maybe)

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The architectural brilliance of Singapore rises from the South China Sea. Photograph © Jeffrey Cardenas

Just as I was finalizing the complicated routing of Flying Fish from Singapore to the Suez Canal, a war of words punctuated by rockets and drones once again inflame the Middle East. The shipping lane where the Gulf of Aden meets the Red Sea passes a mere .88 nautical miles from the shoreline of Yemen. Suddenly, I really miss Polynesia.

I have returned to Flying Fish after a six-week sabbatical in Key West where I was wrapped in the love of family, friends, church, and community. I even managed a rendezvous with my wife in Paris on the flight home. I also found time to visit the family I love in Havana. I share this personal information because it adds relevance and a point of reference to my decision to continue sailing–often alone–around the world. This short sabbatical at home reminds me that I need to make my decisions very carefully now. 

Flying Fish has logged some 15,000 miles–halfway around the world–since leaving Key West two years ago. There have been visits to paradise along the way (Huahine!) and a few moments of drama (nearly losing a toe to an errant hatch board) but no leg of the journey so far has presented the challenges that lie ahead.

I set sail tomorrow into the Straits of Malacca, a narrow, 550-mile stretch of water between Singapore, the Malay Peninsula, and the Indonesian island of Sumatra. This is the main shipping channel between the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean. Nearly 100,000 vessels pass through the Strait each year, carrying one-quarter of the world’s traded goods. Flying Fish will be one small blip on a very busy radar screen.

Ahead lies Malaysia with its historic megalopolis of Kuala Lumpur and the scenic wonderland of Langkawi. At the northern end of the Straits, Thailand beckons with the crystalline water and sugar sand beaches of Phuket. Then it is time to turn Flying Fish westerly and follow the path of Venus into the Indian Ocean.

The journey going forward will take me past Sri Lanka, India, and to the Maldive Islands some 1,500 miles away in the center of the Indian Ocean. The Maldives are made up of a thousand individual islands and some, like those on the Baa Atoll, have bioluminescent beaches that glow at night.

I plan to linger in that glow of bioluminescence because it will be at this point that I will have to choose to sail Flying Fish to either the north or the south of the continent of Africa. Either way I go, this will be a sailing passage that will require my undivided attention.

Cape Agulhas at latitude 34.8311° S is the geographic southern tip of Africa and the dividing line between the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. It is one of the roughest bodies of water on earth. North through the Suez Canal is the more logical route except for its history of piracy and the fact that the United States and Iran are threatening mutual mass destruction. Conflict in the Middle East goes back 1,400 years to the death of Mohammad in 632 A.D. The Red Sea Passage transits the heart of one of the most contentious places on earth. 

I never anticipated that this sailing voyage around the world was going to be all coconut palms and hula dancers. I have always accepted the risk because the rewards are so great. I can imagine no fate worse than ending my life on earth fat and bored and sitting in a chair in front of a TV with a gin and tonic in my hand…

I know a surgeon who volunteers vast amounts of his time, talent, and treasure working with Doctors Without Borders repairing gunshot wounds in war zones around the world. He sent me a note this week, signing off with the well-known quote from Friedrich Nietzsche:

“The secret of realizing the greatest fruitfulness and the greatest enjoyment of existence is: to live dangerously! Build your cities on the slopes of Vesuvius! Send your ships out into uncharted seas!”

And so I go.statue.sm

NOTE: On passages when I have no cell or WiFi signal, I activate a satellite tracking link that shows my daily position, current weather, and includes a few personal thoughts from the daily log of Flying Fish. I will not be able to respond to messages via satellite but I love the idea that you are sailing along with me. If you would like to follow the daily progress of Flying Fish into Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean via satellite you can click this link: https://forecast.predictwind.com/tracking/display/Flyingfish

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.

To see where Flying Fish has sailed in the past year click here: https://cruisersat.net/track/Flying%20Fish

Instagram: FlyingFishSail

Text and Photography © Jeffrey Cardenas 2020

 

 

Indonesia Farewell

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Dayak children in the river village of Sungai Sekonyer want to save the world. The village is comparatively prosperous with half of the adults working as river guides and rangers in the national park, and the other half working for the palm oil industry.  Photograph © Jeffrey Cardenas

Indonesia, its people and their environment, are on the threshold of a major sea change. The capital of Jakarta, already overcrowded and toxically polluted, is now sinking into the ocean.

The proposed solution: Move the capital to the jungle of Borneo and start from scratch–the equivalent of moving Washington D.C. to the Florida Everglades (no wisecracks please about Washington already being a swamp.) This move to Borneo would install Indonesia’s government seat of power in a place where nature already rules.

Jakarta’s proposed move to Borneo is a metaphor, of sorts, for issues bedeviling many developing countries I have visited on my circumnavigation in Flying Fish. It is a familiar story of unchecked commercialism fueled by the overwhelming pressure of tourism complicated by too many mouths to feed resulting in the degradation of the natural resource and the quality of life of its inhabitants.

Jakarta is currently sinking at a rate 6.7 inches per year, and in 30 years it is estimated that 95 percent of North Jakarta will be submerged, according to a report in Singapore’s Business Insider. The rapid urbanization of 30 million people in Jakarta’s greater metropolitan area as well as the uncontrolled extraction of ground water for mega malls and luxury hotels is draining the Java aquifer. The result is that the ground under Jakarta caving in.

Critics say that dropping the government seat of Indonesia and 1.5 million new residents into a natural habitat like East Kalimantan, Borneo is a recipe for environmental disaster. The location of the proposed new city is surrounded by Kutai National Park, known as a sanctuary for some of the last wild orangutans in existence. Deforestation has already been a problem in Borneo for decades. Its rainforests have been slashed and burned to make way for gold mining and palm oil plantations. Between 1973 and 2015, Borneo lost some 16,000 square miles of its old-growth forests due to land clearing and burning. That deforestation has released a steady torrent of carbon emissions, along with other forms of pollution such as carbon monoxide, cyanide, and ammonia. In 2010, land clearing for palm oil plantations in Kalimantan alone released more than 140 million metric tons of carbon dioxide – about the same as the annual emissions of 28 million cars, according to the research journal Nature.

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A wild orangutan mother nurses her baby with equal attention focused on potential threats from human visitors. Photograph © Jeffrey Cardenas

Everywhere Flying Fish has visited in Indonesia there have been similar conflicts of man and nature competing to survive.

In Bali, the long-tailed macaque monkeys are so integrated into human society that in places like the Uluwatu Temple they harass visitors for food (and sunglasses, jewelry, wallets) and then masturbate in front of tourists if they don’t get what they want.

From Lombok, Flying Fish sailed to the Gili Islands where the water demand for tourist resorts is so acute that small vessels work at all hours transporting tanks of fresh water from the mainland to the resorts.

At the remote island of Bawean in the Java Sea there is a stunning variety of coral species. Sadly, some of the most exquisite coral has been trampled underfoot by subsistence fishermen who walk over it at low tide.

Nature is not at fault here. We are. We are loving the world to death.

Other examples in Southeast Asia of extreme human pressure on the environment: Maya Bay in Thailand had the misfortune to be chosen for the set of Leonardo DiCaprio’s The Beach. Before the movie, Maya Bay received about 100 visitors a day. After the movie that number climbed to 5,000 people per day. Over a million tourists swarmed the beach in 2017 and an estimated 80% of the coral in the region was destroyed due to the impact of overtourism.  In June of 2018, Thailand’s Department of National Parks, Wildlife, and Plant Conservation announced that the natural habitat might be irreparably damaged. Four months later, the Thai government shut down the beach indefinitely.

In 2012, the magazine Travel+Leisure declared Boracay in the Philippines as “The Best Island in the World.” Boracay is less than four square miles but by last year 6.6 million people annually were inundating the island. Sewage was running from hotels directly into the ocean. Inspectors found over 800 environmental violations. Figures showed that the rubbish generated per person on Boracay was more than three times higher than in the capital of Manila. The Philippine government shut down the entire island to reconstruct the infrastructure and give the natural habit time to rest.

In July, the Indonesian government announced that it would close one of its most iconic destinations, Komodo Island, amid concerns that increasing numbers of tourists were affecting the animals’ mating habits. Food handouts were making them docile. In addition, there were also people stealing dragons and selling them on the black market. Last year, nine men were arrested on suspicion of selling more than 40 Komodo dragons for about $35,000 each. Then, in an abrupt about-face, the Indonesian environment ministry cancelled plans to close Komodo Island to tourists and instead proposed targeting visitors with a $500 USD entry fee. Viktor Bungtilu Laiskodat, governor of East Nusa Tenggara, told the UK Guardian, “Only people with deep pockets will be allowed to [see Komodo dragons]. Those who don’t have the money shouldn’t visit the park since it specifically caters to extraordinary people.”

Nearly 200,000 tourists visit Komodo each year, many with a bucket list ambition to pose in a selfie with “one of the world’s most deadly reptiles.” Aboard Flying Fish I had intended to do the same thing until I realized how humiliating it would be to both the lizards and me.  Flying Fish sailed past Komodo Island and I wished the dragons good luck.

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Graffiti marks a hewn tree stump on the beach at Gili Air. Photograph © Jeffrey Cardenas

I did not begin this voyage with preconceived ideas of how, or exactly where, I would travel. The joy of travel, for me, is in its fluidity. As I prepare to leave Indonesia I do so with a heavy heart. I have fallen in love with this country, and with its people.

I think about Commandant Lahan Bacho of the Indonesian Coast Guard who welcomed me onto his ship and into his home in the Kai Islands. Despite knowing I was Catholic, he invited me join him at his mosque where we prayed together.

Indonesian Commandant Lahan Bacho, at the helm of Flying Fish. Photograph © Jeffrey Cardenas

Jamil Udin is a Renaissance man in the tiny Lombok village of Ekas. He is an entrepreneur in his 20s who runs a single-counter general store, a homestay for surfers, he’s a mobile phone provider, a tour guide, and a fixer. He’s also the village nurse, and he delivers babies.

On Gili Gede I met Alain Nedelec, a French expat and his Indonesian wife Ita, owners of the eclectic Tanjungan Buket restaurant with a kitchen serving exquisite French/Indonesian cuisine.

A happy mob of Indonesian kids entered my life (and my heart) one Saturday on the beach at Selong Belanak as they joined 20 million volunteers worldwide picking up garbage on World Cleanup Day.

One night in Bali I fell under the spell of the gorgeous Yeye Luh Swastini, a living Hindu deity, who presented me with a bronze statue of the Indonesian Goddess of the Sea, Nyai Roro Kidul. The goddess is often described as a mermaid, a mythical creature said to be able to take the soul of anyone who she wishes, and she usually prefers handsome young men. That rules me out.

Forever memorable was 20-year-old Diaz Nugraha, aka the Reptile Boy of Borneo. For three days he showed Lilly and me the wildlife of Tanjung Puting National Park, including a baby spitting cobra, brightly speckled water monitor lizards, tarantulas, scorpions, hornbills, a spectacular False gharial crocodile. He also introduced us to the magnificent orangutans of Borneo.

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A False gharial crocodile warming in the sun near the headwaters of the Sekonyer River in Kalimantan, Borneo. Photograph © Jeffrey Cardenas

In my farewell to Indonesia I cannot help but wonder what the future holds for these people, and the places that they call home.

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I want to extend love and gratitude to my daughter Lilly who joined me for six weeks aboard Flying Fish as we sailed through Indonesia.

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Lilly and Reptile Boy Diaz Nugraha riding the riverboat deep into the jungle of Borneo. Photograph © Jeffrey Cardenas

I will be taking a short sabbatical from Flying Fish to visit my home in Key West for the holidays. I will return to the boat in Singapore in mid-January to continue my passage west toward Africa and eventually back to Florida. I hope you will continue to follow to voyage of Flying Fish.

NOTE: On passages when I have no cell or WiFi signal, I activate a satellite tracking link that shows the daily position, current weather, and includes a few personal thoughts from the daily log of Flying Fish. I will not be able to respond to messages via satellite but I love the idea that you are sailing along with me. If you would like to follow the daily progress of Flying Fish into Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean via satellite you can click this link: https://forecast.predictwind.com/tracking/display/Flyingfish

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.

To see where Flying Fish has sailed in the past year click here: https://cruisersat.net/track/Flying%20Fish

Instagram: FlyingFishSail

Text and Photography © Jeffrey Cardenas 2019

 

 

 

 

Into The Northern Hemisphere

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Flying Fish, becalmed, at Longitude 105 03’.603 E and Latitude 00 00’.000 N. Photograph © Jeffrey Cardenas

It is now autumn in the South China Sea. An hour ago it was spring. There was no winter. It is always summer on the equator. We have sailed from the Southern Hemisphere into the Northern Hemisphere. The ship’s log shows 14,971 nautical miles.

It is fitting that my daughter Lilly has joined me on this passage. Exactly 620 days ago, Lilly and I sailed together from the Northern Hemisphere into the Southern Hemisphere, at a point southeast of the Galapagos, on a westbound passage to Tahiti and beyond.

The equator is 24,901 miles long. On land it crosses the Batu Islands of Sumatra, the Maldives in the Indian Ocean, Somalia, Kenya, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The equator passes through the mouth of the Amazon River, the pre-Colombian ruin of Catequilla, the island of Isabela in the Galapagos. It continues westward through Oceania near the atolls of Aranuka, Nonouti, and Kirbuti. The equator meets Indonesia at the Gebe Islands and continues through the Halmahera Sea, the Molucca Sea, and the Java Sea. It crosses Borneo at Pontianak. Finally, at Longitude 105 03’.603 E and Latitude 00 00’.000 N, it is where we meet the equator today.

Sailors have always noted crossing the equator. In the 19th century (and later) line-crossing ceremonies were sometimes brutal events. Pollywogs, as first-timers were called, were beaten with boards and wet ropes, and often thrown over the side of the boat and dragged from the stern. Charles Darwin notes in his diary that on his first crossing of the equator he was “placed on a plank” and tilted into the water after having his face and mouth “lathered with pitch and paint.”

Lilly and I have celebrated our two crossings more moderately. A small ration of rum followed a voluntary swim as we crossed over the invisible line. Our event is recorded with a portrait of a young sailor at peace in the sea.

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The equator, from above the surface of the water in the South China Sea. Photograph © Jeffrey Cardenas

I hope you continue to follow to voyage of Flying Fish

For upcoming passages when I have no cell or WiFi signal, I have activated a satellite tracking link that shows the daily position, current weather, and includes a few personal thoughts from the daily log of Flying Fish. I will not be able to respond to messages via satellite but I love the idea that you are sailing along with me. If you would like to follow the daily progress of Flying Fish into Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean via satellite you can click this link: https://forecast.predictwind.com/tracking/display/Flyingfish

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.

To see where Flying Fish has sailed in the past year click here: https://cruisersat.net/track/Flying%20Fish

Instagram: FlyingFishSail

Text and Photography © Jeffrey Cardenas 2019

Indonesia: Part One

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The daily burden of subsistence fishing to feed their families doesn’t diminish the welcome Indonesians offer to a stranger.  Photograph: © Jeffrey Cardenas

As Flying Fish continues its aquatic walkabout around the globe, I sense an acceleration of the calendar and de-acceleration of time spend under sail. It’s time to start moving again.

This week begins a new chapter in the passage of Flying Fish. My daughter Lilly joins me in Bali and we will spend a month together sharing the view of each new horizon. This is every father’s dream.

This shifting of gears also gives me an opportunity for reflection on the past 60 days in this unique and surprising country.

I had originally intended to bypass Indonesia completely. “You will hate it,” a sailor told me on the dock in New Zealand. “I just got back,” she said, “and every beach was knee-deep in garbage. You will suck up plastic into your boat engine intake as soon as you start it.” She continued: “Nothing you have is safe from theft. Indonesians will steal you blind.”

I wonder what Indonesia she visited.

Her exaggeration was unfair. Of course Indonesia is not as clean as New Zealand. Nowhere is. Indonesia is a developing country, and perhaps that is what makes this place stand apart. The Indonesia I have encountered is a country that shows its visitors no acrimony–regardless of differences in race, religion, nationality, economic disparity, or even awkward bad manners. I have never felt threatened. Nothing has gone missing aboard Flying Fish, not in the most remote anchorages or the busiest of ports.

No person is a societal expert of a foreign country after only a two-month visit. I have prayed in mosques and churches and temples where I was warmly welcomed regardless of which deity was in my thoughts. Indonesian Muslims and Christians and Hindus are not fighting each other over words and possessions. They co-exist in kindness.

That’s not to say this archipelago of 18,307 islands is Eden. There is more plastic in the ocean and on the beaches than in many other countries I have visited aboard Flying Fish. The coral reef is extraordinary but in some place locals still utilize blast fishing methods, stunning fish and destroying coral with homemade bombs in Coke bottles filled with layers of ammonium nitrate and kerosene. On some islands there are areas of poverty that are heartbreaking.

Nonetheless, whatever Indonesians have they are willing to share, even with those of us who come from the land of plenty.

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It will be nice to become reacquainted with Lilly. I haven’t seen her in more than a year–she’s a pilot now!–and an expert sailor. Lilly will help me guide Flying Fish through the wilds of Borneo. We will take river trips in search of wild orangutans. We will look for the primitive divers of Sulawesi who spearfish using only their lungs and a pair of wooden goggles. Our destination will be Singapore from where Lilly will return to her work in Lahaina and I will leave the boat for a month to visit family in Key West.

Going forward after the new year… who knows? Maybe Phuket and Sri Lanka. Africa for certain, either via the rough-water routing around the Cape of Good Hope, or the risky passage through the Red Sea to the Suez Canal and Eastern Mediterranean. There is only one shot at life and the acceleration of the calendar reminds me to live each day.

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“Out Of The Water I Am Nothing” — Duke Kahanamoku. Lilly and Jeffrey after a morning surf session together at Dreamland, Bali. Photograph: Ria Wahyuni / Drifter Surfshop

I hope you continue to follow to voyage of Flying Fish

For upcoming passages when I have no cell or WiFi signal, I have activated a satellite tracking link that shows the daily position, current weather, and includes a few personal thoughts from the daily log of Flying Fish. I will not be able to respond to messages via satellite but I love the idea that you are sailing along with me. If you would like to follow the daily progress of Flying Fish into Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean via satellite you can click this link: https://forecast.predictwind.com/tracking/display/Flyingfish

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.

To see where Flying Fish has sailed in the past year click here: https://cruisersat.net/track/Flying%20Fish

Instagram: FlyingFishSail

Text and Photography © Jeffrey Cardenas 2019