Farewell, Flying Fish

Flying Fish roars across the Coral Sea, surfing down the swells en route to Australia. All images © Jeffrey Cardenas

It has been the ride of a lifetime

I think about this boat every day.

The good ship Flying Fish will now fuel the dreams of another sailor. This fine sailing vessel that carried me to some of the most remote and beautiful places around the world, has sold. The new owner is a trauma surgeon from New Orleans, an experienced sailor, and a saltwater fly fisherman. He pledges to continue the legacy of adventure that Flying Fish shared with me.

It may seem nonsensical to place so much emotional currency on an inanimate object like a boat. Some might say, “Don’t be ridiculous; a boat is just a ‘thing’. It doesn’t live and breathe.”

For me, Flying Fish did live and breathe. On dark nights, I felt the movement of the hull through the water and listened to the song of the wind in the rigging. Flying Fish sheltered me when I needed safety. When I sailed alone, it challenged me intellectually. Flying Fish was my spirit guide to a world of places, people, and situations I would have otherwise never known.

Maybe it is just a boat, but this boat carried me on the most remarkable journey of my life.

The Birth of a Boat 2015

Flying Fish was born with the labor of dedicated and traditional boat builders. Each layer of fiberglass was carefully laid up by hand. I had confidence in this boat as I watched these men and women at work. I kept a fiberglass plug the size of a silver dollar that had been cut from the hull. It became a talisman reminding me of the strength and craftsmanship that went into building Flying Fish.

And then one day, mid-way through the construction of Flying Fish, all work on the boat inexplicably stopped. There was a padlock on the factory door, and Flying Fish was inside. No one answered the telephone at the boat company. Hundreds of thousands of dollars of my retirement savings–and my dream–were suddenly at risk as the boat company sank into fiscal disarray.

After months of bitter recriminations, legal action, and much sleeplessness, the boat company changed ownership (twice), remade itself, and the new owners delivered a magnificent sailboat capable of taking me around the world.

This is the day I delivered Flying Fish to her homeport in Key West.

Western Caribbean 2017

Following an extended sea trial, my father and brother joined me for the first leg of the journey around the world–a 1,000-mile passage from Key West to Panama. Along the way, my brother tried to convince Dad that the dried flying fish he found on the deck each morning would make a delicious breakfast. Dad was skeptical.

Our passage south between Cuba and Mexico, and then through the Caribbean Sea offshore of Central America, was marked by intense tropical rain, and a suspicious boat that shadowed us along the Mosquito Coast. We made a midnight landfall in zero visibility at Panama’s Bocas del Toro.

The journey became real to me when Flying Fish transited the Panama Canal and entered the Pacific Ocean.

Pacific Crossing 2018

My daughter Lilly joined Flying Fish in Panama for the Pacific crossing to Tahiti. As a USCG Master Captain, she provided youth, vitality, and expertise for the long passage to Polynesia.

We provisioned fresh produce in Panama. When all the bananas became ripe at once, Lilly made enough loaves of banana bread to “feed the multitudes.”

I was content to ride the bow wave of Flying Fish for hours at a time as we crossed the Pacific. We didn’t see land for nearly a month, but the horizon changed by the hour. My mantra was words by Isak Dinesen: “The cure for anything is saltwater…”

On a calm morning, as Flying Fish crossed the Equator, Lilly jumped overboard to swim into the Southern Hemisphere.

Polynesia 2018

Our landfall in Polynesia was at Fatu Hiva in the Marquesas Islands. Flying Fish is anchored (above) in the Bay of Virgins. The beauty of the landscape–and the people–took our breath away. I remembered reading Thor Heyerdahl’s account of landing here in 1937. He and his newlywed wife, Liv Coucheron Torp, intended to “run away to the South Seas” and never return home. It was here that Heyerdahl first developed his theories regarding the possibility of trans-oceanic contact between the pre-European Polynesians and the people and cultures of South America.

Lilly and I were enchanted by the Polynesians who welcomed us with fresh fruit, flowers, and fish.

With bushels of fresh citrus, we enjoyed quenching our thirst in the equatorial sun and filling the icebox with freshly squeezed juice.

Flying Fish rests peacefully at anchor in Haapiti, Moorea. At the edge of the pass, there is a pristine surf break. The reef was healthy with live coral and tropical fish.

Flying Fish is anchored in the breathtaking Baie d’ Anaho in Nuka Hiva, one of the most secluded places on earth.

Oceania 2018

With the cyclone season bearing down on the South Pacific, I sailed Flying Fish alone from Tahiti to Bora Bora, Niue, the Cook Islands, and Tonga en route to New Zealand. Sailing before the tradewinds was hypnotic. The jib and staysail set wing and wing pushed me thousands of miles across the Pacific Ocean.

I waited for a favorable weather window at the remote sunken atoll of Minerva Reef between Tonga and New Zealand. This reef rises thousands of feet from the ocean floor to barely break the surface of the water at Minerva. The rocks here are littered with shipwrecks, but the reef provided a sanctuary for Flying Fish.

Experienced sailors know they will encounter at least one severe weather system during the 1,350-mile route from Tonga to New Zealand. Several days out from Minerva the sea became glassy. It was the calm before the storm.

After months of sailing in the idyllic tradewinds of Polynesia, a full gale roared out of the deep southern latitudes to test Flying Fish and her captain. There is a mindset that is necessary when sailing alone in heavy weather. All actions and decisions must be made deliberately. A serious injury–or falling overboard–would likely be fatal.

New Zealand 2019

The New Zealand landfall in Flying Fish was one of the highest moments of my life. The weather en route had been severe, but the boat was rock solid. Now, I knew for certain that Flying Fish could safely take me anywhere I wanted to go.

As cyclone season raged closer to the equator, I knew that here in the subtropics there would be months of rest and relaxation. New Zealand is known by the Māori as the “Land of the Long White Cloud.”

All of New Zealand is a sailor’s paradise, but the Bay of Islands north of Auckland provided consistent wind and spectacular calm water sailing.

For a boy born and raised at sea level, the landscape of New Zealand was otherworldly. This is Motukokako Island, and its companion rock known simply as “The Dog.”

Most anchorages in the Bay of Islands were undeveloped pastoral places with hiking paths and long sandy beaches. Flying Fish rests in solitude at a bay on Urupukapuka Island.

Coral Sea 2019

Flying Fish was refitted in New Zealand with re-cut sails, a watermaker, a new cockpit enclosure, and a fresh coat of bottom paint. I was healthy and well-rested. The boat and I were both prepared for the long solo passage that would take us thousands of miles through the Coral Sea toward Northern Australia.

These were the weather conditions Flying Fish was built to sail in–20 knots of wind off the stern quarter and a manageable following sea. After several days, I felt the rhythm of a long passage and the sea miles passed quickly under the hull.

Everything was under control… until it wasn’t.

At mid-day with good weather and no shipping traffic, I went below to rest. Minutes later, I awoke nearly upside-down to the crash of a breaking wave, a shower of cutlery and broken glass, and seawater pouring in through the companionway. Flying Fish had been knocked down, mast to the surface of the water, by a rogue wave.

It was the most serious situation I had encountered in thousands of miles at sea. Everything loose in my cockpit had been swept in the Coral Sea by the huge breaking wave. If I had been on deck without a safety harness, I would have also been swept into the sea. Flying Fish righted, as it was designed to do. The mast was still intact. And I was able to pump the water out of the cabin. This was not an emergency, but I was shaken. I kept looking over my shoulder for another breaking wave, but the seas were normal again. It was a wake-up call. I diverted my course from Fiji to New Caledonia to effect repairs. A full account in, “And Then This Happened,” is posted here.

Australia 2019

It was Easter morning when Flying Fish sailed up to the dock in Noumea, New Caledonia. Church bells were ringing from all parts of the city. Selective memory can be a godsend. It was so easy to forget about the near-disaster with the seas calm and the sun shining. It would take several months to put the boat in order for the passage to Australia.

The sailing through the Iles Loyaute and Vanuatu was spectacular, but my senses were now continually on high alert, especially at night. This area of the Coral Sea was a hazard of submerged reefs. Radar, course deviation, and AIS alarms were set, but sleeping with the autopilot on was still only possible for a few minutes at a time.

In the middle of the night, a wave dislodged a hatch board and it flew with high velocity onto my foot, nearly severing a toe. I had a surgical staple gun in my med kit but the pain was so intense that I could not bear the thought of sending steel staples into my toe. I applied SuperGlue instead and wrapped it with gauze and duct tape. When I reached the closest doctor in Australia five days later, my foot was swollen with infection.

Weeks of recovery in Cairns, Australia passed before I was able to sail Flying Fish north to the Great Barrier Reef.

Indonesia 2019

Flying Fish arrived in Tual, Indonesia, the first Port of Entry in the Arafura Sea. Waiting on the dock for me was Indonesian Coast Guard Capt. Lahan Bacho. With a no-nonsense demeanor, he indicated that he preferred sitting at the helm. Flying Fish was the only visiting yacht in port. Despite our cultural differences, Capt. Bacho and his family welcomed me into their lives. His daughter Sandrilla Oceani, in her hijab, turned heads as she toured me around the island on the back of her scooter. When I asked Capt. Bacho where I could find a Catholic church, he instead invited me to his mosque during the Call to Prayer. I gratefully accepted his invitation.

A fisherman returning from the sea in Indonesian jukung outrigger sails alongside Flying Fish. We greeted each other, sailed at the same speed for an hour or more, and smiled at each other in equal fascination.

An iridescent Indonesian kingfisher, perches and poops on the solar panel of Flying Fish. Photo courtesy: Lilly Cardenas

Lilly joined Flying Fish again for a journey deep up a jungle river in Borneo. We visited Camp Leakey where researchers were studying some of the last remaining wild orangutans. On shore, Lilly hung out with the reptilian locals at the settlement of Kumai. Flying Fish is anchored in the background, in the dark current of Borneo’s Sekoyer River.

As Flying Fish once again crossed the equator, this time going from south to north in the South China Sea, Lilly continued the tradition of swimming from one hemisphere to the next.

Malaysia 2020

In Singapore, Lilly left Flying Fish to rejoin the real world. As I sailed solo aboard Flying Fish, my world suddenly became very real, too. The Strait of Malacca is one of the busiest shipping passages in the world. Tons of oil from the Middle East en route to China pass through this narrow bottleneck each day. Piracy has been a problem in the strait. The passage is about 600 miles long but only a mile wide at its closest point. Navigation is challenging because, in addition to the supertanker traffic, hundreds of small unlighted fishing boats also use the strait.

Chinese New Year, January 25, 2020. The Year of the Rat–I am in Langkawi, Malaysia provisioning Flying Fish for a long passage across the Indian Ocean. The open vegetable market is packed nose-to-nose with Chinese tourists on holiday. The revelers are shouting, haggling–and sneezing–in the tightly packed crowd. A few days later en route to the Maldives, I become very sick with fever and respiratory problems. The symptoms exacerbate by the hour. In the middle of the night, off the coast of Sumatra, I am nearly delirious. I find shallow water next to an island, drop an anchor, and collapse onto the cabin sole of Flying Fish. I awake to the sound of Malaysian port police pounding on the hull yelling in English–“Quarantine! Quarantine! Quarantine!”

I had just been introduced to Sailing in the Time of COVID. The Sumatran Port Authorities were not happy to see me. They told me that a “rapidly spreading disease” is closing ports throughout the Indian Ocean, including my next destination in the Maldives. There were no tests available. They strongly encouraged me to sail in the opposite direction back to Phuket, which was still open to sailboats. But, Thailand would also be inundated soon with COVID. No one could guess how long this pandemic would last. A freighter carrying windmill blades to Turkey offered, for a fee, to carry Flying Fish and several other sailboats to the Mediterranean. There is no disease there, the shipping agent said. Turkey is open to visitors.

Turkey 2020

Flying Fish continued the next leg of her circumnavigation on the back of a freighter. Shipping regulations would not allow me to accompany the boat so I flew to Turkey to meet Flying Fish. On my arrival in Istanbul, there was news that the very next day Turkish borders would close indefinitely due to the pandemic. I scrambled to get one of the last flights back to the United States. Life had seemed so much simpler in mid-ocean aboard Flying Fish.

The freighter transited the Suez Canal with Flying Fish and deposited her with a shipping agent in Fethiye, Turkey. Meanwhile, friends on other sailboats who were in various places around the globe found themselves stranded. A few sailors were at sea when they were told they could not make entry anywhere because of COVID. For many, it was like an apocalyptic nightmare.

After several months, Turkey cautiously opened their border to some visitors. I caught the next flight back.

My reunion with Flying Fish was nerve-racking. I had never been away from the boat for so long; I hadn’t been aboard since Phuket. Flying Fish needed TLC, and thanks in part to the technical services of Three Mehmets (above) in Didim, Turkey, I was soon sailing again.

Turkey is one of the most beautiful places on earth to explore in a sailboat. There are 1,000 miles of pristine Mediterranean coastline bordering Syria to the south and Greece to the north.

At Tomb Bay, ancient catacombs are carved into the rocky hillsides. Flying Fish is Mediterranean-moored here with an anchor forward and a stern line to a shoreline of oleander.

Malta 2021

COVID concerns continued to affect travel in the winter and early spring of 2021. Greece and most other European Union countries still refused to accept arrivals from foreign sailboats. One EU exception was the island of Malta, located about 200 miles north of Libya and 200 miles east of Tunisia. It is in the direct center of the Mediterranean Sea. There is a unique natural history in Malta. Pleistocene fossil deposits reveal the existence and extinction of dwarf hippos, giant swans, and pygmy elephants. Malta sounded enchanting.

Flying Fish departed Turkey on the 680-mile run for the “Middle Sea.” A ferocious Meltemi wind developed, unforcasted, and rain turned into sleet, forcing me to take illegal sanctuary in the lee of an uninhabited Greek island. Despite the severity of the weather, the Greek military continued a non-stop VHF radio broadcast, warning all vessels from Turkey not to “violate sovereign waters.” I wondered: Were they talking to me?

Malta exceeded my expectations. It is a seafaring island with a maritime history that goes back to the Phoenicians. Not since Australia had Flying Fish arrived in a country where English was the common language. I loved the spontaneity and the eccentricity of the Maltese. One day I met up with a local man with his two young daughters and their friend. We enjoyed a picnic together aboard Flying Fish and a brisk sail offshore. Another day I watched horse trainers swim their thoroughbreds through the anchorage.

Sardinia 2021

The shipping agent told me, somewhat apologetically, that as part of the entry protocol I had to be COVID tested aboard Flying Fish on arrival in Sardinia. Ughh, I thought, another swab in the nose. I had forgotten, however, that I was arriving in Italy where there are quite possibly the most beautiful nose-swabbers in the world. –Photo courtesy of Gioia Serra, Nautica Assistance

Summer in the Mediterranean was approaching and the quality of the light made Flying Fish shine like a gem in the Tyrrhenian Sea.

Ginny flew into Cagliari and joined Flying Fish for a couple of weeks. We had a blissful cruise along Sardinia’s Orosei Coastline, sampling rich local cannonau wines and afterward working off the calories by climbing the hills above our anchorages.

The rugged eastern shoreline of Sardinia created its own weather. We enjoyed retreating to the snug cabin of Flying Fish at the end of the day. It was always a room with a view.

The Costa Verde on the west shoreline of Sardinia doesn’t attract the rich and famous like other ritzy parts of the island. That was fine with me. Flying Fish is anchored just inside an enormous white rock known as the Pan di Zucchero.

Balearic Islands 2021

Lovely young Charlie de la Pampa Vialle greeted Flying Fish with a pleasant bonjour as I lowered the anchor at Menorca in the Balearic Islands. She had sailed with her parents Lou Lou and Antoine from Île-d’Aix, France aboard their catamaran Bamboche.

Flying Fish reaches past the Far de Formentor, along the rugged Mallorcan coast.

In many Mediterranean anchorages like this one in front of Illa Llatzeret in Menorca, history blends seamlessly into a modern community. The unusual historic complex of Illa Llatzeret was originally a sanatorium where patients were quarantined during the constant outbreaks of Bubonic plague in the late 1700s. It is now a national park and the island exudes tranquility rather than terror.

The monolith of Isla de es Vedrà created a stunning backdrop for this anchorage of Flying Fish in Ibiza.

Canary Islands & Cape Verde 2021

Ginny Stones is a seasoned offshore sailor having earned hundreds of deep water miles in decades of sailing. We looked forward to sharing the Christmas time “Milk Run” passage aboard Flying Fish from the Canary Islands to Antigua. The passage began from Gran Canaria with a positive weather window and idyllic conditions.

A weather system south of the Canary Islands stalled and we were soon reefed down as winds and seas increased.

Then, an odd series of equipment failures occurred. A halyard parted at the masthead making our mainsail unusable. We debated (briefly) about going aloft to run a new halyard. We decided instead to jury rig the boom topping lift to re-raise and trim the mainsail. Within hours, a more serious situation developed. Suddenly, Flying Fish had no 12-volt DC power. This meant that until we could troubleshoot and solve the problem we had no lights, no electric pumps (including freshwater), no toilets, no cooking ability (the propane solenoid was electric) no navigational equipment, no autopilot, and no ability to start the engine. We knew that if our problem could not be resolved, the 2,600-mile crossing to the Caribbean was untenable. We immediately diverted southeast toward Africa and the Cape Verde Islands 480 miles away. Turning toward Cape Verde, however, brought us closer to the wind which was now peaking at gale force. We would ultimately spend four days hand-steering in deteriorating conditions, high seas, heavy rain, and zero visibility, with not even a compass light to guide our way. A full account of the situation, “One Hour at a Time,” is linked here.

Atlantic Crossing Redux 2022

Flying Fish rocks and rolls across the Atlantic Ocean. (The video may take a few minutes to load.)

A team of angels helped Ginny and me resolve our problems at Cape Verde. Dear friends Hayden and Radeen Cochran, our daughter Lilly, and my brother Bob all offered suggestions by satellite phone. Ginny needed to return home to work (where 10-foot seas were not crashing over the boat). My brother Bob flew to Mindelo, Cape Verde to complete the sail with me to Antigua. There was no drama. We enjoyed each other’s company immensely, and sailed fast and hard before brisk winds and a following sea.

Bob and I had previously made two Atlantic crossings together: Florida to Portugal in 1976 with our entire family, and Gibraltar to Tobago a couple of years later. As brothers (Bob is three years older) we are like salt and pepper, but we had grown to understand and respect our differences and capabilities.

One of Bob’s many capabilities is that he is an extraordinarily skilled and motivated fisherman. There is not much he likes more than fresh fish and grits for breakfast.

His culinary skills were creative. Here, Bob digs into a bowl of sargassum weed that he sautéed in butter. His seaweed dish will not earn him a James Beard Award.

As the Caribbean hove into view, I raised the quarantine flag and the Antigua / Barbuda courtesy flag. We made the 2,565-mile crossing from Mindelo, Cape Verde to Jolly Harbour, Antigua in 15.5 days. For a bulletproof traditional cruising cutter with a full keel, Flying Fish covered the distance like it wanted to get there.

West Indies & Bahamas 2022

Arrival in the West Indies aboard Flying Fish immediately felt like returning to home waters. The air was warm, the water clear, the coral alive–and the rum was pretty tasty, too. There were still nearly 1,500 miles to sail before Flying Fish closed the loop in Florida, but it seemed like home was just around the next island. The first thing I noticed was that I was beginning to drag my feet. I didn’t want this to end.

It always pays to check the anchor. I found a conch dinner right under the boat. Ginny arrived in St. Croix shortly thereafter and shucked off her traveling clothes, put on a bathing suit, a mask and snorkel, and immediately made friends with a red cushion sea star.

I sailed solo through the Turks & Caicos and into the Bahamas. Flying Fish picked up a mooring at Warderick Wells in the remarkable Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park.

On the home stretch, it was all about family. Ginny met Flying Fish again in Marsh Harbour, and then we rendezvoused with Lilly where she was working aboard a yacht in the Abacos. A new person in Lilly’s life joined us aboard Flying Fish.

“This guy is important to me,” Lilly said as she introduced Chris Wall. He is a seaplane pilot and an adventurer who once teamed up with a friend and flew around the world in a small airplane. Chris is learning quickly to love the ocean (“He’s my wingman when I am spearing fish in sharky water,” Lilly said.)

I was doing more hand steering of Flying Fish. Not because there was any problem with the autopilot; the original autopilot had worked great for more than 20,000 miles. I was hand steering because when it was over, I wanted to remember what it felt like to steer this boat. I knew our time together would be ending soon.

At Great Sale Cay in the Northern Abacos, Ginny and I celebrated our last sunset with Flying Fish. Photo courtesy: Chris Wall

Florida 2022

Landfall in Florida for Flying Fish was at Ft. Pierce, where my mother and father live. Dad, now 96, came down to the dock with my sister Suz to share a champagne toast and remember that day in December 2017 when he joined Flying Fish for the first leg of the voyage to Panama. The celebration was short-lived. Mom, 93, had recently been admitted to the hospital with respiratory issues. She would recover, but it was clearly time for this journey to end and let someone else take the helm of this fine sailboat.

It is tough to say farewell to Flying Fish, but, oh, the places we have been together…

Thanks for sailing along with Flying Fish.

Please consider sharing this post with others who might enjoy following the voyage of Flying Fish. I welcome your commentsand I will always respond.

You can read additional Passage Notes from the daily progress around the world aboard Flying Fish by clicking this satellite uplink: 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 2022

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


FlyingFishSail.com has spawned a new website: www.JeffreyCardenas.com.

This new site, Jeffrey Cardenas Photography, will feature hundreds of fine art images — Underwater, Maritime Landscapes, Boats and Mid-Ocean Sailing photography from exotic locations worldwide.

Framed museum-quality images and first edition fine art books will be available, as well as a weekly photographic blog featuring new details of specific images.

Please check out the new site at: www.JeffreyCardenas.com

And Then It Was Over…

A final passage from the Bahamas to Florida… and then this voyage of Flying Fish was over. Photograph: Lilly Cardenas

“Do not cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” – Unattributed

It is a feeling similar to running aground. One moment I am sailing full and by, ebullient, eyes set on a new horizon. In the next moment, life aboard Flying Fish comes to a grinding halt. I am speaking metaphorically, of course. The boat has never been in better condition. Flying Fish is ready to go around the world again, but my voyage aboard her has come to an end.

One might think that going around the world at seven miles an hour would provide ample time for a person to prepare for the end of a voyage. I can read a map, and I saw that the loop was closing, but after nearly five years at sea, I had apparently conditioned myself into believing that I was living an endless summer.

There is a pull, however, that is greater than the tides that carried Flying Fish around the world. It is family. My wife Ginny and I have been married for 41 years, and she has been patient with my restlessness. My mother and father are in their mid-90s and challenged by health issues. My brother and sister are in Key West, where I have lived for more than four decades. Family is the beacon that guided me home.

My family also brought me home in a literal sense. I sailed Flying Fish into the Abaco Islands to join my wife Ginny and our daughter Lilly. And there was a surprise. Last year, Lilly had met an amazing man named Chris Wall, an aviator who had once circumnavigated the globe in a small airplane. Chris was welcomed on board Flying Fish and the four of us gunkholed through the northern Bahamas before turning the boat west toward Florida. “Be careful,” Chris said, drawing on the experience of his global adventure. “The most difficult time of your entire journey will come when the adventure ends.” His words were prophetic.

Chris was a newcomer aboard Flying Fish, but Ginny and Lilly were more personally and emotionally invested in the passage around the world. Lilly had crossed the equator twice aboard Flying Fish, once south of the Galapagos, and a second time in the South China Sea. Both times she celebrated the transit of 0° degrees latitude by swimming under the hull of Flying Fish, as we crossed into a different hemisphere. Ginny had her own adventures. Last year, she endured a potentially catastrophic passage with me aboard Flying Fish, 1,000 miles west of Africa. Without her help, I might still be floating aimlessly in the South Atlantic Ocean.

My 95-year-old father Robert joined me for the last leg aboard Flying Fish. It was a short but poignant 15-mile passage from Ft. Pierce, Florida north to Vero Beach. Dad will be 96 in a couple of weeks. Everything that has to do with my lifetime aboard sailboats began with him, including this voyage. Dad, and my brother Bob, were aboard on December 1, 2017, when Flying Fish departed from Key West for the Panama Canal.

Dad was quiet during that last leg to Vero Beach. We were both lost in thought. Finally, he said, “Where has all the time gone?”

Time passes so quickly as we age, but Dad’s time on the sea has been well-spent. He sailed across both the Atlantic and the Pacific leaving a wake for me to follow. Mom and Dad, who will celebrate their 71st wedding anniversary this year, raised four kids to love and respect the ocean. On the last leg of this journey, Dad helped me pilot the boat into a safe harbor where Flying Fish was transferred into the hands of a broker and listed for sale.

“Where has all the time gone,” I repeated, “and what comes next?”

In this context, I often think of the French sailor Bernard Moitessier who, in 1968, participated in (and was winning) the Golden Globe Race, the first non-stop, singlehanded, round-the-world sailboat race. On the home stretch of his circumnavigation, Moitessier could not face the idea of his voyage coming to an end. Instead of returning to the starting line in England, and to the accolades awaiting him there, he continued sailing an additional 15,000 miles east until he found seclusion in French Polynesia. Moitessier notified race officials (and his family) that he was dropping out of the race and continuing around the world a second time by firing a note using a slingshot onto the deck of a passing ship. In the note, he wrote an explanation for dropping out of society: “Parce que je suis heureux en mer et peut-être pour sau her mon âme” (“Because I am happy at sea and perhaps to save my soul.”)

It has been six weeks since I returned to land. I have not, until now, been able to write a single word reflecting upon this marvelous journey. I can barely speak a coherent sentence. I have re-entered a bewildering tornado of noise and commotion, violence and anger. What’s going on? Is the world different now, or has it always been like this and I have just become accustomed to the solitude and tranquility of life at sea?

My immediate challenge is to tune out the static and regain focus. As to the question of what comes next, I have no answer. What I do know is that it has been a privilege and a blessing to see the world from the deck of Flying Fish.

Bora Bora, 2018, as seen from the deck of Flying Fish. © Jeffrey Cardenas

Thanks for sailing along with Flying Fish.

Sailing is not just about the wind and the sea; equally important are the places, the flora, fauna, and people encountered along the way.

Please consider sharing this post with others who might enjoy following the voyage of Flying Fish. I welcome your commentsand I will always respond.

You can read additional Passage Notes from the daily progress around the world aboard Flying Fish by clicking this satellite uplink: 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 2022

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

What is Wild?

It is becoming more difficult these days to determine what is a truly wild experience. I am thinking about this after a day swimming among sea turtles in the Exuma Islands.

The Navionics charts aboard Flying Fish have a notation that indicates a nearby bay known for its population of green turtles. I love turtles, wild sea turtles. (I am unsettled when I see them on display in enclosures). So, without delay, I grab a mask and snorkel, my underwater cameras, and navigate up the Exuma island chain in my dinghy to find the green turtles.

They find me instead.

Moments after I flip over the side of my little rubber boat, I feel something close its mouth on my upper thigh. It’s nothing dramatic; just a little nip and it lets go. When my mask clears, I see that the nip came from a green turtle the size of a garbage can lid. Adult green turtles only eat grass. Perhaps this one thinks taking a little taste of my ham hock will get my attention. It does.

Quarreling green turtles. All is not perfect in paradise. Photograph: © Jeffrey Cardenas

Unlike a mature green turtle, I’m not vegan. I love seafood. I have memories as a kid eating green turtle steaks in the old Compleat Angler Inn at Bimini (before it burned down during the drug years). Many years before that, Key West also had a thriving green turtle trade. The A. Granday Canning Co, manufactured Fine Clear Green Turtle Soup in Key West in 1930 and claimed that its turtle meat came from the waters around the Florida Keys. “Caught in the neighborhood,” the marketing said, but by the 1930s the green turtle population “in the neighborhood” was already diminished and the turtles arrived in Key West on schooners, captured primarily in the nets of turtle hunters from the Cayman Islands.1

Turtles were easy targets to net or spear, and their eggs–sometimes 100 in each clutch–were stripped from beachside nests. By the middle of the 20th century, the green turtle population worldwide had crashed.

With the passing of the 1973 Endangered Species Act, the US joined international conservation efforts to stop the trade in endangered species, including green turtles. (In the Bahamas, it took another 36 years before the harvesting of green turtles was finally outlawed.) The population of green turtles rebounded. There were fewer than 300 nests in 1989 at 27 of the main beaches in Florida where the animals come to lay eggs. In 2019, that number reached 41,000.2

A juvenile green turtle, fearless at a young age. Photograph: © Jeffrey Cardenas

For a couple of hours, I snorkel alone with the green turtles. This particular bay is not a part of the Exuma Land and Sea Park. There are a few homes and docks here, but the water is clean and clear. Mature turtles spend most of their time in shallow, coastal waters like these with lush seagrass beds. The turtles here are unthreatened by my presence. In fact, they swim directly toward me and nudge my camera. They are fearless in their curiosity, making eye contact with me, occasionally rising to the surface for a breath, and then lowering their heads to see if I am still there. I hover motionless as at least 10 different individuals come calling. I resist an overwhelming temptation to reach out and touch them. Most of the turtles are in perfect physical condition, although some have scratches and wear marks on their carapaces, and one has a scalloped bite mark deforming its shell. Tiger sharks are the only creature, other than man, known to eat green turtles.

A pair of remoras hitch a ride on the plastron of a green turtle. Photograph: © Jeffrey Cardenas

I am surrounded by turtles as I float in this wonderland. But what is it that makes them so tolerant of my presence? And why are they here and not in other places?

Then, the first tour boat arrives in the bay. Two more follow, and I have the answer to both questions. The boats are filled to capacity with tourists holding bottles of Kalik beer and gyrating to onboard hip hop music so loud that I can hear it underwater. The guides on these boats have plastic bags of lettuce and squid parts that they fling like confetti into the water. The green turtles suddenly leave me as if I am toxic. They swarm around the tour boats instead. It’s a party to which I suddenly feel uninvited.

I quickly realize that the turtles were not hovering around me because they thought I was interesting; they thought that I was going to feed them. What seemed to me to be a wild experience was nothing more than being in the presence of once-wild animals that have now been conditioned by human behavior to beg for food. It’s like seeing brown pelicans waiting for handouts at a fish cleaning table. Or, tarpon being fed processed food pellets at a marina dock. These creatures do not need to eat handouts… until, of course, the day comes when these creatures forget how to forage in the wild.

Unknown to me until now, there has been much published about feeding Exuma’s green turtles. And it doesn’t happen only in the Bahamas. Human interaction with sea turtles is big business wherever turtles thrive. In Exuma, the island industry bills itself as Eco-Tourism. “Come experience wild sea turtles in their natural environment,” one company advertises. The website Exuma Online writes: “The local sea turtles are a must see. Where else can you swim so close to these wild animals? (my italics).

“Keep your fingers in check,” the tourist website continues, “bring some squid, and get ready to take some amazing photos! Just be sure that you respect these animals and the surrounding environment.”3

Could anything be less respectful of these “wild animals?” Green turtles don’t even eat squid in the wild4 –they’re herbivores–but these “Eco-Tourism” turtles have been conditioned to eat this bait like there’s no tomorrow. And for some of them, there may be no tomorrow.

Dutch scientists of Wageningen University & Research used Turtle Cams5 to see how ecotourism affects green turtles in the Bahamas. The cameras were mounted on the shells of five turtles and disconnected automatically after five hours. The footage shows people in the water feeding the turtles, and the frenzy that ensues. There is aggression and biting among the turtles (which may explain the turtle nip on my backside). Green turtles are seen in the video dodging the thrashing arms and legs of squealing tourists as they battle each other for squid and floating lettuce.

I understand that for some people this may be the only way they will ever have a close encounter with a sea turtle. But does that make it right to participate in changing the diet and behavior of these animals? There may not be any fences or walls in this bay, but these hand-fed green turtles are no different than those that are captive in zoos or aquariums.

As I drift away from the hip-hop Eco Tourism boats, I see a solo green turtle has also eased away from the melee. I keep my distance, and for 30 minutes I slowly follow it into the bay. This is odd, I think. Is this turtle healthy? Why isn’t it behaving like the other squid-and-lettuce junkies? It is clearly aware of my presence, but the turtle ignores me. Then it sinks down to the sea bottom. Oh God, I think, please don’t let it die right here!

Instead, the green turtle extends its neck, opens its finely serrated jaws, and takes in a mouthful of grass. Turtlegrass. This lone green turtle chews with what I interpret as a look of contemplation and satisfaction. Suddenly, all seems right in the natural world.

It is gratifying to finally see a green turtle foraging naturally in a wild environment. Photograph: © Jeffrey Cardenas


1 Image credit: Monroe County Public Library of the Florida Keys

2 Index Nesting Beach Survey Totals 1989-2021–Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

3 7 Recommendations For Swimming With Sea Turtles–Exuma Online

4 Green Turtles–World Wildlife Fund, WWF.org

5 Caught on film! TurtleCams show how tourists feed (and influence) turtles–Wageningen University & Research 

Thanks for sailing along with Flying Fish.

As always, Sailing is not just about the wind and the sea; equally important are the places, the flora, fauna, and people encountered along the way.

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 commentsand I will always respond when I have an Internet connection. 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 we sail into the Atlantic by clicking this satellite uplink: 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 2022

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

Admiral Cockburn Land and Sea National Park

A spotted eagle ray feeds along the bottom of the Admiral Cockburn Land and Sea National Park in the Turks and Caicos — Photograph © Jeffrey Cardenas

Does it really matter that the Admiral Cockburn Land and Sea National Park is named for the wrong guy?

The short answer is no. Not considering the extraordinary beauty resulting from inspired marine conservation on this isolated corner of the Turks and Caicos Islands. Designated in 1992 and only 480 acres in size, the Admiral Cockburn Land and Sea National Park supports one of the world’s few remaining healthy barrier reef systems. It is also a wetlands site important in maintaining the wild conch, lobster, and fish populations on the Caicos Banks.

A no-take zone has been established here for conch and lobster, and it has been effective. Under the hull of Flying Fish anchored off South Caicos today, there are hundreds of queen conch in the grass beds, and spiny lobster antennae stick out from under nearly every rocky ledge. I saw a mature Nassau grouper today for the first time in decades. I swam with a spotted eagle ray that was more interested in eating crustaceans than it was fearful of my presence.

Just offshore of the small fishing village of Cockburn Harbour is a reef that shows new growth of live coral and masses of tropical fish, a rare sight these days in rapidly warming seas. This coral outcropping off Cockburn Harbour is known as the Admiral’s Aquarium. The only problem is that the Admiral had nothing to do with it.

Admiral George Cockburn, who commanded ships in the Napoleonic Wars, and was responsible for the burning of Washington in the Wars of 1812, appears to have had no connection to the Turks and Caicos. His younger brother Francis, however, a Lieutenant-General in the British Army, played an important role in developing these islands. Unfortunately, Francis never received the honorarium for his efforts. History apparently confused the two men. The reef should be called the Lieutenant-General’s Aquarium.

Regardless of who deserves the credit, South Caicos and its Land and Sea National Park is a treasure, and its health and vitality is a testament that marine conservation works.

Postscript: I cannot resist noting that Admiral George Cockburn and Lieutenant-General Francis Cockburn were distant cousins of the self-proclaimed anarchist Alexander Cockburn, a radical writer who also enjoyed talking about fishing and music. Alexander Cockburn was my next-door neighbor in Key West. He wrote about Admiral George Cockburn burning the White House in his collection of essays, Corruptions of Empire.

Admiral George Cockburn burned Washington but he didn’t have anything to do with the spectacular maritime national park in South Caicos that bears his name.

This week, Flying Fish will continue its passage around the world and toward Key West. Once I’m underway, check out the passage notes on this page. Click on the box labeled “Show Legends and Blogs” for daily musings and observations at sea.

Thanks for sailing along with Flying Fish.

As always, Sailing is not just about the wind and the sea; equally important are the places, the flora, fauna, and people encountered along the way.

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 commentsand I will always respond when I have an Internet connection. 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 we sail into the Atlantic by clicking this satellite uplink: 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 2022

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


Quarantine and courtesy flags for the West Indian island nation of Antigua are raised to the spreaders as Flying Fish enters territorial waters. Photograph: © Bob Cardenas

There is a story from every leg of the journey as Flying Fish has traveled around the world. The story for this passage across the Atlantic is one of brotherhood.

My brother Bob and I are salt and pepper, and I don’t just mean our hair color. Bob is an analytical thinker; I look at clouds and think they resemble dogs. Bob sees something broken, and he repairs it; I see something broken, and although I try to repair it, I inevitably make the problem worse. Bob is gregarious; I am a social misfit. Bob sells dream houses; I sell dreams.

We have just completed a 2,500-mile passage from Cape Verde to Antigua aboard Flying Fish. This is not our first transatlantic passage together. In 1976, we sailed with our sisters and parents from Florida to Portugal in a Cal 43 named Free Spirit. Two years later, our parents allowed Bob and me to sail Free Spirit from Gibraltar back to Florida. That’s when things went sideways. That voyage led to a weird estrangement with my brother, lasting over 45 years.

Those many years ago, I had been caretaking Free Spirit in the Mediterranean. Bob was writing his thesis on the sexual behavior of clams at Florida State University. When our parents asked us to bring the boat home, they gave Bob $500 for provisions. Bob arrived in Gibraltar with two buddies, an Israeli hitchhiker named Dadi, and a Moroccan rug. Bob had made a side trip to Tangier and used the $500 to buy the rug. There was no money remaining for provisions.

“How are we going to eat, Bob?” I asked.

“Haven’t you ever scavenged behind restaurants and grocery stores?” he answered. “They throw away a bunch of really good food.”

And so Free Spirit was provisioned for a long ocean passage with sacks of rotting produce obtained by dumpster-diving behind Gibraltar’s restaurants and grocery stores.

Bob is three years older than me. Before he arrived in Gibraltar, I sailed Free Spirit for months through the Mediterranean. Once we met up, Bob and I each assumed that we personally had the responsibility as captain to bring the ship safely home. Our parents never made the designation. They probably thought that their two boys were mature enough to work it out for themselves. Apparently, we were not.

We fought about everything from sail changes to course plotting to who slept where. It got worse as we got hungrier. Not even the fish cooperated by taking our trolled lures. We began rationing food (Here’s a quarter of a rotten potato for your supper.) To make matters worse, we had sailed into a high-pressure ridge west of the Canary Islands and were becalmed for days. Free Spirit’s engine didn’t work. The battery had no power to start the engine, and there was no way to charge the battery. It was an ill-fated voyage. I kept thinking, “This is going to end up being a sea-going Lord of the Flies.”

Halfway across the ocean, the fishing line we trailed behind Free Spirit finally came tight. A marlin had become entangled with a white rag lure we had been trolling behind the boat. Bob and I battled to reach the rod first. He strong-armed the marlin to the side of the sailboat. Then, with savage appetite, the crew of Free Spirit descended upon the marlin with knives, cutting fillets and eating some of the fish raw.

After 30 days at sea, we made landfall in Tobago. I left Free Spirit soon after that. Bob and his two buddies continued onward. (The Israeli hitchhiker vanished, much to the wrath of local immigration authorities.) My brother and I never fully recovered from the acrimony of that trip. Our lives went in different directions. We were always polite when we saw one another, but for nearly a half-century, there was a distance between us that we had not found a way to bridge.

Rain? What rain? Bob Cardenas, reveling in the elements aboard Flying Fish. Photograph: © Jeffrey Cardenas

Late last year, as my wife Ginny and I were en route from the Canary Islands to the Caribbean aboard Flying Fish, we encountered a serious issue that jeopardized not only the completion of that passage but our safety as well. We had communication via satellite phone. I called on my family for help–including my brother, who was quick to respond. Bob stepped up and, at all hours of the day and night, he helped work the problem. Ginny and I diverted to Cape Verde to complete repairs. Bob’s efforts over those difficult four days were the catalyst that reactivated our brotherhood. Sadly, Ginny’s trip was over, but Bob agreed to join me aboard Flying Fish for another shot at the transatlantic.

This 2,500-mile passage across the ocean with Bob was fast–15 days in sloppy weather with spitting rain, wind speeds to 35 knots, and steep swells from different directions that rolled the boat from gunwale to gunwale. We split our time into four-hour watches, but when one of us needed more rest, the other was happy to pick up the slack. Bob did more than his share of feeding us. This time the fish did cooperate, and Bob exhibited his culinary skills, including a creative dish of fried sargassum weed (no rotten potatoes.)

Our night watch conversations aboard Flying Fish danced around the fateful voyage of Free Spirit 45 years ago. But, because of our selective memories, or for the simple desire not to dredge up ill will, we chose instead to focus on the present. On this passage to the Caribbean, I think my brother and I both understood that we were experiencing something that far transcended just another sailboat ride. We were strengthening our brotherhood and rebuilding the bridge.

Passage completed with no squabbles and minimal bloodshed (a gaff wound to the wrist). Photograph: © Jeffrey Cardenas

For the daily details and observations of our passage from Cape Verde to Antigua, check out the notes on this page. Click on the box labeled “Legends and Blogs” for the daily passage notes.

Thanks for sailing along with us as Flying Fish resumes its passage into the Caribbean and toward Key West.

As always, Sailing is not just about the wind and the sea; equally important are the places, the flora, fauna, and people encountered along the way.

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 commentsand I will always respond when I have an Internet connection. 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 we sail into the Atlantic by clicking this satellite uplink: 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