The Colors of Tual, Indonesia


On the Tual side of the archipelago of Kei Islands these homes–and a mosque–were painted to honor a visit by Indonesian President Joko Widodo. Photograph © Jeffrey Cardenas

In the Kei Islands of Dullah and Kecil a narrow wooden bridge seperates the cities of Tual and Langgur. One side is Muslim, the other side is Christian. Together they are one Indonesia.

Centuries ago, the islands were located on a key maritime route of the spice trade which extended from the Moluccas southwards towards the Lesser Sunda Islands and Java. By 1610, the Dutch East India Company had become the dominant power and Indonesian elders were replaced by Europeans.

During the Second World War, Japanese soldiers landed in the islands. The Dutch were unable–some say unwilling–to defend Indonesia, and two days after Hirohito surrendered in 1945, Indonesia began a bloody war of Independence with the Netherlands to gain their sovereignty.

Tomorrow marks Indonesia’s Day of Independence.

Tual Indonesian Girl

A young Muslim girl wearing a hijab meets Flying Fish docking at the Tual Coast Guard wharf. Photograph © Jeffrey Cardenas


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: 

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Text and Photography © Jeffrey Cardenas 2019

Goodbye Oceania, Hello Southeast Asia

Wing and Wing

Flying Fish sailing westward, downwind, wing-on-wing. © Jeffrey Cardenas

I remember with vivid clarity the moment 20 months ago when Panama’s Miraflores Locks opened and Flying Fish was floating for the first time in the Pacific Ocean.

Tomorrow I begin my departure from this beautiful ocean–with so many memories–and sail onward toward the new and strange world of the Indian Ocean.

There is no mechanical demarkation between these two oceans as there was at the Panama Canal. Still, I sense the mingling of these ocean waters. I am leaving the Coral Sea to the east, transiting the Torres Strait, and crossing west into the Arafura and Timor Sea–from Oceania to Asia. I will linger for some time in Malaysia and Indonesia before deciding how, when, or if Flying Fish will make the nearly 5,000-mile passage across the Indian Ocean to South Africa.

It was suggested that better routing might be across the Indian Ocean to the Red Sea and into the eastern Mediterranean via the Suez Canal. If that happens, Flying Fish would be hitching a ride on the deck of a freighter in an armed convoy past Yemen, Somalia, and the Gulf of Aden. I’m no Rambo.

But those are thoughts for another day… Now, the focus is on tomorrow.

There are 18,307 islands in the Indonesian archipelago and I don’t want to touch any of them with the keel of Flying Fish. I am prepared and well-rested. My various body parts have healed completely from previous onboard dramas. The sailboat is tuned and ready for new water. Onward!

FF pano


Today’s log entry and position of Flying Fish. 

As I mentioned in the last post I have activated a satellite tracking link that shows the daily position, current weather, and includes a few personal thoughts from my daily log. 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 you can click this link: 

Please subscribe at the bottom of this page so that you don’t miss a new post, 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:

Text and Photography © Jeffrey Cardenas 2019


Off the Edge of the Earth

Hope Islands

Flying Fish, alone at Hope Island on the Great Barrier Reef. Photograph © Jeffrey Cardenas

Off the edge of the earth, or so it seems…

Flying Fish continues onward into the Torres Strait and then to SE Asia. WiFi and cell signals are rare to non-existent (now being an exception).

If you are following the passage of Flying Fish, I have set up a new satellite link—Passage Post Notes—at These notes are only a line or two from the daily log of Flying Fish but they show where I am, the current weather, they give a sense of the passage–and I can post without WiFi or cell.

I will continue to upload full-length posts here at when / if I have the bandwidth. Unfortunately, I cannot respond to your comments via satellite. Sailing singlehanded, I value communication with readers (it’s so much better than talking to myself). For now, however, the post notes are the best I can do.

Thanks for sailing with me as I navigate through this amazing world.


A nautilus shell washed ashore on the sand flats at Forbes Island National Park on the Great Barrier Reef. Photograph: © Jeffrey Cardenas


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Text and Photography © Jeffrey Cardenas 2019

Cape Tribulation

“Because here begun all our troubles.”—Capt. James Cook / June 11, 1770

Cape Trib moonset bw

Under a full moon, Flying Fish sails past Australia’s Cape Tribulation where just offshore Cook’s Endeavour nearly foundered on the Great Barrier Reef.  Photograph: © Jeffrey Cardenas

Actually, the trouble for Capt. James Cook had started several days earlier when “some Malicious persons” among the crew of Endeavour, unhappy about being served a continual diet of stingray soup, assaulted Cook’s clerk as he lay drunk in his berth. They cut off his clothing, and if that was not humiliating enough, they went back and “cut off a part of both of his Ears as he lay sleeping in his bed,” according to Cook’s journal. [Flying Fish footnote: And some wonder why I sail singlehanded.]

Things got worse for Cook and the crew of Endeavour. On a moonlit night, as they sailed past Cape Tribulation, Endeavour “struck and struck fast” against what is now known as the Great Barrier Reef.

As I read this account in The Explorations of Captain James Cook in the Pacific, I am in Flying Fish and also sailing past Cape Tribulation under a full moon. The narrative of Cook and the Endeavour raises the hair on the back of my neck as Flying Fish pushes onward along this hazardous coastline.

Cook had been asleep in his cabin when the ship impacted the reef. He raced to the Quarter deck, according to the diary of the ship’s botanist Joseph Banks, and in his underwear Cook began managing the crisis. He ordered sails reduced and lowered the ship’s longboats to carry kedging anchors offshore in an attempt to pull the ship off the reef. The Endeavour did not move.

Next Cook ordered the ship to be made lighter and guns, ballast, food, and water were jettisoned overboard. More than 50 tons of critical supplies were thrown into the sea. Still the ship remained hard aground.

The following day as the tide rose the ship was finally kedged off the reef and pulled into deeper water. Now, however, there was an even greater peril aboard Endeavour. The ship was flooding and four pumps could not keep up with the incoming sea water. “This was an alarming and I may say terrible Circumstance and threatened immediate destruction to us as soon as the Ship was afloat,” Cook wrote.

Then two amazing and fortuitous things occurred. First, a coral head had lodged in a hole in the hull. Had it dropped out, Endeavour would have sunk on the spot. Still, water was coming in faster than the pumps could remove it. A midshipman named Jonathan Monkhouse came up with a brilliant idea: He suggested wrapping a sail around the damaged hull like a diaper, a technique known as fothering. Cook gave the order to coat the sail was in oakum, wool, and “sheeps dung or other filth” to help it adhere to the hull. The temporary repair worked. Endeavour was severely wounded, but not lost.

Cook needed a secure place to careen his ship. He looked to the northwest and saw two small islands. He named them Hope. He and his crew looked longingly at Hope Islands but with an unfavorable wind they could not maneuver the damaged ship to safety there.

Cape Tribulation and the continent of Australia loomed only 15 miles to the west but it was a mountainous and unwelcoming shoreline. Endeavour struggled into Weary Bay but it was too shallow to bring the ship ashore. Cook was despondent. He named one local landmark Mount Misery, another Mount Sorrow. Cook wrote that the damaged ship “would not work.” After a week of being “entangled among shoals” a scouting party finally found a river mouth deep enough to accommodate Endeavour’s 12-foot draft. His ship and his crew were safe, but repairs would take nearly two months before they could sail once again.

Two and a half centuries of full moons have passed over Hope Islands where Flying Fish has dropped anchor in a pocket of deep water surrounded by an endless labyrinth of coral reef. It is a lonely and beautiful anchorage. A relentless wind blows from the southeast. In the falling darkness under a rising moon I dinghy ashore. At low tide I wade along a trail of rock and rubble that lays exposed for several hundred yards in the direction of Endeavour Reef. I feel the weight of history here, and it gives me strength.

Captain James Cook (1728-1779) *oil on canvas  *127 x 101.6 cm  *1775-1776

Portrait of Capt. James Cook by Nathaniel Dance-Holland / National Maritime Museum, United Kingdom. Image in Public Domain


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Text and Photography © Jeffrey Cardenas 2019


The Rhythm of a Passage


Flying Fish running hard before the wind on passage from Vanuatu to Australia. © Jeffrey Cardenas

There is a peculiar rhythm to a sailing passage. It often takes a few days for a sailor to become completely in synch with the boat. The ocean is a foreign environment for human beings, but that is exactly why some of us go to sea. We want unpredictability, to break out of routine, to be surprised. Be careful what you wish for.

Log Entry / 22 June 2019–Underway!

Flying Fish is departing Mele Bay, Vanuatu for Cairns, Australia 1,326 nautical miles west. I am making a rare sunset departure on this passage but weather conditions are perfect–a clear sky and 15 knots of tradewinds from the east. I am rested and eager to sail. As the light fades there is a bright but waning moon over the island of Efate. Low tide and an offshore breeze fill the air with the fecund aroma of Vanuatu’s rich volcanic earth.

Log Entry / 23 June–A quick nap on the first night offshore and erratic dreams crowd my subconscious. Why can’t they be erotic dreams instead? I wake with a shutter convinced that there is an oversized wharf rat scuttling across the cabin floor of Flying Fish. Of course there is no rat, but the dream was so vivid. Why a rat dream? Where is that coming from? This passage feels different. There is a sense of foreboding. Careful, careful, careful…

Despite the bizarre dreams, there is a sublime reality to the beginning of this passage. I love the feeling of all three sails on this cutter pulling tightly together on a broad reach over an easy sea. Flying Fish moves through the water like music; there is the pitch of the wind, the tempo of the boat’s motion among the waves. When all the sails are trimmed correctly Flying Fish sings along in the key of the sea.

Log Entry / 24 JuneThere is a change in the weather. It is expected but not welcomed. Wind gusts push over 30 knots and are combined with increasing sea conditions. The course to Australia is due west but a strong swell is developing from the south. Waves are hitting the boat broadside.

The concern is not the strength of the wind, or the size of the seas. At issue is swell direction. The tops of some waves are breaking. I cannot push out of my mind the freak wave that knocked down Flying Fish–mast horizontal to the water–on her passage north from New Zealand in April. I understand now that wave was an aberration. But it is like being bitten by a friendly dog–you know it’s (probably) never going to happen again but the memory of it leaves you wary.

Log Entry / 25 JuneProximity alarms integrated into my electronics alert me to a 1,000-foot merchant vessel on an intercepting course with Flying Fish.  The massive ship with the decidedly unromantic name of FPML B 104, en route to Taiwan, diverts to pass several hundred meters astern of Flying Fish . I make radio contact with FPML B 104 but our communication is lost in translation. 

I am fully into the rhythm of the passage now. The boat is pitching and rolling but my body is moving with the sea instead of against it. It is a bizarre dance, a dance that always leaves one hand free for the boat. Despite the rough sea conditions I manage to take a much needed shower. Inspired to achieve even greater things, I bake three loaves of banana bread in the wildly swinging gimbaled stove. It is a triumph, considering I don’t know how to cook. I feel like a Renaissance Man.

Aus passage banana bread

Log Entry / 26 June 2019I awaken from a short nap to the screeching sounds of birds. Birds? Seven hundred miles from land? Clearing my eyes I look into the ocean and it is teeming with life. Gannets are diving on whorls of sardines that are being driven to the surface by hundreds of ravenous yellowfin tuna. As far as my eyes can see there is a predatory maelstrom. It seems at first as if this must be another dream… but no, a blast of spume from a beaching humpback whale reinforces reality in the ocean surrounding me.

Let there be life! Acres of tuna boil on the surface devouring sardines in a spectacle worthy of the Roman Coliseum. My automatic reflex is to drop back the fishing lines. I hesitate. These fish have somehow avoided the commercial factory boats scouring this part of the Pacific Ocean. I let the tuna enjoy their meal of sardines unmolested. I already have enough food onboard.

Log Entry / 27 June 2019–I am euphoric. I am 63 years old, in the prime of my life, alone in the Coral Sea, driving a magnificent sailboat toward Terra Australis. I am abashed to admit that the phrase King of the World enters my consciousness. It is a privilege and a blessing to be here now.

And then I am bleeding badly.

I am in the galley of Flying Fish at midnight celebrating my good progress and making a cup of hot chocolate when the sudden roll and lurch of the boat causes a heavy hatch board to become dislodged from the companionway and it flies with great velocity, edge first, onto my bare right foot, nearly severing a toe.

I switch on a light and I am astounded by the amount of blood pooling under my foot. I don’t like the sight of my blood. In 30 knots of wind and 12-foot seas the boat is twisting and turning and jumping like a bad carnival ride. The pain in my foot is mind-numbing. I’ve got to stop the blood flow. I grab a wad of paper towels and press them between my toes. Ouch! Then I am on my back on the floor of the cabin looking at the ceiling and seeing stars. I reach for my satellite phone. In Key West my wife Ginny is drinking coffee and reading the newspaper. “How much blood does a person have in their body?” I ask, as I explain the injury. Compassionately, and without hesitation from 12,000 miles away, she says, “Get your foot up. Now. Over your head.” 

My friend and surgeon, Dr. Byron Bailey, helped me outfit a medical emergency kit for Flying Fish. He provided a surgical staple gun for times like this. We practiced with it on a skinless chicken breast in his kitchen.  I know I need to close this wound but the thought of powering staples into my toe right now is nauseating. I change out the wad of paper towels instead and stare at the spinning ceiling of the cabin while the boat races forward on autopilot, through the night.

Aus Passage Injury Aus passage bandaged

Log Entry / 28 JuneFuck my foot hurts!

Morning. I am still on my back on the floor of the cabin with my bloody foot resting on the companionway steps above my head when my eyes open to first light. The cabin sole looks like the floor of a slaughterhouse. I hobble upright. The boat is still on course but I am in the shipping lanes and there is traffic–the AIS signature of three merchant ships light up the chart plotter. The wind is still 30 knots. And Flying Fish is tearing across the open ocean like an ambulance on its way to the hospital. I am still more than 500 miles from shore.

Log Entry / 29 June–I must focus now. Oxycodone is calling me from my surgical kit but I cannot succumb. The shipping traffic is skirting an area of reefs to the west that I must  sail through in the next 24 hours. Got to keep it together, got to stay sharp…

The Coral Sea is a patchwork of reefs. There is a dangerous spot called Atoll de la Surprise. The chart also marks numerous areas along my route as “Unsurveyed.” Another shallow patch is titled “Presumed Position of Sandy Island.” I do not want the presumed position of Sandy Island, I need to know the exact position of Sandy Island. The moon is waning now. The nights are darker.

Log Entry / 30 June–All night I hear breaking waves. My mind tells me to believe the instruments–I am in deep water–but my senses tell me that waves are breaking, just ahead, on jagged patches of coral.

Daylight reveals that the seas have increased to 15 feet and the wind remains gusting at 30 knots behind me. I am flying a triple reefed mainsail and the tiny shred of jib set wing-and-wing. Each swell lifts Flying Fish to the top of its crest and then sends her heavy hull with a traditional keel surfing down the face of the wave. The ensuing roar of 22 tons of sailboat exceeding hull speed sounds exactly like waves breaking on a reef.

Then at mid-day do I see waves breaking over coral. I cannot see any land but I know that these waves are breaking over one of the Seven Natural Wonders of Earth. I have arrived at Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.

Australian Passage whole numbers2

Whole Numbers–10 knots of boat speed surfing downwind in 30 knots made for a fast passage to Oz. © Jeffrey Cardenas


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Text and Photography © Jeffrey Cardenas 2019


Send in the Clowns


A Fire clownfish is hiding in plain sight on the Pango Point Reef in Vanuatu. These remarkable fish have developed a symbiotic relationship with anemone and an immunity to their toxic sting. Photograph © Jeffrey Cardenas

How can a person not smile when in the company of clownfish?

Flying Fish is on the island of Efate in Vanuatu making final preparations for a departure to Australia and points west. I like to make my goodbyes not only to those I have met onshore but also to my friends living underwater.

As I make a final dive on the Pango Point reef, clownfish blossom all around me in their beds of anemone. These clownfish are not here because of baited handouts, as in many tourist-oriented dive sites. They are here because they are survivors having lived through a series of destructive cyclones and the fallout from a Hollywood cartoon character.

All anemone fish, including clownfish, are hermaphrodites. They are born male until the most assertive fish transforms sexually to become female. They make their nests in clusters of anemones existing in a symbiotic relationship that is both practical and sensual. Clownfish acclimate to the venom of anemones after a gentle and prolonged period of touching the sinuous tentacles of the beautiful but predatory anemone. The touch of the anemone generates a protective mucus layer on clownfish that shields them from nematocysts, the harpoon-like stingers on the anemone’s tentacles.

Anemone protect clownfish from all underwater predators, except for those that wear dive gear and net them in the wild for captivity in aquariums.

A surviving population of Vanuatu’s clownfish. All images © Jeffrey Cardenas

After the Academy Award winning blockbuster Finding Nemo was released in 2003 (with, ironically, a pro-conservation message) the worldwide aquarium demand for wild clownfish tripled. Vanuatu was at the epicenter of an out-of-control harvest of clownfish.

By 2006, according to a report by the Vanuatu Department of Fisheries, some 200,000 fish and other marine creatures were being annually exported from the country. The four species of anenome fish in Vanuatu were classified within the archipelago’s top 10 most exported species

At the time, a US-owned company, Sustainable Reef Suppliers Ltd, was fishing the waters around Vanuatu’s main island of Efate for the aquarium market. They were shipping nearly “8,000 wild animals a month from the capital, Port Vila,” according to David Fickling, reporting in the international edition of The Guardian. Clownfish were selling in US and Australian wholesale markets for more than $10 each. According to the report, Vanuatu dive operators said that aquarium firms had over-fished several popular scuba sites, including Eretoka Island where they claim 38,000 fish were taken within one month.

Recognizing that their resource was being ravaged by foreigners, the Vanuatu Department of Fisheries in 2008 set up the Marine Aquarium Trade Management Plan. The Plan limits exporters to only four operators, two of which must be Ni-Vanuatu residents. A total annual catch quota allocation of 12,250 fish was established for Efate. The Plan, however, rewarded Sustainable Reef Suppliers, Ltd with 80% of that allocation.

Not much can be found about the tropical fish exporting company Sustainable Reef Suppliers. There are no business or phone listings for the company in Port Vila directories. Their last Facebook post was two years ago saying, “We suffered through 2 cyclones… This has left us unsettled for potential conditions years forward. We are looking forward to getting caught up and back better than ever.”

According to the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), the global value of the marine ornamental trade is $330 million USD a year and it supplies an estimated 2 million people worldwide keeping marine aquaria. Clownfish make up 43% of the global marine ornamental trade. Some 25% of those clownfish are bred in captivity–a positive step–but the majority are still captured from the wild, decreasing clownfish densities in exploited areas like Vanuatu.

Sadly, according to the Aquarium Welfare Association (AWA), many people buy clownfish without knowing how to properly care for them. According to the AWA, hundreds of children, after seeing Finding Nemo and inspired by a line in the movie, flushed their clownfish down the toilet in the hope of setting them free.

Nemo’s cartoon friend Dory, a blue tang, probably said it best: “When life gets you down, do you wanna know what you’ve gotta do? Just keep swimming.”

An Orange-Fin clownfish in Vanuatu tenatiously leaves her nest to confront a diver with a camera. Photo: © Jeffrey Cardenas


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Text and Photography © Jeffrey Cardenas 2019

The Happiest People on Earth

Tanna Sheila cooking

In the bush village of Enkahi under the Mount Yasur volcano on the island of Tanna, Sheila Willie prepares a meal of roots and boiled bananas over an indoor fire. Photograph: © Jeffrey Cardenas

A group called the New Economics Foundation (NEF) rates the happiness of human beings worldwide. Several years ago they concluded that the small Melanesian island nation of Vanuatu had the happiest people on earth.

Flying Fish was introduced to the Ni-Vanuatu people at Port Resolution on the island of Tanna. My welcome was tumultuous. A pack of schoolboys descended onto the beach laughing, singing, jumping, and talking all at once.

“Where you from? Why is your hair white? Where is your wife? What is in your bag? Want a coconut?”

After a while the boys’ school teacher, Willie Jila, 33, appeared and brought order to the joyous melee. “They have too much energy in the classroom,” he says in perfect English. To settle them down he sent the kids to the beach to fill sandbags to be used in the village for construction and for barriers against sea level rise. I help load the sandbags and then together we all walk to the village.

“What is the most important lesson you teach these children?” I ask Willie Jila. Without hesitation he responds, “I teach them to remember who they are, and who their father’s fathers were.” He said there are nearly 100 children in the tiny Port Resolution village and they all attend school. “The most important thing I can teach them,” Willie Jila says, “is not to forget their heritage.”

The Ni-Vanuatu are the indiginous Melanesian population of 83 islands in the Republic of Vanuatu. Many of these islands were formed by volcanoes, others by the buildup of coral. The island chain was previously called the New Hebrides, named like so many other South Pacific islands by Capt. James Cook who sailed into Port Resolution 245 years ago. The country gained independence from Britain and France in 1980. Vanuatu is probably best known to Americans as the setting for James Michener’s novel Tales of the South Pacific

Despite the importance the Ni-Vanuatu place on maintaining their traditional culture in the face of Western influences, Willie Jila invites me to his home in the bush for a traditional meal prepared by his wife Sheila. The role of women varies among the Ni-Vanuatu. In some areas, men are in charge. In others, especially parts of Espiritu Santo and Efate, women have more power. In these societies, descent is traced through the female side of the family. For the rural Ni-Vanuatu, the choice of a marriage partner is determined by family. The marriage itself is usually accompanied by an exchange of gifts, including woven mats and pigs. Women are often the main food producers. With this invitation to their home Willie and Sheila ask for nothing other than the opportunity to talk with a person who’s culture is so radically different from their own.

Over one hundred distinct languages are spoken in Vanuatu. English and French are the official languages, a result of the countries’ colonial past. Bislama, a pidgin-English, is the common language spoken by nearly all Ni-Vanuatu (How are you? / Yu oraet?The main religion of the Ni-Vanuatu is Christianity. Still, many Ni-Vanuatu practice traditional ceremonies including ritual dancing and the drinking of kava which are considered pagan by some church authorities. 

Tradition is an essential part of life here. Some Ni-Vanuatu practice male initiation, which usually involves circumcision, Willie Jila said. “Do the boys cry?” I ask. Yes, he says, but a boy who refuses to undergo circumcision may not be considered an adult man. Following the ritual, a young man wears a cover of braided fibers over his genitals. Tradition dictates other interpersonal relations among the Ni-Vanuatu. For example, in some communities there is a strict rule that brothers and sisters must avoid each other at a certain age. After reaching adolescence, they are not permitted to speak to each other, or even to be in the same place. In these communities, brothers and sisters must communicate through a young girl who acts as a go-between.

Willie and Sheila’s home, which they share with their young daughter Nahio, is in a family community called Enkahi located deep in the Tanna bush under the active volcano Mt. Yasur. It is a 45-minute walk from the Port Resolution village along a steep and narrow dirt pathway. My guide to the village is a young boy named Kennedy. He moves with quick grace as he leads me up a steep ascent into the bush. He occasionally turns around to say, “Are you okay, sir? Can I help you, sir?”

Sheila welcomes me to Enkahi with a wide smile. “Welcome to my home,” she says. “I think it must be different from your home.”

In cities, Ni-Vanuatu live in the style of western nations; houses, apartments, and condominiums. Rural housing such as this one at Enkahi includes traditional elements, such as woven bamboo walls and dirt floors with thatched roofs. There is no electricity at Enkahi but, more importantly, there is no fresh water either. Wells were dug some time ago but they have gone dry. There are no springs. A small creek several kilometers aways flows from the direction of the volcano but the water is “poisonous” Sheila says, and only drinkable if it is boiled for a long time. Willie’s family must hand-carry heavy jugs of water from Port Resolution, up the mountainside to their homes.

Most island families grow food in their gardens, and food shortages are rare. Papayas, pineapples, mangoes, plantains, and sweet potatoes are abundant through much of the year. Coconuts are used to flavor many dishes. Food is usually cooked using hot stones or by boiling and steaming over open fires.

Sheila starts an indoor cooking fire in her hut and puts some of her precious water into a smoke-blackened pot. There are pigs and chickens in the village but eating them is reserved for special occasions like circumcision, which is not happening today. She instead prepares namambe, a delicious seed that tastes like a chestnut, and boiled banana with wailu root. She asks me to grate a couple of coconuts which she then squeezes between her bare hands to make coconut cream. She garnishes the food with a flourish, sprinkling it with green onions from her garden. We hold each other’s hand and give thanks. I feel honored to share this meal.

Willie Jila arrives after the meal has ended and receives a few sharp words from his wife (as would happen in any culture, in any part of the world, when a spouse is late for supper.) He explains that he is building a stronger house in the bush, one more capable of standing up to storms like Cyclone Pam which devastated these islands four years ago. He has been shoveling coral rock for hours to make a foundation for the new home. He is thirsty. He has carried five gallons of water back to Enkahi, holding the jug aloft like a trophy.

The British think-tank NEF which has created the Happiness Index recognizes that a country’s well-being does not come simply from consumer-driven goals.  Vanuatu has no military (Ni-Vanuatu like to say, “Our culture is our strength”), and the GDP per capita is more than twenty times smaller than neighbouring Australia. The country has been consistently democratic and peaceful despite its immense cultural diversity. Ni-Vanuatu in tight-knit social communities like Enkahi meet often to discuss family matters from conflict resolution to ceremonial planning. These social meetings, according to NEF, are a key factor contributing to Vanuatu’s high level of well-being.

Vanuatu also rated high in the world index for its use of renewable energy from hydropower, wind, solar, and coconut bio-fuel. In 2011, according to data from the World Bank, 34% of the energy Vanuatu consumed came from these renewables. The country aims to be completely powered by renewable energy by 2030. Earlier this year Vanuatu banned all single-use plastic bags and drinking straws.

Willie and his wife Shelia don’t need a happiness index to define their lives. Vanuatu is has a rich Melanesian culture full of tradition, magic and ritual, and love of family. Ni-Vanuatu goals are immediate and personal. They want clean water to drink and stable weather for their crops to flourish. They want their children to be healthy and to remember the traditions of their ancestors. Vanuatu’s ranking in the index slipped recently (Costa Rica is now ranked first) but if the radiance of the smiles and the music in the laughter of the Ni-Vanuatu is any indication I’d still consider them the happiest people on earth.


The Landing at Erramanga PAI4086

The Ni-Vanuatu were not always so happy to receive guests, especially when the visitors arrived bearing guns. This engraving, after a drawing by artist William Hodges, comes from the official account of Capt. James Cook’s second voyage and his landing on the Vanuatu island of Erromango. © Image in public domain.


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

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Text and Photography © Jeffrey Cardenas 2019

The Last Voyage of Blue Gold

Efate Blue

Super Yacht Blue Gold was grounded in 2015 during Cyclone Pam in Vanuatu. She is still abandoned on a remote beach and islanders say the wreck is a hazard causing damage to the reef and the environment. They want it removed. Photograph: © Jeffrey Cardenas

Blue Gold was once the flagship of Italy’s prestigious Benetti Group. This 165-foot three-deck super yacht had every luxury imaginable. When it was built in 1982, Blue Gold was the largest sailing yacht to come out of the Benetti shipyard. It had accommodations for up to 12 guests, a master suite on the main deck, an office with video conferencing and internet facilities — and, reflecting her name, there was gold trim throughout.

Then, on Friday the 13th of March, 2015, Cyclone Pam ripped through the islands of Vanuatu. The storm caused unprecedented devastation. Classified as Category 5, Port Vila recorded wind speeds of 116 knots gusting to 185 knots. The anchors on Blue Gold dragged. When the wind stopped the yacht was lying wrecked in a bed of pristine coral near the Sunae village on the island of Moso.

According to the database SuperYacht, Blue Gold was owned by Joep van den Nieuwenhuyzen, a Dutch investor. In the 1980’s he bought bankrupt companies and turned them around to profitability. In 1985, he acquired the Royal Begemann Group and it grew into a company with 140 subsidiaries and a value of $1.35 billion. Van den Nieuwenhuyzen was accused of insider trading. In 2006, he was convicted of fraud.

Joep van den Nieuwenhuyzen sailed Blue Gold to the South Pacific but in 2012 when the yacht arrived in Port Vila it was seized by the Vanuatu government for unpaid taxes, according to a report in the Vanuatu Daily Post.

Today Blue Gold lies abandoned on a remote shoreline in Vanuatu. The yacht has not been vandalized or looted. The chiefs and villagers of Moso Island have asked the Government, through Efate Rural Member of Parliament Gillion William, to remove Blue Gold from their reef, according to the Daily Post. The islanders say the ship is a hazard and causing damage to the reef and the environment. They want it out of their backyard.

The parliment minister told the newspaper that the Department of Ports and Harbour, has been working on a resolution. “They had several meetings with the landowners and council of chiefs, (in) which they attempted to address the issue,” he said. “Unfortunately, the current legislation has some loopholes. The responsibility does not lie with the government, it lies solely on the owner of the vessel. We are working on this,” according to the report.

In the meantime life on Moso Island is simple and self-sufficient. Islanders fish from traditional dugout outrigger canoes. Villagers take their produce some 20 miles overland to sell in the markets of Port Vila. There are no roads or cars on Moso. Access is via banana boat. The Ni-Vanuatu villagers are often described as the happiest people on earth, always laughing and smiling. But it must test the limits of their good humor that the view from the tiny village of Sunae (population about 40) is obscured by the wreckage of this mega yacht, of which neither the ship’s owner, their insurance company, or the government seems inclined to take responsibility. 

Efate Blue

Blue Gold wrecked on an Moso Island where islanders work and travel in hand handcarved dugout canoes. Photograph: © Jeffrey Cardenas

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New Caledonia’s Living Reef


Like a galaxy of muti-hued stars, these coral polyps thrive on the reef in New Caledonia’s Natural Park of the Coral Sea. © Jeffrey Cardenas

I welcome visitors when I am sailing alone, even when those visitors are a curious pair of white tip reef sharks. They seem fascinated with the flash of my underwater camera. Sharks, being the alpha predators, always seem fearless — until they threatened by man, particularly those in this hemisphere who want to cut off their fins to make a bowl of soup. These white tips are a kinder, gentler predator. They seem to know that in this lagoon food is plentiful and they can swim without threat.

New Caledonia is internationally renowned for its exceptional natural beauty, rich biodiversity, and remarkable coral reefs. The Natural Park of the Coral Sea protects 502,000 square miles of the southwest Pacific islands. It is sanctuary for sharks, whales and turtles. New Caledonia is also home to one of the world’s largest populations of dugong, the last remaining marine mammal on earth that eats strictly plants. These creatures live in a lagoon circled by an epic 618-mile long coral reef. To summarize the superlatives, this tiny, French semiautonomous territory of New Caledonia boasts one of the largest nature reserve on earth.


All images are of the Natural Park of the Coral Sea. © Jeffrey Cardenas

Paradoxically, New Caledonia’s maritime sanctuary is measured against the country’s unremarkable environmental record on land. As I swim with the sharks and turtles and tropical fish over the shallow coral reef inside the lagoon at Ilot Maître, it is possible to look back at the mainland and see the scars of strip mining. New Caledonia has one of the largest economies in the South Pacific. It is home to a quarter of the world’s known nickel reserves. The foreign dollars earned from nickel mining and smelting account for more than 90% of all exports. It explains the affluence of New Caledonia when compared to its neighbors in the South Pacific. But the wealth has come at a price. Strip mining in the 1970s turned once lush valleys rust red in color and sliced off entire mountaintops. Mining techniques and regulations have improved since then but in the past decade there have still been several serious leaks of acidic effluent flowing directly into this UNESCO World Heritage site.

There are other challenges to this pristine maritime environment. Despite there being literally thousands of boats moored in several modern marinas in New Caledonia, there are few if any functioning sanitary pump out stations in the entire country. Most sewage goes directly into the water. Enforcing the sanctuary’s well-intentioned marine regulations in an area twice the size of Texas is hardly possible with the limited resources here to police it.

Tourism is underdeveloped in New Caledonia with a little more than 100,000 visitors a year, compared to neighboring Fiji where tourism numbers are approaching 900,000 annually. This seems surprising considering the attraction of New Caledonia’s unique natural habitat of 3,700 species of plants, 114 species of birds and 143 species of reptiles. Over 80% of these species are found nowhere else on earth. Its lagoon is a thriving nursery for 25 kinds of marine mammals (including dugongs and humpback whales), 48 species of shark and five different marine turtles.

New Caledonia is proud of its 2019 tourism advertising campaign titled, “Feel The Pulse Of New Cal.” That pulse is clearly in the natural habitat of this island with its spectacular lagoon. Nature is the carotid artery, the life blood of New Caledonia. At some point in the future, as the nickel and other minerals in the land are depleted, the marine environment will be what sustains this beautiful island.

Follow the initiative of groups like Conversation International and the Pew Trust that focus on New Caledonia’s marine environment.


A white tip reef shark passes by to welcome Flying Fish to the Natural Park of the Coral Sea. © Jeffrey Cardenas

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A New Neighbor in Nouméa


HMB Endeavour, an exact replica of the first ship Capt. James Cook commanded when he charted the Pacific, arrived in Nouméa, New Caledonia this week after having twice circumnavigated the globe. Photograph: © Jeffrey Cardenas

Walking along the wide planked decks of the Endeavour replica, one has the sense of treading two worlds.

There is this vessel, a working reproduction that recently arrived in Nouméa, a tall ship that has twice navigated the globe. And then there is the ship she represents, the HMS Endeavour, launched more than 250 years ago that carried Capt. James Cook and a crew of 94 on an epic voyage of discovery around the world. 

Cook departed England in 1768, ordered to the South Seas to observe the Transit of Venus and to secretly search for the fabled Great Southern Continent (Terra Australis Incognita). The HMS Endeavour rounded Cape Horn east to west against the Roaring Forties and then sailed into the Pacific bound for Tahiti. Cook returned to England by way of South Africa after two years and 11 months, having travelled some 30,000 miles and charted over 5,000 miles of coastline.

“Cook not only redrew the map of the world, creating a picture of the globe much like the one we know today” writes historian Tony Horwitz, “he also transformed the West’s image of nature and man.”

The replica of Cook’s ship is no tourist boat. Construction of the Endeavour replica began in Australia in 1988 and the ship was launched 5 years later. Since her commissioning she has sailed over 170,000 nautical miles–more than five times the distance sailed by James Cook on the original HMS Endeavour.

The Endeavour replica was built using surveys and plans archived by the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, England. The timbers are of jarrah, a West Australian hardwood with spars from old-growth Douglas fir. The ship’s traditional iron fittings, including lanterns and the large iron firehearth, were handmade in a specially installed blacksmith shop. Traditional manila was used for the standing rigging, handmade on a 140-year-old ropewalk to the exact specifications of the original rope. The necessary concessions to the 21st century–engines, generators, an electric galley, showers, and safety equipment–are all hidden away in the cargo hold where Cook stored his ship’s provisions.

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In over 200 voyages aboard the Endeavour replica some 8,000 men and women have been able to experience 18th-century seamanship and see how Cook and his men lived. Hundreds of others have joined day sails in harbors and rivers around the world, and many more have worked as guides and volunteers.

With Flying Fish currently undergoing repairs in Nouméa, I was invited by Shipping Agent Chloé Morin to help a group of fourth graders from Nouméa’s Paul Duboisé elementary school tour the Endeavour replica. The children were wide-eyed at the 100-foot, 400-ton ship. The Endeavour was built for endurance, not speed or comfort. It  bluff-bowed and wide beamed with an average sailing speed of 2.5 knots. The ship has been described (unkindly) by one historian as “A cross between a clog and a coffin.”

Endeavour’s Master John Dikkenberg, showed off his ship with enthusiasm to the children. The two areas that most fascinated the kids, Capt. Dikkenberg said, were the sitting boards hanging outboard with holes in them used during the Cook era as toilets (from which one unfortunate seaman plummeted into the ocean while underway), and the flogging rack. “Were sailors really whipped?” one young girl asked Capt. Dikkenberg. “With a cat o’ nine tails,” he replied, and he invited a boy to spread eagle on the rack, much to the delight of his fellow students.

Capt. James Cook’s mission was a voyage of science and discovery, and his legacy continues in the voyages of the Endeavour replica. Who knows in which student this spark of adventure may eventually alight. I know as the passage of Flying Fish crosses the wake of both Endeavours that my adventure is greater for having known their stories.

Endeavor from

The rig of the HMB Endeavour carries over 10,000 square feet of canvas with 17 sails. © Jeffrey Cardenas

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