One year ago today, I departed Key West in my cutter Flying Fish on the first leg of a global circumnavigation. It has been a voyage of self-discovery in a wonderland of raw nature. When I look back at these images of 2018, I see that my camera bias emphasizes the idyllic — downwind sailing, tropical sunsets, vibrant color reefs. These halcyon days are what I record but there have also been moments during this 10,000-mile passage of sheer terror, illness, injury, and loneliness. I prefer to remember the positive. Enjoy these images, and thank you for being here with me.
Departure from Key West, December 2, 2017–with 34,000 miles to go. The crew onboard for this leg is my brother Bob and father Robert, both are accomplished ocean sailors. Rounding the west end of Cuba, the bluebird weather quickly turns into the notorious Caribbean “Christmas Winds” with rain squalls approaching gale force in intensity. Still, there is magic in the air. After dark, the sea is alive with phosphorescence. Following one night of squalls Dad finds a flying fish that crash-landed on the deck of Flying Fish. This first passage is a trial by fire–literally. The generator starter motor shorts out and smoke billows from the bilge. The primary navigational electronics fail from the wet weather. Landfall at Panama’s Bocas del Toro is dark and stormy and achieved as if by braille. With a local forecast showing wind increasing to 40 knots, we slip into the Bocas del Toro channel at 2AM with zero visibility in a torrential rainstorm.
(Click on thumbnail images for captions, camera information, and a full-frame image)
Through the Canal
Flying Fish enters the Panama Canal’s Miraflores Locks with heavy metal close astern. Mast and rigging are a study in geometry under the famed Centennial Bridge as a new ocean opens to the horizon. Las Islas Perlas on Panama’s west coast are a biological and geological treasure. Many sailors eager to cross the ocean will bypass Islas Perlas but Flying Fish lingers for months. I am enchanted by the islands’ flora and fauna, and miles of pristine beaches.
Across the Pacific
Daughter Lilly, a USCG 100-Ton Master Captain, provides the heavy lifting for the 3,500-mile passage from Panama to the Marquesas Islands. These are blissful days of fishing and reading, and on rare occasion, trimming the sails. Tradewinds blow consistently downwind and Flying Fish averages 175 miles per day. Lilly creates healthy and delicious meals with the bountiful fruit and vegetables provisioned from Panama. More challenging for her is trying to establish a routine of yoga, exercise, and French lessons for her stubborn father. Crossing the Equator is a notable event marked by sailors on all ocean passages. Becalmed, Lilly and I celebrate by swimming where the water from the Northern Hemisphere mixes into the Southern Hemisphere. After nearly a month a sea, we find ourselves gazing west, looking for a Polynesian landfall.
The sights and sounds and fragrance of French Polynesia are pure exotica. We make landfall at Fatu Hiva in the famed Bay of Virgins. Spectacular monolithic landscapes rise from the sea. Further west, the water clarity is astonishing. Within it are gardens of live coral and a full spectrum of brilliantly colored tropical fish. French Polynesians are generous, beautiful, and they honor their heritage. A young Polynesian girl quietly sings indigenous ballads while she plays a handmade guitar. In the Tuamotos Islands a pearl diver ascends to the surface with her treasure.
Continuing the passage west, Flying Fish makes landfall on the islands of Maupihaa, Aitutaki, and Nuie. Humpback whales migrate through the islands on an annual journey north from the Antarctic to find mates and give birth. The land and weather is more rugged here, sculpted by great waves born in the Southern Ocean. This area of the Pacific is known as the Dangerous Middle. Weather is unpredictable and venomous sea snakes emerge when least expected.
In the Kingdom of Tonga, Flying Fish anchors in the Port of Refuge. From this base in the Va’vau group of islands there is a sense of sailing in the wake of our predecessors. Capt. James Cook narrowly escaped assassination here. A few years later Fletcher Christian set William Bligh adrift in these waters. Today, Tongans welcome ocean sailors. Markets overflow with fresh produce and Tongan feasts are prepared on the beach. Rocky shorelines provide habitat for octopus and shellfish. The ocean is alive with whales, sharks, and fish. The Kingdom of Tonga is a land of plenty.
At high tide nothing visible exists of South Minerva Reef. It lies unseen beneath the surface of the water until the tide begins to recede. Then, rocks emerge from mid ocean forming two perfect natural atolls. The debris of shipwrecks litter the outside edges of the atoll and the sandy bottom inside of the lagoon. The water is crystalline and fish–big fish–abound in this remote patch of ocean. It is the final outpost of Polynesia in the South Pacific.
Destination – New Zealand
As the year at sea ends, and with the South Pacific Cyclone Season well underway, Flying Fish sails south to the storm-sanctuary port of Opua, New Zealand. The passage in these southern latitudes is formidable. Gales coming out of the Tasman Sea make it difficult to find an open weather window for the sail from Minerva Reef to Opua. A miscalculation (compounded by impatience) results in a punishing five-days at sea. In a lull between squalls, 200 miles from land, a storm-weary European Goldfinch lands on Flying Fish to rest. Despite the Māori name for New Zealand–Aotearoa, land of the long white cloud–landfall here is amid sawtoothed islands under a dark sky. The passage from Key West has been 10,000 miles and nearly a year underway. Both the body and boat are battered. A Māori welcoming ceremony–a pōwhiri–is performed onshore. Kia ora!
My mantra for the next five months will be: rest, repair, and rejuvenate.
Flying Fish will remain in New Zealand until the South Pacific Cyclone Season ends in May 2019. Then, when the southerly winds are right, I will set sail for Fiji, Vanuatu, New Caledonia, Indonesia, and Malaysia. Please subscribe to FlyingFishSail.com for updates, new images, and essays.
To see where Flying Fish has sailed in the past year click here: https://forecast.predictwind.com/tracking/display/Flyingfish