Tales of a Flying Fish

We'd like to interrupt the French Guiana blogs to provide you with a little insight into fascinating little critters that we saw quite frequently during our recent South Atlantic passage. We're always intrigued by flying fish. On long, oceanic passages, we regularly find them in our scuppers. I've even found one in my lap on an occasion or two. flying fish in the scupper

They're incredible little creatures with gossamer wings for fins, adapted brilliantly by Mother Nature to bolt out of the ocean and glide for long distances to confuse and avoid their predators. Unfortunately, it is the flying and gliding during the night as Nine of Cups sails by, that results in their being caught high and dry in the scuppers. We've had as many as 20+ in one night or, on this last South Atlantic crossing, a total of 27 for the passage. Yes, we've tried eating them. Many people do, but it must be an acquired taste. In fact, in Barbados, where the flying fish is a national symbol, they're considered quite a delicacy. Just not our cup of tea, I guess.

flying fish

Considering the length of our passage, we had plenty of time on our hands and thought you might enjoy meeting a flying fish, up close and personal. Take a look.

It turns out that lots of people have crossed the Atlantic Ocean. 

Click on the monkey's fist to read other bloggers on this topic.

The Monkey's Fist


Arrival at Ile St. Joseph

shiptrak 104

Iles du Salut, French Guiana

We motored all the way to the anchorage. We saw the loom of Cayenne to port and then Kourou, hazy glows on the horizon. Les Iles du Salut, the Salvation Islands, lie about 8nm off the mainland. We saw the Ile Royale Light from 15 nm out, blinking twice every 10 seconds, a beacon on a very dark night. The moon would not rise till near midnight and the islands appeared as big mounds, just a bit darker than the night itself. An unlit fishing boat came too close for comfort, appearing out of nowhere and only then turning on his lights. Yikes!

Entering an unknown anchorage at night is not usually prudent, however this was a wide open area with no hazards other than the islands themselves. We anchored blindly...there were no other boats and no light other than the sweep of the lighthouse. The chart noted several commercial moorings close to shore, so we hung back a bit and found good holding in about 35' (10m). We'd re-anchor as necessary in the morning when we could see what we were doing. We tidied up the lines, then exhausted, sat and relaxed in the cool midnight air. David had put rum and tonic in the fridge and we indulged in a cocktail. Easy drunks after a month without alcohol...one drink and we were ready for the sack.

A gentle pitch in response to a light swell on the bow and the lap of water against the hull lulled us into broken sleep... who's on watch?

St. Helena to French Guiana - Days 24 - 26

shiptrak 102
shiptrak 102

Day 24

Miles to go: 315

Another sleepless night...this time because the autopilot was acting up. It was working just fine, the wind picked up and the off-course alarm beeped ...the A/P couldn't correct. I tried to adjust manually, but too little, too late and we jibed, nearly knocking David out of his bunk. I jibed us back on course. David appeared sleepily at the ladder, wondering what was happening. I explained. He listened patiently, tsked-tsked me and as he spoke it happened again. The rudder couldn't recover quickly enough and once again we jibed. Too much wind for the unreefed main. We took a reef, but the same problem persisted. We switched to the back-up A/P and resumed our course. Then the GPS crapped out.

David was too wide awake to sleep now, and though we have several GPSs aboard, he opted to troubleshoot and fix this one. Corroded connector...replaced...working fine now. As to the A/P...he switched back to our usual Raymarine and it worked just fine. Hmmm. We rearranged our watches. I stayed up longer, so he could catch another hour or so of zzz's. He was up an hour later...couldn't sleep. No further problems with the A/P... a mystery to solve...or not.

A word about magnetic vs true headings. The Raymarine A/P is set to magnetic course headings and agrees with the compass. The Navman A/P is set to true and agrees with the chart plotter and the paper charts. At the moment, because of magnetic variation, they differ by as much as 40 degrees. Way out of the ordinary! Is this an area of magnetic disturbance, weird local anomalies or perhaps  alien interference? We've seen this phenomenon before, but always near land. Later in the day, this variation was just a few degrees as usual.

By late afternoon, it is tropical hot and humid. We sweat with the least amount of exertion. There is no wind to speak of...no movement in the air. The wind gen is idle. We have arrived in the doldrums. A favorable current, however, continues to help us move along, albeit slowly. For those of you who like to sail fast...today ain't your kind of day.  I am beginning to complain about the heat. Cover your ears!

A morning high ... 7 flying fish for a passage total of 26.

Day 25

Miles to go: 198 nm to St. Laurent du Maroni; 88 nm to Iles Salut

A pleasant night, but the moon is waning already. The favorable westerly setting current is  pushing us along nicely despite the lack of wind. The days are hot and humid and the sun intense. The evenings cool off nicely though and we sit in the cockpit on night watch in t-shirts and bare feet in total comfort...the stars and moon for entertainment.

Paul from Wisconsin wants to know what we "chat about for hours". Well, lots of things. We talk about writing (we both have articles due and are in the middle of books) and, of course, the daily blogs and possible topics. Sometimes we reminisce...all that we've seen, and then all that we haven't. We talk about getting older and family and personal finances or maybe what we'll do when we arrive in the next port (travel? chores?). The task vs travel negotiations usually take awhile. We talk about what's for dinner.

We list the options and criteria for the perfect place to settle down, if we ever do. (It won't be Wisconsin.) Lately, we've dedicated hours to discussing cruising options after the Carib. The one thing about long passages...it's an unhurried conversation. We can sip a cuppa, start and stop and ponder and come up with all sorts of alternatives at our leisure. No stress; no "gotta make a decision immediately".  For those of you who know David and me personally (like Paul, for instance) or who read our blogs daily and have a fix on our dissimilar personalities, you might think I do all the talking because the captain's such a quiet guy. I assure you, he definitely does his share. That's why we're sailing in the first place!

And speaking of sailing, we're taking a tiny detour and stopping at Iles Salut and the infamous Devil's Island since they're on the route to St. Laurent du Maroni. We probably wouldn't backtrack (110 nm), so if we want to see them, now is the time. A chance to rest up for a day or two, maybe do a little bit of exploring on these notorious islands...and walk, walk, walk.

One tiny guy in the scuppers this morning...total 27 flying fish this passage.

Day 26

ETA: Iles du Salut late tonight

We motored a good portion of yesterday and through the night, but we're bucking a current again which has made even the motoring slow. There is no wind to be found now and there is none in the forecast. The sun rises fiery orange and soon becomes a searing globe of white hot brilliance. It burns and glares all through the day, reflecting so brightly off the mill pond smooth sea that just a quick look is blinding, leaving an after image of black spots. A gentle southerly swell is the only movement of the water and it's so subtle, it hardly causes a ripple. Even our wake is quickly gobbled up, leaving no trace of our transit.

The shadow of the daytime moon is barely visible. The sky is a washed-out blue, bleached by an unrelenting tropical sun. The humidity is palpable, a hazy veil that hangs heavily on the day. Man, it's hot!

The sea has changed color. Instead of a crisp, steel blue, it's become a muted grey green. The ocean depths have become more shallow...now hundreds of feet, not thousands. According to the chart plotter, we've entered France's territorial waters.

Even with the ports and hatches open and the fans going, it's like an oven down below, but the sun is so intense in the cockpit, it's intolerable to sit there for long. Short exposures and we're sizzling like ants under a magnifying glass. It's important to stay covered, when all we really want to do is shed more and more clothing. We sit and sweat and wish for the short-lived mean between the extremes of last month's cold and today's heat. Then the sun sets in a red blaze of color and the blessed cool of night slowly descends.

I dragged a sleeping mat up to the cockpit, but the benches are too narrow for comfortable sleep. After an hour, I was lame and sore and retreated down below, all clammy and sweaty despite a shower less than an hour ago. No sleeping tonight.

We took down the whisker pole today. It has done its duty, even in its handicapped state. It can be stowed now for awhile. We're almost to the end of this passage, and despite the heat, we're glad to be here. We should be anchored off Ile St. Joseph in Les Iles du Salut sometime late tonight.

Wait for it ... wait for it ... Arrival in Iles du Salut