When a foreign vessel enters another’s country, that vessel is expected to fly a ‘courtesy flag,’ which is usually just a small version of the host country’s national flag.  Some countries do not seem to particularly care about the visiting vessel flying a courtesy flag.  However, some care very much, and the authorities take offense if no courtesy flag is flying.  It is never helpful to irritate the officials while requesting clearance into their country, so it is both courteous and prudent to fly a courtesy flag.

There is protocol dictating the size of the flag based on the length of the vessel (our courtesy flags were 12” X 18”).  Protocol also dictates where and when the flag should be flown. The flag should be flown daily while in another’s country.

Occasionally a vessel will be expected to fly more than one flag.  For instance, the ABC Islands in the Caribbean have varying links to the Netherlands.  We flew the flag of each island/country, but we did not fly the Dutch flag.  The Galapagos Islands are part of Ecuador, but they function quite independently.  We flew the flags of both Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands.  The Society Islands remain a part of French Polynesia, but we did not fly a French flag while there.  Hopefully, these decisions did not offend any locals.

What to do with your courtesy flags after leaving a country?  I am not a flag waver.  Flags are a form of symbolism that does not hold much meaning to me.  However, I know others ascribe great meaning to them.  I thought it somewhat disrespectful to throw away their national flags, so I designed and made four bed quilts around those flags – one twin, one full/double, one queen, and one king size.  The flags in these quilts are the actual flags flown on Passage while visiting these countries with one partial exception.  (See Fiji in the Asia Pacific quilt.)

Our travels were easily divisible into four regions.  Those regions are 1) Asia Pacific, 2) Indian Ocean, 3) Europe, and 4) Caribbean home.  The number of flags in each quilt ranges from three to 13.  The quilts include 34 flags.  Although we visited more than 34 countries (41, I think), we did not fly a courtesy flag for countries we visited by air or land – only those that we sailed into on Passage.  The flags are laid out in the order in which we traveled.  That order is like reading a book: start at the upper left and move across to the right, next move down one row and move from left to right, etc.

All national flags are designed with a remarkable amount of symbolism and meaning.  I did not want to distract from that, so most of the quilting of the flags themselves is simple outline quilting.  However, I added my own touches of symbolism in the fabrics used, block designs, and quilting motifs.  Fabrics, blocks, and quilting motifs are described for each quilt.

I hope nobody is offended by what I have done.  I do not see this as desecration of anyone’s flag.  Rather, it is my way of showing respect and appreciation for all that was shared with me along the way.


This quilt contains 13 flags from countries we sailed to from March 2005 to January 2011.  The quilt is queen sized and measures 85” X 103”.

This quilt contains the only flag that was not flown on Passage – the Fijian flag.  Although most of our flags were a bit tattered by sun and wind, I was able to repair them to a usable condition.  Not Fiji.  It was shredded beyond repair.  It was also to be placed in the center of the quilt.  It would look terrible, and it would likely further fall apart the first time the quilt was washed.  What to do?

Queen Size Quilt -Flag Layout

Cook Islands
American Samoa
New Zealand
Queen Size Quilt - Flag Layout

I grudgingly bought a new Fiji flag and sewed it into the quilt top.  It looked nice.  Then I basted on the old flag behind it so that it would become a permanent part of the quilt when it was quilted.  You can see the shadow of the original flag if you look closely, but I am probably the only person who will ever do so.  It worked out fine.  I included our original shredded flag and made a quilt top that was attractive and durable.


This Asia Pacific region is large.  I subdivided the region into four general areas: 1) central Pacific, 2) New Zealand, 3) Australia, and 4) Southeast Asia.  I included one fabric representative of each region and made a simple four-patch block.  I also appliqued island groups (using the area-specific fabric) of each area and embroidered the course we sailed.

Quilting Motifs

I used motifs reflective of our experiences in this region.  They included pineapple, bamboo leaves, gentle ocean swells, and stars.  The pineapple was a nod to Tonga.  Living in Hawaii, I have eaten a lot of pineapples, but I had never tasted anything like Tongan pineapples.  Bamboo was a common sight, and the sound of the breeze moving through bamboo stems is magical.  Although adverse weather occurred occasionally, we often had gentle ocean swells, and the distance from city lights provided some spectacular night skies and star sights.

Indian Ocean

This quilt contains only three flags from countries we sailed to, from January 2011 to April 2011.  The quilt is twin sized and measures 59” X 95”.

We left Thailand with plans to visit a few places in the Indian Ocean before heading up the Red Sea to the Mediterranean.  Then the piracy situation exploded.  Indian Ocean pirates had been seizing commercial vessels for a few years, and then they started attacking sailing vessels.  We faced some difficult decisions (see from Maldives to Turkey).  We did visit India, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives.  Then we loaded Passage on a freighter and shipped her to Turkey.

I had expected this region to include eight countries, but we did not visit five countries that we had planned on: Oman, Yemen, Eritrea, Sudan, and Egypt.  The flags of the three that we did visit – India, Sri Lanka, and Maldives – could have been included in another quilt.  However, I wanted those three to stand alone as a statement of the disruption caused by the pirates.


The fabrics in this quilt were chosen for their color more than design.  Although the flag of the Maldives is mostly red, it is also green, so I was able to make color choices that were not dominated by the reds common to most flags.  The block design is called Broken Star.  It felt like the world was broken.

Quilting Motif

This quilt is mostly outline quilting of the geometric pieces of the block.  There is also some rope design surrounding the flag layout which I used to represent the sense we had of being surrounded and constrained.

Twin Size Quilt - Flag Layout

Sri Lanka



This quilt contains six flags from countries we sailed to from May 2011 to January 2013.  The quilt is full/double sized and measures 85” X 106”.

Full/Double Quilt - Flag Layout


The dominant feature of the European flags was the color red, but no other common design elements were obvious to me.  I looked at the flags of many European countries beyond the ones we visited, and I did find a design element common to many of them – the fleur de lis.

Fleur de lis is French for lily flower, and it has been depicted on many national flags throughout the world – especially in Europe.  Ironically, it is not depicted on the flags of countries we sailed into.  However, it influenced my fabric choices for my European flags.  My primary fabric choice was a red fabric with a design that reminded me of the fleur de lis.

The block pattern of this quilt is Northwind.  Every day the winds were dead calm in the early morning.  They started blowing from the north around 10:30, and they would blow strongly throughout the day.  (It is called the meltemi in the eastern Mediterranean.  I had other names for it.)  This wind made sailing in this area difficult.

Quilting Motif

I wanted something more traditional for this quilt.  I used a pattern of gentle curves forming a 10 1/2 inch square and a floral design in the center.

Caribbean Home

This quilt contains 12 flags from countries we sailed to from February 2013 to June 2015.  The quilt is king-sized and measures 104” X 120”.


I chose these fabrics because I liked them.  They had no meaning or significance.  However, my block choice was highly significant.  It is called Homeward Bound.  This was our final sail that took us home to Hawaii in June 2015.

Quilting Motifs

Plumeria flowers are everywhere in Hawaii, and I started seeing more of them as we sailed across the southeast Pacific and toward Hawaii.  Their increasing numbers reminded me that we were getting closer to home, so I chose a plumeria as my primary quilting motif on this quilt.

By this time, we had dealt with too much lousy weather, and we were getting tired.  We really hoped that our last passage – 22 days from Bora Bora to Hawaii – would be a good one.  We wanted to end on a positive note, but it was not to be.  We dealt with lousy seas the entire trip.  Sometimes they were big and rolling.  Sometimes they were short and choppy.  But there were always seas, and both of those sea states are reflected in this quilting motif.

King-Sized Quilt - Flag Layout

MarquesasTuamotusTahiti/French Polynesia
King-Sized Quilt - Flag Layout

Q Flag

Long before radios were available to ships and boats, mariners could signal their needs or intents using signal flags. These flags include a flag to represent each letter of the alphabet and each numerical digit.  Also, combinations of two or three specific flags relayed messages.

Signal flags are rarely used today with one exception – the Q flag.  The letter Q is represented by a solid yellow flag, and when flown alone, it indicates that the ship/boat is requesting pratique or clearance into a country.  The Q flag is hoisted before arriving in port, and it is lowered after being cleared in by the officials.  It usually flies only a few hours.

We flew the same Q flag in each country we entered.  I did not build it into a bed quilt, but I quilted it and framed it so that it could hang on the wall on its own.

The quilting motif on our Q flag is our ‘logo’ surrounded by a leafy lei.  I found the line drawing of the sailboat before leaving Hawaii in 2005.  I encircled it and added our boat name and USCG documentation number.  We used this design so often that we came to think of it as our logo.  The surrounding lei is a nod to our enduring attachment to Hawaii.

I hope these projects are interpreted consistent with my intent – to express gratitude to the many countries that welcomed us and shared so much with us.