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A Woman’s Point of View: A Blue Water Passage

“Passages are like having a baby,” I commented, as we sat in a circle at the Salty Dawg Women’s forum in the days before our 2019 Salty Dawg passage from Hampton, Virginia to Sint Maartin. “Some labors may be smooth and uncomplicated; others may be difficult and painful. You don’t know what you are going to get, but when that baby arrives you are thrilled, and with time, the episiotomy heals and you forget about how miserable that labor was…and then you go ahead and do it again.”

And there I was in 2019, doing it again.

I remembered sitting in the same room, in the same circle, in the same chairs, at the same women only forum, in 2017, when I was a newbie too, nervous as all get go. But as we readied Exodus for the 2019 passage, I could barely remember the “details” (read “pain”) of our 2017 passage from Hampton to Antigua. There had been so much adventure, fun and exploration since then. We had sailed Exodus, our Hylas ‘49, for two years since that first passage, and in that time had put over 7,000 nautical miles under our keel.

Exodus took us to the Windward islands in 2017-2018-Antigua, Martinique, Guadeloupe, St Lucia, the Grenadines, and Grenada. In 2018-2019, we joined the amazing Suzie Too rally, exploring Bonaire, Curacao, Aruba, Santa Marta (Colombia), Cartagena, San Blas Islands, Panama, Plasencia, San Andres, Roatan and Guanaja (Honduran Bay islands), and Belize. At the end of the rally, we sailed back to the U.S. passing through Mexico, the Dry Tortugas, Key West, and back up the US coast again to Boston and then Maine. In September, when the weather turned, so did we- we headed south- to Newport, Mystic, NYC, Annapolis, and onto Hampton, for another passage south for another season in the Caribbean.

By the time this passage started, we had lived aboard Exodus for two years, and we knew and loved her more than ever. We knew every system backwards and forwards. We had found all the little storage spaces that were going to be found (or so we think). We knew what needed to be looked after immediately, what needed repair, what was good for a few more years. The rigging had been checked, the bottom cleaned, the dingy was stored safely on the foredeck, and a watch schedule set.

When I wasn’t attending the seminars, I spent a good deal of the week before passage provisioning and cooking. From my previous passage, I learned that I don’t enjoy cooking on passage AT ALL (the exception being freshly caught fish). I made 12 dinners for three (that could each feed six). Each could be taken out of the freezer in the morning, put in the oven to warm up, and eaten in a bowl with a spoon: chicken gumbo with rice, lentil curry, pulled pork, baked ziti, turkey chili. Jane, our extra crew member arrived, and we oriented her to Exodus, safety, and our procedures.

Weather and route planning on Halloween

But there is nothing more important than the weather, and boy did we do weather! Chris Parker reports, Jen the Gulf Stream current expert, grib files, endless discussions with our friends on other boats. On Chris Parker’s advice, we decide to leave late enough so that the Gulf Stream would have calmed down a bit from a previous front, but early enough that we would be comfortably ahead of another, more significant front, with potential gale force winds. That front ended up chasing us south the majority of the passage.

We pulled away from the dock in Hampton around 17:00 on November 2, 2019. I’d like to say that the baby came without incident, but as usual, it was more complicated than that. Our Hylas stood up incredibly well to the feisty Gulf Stream waters- plowing, not pounding, through the waves, and we sailed beautifully for many days, close hauled and reefed up. We were well ahead of the predicted cold front with the gale force winds.

But we had our challenges- a generator impeller that melted (as the Captain admitted, human error, which he was able to repair along the way) more lightning and intense squalls than we were comfortable with for days at a time (apparently due to a prefrontal front that could not be predicted), fickle winds, some rough seas, and very little sleep. The low point of the trip was my birthday, November 10, when it seemed almost impossible that we would get through the day without a lightning strike.

But not every day was “complicated”. It wasn’t every day that we huddled at the cockpit, Garmin inreach and VHF and cell phones safely stowed in the microwave, thankful for the invention of Sturgeron and radar. One day, while Mike was in the shower, Jane and I reeled in and netted a large Mahi all by ourselves. I was even able to get the hook out of the fish with the help of a little fish vodka (for the fish, not me} and just as Mike got out of the shower, it was time for him to fillet that big guy, and we had him for dinner that night. On one of the many amazing sunsets, all three of us witnessed an amazing green flash. Along the way, we were entertained by dolphins, rainbows, flying fish, good food (if I do say so myself) books and book tapes, and some rockin’ tunes. When the wind was good, Exodus was great, and I can’t imagine a more seaworthy boat.

And now, we get to enjoy the delights of the Caribbean for the next several months. We are enjoying the warmth, the sunshine, the rum, meeting new people, connecting with old cruiser friends, snorkeling, hiking, and finding creative ways to relax on Exodus.

Is there a long ocean passage in our future? Possibly. I’ll let you know once the episiotomy heals.

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