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Good Times Never Felt So Good: Norfolk to Antigua 2023

“Good times never felt so good-so good-so good-so good!” My friend Cindy and I were tethered in, sitting on the “king” and “queen” corner seats at the stern of Exodus, Mike was tethered between us dancing on the aft deck and the three of us belted out “Sweet Caroline” as we sailed across the Caribbean Sea, as if we hadn’t a care in the world.

The Fusion stereo was playing our “Happy Days” playlist at high volume through speakers installed under the stern seats. The seas were calmly rolling, the sails were out fully, the sun was shining, and Otto (our autopilot) was driving the boat.

“My god, this is actually fun!”, I thought. “What a strange feeling!” Fun on a passage? What?

I hate passages. I generally expect to be in a state ranging from mild to extreme misery, but on our new Hylas 57, I must admit, it was pretty good (which is about as good as it gets).

I have thought quite a bit about why this ten-day, 1600-mile passage from Norfolk, VA to Antigua was, as the Captain jokingly likes to say, “the least worst passage ever.”

Based on previous passages, I expected to be alternately bored, terrified, salty, uncomfortable, depressed (because my birthday always falls on passage), desperately in need of my own space, and pissed off about something - a broken head or leaky hatch. On this passage, there was only a little boredom, and as we all know, on passage boredom is much preferable to excitement (a/k/a terror).

Exodus, our new Hylas 57-04, was commissioned in Fort Lauderdale in March 2023. As new owners, we worked out the new boat bugs on trips to the Bahamas in April, up the East Coast to Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Maine and Nova Scotia during the summer, and down again this fall for the boat shows in Newport and Annapolis. By the time we reached Hampton, Virginia, we felt Exodus was ready for the long passage with the Salty Dawgs to Antigua.

We were right. Exodus was ready. Nothing major broke on passage, though we don’t count breakage due to human error such as heating soup in the microwave on a bouncy port tack. The water maker made water. The generator generated. The autopilot piloted (though we have a redundant system just in case). The hydraulic furlers furled.

We had a decent weather window, other experienced Salty Dawg sailors to consult with, great weather forecasting, and an eager crew. We left a day after most of the fleet (it feels wonderful to be a “fast boat”), and after a few very long days of very light wind and easting to avoid a gale…we flew! The sails on Exodus are all 3Di North Sails, and they are amazing. When the trade winds finally kicked in, we were registering 9, 10, 11 knots!

We felt safe and secure. Our watch station under the dodger provided a warm and secure place to navigate, adjust our course and talk over the VHF radio. We never had to leave the cockpit to reef, so we reefed often and heeded our mantra, “think it, do it”. We didn’t let ourselves feel overpowered or unprepared for a pop-up squall, and we were conservative (to a fault some might say) when the sun went down. But that’s how the Admiral (that’s also me) sleeps (a bit) at night.

The cockpit on Exodus is huge, so there was plenty of room for all four of us to spread out without being on top of each other. When the winds were calm, Cindy and I knitted or read. Even in 6-10 foot seas, the motion of the boat was smooth, and pounding minimal. Matt, our 4th crew member, slept soundly the entire passage in the front VIP cabin and somehow that berth did not become a trampoline.

Thanks to Starlink, the Captain monitored weather forecasts, Matt was able to work and all of us talked to and emailed our friends and family. I successfully attended a Zoom meeting of my book club while we were a couple of hundred miles south of Bermuda.

When we needed a pick me up, we put the music at high volume and danced! So Good!

“Sweet Caroline” by Neil Diamond brings back decades of happy memories for me, singing in unison with a packed crowd at Fenway Park. Never would I have imagined that this same song would also create a wonderful memory of our 2023 passage to Antigua.

Thanks, Hylas. I am hoping that future passages (not too soon) will be equally as pleasant and comfortable!

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