55. Do What I Say, Don’t Do What I Do!

Living on a boat in the tropics comes with all sorts of risk to your personal health. A few of these risks can of course have quite serious consequences. Like falling overboard or getting hit by the boom in an accidental gybe. Something that I try to prevent by strapping myself to Saoirse when conditions get rough and making sure that the boom can’t travel across the cockpit when I sail downwind. Longer term, things like constant exposure to the sun and dehydration are things that you also have to think about.

Over the past year or so though, most damage to my personal health has been targeted at my feet. Hurting your feet is by no means a rare occurrence on a boat. Saoirse is constantly moving and there are numerous things to step on that are hard or sharp. And most of the time it is way too hot to wear protective gear like shoes. I have had no less four quite serious incidents since I moved aboard Saoirse. All of them different, but the common theme is that I keep doing what I tell guests not to do. Here is a brief summary of these incidents. All with the intent to help future guests from hurting themselves.

Back in Gaeta last year, when Saoirse was still tied to the dock, I walked down the companionway staircase. Holding something in each hand and with socks on my feet. I slipped and managed to squeeze my right foot in under the kitchen countertop. This resulted in a fractured pinky toe and a nasty cut on the foot. A cut that subsequently got a serious infection that took months to get rid of. The foot was almost twice the size of the left foot and only after two penicillin cures and a four hour long hot foot bath did I manage to squeeze out what needed to get out of the foot for it to start to heel properly. A painful and seriously gross experience. The lessons here are don’t wear only socks on a boat and use one hand for what you are carrying and the other to support yourself. Something that I frequently tell new guests.

The second incident was probably the most serious one. Certainly the most stupid one. It happened in Ponza when I offered to help my Romanian friends on White Star to fill their water tanks using my watermaker. They rafted up next to me with a bunch fenders between the boats. In a calm and quiet bay. Suddenly someone on a large motor boat decided to change our conditions dramatically as the wake behind their boat was moving towards our two boats that were tied to each other. Without a second thought, I ran up on deck and decided to keep our boats apart by using both feet to push the railing of the other boat away. Both the boats and my feet were ultimately saved by the fenders. My attempt to rescue the boats had no impact whatsoever but could have ended this circumnavigation early. The moral of this story is obvious. Never ever think that you can hold off a boat that weighs way more that ten tons with any part of your body. I must have told guests that a hundred times. Both feet hurt me for a long time afterwards.

Then a couple of months ago I managed to cut both feet as I was trying save a tender from getting destroyed on a reef in Antigua. It had come lose from a boat and drifted away at night and we went looking for it. As I jumped in the water I obviously did not expect that my feet were going to be met with sharp coral so I’m not sure there is a lesson here. I got some severe cuts but this time I managed to keep any infections away.

And finally, only a couple of days ago, I managed to hurt a toe as the anchor locker hatch came down on it. Another classic boat injury. It happened when I arrived tired in Martinique after two day sail from Sint Maarten. I know better than not to secure an open hatch in the wind but when you are tired you take short cuts. In this case it cost me a nail and a sharp cut that I still haven’t been able to stop from bleeding. But at least the toe isn’t broken.

I really do have to take better care of my feet. I’m going to need both of them to continue cruising. In fact, maybe it is time to generally think a little more about my own well being rather than just keeping Saoirse in mint condition. I have therefore finally bought myself a personal travel insurance policy that covers me everywhere in the world with the exception of the US. Insurance is not going to stop me from hurting myself but at a $100 a month it feels like a better deal than the $500 it costs to insure Saoirse every month.

In closing, I also want to say that after careful consideration, I decided not to include a bunch of pictures of my hurt feet. As tempting as it was. I’ll just end with a picture of a mid-Atlantic squall instead.

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