Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Sickness On Board

New Bern, NC

Sickness on board the boat is not something I like to blog about.   Libby especially feels it an invasion of her privacy if I write that she's not feeling good.   Fortunately, it is not something that we have to deal with often because we very seldom get sick.

However, seldom does not mean never.   I got my flu shot for this season but last Friday I came down with the flu anyhow.  I spent 3-4 days being very miserable and letting Libby nurse me.  I think it has been more than 40 years since I was that sick before.   But now, I'm 85% recovered and willing to write about it.

Cruisers get sick less often than the general public for the simple and obvious reason that they have less contact with other people.  The more time you spend in contact, and the larger the groups you are in contact with, the greater your exposure.   If our contacts are mostly to other cruisers, then exposure is reduced.  Contacts with children, or in a doctor's office, or a hospital, would make exposure go way up.  If it was just Libby and I out at sea for weeks at a time it would be extremely unlikely for us to come down with an infectious disease.  Who would we catch it from?

On the other hand,  our offshore custom with just the two of us as crew leaves us largely unprepared for incapcitation of either of the crew.  I'm afraid that we would fail at our duty to keep a sharp watch out 24x7 unless both of us were in top shape.  For the kind of coastal cruising we do, our backup is to change plans and head immediately to the nearest port in case of sickness.   For ocean crossings, I just don't believe we would be safe without additional crew.  

What about single-handed ocean crossers and circumnavigators?  Sorry, I believe that all captains have the moral obligation to keep a 24x7 watch and single-handers can't do it.

What about sea-sickness?  mal-de-mar?  We encountered that a couple of times.  We have remedies on board which include an electric-shock wristband that Libby uses when the need for relief is immediate and drastic.  It works.  


  1. Sorry to hear you were ill but recovery is good I missed you by 5 min. In the spring I saw you exiting the Catskill creek and watched you go under the Rip Van Winkle bridge then in the fall by the time I got out of work you had your mast up and gone. I hope to see you in the spring and if you need to go to a store to provision I will drive you both ways keep up with the recovery.
    S/V My Getaway

  2. Sorry to hear, Dick.

    I think there is one more reason that cruisers get sick less than the general populace is reduced stress. From what I've read, less stress means less illness. Works for me, anyway.

  3. I suppose, Dick, that I should respond to your comments about single-handed sailors with my own perspective. This will require me to make an admission that qualifies my answer.
    The Admission: Buoy 84 off Poplar Island on the Chesapeake Bay may bear some paint samples from Robin due to an encounter when, in broad daylight, I lost track of its location.
    My comment: I've never had a close call like that when alone offshore, day or night.
    When sailing to Bermuda alone aboard Robin, I -- like all hte other participants in the Bermuca 1-2 -- keep a 20-minute watch around the clock. The theory is that in 20 minutes, almost nothing afloat can close the distance from the horizon to your position. If you maintan this watch schedule, then, there is little chance of danger from collision.
    That chance that does remain amounts to the same one that caused Robin to kiss Buoy 84.
    I therefore am completely comfortable sailing alone at sea. I wouldn't do it overnight on the Cheapeake or Delaware Bays or any other restricted body of water where the ocean horizon was not in play.
    Illness so far hasn't caused me to abandon my watch at sea. I've huddled in the cockpit from time to time dealing with seasickness, but I've still maintained watch. Were I debilitated, I would heave to, halting progress until I could keep watch.
    I did that very thing about 20 miles off Bermuda when squalls went through, making the radar screen a solid green. There was plenty of wind to sail, but I was blind to other vessels.
    Stopping is always a good way -- shorthanded or otherwise -- to dealwith hazards at sea.


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