Injuries never happened on my boat during my circumnavigation, because on the boat we were always careful and conservative. It’s off the boat that we did stupid things and got hurt.
In the photo above you’ll see my friend Philippe getting stitches in my cockpit. Like all good Frenchmen, he’s having a smoke too.
This was in Thailand on Ko Phi Phi, the Island of a Thousand Delights, when we were on our way to Malaysia to compete in the Royal Langkawi International Regatta. We went out on the town, heard some live music, had more than a few drinks, then decided to swing by the Reggae Bar for a nightcap. The Reggae Bar had all the standard bar stuff: music, lights, tables, chairs, bartenders, regulation boxing ring.
Before anyone could stop them, Philippe and Josh, a Dutchman and the other grinning guy in the picture, were in the ring with gloves on, pounding each other’s heads in. We yelled, we admonished, we tried to stop them, the Thais turned off the lights, but they wouldn’t stop. Philippe, at about 5’7” and 150 pounds was no match for Josh, at about 6’3” and 200.
We were outside on a footpath when I noticed the blood exploded all over Philippe’s shirt. We got under a bright light and looked him over closely, but could not find an injury. I checked the top of his head, his ears, and was ready to write it off to a nosebleed, now stopped. Philippe looked up at something and I spotted a gaping split, about an inch long, just below the curve of his chin.
“I have sutures and lidocaine on my boat. I can stitch you up,” I offered, with the alcohol giving me absolute confidence in my nonexistent surgical abilities.
Philippe was the perfect patient. In addition to being drunk, he was a dentist, and knew all about anesthesia and sutures. He told me how much lidocaine to inject (WAY more than I would have thought), how to grip the needle with the forceps, and how to stitch. He wanted me to use a running stitch, rather than individual sutures, so it was just like stitching up a sail. A running stitch is stronger, and Philippe figured he’d be getting smacked in the face with sheets and the like during the regatta.
He was very relaxed, so I was very relaxed. I took my time, aligned the wound with some tape first, and did some pretty nice work, if I do say so myself. I removed the sutures about ten days later and he barely even had a scar.
This next injury was a bit more scary. My friend Ian was with me for a cruise from New Zealand to Vanuatu. We discovered a very remote surfing break with potential, maybe never surfed by anyone before, and decided to give it a shot.
I am a proficient surfer. I’ve been surfing all my life, and I know how to suss out a new break and catch waves, but I can’t rip, tear, or pull 360s. Ian grew up in Imperial Beach and does rip, tear, and pull 360s, but he’d never surfed a reef break. A reef break, especially one that has never been surfed before, commands special respect.
I was being especially conservative, catching waves but pulling out early. Ian, on the other hand, was ripping, tearing, pulling 360s, and riding way into the shallows. I figured he was the pro and didn’t need a warning from me, but it turned out he’d spent his whole life surfing over soft sand, and didn’t know the way I did that we were bobbing a few feet over a field of poison razor blades.
Ian paddled out after a ride and said, “I hit the bottom. Do you see anything on my back.”
His rash guard was shredded and blood was in full flow.
I answered, “Nope, I don’t see anything. Gee, I’m getting kind of tired. We should probably head back.”
We were about half a mile from the boat in shark infested waters (we’d seen big ones every time we’d gone snorkeling) and we were outside the barrier reef, where the big predators hang out. I was careful to stay seaward of Ian as we paddled, figuring an able body in between might keep them from going after the wounded prey.
It was a very long and nervous paddle, especially with keeping up the small talk and pretending nothing was wrong. As we neared Condesa I said, “As your unofficial medical advisor, I advise you to start drinking heavily.”
“It’s a little worse than I originally let on. We’re going to have to scrub your back. I’m not going to lie to you; this is gonna hurt.”
Coral cuts can cause horrible infections. The coral polyps can grow under the skin, and even travel through your body. The only way to kill the polyps is a thorough scrubbing with an acidic solution. Our nurse friend Adoline grew up in New Caledonia and knew everything about coral cuts. She said the only way to really kill the polyps was to scrub the wounds with limes, seeds and all. Adoline, AKA Danger Nurse, was due to meet up with us later that day. In the mean time I had a bottle of Betadine, the main ingredient of which is ascorbic acid.
“How many times are you going to scrub it?” Ian asked.
“Ten. Ten times.”
While I boiled my little scrub brush to sterilize it, Ian drank nearly half a bottle of Jack Daniels. If a slug of whiskey and a stick to bite on were good enough for the sailors of old, then they were good enough for Ian.
Ian crouched on the deck and I poured Betadine all over his back.
I dug that brush hard into those raw wounds for the longest ten count of each of our lives, creating a foamy, bloody mess. Sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind. I bandaged him up.
Danger Nurse showed up a few hours later and I was so proud to show her our fine handiwork.
“Non! We must scrub it with limes. It is the only way! Come, I will do it right.”
Ian was now sobered up from his initial anesthesia, and he was not pleased to hear this news. Danger Nurse took him back to her boat, removed his bandages, opened up the wounds again, and scrubbed the hell out of them with sliced limes, seeds and all.