It’s alive!!!! While Dr. Frankenstein was elated to see signs of life from the pieces of dead bodies he sewed together, we just want to stay alive — preferably without any sewing of body parts.
Rapid assistance for life’s oopsies and whoopsies is something most of us take for granted. Dialing 911 is always one of the first steps in an emergency situation, even in more advanced first aid classes. That is because emergency services are never more than about 30 minutes away in most places and rarely more than 24 hours away even in backpacking areas. But, Wild Rumpus will, at times, be a week away from any reliable organized assistance. So, at least three of our six crew needs better than average first aid skills, and one helluva first aid kit!
Bumps, nicks, scrapes, minor burns, ingrown nails, toothaches, sprained ankles, back pain, headaches, minor kitchen accidents, and the dreaded diarrhea are all normal human events. And, in normal life, they are virtually meaningless. A bump likely requires no attention, but if it does, you go to the appropriate doctor or urgent care. A scrape is flushed and gets a bandaid unless it gets infected, in which case –go to the doctor. Diarrhea usually requires no more than a quick visit to the pharmacy. You get the point — stuff happens, and society has in place (in most places anyway) a system for dealing with these common issues.
Wild Rumpus and its crew will be traveling about 6000 miles. At times, we will be 800 miles from the nearest land, which is about 4 days from the nearest land-based assistance with no realistic hope of other assistance by sea or air. Cheery!!
A Two Part Solution
Step One — Prevention
We cannot eliminate risk, but we can do our best to minimize it. There are several standard sailboat injuries when we let ourselves get a bit too comfortable. While sailing on the Bay, the most common injuries I’ve seen are friction burns, a few finger jams, and the occasional turned ankle. Although I haven’t seen one in the sailing context, I have some anxiety about the possibility of a ring getting caught in a line, which can cause a degloving– so I remind people to remove rings all the time (and I now wear a silicone wedding band). While on a Caribbean charter, stubbed toes were pretty common as well.
The two most likely sources of potential injuries for sailors on a passage are, in my view, alcohol and the galley (kitchen). Alcohol dulls our senses, including situational awareness and balance, both of which are essential on a boat. A simple fall downstairs can break a bone that we may not be able to set properly. Also, the galley is the source of most injuries in the home, which is aggravated on a boat. The galley provides ample opportunity for cuts of varying severity (infection is a very real risk for us), and burns.
On Wild Rumpus we will have top-notch alcohol in quantities enough to rub the edges of sea shanties to a Frank-Sinatra-sipping-Jack-Daniels-and-serenading-his-next-one-night-stand smoothness. But, the shanties will remain rough and the crew sober during the passage.
Despite the booze inventory, the vast majority will only be consumed after landfall and the boat is secure. During the passage’s legs, very little alcohol will be consumed while underway and none for the watchstander or the on-call watchstander.
When eligible to drink with a meal, it will be a measured drink to enjoy the taste and not enough to cause impairment. This may seem a bit draconian, but we need all crew available for emergencies. And, we don’t want an inebriated crew to become an emergency.
Cooking-related injuries can be pretty gnarly stuff. Significant cuts and burns are always possible in any kitchen. When that kitchen bounces around on waves, injuries become far more likely. We will pre-prepare a lot of our meals and freeze them. This will help us avoid a lot of knife work in anything but relatively calm weather. We can either use the microwave to warm those meals or submerge them in large pot half full of boiling water. This, of course, raises the specter of the other big injuries– burns. To mitigate some of this risk, on Wild Rumpus the galley watch person (i.e., whoever’s turn it is to cook and clean) will always wear loose-fitting pants, slip-resistant shoes, and an apron. Shoes and loose-fitting pants help keep hot liquids off of the skin. Aprons provide another layer of easily removable cloth between the cook and the hot liquid trying to scald them. These items are required in professional kitchens for safety reasons and we will accept and adopt the collective wisdom of chefs all around the world.
Step Two — Training
Basic first aid is, I think, something everybody should know. But I am always surprised to learn that most people don’t really know any first aid beyond putting pressure on a cut and applying a bandaid. Personally, I’ve stayed current on first aid and CPR certifications almost continuously since 1986. But my first aid knowledge (post-boot camp) hasn’t focused on providing aid to serious injuries without subsequent rapid medical attention being available. So, just staying up-to-date is not sufficient. And, of course, there is always the possibility that I am the one who needs the assistance.
At least four of the Wild Rumpus Crew now have more extensive first aid training than average. One is a Wilderness First Responder, meaning that he is trained through the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) to provide medical care in situations of delayed medical response and unreliable communication with doctors. It is the training designed for professional backwoods guides, search and rescue teams, and park rangers.
Additionally, three more (including me) took the NOLS Wilderness First Aid class, which is somewhat more advanced than Red Cross First Aid, and designed for situations where medical assistance is not immediately available. The course is not nearly as advanced as Wilderness First Responder, but is a good boost to basic knowledge and takes us one step closer to self-sufficiency on the sea. I am still keeping my eyes open for a more advanced class or one specifically designed for offshore passages.
Safety at sea looms large when one will be at sea for 6000 nautical miles with days away from any possible help. We will continue to prepare and build our first aid kit (including an AED) and knowledge. Eventually, we’ll have a detailed post here about the first aid kit, so if that is of interest, stay tuned.
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