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Here Comes Cabin Fever

VOR 2017/18 - Leg 3: Cape Town - Melbourne

Dealing with injury onboard in the Southern Ocean

It's now the 5th day in a row I fear I'm confined to the inside of our 65ft box of condensation. Driving the interior but not much else. That's 5 days out of the 11 we've been sailing. Of which at the end of the 5th day I hurt my foot, massively curbing my usefulness forward of the aft pedestal. So if this Leg is a 16 dayer, (if it's 15 we arrive on Xmas day... COME ONNN!!) .. then at best I've been useful for a third of it. That's not great odds when you're in a team. The feeling of guilt is immense as I watch everyone around me working, the bags under their eyes getting bigger as we gybe more and sleep less along the ice gates. Their hands are beaten and frozen as they push the boat on southwards, grinding, trimming, stacking, driving.

To be honest I'm not entirely certain what happened in the accident. There was a big wave, one minute I was grinding on the aft pedestal, the next I was pressed back against the aft guard wires and Pete who'd also been smacked was stood over me asking if I was alright... I was about to give the usual response 'yeah'. Getting knocked off the pedestal is a daily occurrence out here. Until I leant forward to get up. There was a very sharp almost ripping pain low down in my right hand side, as if someone was giving me a Chinese burn in my lower back every time I tried to move my right leg.

I could hear Abby say 'it doesn't look good' to Pete, she's seen me badly injured before unfortunately.. I think she knew the tell tale grunts weren't too positive. The waves are still coming and I'm still lying face down to leeward, hanging onto the steering frame, waves crashing over me. Abby keeps telling me I need to stand up but I can't. My leg won't move. I need to get off the deck, partly because we're still going 20kts + and clearly there's something wrong, but just to add to the drama, and slightly more urgently.. because we're about to gybe for the ice gate. The guys below deck have already started the internal stack and we're trying to push this gybe close to the boundary. Time is short, we'll get a big penalty if we cross the boundary and we still need to move the sail stack on deck.

Now I'm trying to crawl, I become slightly aware that Pete is stood over me, he's saying something about pain killers, I have a little word with myself but still I can't get my leg to work, so I'm kind of shuffling along on my stomach, like a baby before they're coordinated enough to crawl.

Eventually (probably 3 seconds later max) I hear Bouwe.. 'can we drag u'..yes please, I succumb to the inevitable, I'm now completely useless! Next I'm being expertly fireman lifted through the hatch, Kyle has my head and Carlo my feet, I brace for the pain of being bent around as they climb down into the cabin and flip me round into the bunk so my head will be aft. But they do just as we'd trained, keeping my back straight, head protected, not at all an easy feat in rolling waves with a not so small a patient!

I lay in the bunk, face down waiting for the team to complete the gybe. Trying to get my Lifejacket and gloves off but essentially just breathing. Something doesn't feel too good in my right hand side, but I'm also slightly embarrassed by the drama I’ve caused. Soon the medics, Bouwe, Kyle and Carlo are with me and mum aka Abby of course. A phone call is made to the emergency doctor onshore, wet weather gear is pulled off, then mid layer, and I'm tucked up in a fleece sleeping bag, pain killers administered. Kyle says 'right we'll see you in Melbourne then'. I think no bloody way, I'll be over this in a few hours, you'll see. Back on deck by tomorrow.

Of course now its day 5, maybe only 4 more to go after this and I'm still not on deck.

The first couple of days I felt a bit like a live in grandma, kind of a nuisance but you kind of also don't care. You can't really do much for yourself and if anyone dares pass close by, you either demand something from them.. like can they fetch you drugs/ fill your water bottle, or you try to have a chat when frankly they're too busy. You feel like you've not seen anyone for months, deep in the cave of your bunk, tucked away behind all the wet weather gear. They're all just trying to get on wth their lives, going on watch, dressing, sleeping, eating. I'm pretty sure this same conversation happens with my grandmother 'I haven't seen anyone for weeks' then she bends your ear off for an hour when you know full well another family member has already been there earlier that day.

I was also pretty out of it. The pain killers made me feel a bit like I was floating and the pain, well yep it was there, reminded by every wave and lurch the boat made.

Of course drinking enough water is always cited as the best cure in the first instance in the case of any ailment. Which I'm sure is true. Just no one thought this through the consequence of drinking a lot of water onboard a boat at 30 degrees of heel, with a head (boat name for toilet) that involves climbing over many obstacles to get to it. This is where for the first time I might have to admit, men have been better designed. The boys have some kind of plastic funnel, bottle type thing that they use to pee in all the time. Usually by the hatch out to the cockpit, just above your head as your changing. They seem to love nothing more than ceremoniously pouring their wee out of the hatch for everyone on deck to admire. Abby and I find it pretty strange - the pre-occupation, almost obsession the boys have with anything to do with the toilet, much like twoyear olds do when they discover it for the first time.. but that's a whole different story!

Unfortunately the plastic funnel bottle thing isn't going to work for a girl, and it becomes pretty obvious as I try to sit up that I'm won't be able to get to the head. It might only be a mere 10 ft away, but there are engine covers and high sided bulk heads to negotiate on route and the time, effort and pain required to get there would seem to parallel that of climbing Everest at that moment.

Abby comes up with a solution (as always) and fetches a bucket. What she perhaps hasn't bargained for is how good a team mate/ friend she's going to have to be for the next 15 minutes. As I can't really put any weight on my right hand side and the boat is lurching around, once we've finally got me out of the bunk I need to use both my arms to hold my body weight so I don't put any pressure on my back or leg. This means that not only does Abby have to hold the bucket, watch me pee and pour it out for me, she also has to pull my pants down and back up. Offshore sailing = all dignity left on the dock.

Our repeat of this episode some hours later, now in daylight, got even worse. Ugo our 25 year old, quite shy, new, Spanish, Onboard Reporter (journalist) was trying to make lunch. As there were people at the navigation station Abby placed the bucket at the end of the bunk this time, further forward towards the galley, so I would at least not be face onto the gang crowded around the nav computer. Of course just as I'm in the middle peeing, the kettle starts to whistle. As I say I've been encouraged to drink A LOT of water, so as I pee the intensity of the whistling kettle increases to the point that Ugo feels he must turn the gas off. Nervously he scurries past, to leeward, trying not to look at us and desperately grappling under the sink for the gas switch, his eyes shut. (Less than a metre from where I'm crouched on the bucket). Abby and I are of course in hysterics, the poor guy. I can't really move, I mean I have to finish, then Abby has to pull my pants up. I think he might be scarred for life.

The toilet part of this story unfortunately does not end there. Some days later, now I'm recovering and starting to eat, my skipper asks if I've managed to 'drop the kids off' since the accident. I had never imagined two years ago that I'd get to be racing around the world with Bouwe Bekking. I certainly didn't imagine that I'd be having a conversation with him about my shit... literally. But of course he was right, the combination of hard core pain killers and a bad back that has made everything tense, doesn't help movement down there! So on day 4 Bouwe arrives at my bunk with the dreaded laxatives... it's time. To be honest I've only ever seen these used on comedy shows where someone takes about 50 accidentally and the outcome is well, messy. But even so I was very cautious of this incredibly small, but dangerous looking pill. We don't need to go into details, except to say if you're on a boat going 25kts at 30 degrees of heel, with a toilet that doesn't work so you have to use disposable poo bags, I'd approach laxatives with extreme caution.

Now, in the final days of the leg, with all basic functions back on form and most movement recovered, I feel less like the live in grandma, but perhaps more like an old pet. The dog that hangs around the house, you can't really get rid of it, maybe barks at the odd stranger to deter them, but fundamentally isn't doing much to add to the daily performance of the household. As the old dog might too take the odd walk, I have also been trying to venture on deck. But it is freezing and the wind hardly ever below 25kts, meaning that I can barely hang onto the pedestal or main sheet without wincing every other second at the pain down my right hand side, let alone perform trimming or grinding tasks very effectively. Before my 4 hour watch is over I usually have to retreat back to the safety of the inside. Yep back in that 65ft, damp, smelly, endlessly jolting box.

I watch my team mates come and go from watch, looking jaded, in need of a break. I try to force as much coffee, hot chocolate and food on them as can, as if somehow a constant hot chocolate supply might help them propel the boat faster towards Melbourne and in front of our competitors. Luckily I have some incredible team mates, who tell me to rest up and try to find odd jobs for me to do to curb my enthusiasm for getting on deck. Mainly they’re working hard, sending it. We’ve just nailed the 24 hour speed record for this Leg, watch out Vestas we’re coming!

Time for me to put out the food bag for today… day 11, hopefully not too many more days of cabin fever to go!

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Jan 03, 2018

Wow Annie, what a story! Hope your feeling better and will be fit for stage 5.

Cheers, Hans

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