Bad Backs and Boats (May 2006)
Several months ago I wrote that I had to be very careful of my back when I was on board a boat. Since then I've received a number of letters from sailors asking whether I do anything specific to protect my back when I'm sailing. The answer is that I've tried many things over the years to reduce my back pain, including limited surgery, visits to chiropractors, and acupuncture. But I'm still susceptible to discomfort, and if I'm not careful the pain can become severe. I'm constantly aware of how hard I'm working my back.
It's not just a matter of putting a limit on, say, how much weight to lift. I need to assess how much bending my back can safely absorb; stuffing a sail into a sailbag for example, is almost sure to give me a backache. I'm fortunate that my wife, Terrie, is fit and energetic—and, yes, she does much of the hard work when we are sailing. We've also done what we can to minimize heavy loads. A powered anchor windlass came first, followed by roller furling and reefing; our newest boat, a 45-footer, has electric primary winches as well as an electrically powered mainsail-halyard winch.
We use a crane to lift the outboard motor from the dinghy, and we hoist the dinghy itself with the electric halyard winch. Although these devices take care of most of the heavy routine work on board, I still get backaches. I only rarely sleep through the night on the boat, but it's no different at home, so I'm not about to give up sailing. Unfortunately, I have no magic bullet to offer. The best advice I can give is to make sure you know your body's limits on weight and flex, then do everything possible to stay within them.
Soothing the Seasick (May 2006)
My wife, Ursula, is prone to seasickness, as is our cat. My wife tried many of the standard remedies, but aside from getting thirsty and becoming drowsy, she didn't feel any better. Then a fellow cruiser mentioned having had good luck with Triptone. Happily, my wife found that it worked for her, even after the onset of seasickness, which has not been the case with the other brand-name medications.
We've since discovered that this product is well known in the diving community and is carried by many dive shops. It's also available through local pharmacies. Of course, you should consult your doctor before using any medication.
We've also found it helpful to spend several days at anchor before heading offshore. My wife says this helps her get used to the boat's motion and start to get her sea legs. Certain foods—citrus-, ginger-, or lime-flavored drinks and ginger ale—seem to work well for us, and we've found that eating smaller amounts of food more often helps too. We avoid sweets in favor of salty crackers or pretzels. If your sweet tooth needs attention, try ginger cookies.
Giving human crew a seasickness medication is one thing; giving such a medication to a cat or dog without clear instructions from a knowledgeable veterinarian is another. We medicate our cat, in a dose appropriate for her weight. She often becomes drowsy. We keep her comfortable and place a container with water nearby. Hugging, holding, or petting a seasick animal also seems to reduce its stress level. Hans Peter Mueller
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