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Filling a Fire Extinguisher with Cayenne Pepper?

As a solo, 78-year-old great-grandmother preparing to singlehand my Challenger 32, Dharma, to the South Pacific, Asia and beyond, I knew I needed to think about some kind of protection onboard.

As a solo, 78-year-old great-grandmother preparing to singlehand my Challenger 32, Dharma, to the South Pacific, Asia and beyond, I knew I needed to think about some kind of protection onboard. Though I trusted the majority of my adventure would be safe, I had to be prepared for sailing in some pretty isolated areas, where “unauthorized boarding” was all too possible. The question was: what to bring?

The idea of having a gun onboard crossed my mind, but I knew it would cause too much trouble when clearing in and out of foreign ports. I also knew that pirates, if there were any, would probably be better armed than me anyway, and I certainly didn’t want to risk shooting the wrong people in the dark of night, so guns were out of the question.

I’d heard of other cruisers putting tacks on deck, sharp side up, which sounded like a clever idea, except for the fact that I enjoy walking on deck barefoot and didn’t want the idea to backfire. I thought about getting a big dog, both for protection and companionship, but again didn’t want to deal with the complications of clearing said dog in and out of foreign countries.

Finally, a light bulb went off. A medium-sized fire extinguisher could be my answer, but not just any fire extinguisher: one loaded with super hot cayenne pepper! Imagine some unsuspecting soul trying to sneak aboard, only to be met by a blast of cayenne pepper to the face! I think that would stop just about anyone.

The man at the fire extinguisher store was rather dubious about my idea. But the more I explained my situation, the more he warmed to it. For the pepper itself, I tried restaurant supply stores first, but ended up purchasing it online from San Francisco Herb Company (sfherb.com), which sells various strengths of cayenne pepper, all the way up to #90, which I’m pretty sure would be nuclear in strength. I was surprised by how affordable it was (1 pound for around $4.50). I had the fire extinguisher man fill me up and then, to prevent inadvertently using the extinguisher on a real fire, I covered the whole thing in black electrical tape.

So far, I haven’t had a reason to use my protection, and I’m grateful for that. But if the time comes, I’m going to have to remember to never discharge it upwind.

Photo courtesy of Susan Meckley

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