Your boat is booked, the bags are almost packed and you're counting down the days to a perfect charter sail-away vacation. It will be just that – as long as you tack around some health and safety issues common to tropical places.
There are a few safety checks you can make before you even leave home. If you have any health questions or concerns, consult your doctor before departure. Fill prescriptions and bring extras along in case your travel is delayed, along with spare glasses and contact lenses. Call your health insurance company so you understand your coverage in case you need to use it from afar – you may want to invest in a supplemental
Most charter boats carry as standard equipment a first aid kit that includes basics for cuts, abrasions and burns. But prudent travelers pack along their favorite digestive or cold remedies and items like specialty tape, bandages and tweezers.
Sun overexposure is the easiest potential calamity to avoid simply by covering up. Why do you think racing sailors wear long sleeves? Rays bounce up from the water, even when you're under an awning, so bring along plenty of sunscreen. Good quality sunglasses will cut down on glare; add a safety strap so you don't lose them.
Drink a lot, and I don't mean rum, to stay energized and hydrated in the heat. Drinking water, while generally very safe in the Caribbean, is a concern to some folks. If your system is fragile and you're susceptible to intestinal issues, drink only bottled beverages and avoid ice. Bring a portable water filter for onboard use.
If the sun doesn't knock you down, rolling seas may, so research and pack along a mal-de-mer remedy that will work for you and your crew if the weather goes south. If you get a cut, be sure to wash and treat the affected area well, as infection can set in and spread quickly in hot climates.
Tropical beaches are beautiful but sometimes hide shards of glass, coral and rust-laden objects you don't want to land on. Water shoes such as jellies, Crocs or sturdy flip-flops are a wise choice for coming and going ashore. Shoes or dive booties also make a great barrier between feet and stingrays that sometimes lounge in the shallows.
Swimming in the Caribbean is part of why we go there so don't be afraid to dip in and have a look around. Jellyfish, rarely sighted, can offer up a sting. If you're unlucky enough to bump into one of these hard-to-spot creatures, get out of the water and rinse the area with fresh water followed by vinegar or a solution of baking soda. Do not rub the area as you'll only make it worse.
Lionfish also can inflict pain but not if you watch for them and stay out of their way. Sealice are a different issue, though, as you can't see them when they grab onto your suit and sting through it. The best prevention for these buggers is swimming naked because luckily they can't hold onto skin.
Some charter guests enjoying fishing – but know before you go. Fish containing ciguatera toxins are a reality in tropical waters and, since they do not look or smell suspicious, investigate the area you'll be fishing in and ask around when you get there. For instance, some locals say that barracuda should never be eaten near St. Marten but others maintain they are considered safe in the waters off Grenada. If you become ill after eating fish, seek medical help immediately.
Ashore you will encounter a few small but mighty creatures starting with those annoying no-see-um mosquitoes. Protective clothing can prevent some of the biting damage, but for face, hands and ankles, you'll want to add some smelly repellent. The bites, which can swell and itch you into a frenzy, are barely tolerable – but the diseases borne by these bad bugs aren't.
Another cruise-wrecking issue is the burn caused by the sap of the manchineel tree, found on many scrubby beaches. The tiny green apples they produce are even worse. Never eat anything picked from the ground or off a tree unless you are guided by a knowledgeable local you know and trust.
In the event you have an emergency, your best piece of gear will be the VHF radio or a cell phone that works locally. Don't be afraid to ask for help. Cruising sailors, locals and fellow bare boaters will gladly lend a hand.
Prescription for the Perfect Cruise
â€¢ Check with your health insurance company
regarding your coverage area
â€¢ Talk to your doctor before you leave home
â€¢ Carry with you all prescriptions (labeled)
and bring extras
â€¢ Pack sunscreen, insect repellent
and a simple first aid kit
â€¢ Study the area you'll be visiting in advance
for hazards to avoid
Jan Hein and her husband, artist Bruce Smith, divide their time between the Caribbean the Pacific Northwest with a boat and a life at each end.