Ouch!

In NZ, at most every marina entrance ramp they have this poster with this comment: “Nothing is faster than Disaster!” In Panama when we were moving from Linton to Colon I was removing the main sail cover. I stepped on the corner of the aft cabin and slipped. Usually when I fall I’m aware of what’s happening and what I need to do. I fell about 2 meters off a sea wall in Sanabel Florida. I saw exactly what I needed to do, where I needed to land and roll and I did. No injuries not even a bruise. In Linton before I even realized I was falling i was already on my butt. No warning, no time. Luckily then too, the only injury was my pride.

Last week W/ was not so lucky. We were finishing up the windlass project. When we refurbished the boat I had installed a high density, high strength plastic base for the windlass. Over the years I watched the windlass move and stretch the 1/2” stainless steel bolts as we pulled in anchor and chain. In the Pacific the anchor is often stuck 20 meters below the surface. The pull on the windlass from the anchor and chain was minimal. When you add in an 18 ton boat jerking on the end of a stuck anchor. Wow! . Over time I worried about the windlass flying off the boat as the bolts pealed away like a zipper.

In NZ we had a new- strong stainless steel base made. In Fiji we pulled off the old base and installed the new. The windlass fits on top. The last step was to install the windlass motor inside the boat. The motor is a big heavy honker. It needed to be aligned with the gear teeth in the windlass and then secured to the tube extending down from the windlass. To align it I put the winch handle in the windlass so W/ could slowly turn it until the teeth from the motor aligned and I could lift it up into place. The Windlass is a Lighthouse and has a kedging fitting on top so I can use the windlass handle to slowly crank the boat off of any obstruction. Luckily we’ve never needed to use the kedge function. I am wedged in the anchor locker. The locker is furthest forward in the boat; on the other side of the sail locker/ garage. I had crawled in there so I could lift the motor into place. Crawling and worming forward is the how I was able to get in and under the motor. For the most part I was in a rather precarious position. Getting in wasn’t easy; getting out would be even more difficult. I thought I had the windlass motor in place and asked W/ to turn the breaker on to power it up. W/ switched on the windlass breaker.

Back top side we started to check the motor connection to the windlass. I had already loosened the gypsies so the anchors wouldn’t move. (Does anyone see what I missed?) Wendy activated the switch that feeds pays out the chain. Perfect. All seems to work! I then asked her to check the retrieve chain foot switch. She did. Immediately I heard a double clunk and everything went quiet.

Thinking something might have happened I hollered up and asked if she was ok! No reply would have been bad, swearing would have been better but hearing a “No” was scary. Like lightening I wormed my way out of the chain locker then the sail locker. I ran out of the cabin and up on deck. It was NOT pretty. My heart sank.

W/ was laying on the side deck with her hand to her head, blood all around and in tears. How do you comfort someone in this situation? I reached her as fast as possible and began to check out the source of blood. I held her. She cried, my heart was in my stomach.

Left Ear Damage Inside

Her ear was bleeding inside and outside. Blood was on the deck. Between sobs she could talk. She could move slowly. I helped her to the cockpit. She laid down. I got some sterile wipes to clean her up as best I could. It was a slow process. W/ can tolerate a great deal of pain anywhere – except on her head. There was a gash behind the ear and there was a 10 mm split inside in the middle of the ear. A few days later a bruise appear on her check. Luckily we have a freezer aboard and we put an ice wrap on the area hoping to slow the blooding and ease the pain. I cleaned her ear some more. Trying not to make anymore pain for her it was slow going. I cleaned what I could and what she could tolerate with Peroxide. There was no way to micro bandage any of the cuts. There were a couple of extra indents / cuts / openings in the ear lobe where her earring is. As gently as possible we / she removed the earring. We cleaned more and iced more. We talked about what the hospital might do. It was Sunday; the Dr’s office is closed.

The damage behind the ear

I didn’t think they could stitch any of the areas up. The one cut on the cartilaginous portion of the ear and the other in the fold behind the ear. While the hospital here was an option it wan’t high on our list. At this point it doesn’t appear life threatening. Luckily. There is a vet at the marina and if need be we could consult with him. After all we all are animals anyway. W/ decided and I supported her that we didn’t need to do that yet. We iced. we cleaned what pain would allow. She laid down with that side of her head up. I ran blue tape (almost as good as Duct Tape) around her head holding some cotton swabs to the effected area. The rest of the day she couldn’t lay on the effected ear. Way to much pain. As it slowly stopped bleeding and we cleaned carefully I painted Second Skin on the wounds. Unfortunately Second skin stings so it was slow going. As we covered the wounds with second skin and they were protected I could paint more on area. It is only the first layer of second skin that stings. The entire time she is completely lucid. It alleviates one worry but doesn’t make any of her pain or my anxiety go away.

Showering would be a problem but the ear simply wouldn’t get washed. By the end of the first day she the bleeding is minimal. Touching the ear was not as painful. I took photos every day so we could look at the healing and she could see exactly what I was describing.

Trigger and Weapon

When W/ pushed the retrieve chain foot switch she was down on her hands and knees activating it with one hand. The winch handle which I had forgotten about and W/ wasn’t ever much aware of swung around striking her upside the head. The blow upside the head knocked her off her knees onto her side. The handle hit with such force it flew out of the windlass with the adapter fitting. Had she been standing it may well have struck one of her legs and broke it. While the foot switch is well away from the swing of the handle the other leg could be in range. Had her head been in a different position she could have broken a jaw, knocked some teeth out, broken her nose or damaged an eye. Worse case she might be dead if it struck her in the temple! As unlucky as she was, she and I were lucky. By day four she was able to sleep on that side of her head for a bit. From the cleaning we did and the second skin she had no infection. By the end of the week she could shower and get the ear wet. Now about two weeks later only an ENT might notice that there was some trauma to the ear. No one can look at it and see any damage. Her hearing is fine ( sometimes when I’m mumbling something her hearing is too good!). This time she and by extension we were lucky. Out here cruising we try to think of everything. We try to run scenarios through our head and think of what might go wrong. At anchor, in a beautiful place I may have become a bit too complacent. In 10 years we’ve never needed to use a winch handle in the windlass. I don’t think I would ever have thought the motor running would turn the handle too. I wasn’t aware if it was a direct drive or racheted. When the motor pays out chain the kedge winch handle doesn’t move. It only moves while retrieving the chain.

With the new base installed, W/ healed we’re on to the next project, a stack pack. The only physical damage I can do here is sew a finger. Let’s hope I can avoid those stitches. Nothing … is faster than disaster.

Go Slow
Sail Far
Stay Long

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