While not yet recognized by the American Medical Association (or any country for that matter), Cruiser Fatigue is a serious sailing ailment that can be easily remedied.
Fatigue for the seafaring soul comes in two distinct forms: Acute and chronic. Those multi-week offshore passages are a target rich environment for acute fatigue. Primarily caused by staying awake during your entire dogwatch, there are several easy steps to counter ACF. The responsible sailor takes several thoughtfully timed catnaps during the watches of others, stays well fed & hydrated, and maintains consciousness during the required scheduled shifts. There are others, who shall remain unnamed, that take a different approach. My go-to remedy generally has been to set collision alarms, drink very strong black tea with sugar & a sleeve of Ritz crackers, and hope Ahab doesn’t come up to catch me drooling on the helm as all the alarms are going off. While this has worked almost perfectly for me for the last 20,000 miles, I have recently met some cruisers who have a 100% effective cure against ACF: buy a friggin plane ticket. Planes are sooo much faster, rarely cause seasickness
, and usually have really nice people serving cold drinks while you sleep without getting yelled at. Amazing.
Chronic Cruiser Fatigue, CCF, is a much different kind of problem. Generally seen only in those wack-a-doo types trying to circumnavigate, CCF is a creeper with serious long-term consequences. Initial symptoms include complete lack of awareness of day of the week, date, time, time-zone. Physical deconditioning is caused by a totally sedentary lifestyle during long passages followed by days/nights of consumption to excess while in port. The only real safety net being that one must wear bathing suits as primary clothing. Actual long term effects with real logistical impact is if the CCF patient ditches the boat, leaving the skipper without crew. We recently came across a cruiser who had been living in The Marquesas for the past 9 months. His crew all abandoned ship due to CCF, leaving him stranded in Hiva Oa, as he could not sail his vessel single-handed. I guess there are worse places to be stuck. Over the past few weeks, we have seen several boats with signs of CCF beginning
to appear. There is no shame in admitting you are just “over it”, or “done”, or even “After we get to the next port, I’m getting off this boat and never looking back”. The first step toward recovery is admitting you suffer, but as they say, prevention is worth a pound of cure.
So how do prevent such a complex problem? I could be totally wrong, but while I do not have a clue what day it is, I have yet to jump ship due to CCF. Here are some helpful tips to prevent CCF:
1. Have an awesome boat and maintain it well.
This is not an unsolicited plug for our Leopard48, but seriously – she is awesome, and that makes a huge difference. We put a great deal of time, effort, and love into making her comfy. Budget the money to get those extras that might seem extravagant: good mattresses, cushions, A/C, ice maker, washer/dryer, navigation backups, and autopilot. Take the time to perform regular maintenance on all systems, and keep her relatively clean. While some folks might might rag on us for running our genny to keep A/C going, or wearing all those freshly washed clothes, we just smile and nod listening to the ice clink in our glasses.
2. Use your systems.
Run your genny. Turn on the air conditioning every so often. Use your finger to steer with Auto. Set navigation alarms. If you are trying get all the way around the world without being hospitalized for exhaustion, let the boat do some of the heavy lifting.
3. Stay at really nice hotels once in a while.
So obviously I am a big fan of this one. During our Atlantic circumnavigation last year, we took the opportunity to get off the boat for field trips to London, Paris, Edinburg, Seville, and Madrid. Perhaps it was overkill, but there is only so much to see in a marina – am I right? During regularly scheduled maintenance is also a good time to get your hotel fix. We had WIDAGO on the hard in St. Lucia getting painted, and sail drives serviced, so a couple days of unlimited hot water were on the docket. After our 19 day, 2 hour crossing of the Pacific, we wound our way down to Rangiroa and stayed on land for almost a week “recovering”. Again, the hard-core cruiser may disapprove, but we came back to the boat rested, refreshed, and excited to sail again.
4. Choose your sail plan wisely.
Perhaps the most subjective piece of advice, but look at your crew. Are they done in? Exhausted? Staring at the skipper with a venomous scowl as they mutter incoherently threats of mutiny? Chances are you need to slow down, speed up, get to port, get to open water, find a deserted island – something. Communicate clearly, often, and early. After two weeks on the atoll of Rangiroa, we were on the docks in Papeete for another two weeks. That was enough for for us, so we are in the island hopping mode again.
Luckily we don’t have another long ocean passage until the end of the summer. Hopefully my CCF will be well managed into remission by then. I hear there are a couple really nice resorts in Bora & Fiji. In the meantime, the A/C is running at night, while Auto takes us to the next island: Huahini!