Wednesday 12 June 2019

FOSSC: cecarial dermatitis

Bottom line up front: a swarm of microscopic parasitic tadpoles were too dumb to realise I wasn't a duck.

With that out the way, before I explain further I should probably warn that whilst I’ll try not to be overly graphic, this post is probably not for the squeamish; aside from ducks, it involves an aquatic snail parasite and a nasty rash.

So you might want to stop reading now, extend me your sympathies and rest assured that we've got everything under control.

Basically, on a Monday night about three or four weeks ago, as I got ready for bed I noticed something of a rash developing across a significant area of my torso. No fever, no discomfort, it didn’t even itch. So I noted it as something of a curiosity and then proceeded to ignore it. As I tend to do with most injuries or ailments. I'm not in any way suggesting this is responsible behaviour however.

It didn’t go away though, and over the next few days became inflamed and now, some weeks later, is finally healing but is very, very itchy. So much so that I didn’t get much sleep last night. Or the night before.

Across the following weeks I also noticed the same around my lower legs and then again, on a later evening, my left forearm, albeit in this latter case it was only the beginning of a rash, an irregularity of the skin, and didn’t develop further. But this happened on a Wednesday evening after I’d been sailing the Enterprise. 

The Enterprise is a much dryer boat than the Laser; on a gentle day, if goes to plan, the only part of you that gets wet is (yes, you’ve guessed it) your left arm, when you push the rudder down into position after launching.

So the source of this nuisance rash was becoming pretty clear.

It turns out to be cercarial dermatitis. Something more commonly known as “swimmer’s itch”. 

I say “commonly”, but I’d never heard of it before. 

I’d guessed it was something to do with the lake; essentially any areas not covered by my wetsuit have been affected. Which at this time of year is a three-quarter length set of hikers, leaving my lower legs, upper abdomen, torso and arms directly exposed to the water. 

I’d assumed it was something to do with the water chemistry. The water levels are low  (as I’ve moaned about before) the lake is choked with weed (as I’ve moaned about before) and the margins of the lake were buffered with bales of barley straw in the Spring to eliminate the blue-green algae of previous years. If that’s not messing with the chemistry of the water, I don’t know what is.

But no. It’s not chemistry. It’s biology. It turns out it’s a parasitic worm.

Not a parasitic infection, I should hasten to add. I’m just collateral damage, a misfire. Unlike some other parasitic worms, this parasite can’t infest humans.

It infects the blood of waterfowl. Said fowl then excrete eggs, which hatch into larval miracidia which then infest aquatic snails. Of which you’d think there would be a fair few in the lake, given the abundance of vegetation for them to feast on at the moment. The miricidia then develop further in their molluscan hosts until they are excreted as microscopic, tadpole-like larvae called cercariae.

These vicious little beasties live in the water for about 24 hours, during which time they swim around the lake hunting for waterfowl to infect and thus begin the whole happy cycle again. Yep, this is the Circle of Life, in all it’s gritty, itchy, tadpole-like glory.

Unfortunately, their hunting instincts are not all they should be, and if they mistakenly land on a person’s skin, like mine whilst I'm swimming back to my capsized boat (again) they’ll attack and burrow in, presumably thinking you’re some kind of big, pink duck. Or goose. Or something. Let's say a swan. I'd much rather be a swan.

Which is unfortunate for them, as they can’t survive in humans. They die. There is zero risk they'll infest your blood or you'll in anyway harbour, host or pass them on. Unfortunately though, you can develop an allergic reaction to this failed invasion.

Thus this rather uncomfortable rash I’m currently having to endure.

I guess it’s good news that it’s not infectious. And good news that the parasite can’t actually infest humans. I picked up a ringworm infection when I was a kid from a stray kitten a bunch of us kids adopted, and one parasitic worm infection in a lifetime is more than enough for me, thank-you.

Not so good is that there is no way to prevent it happening again, other than to avoid contact with infested waters.

Which would mean not sailing at Frampton. So obviously that’s not going to happen.

So I’m taking daily antihistamines to try and prevent or reduce any future reactions, and the chemist has given me chlorphenamine tablets (a generic, non-branded Piriton equivalent) to take four times a day to deal with the present situation, along with the advice that I can use them again if it reoccurs. And a cream to use twice a day to try and reduce the itching. Which, of course, I’m not allowed to scratch.

But scratching feels sooo good. Why are all the good things always bad for you?

Obviously, not capsizing or otherwise limiting my exposure to the water would help. A drysuit or full wetsuit on the rougher days perhaps, but I do like my hikers when I’m sailing the Laser. And my full wetsuit or the drysuit is a bit too much on a lake during the British summer, quickly becoming something of a boil-in-the-bag situation unless it’s pouring with rain. Which, funny enough, doesn’t actually happen all that much in this country, contrary to any impressions we have have given otherwise.

Apparently, these infestations are more likely to occur on bright, sunny days, and when the water is very clear. Exactly when I don’t want to be wearing a wetsuit. And exactly when you want to be out sailing and enjoying the lake.

I’ll just have to settle for a new pair of waterproof socks to give my legs some protection whilst launching, and try not falling in.

We shall see how it goes. 

Anyway, there is a race this evening, so if you want me, you know where I'll be.

Monday 10 June 2019

FOSSC: wetwork again

I’ve been on a bit of a winning streak for the last few weeks at Frampton, so if I’ve done my sums right, I could probably afford to take next Sunday off and not bother to sail either of the final Class or Pursuit races next weekend. I’m not going to though. That would be silly.

This Sunday was a lower turnout for some reason, perhaps the weather, perhaps because the current Spring series is now drawing to a close. Three Lasers raced in the Class (although the lake was, of course, busier than that because both the Solo and Handicap fleets were also racing). Eight boats sailed in the Pursuit.

I won both, but they made me work for it.

In the class race, Mike got a much better start and took an early lead, leaving me snapping at his transom for most of the hour that followed. I got past him on one of the beats mid-race, but he took my wind on the run that followed and won the overlap at the leeward rounding, nipping back out in front of me again.

Then I got lucky on the last beat of the final lap. With me still just snapping at his heels, he rounded ahead and held onto the starboard beat, presumably to secure height on the layline on what had now, with the wind backing through the race, become something of a close fetch instead of the beat it should've been. With no other real options open to me, I tacked off straight away, and Mike was just a little slow to respond and cover me. I then got very lucky with a lift that let me lay the windward mark in one and easily clear it ahead of him. 

I was then able to maint the lead through the final minutes around the last couple of marks to cross the line clear ahead of him.

He was good humoured about it, but understandably frustrated I think. I almost felt bad taking the win from him.


The wind backed considerably for the second race, a pursuit, and strengthened, some of the gusts giving some very exhilarating down-wind sailing. I managed a much cleaner start, pulling ahead of Mike straight away and making it around the windward mark first, after which I slowly consolidated my lead on him, picking off the slower boats ahead of us one by one.

Then it all went wrong. About half way through, now out in the lead, I got caught in a nasty gust running downwind towards one of the gybe marks. The boat screamed along, on the edge of being out of control, but I just about managed to keep her on her feet. As the gybe mark closed fast, with plenty of room between myself and Mike, tailing me in second, I decided to play it safe, and instead of gybing, hardened up to wear the boat around with a tack.

With the sail controls all set for downwind and the daggerboard still halfway up, still caught in the teeth of the gust the boat hit weed and stopped, dead head to wind, caught in irons. I frantically tried to back the boat out, to get her back off the wind and sailing again, but in the time it took me, Mike had caught up.  As I left the gybe mark to port, he was no more than a boat length behind me and moving fast.

Reaching down to the leeward mark at Yellow, still not settled, with the sail controls all out of kilter, I tried to make the necessary adjustments and, head in the boat, got smacked hard by another gust coming at me unnoticed from astern. We lost control and capsized to windward with a smack.

Kicking myself, desperately grabbing for anything to stop the boat from blowing away from me and trying to secure my plastic drinks bottle back into the cockpit before pulling myself around the stern of the dinghy and back up to the daggerboard to begin the recovery, I kept expecting Mike to go screaming past me at any moment. Instead, Rob went tearing mast in his Solo with a big grin on his face. I pulled myself up onto the daggerboard, and as the boom swung over with a crack, I saw Mike  still behind me, his own Laser tipped ignominiously onto its side, as he struggled with his own capsize recovery.

My mast to windward, the mainsail was pinned by the wind to the water, and reluctant to come up at first. But when it did, it came up fast with the full weight of the still gusting wind behind it. I slipped over the gunwale and into the cockpit as she swung up, grabbing the tiller as I went and throwing my weight out the now windward side to arrest the roll. As the boat levelled back out, just barely avoiding a second capsize, she was already facing downwind in the direction I wanted to go, and moving fast even before I could sheet in on the mainsheet and bring the sail back under control.

Astern, Mike was also now back on his feet, but his boat facing the other direction and stuck in irons, losing precious moments to me as he struggled to bring his boat through and off the wind and get her sailing again.

The rest of the race was spent catching Rob back up, and then once past him again, struggling to break clear. Upwind I had a clear advantage, pointing higher and sailing faster, but down wind he was more than a match for me in boat speed. He clung tenaciously on to my transom throughout the remainder of the race, always threatening, until the very last lap when I finally broke free into clean air and secured my lead.

It was a good afternoon. Low numbers out on the water, but good, close racing throughout. I can almost forgive Frampton the weed and the water levels. Almost. Although the combination of the two is having a detrimental effect on the water quality as well now. It’s a real pity. I know the Club’s committee are doing what they can, but our hands are tied by Natural England as the lake is a designated “site of special scientific interest”.

Ironically this is, in part, due to some of the vegetation that grows there. Or did so once. To my own uninformed eye, everything seems choked out by Elodia (Canadian pond weed) these days.

Freefall: a Hungarian flavour

Saturday night at Over Barn in Gloucestershire; the band to play for the wedding of the new Mr & Mrs Jakab-Hall. They put the band up on a balcony in the barn, overlooking the main barn floor below, a bit like a minstrel's gallery I guess. Definitely a little bit different.

Although his lovely bride Charlotte is Gloucester born and bred, the groom, Krisztian, is Hungarian. So the whole wedding and party had definite Hungarian theme to it, which brought a certain pálinka and goulash flavoured novelty to the proceedings. Pálinka, for the benefit of the uninitiated, is some sort of very potent, clear Hungarian alcoholic spirit, drunk out of shot glasses; Krisz was very specific in his instructions; down it in one, and then immediately breath slowly in through the nose.

It was quite the party.

Monday 3 June 2019

FOSSC: Sunday Class & Pursuit

Sunday morning saw a weather front barge through bringing change; from the warm, balmy night we'd enjoyed for the gig on the banks of the Severn, we were now looking at heavy rain, a chilly drop in the temperature and blustering, squally winds frequently gusting up to F5.

I, of course, went sailing.

It was only a small turnout for the fleet, but fun, with Jon and Andrew, their Lasers rigged down to a radial sails, giving me a good run for my money with my standard rig in the class race at 2pm, and then Ian and Jon leading me a hard chase in the pursuit race that followed.

I caught them both in the last ten minutes of the second race, but on trying to pass, Jon aggressively luffed me up to try to stop me getting an overlap at the leeward Yellow mark. He failed to prevent or clear the overlap, but pushed me far enough over that I went by the lee, accidentally gybed and capsized on top of the mark. Ian, pinned on the outside during the run down tried to sneak in through the inside, but had to abort and tack around to avoid t-boning my upturned hull. I'm very grateful at least one of us was in control!

I thought that'd be it. By the time I was back up and going, they were both across to the other side of the lake, bearing away around Red-White and once again well ahead of me. But a good lift on the next beat up to Red graced me with a little bit of luck and let me close the gap up nicely, then on the fetch across from Yellow to Red-White that followed (Yellow being the leeward mark I'd previously wiped out on on the last lap), I went low and free, clearing Jon's lee where he couldn't touch me and then just pinched enough to get around the mark hot on Ian's tail, without needing a tack.

I caught Ian on the run down to Green, securing the inside overlap by the time we had to gybe at the mark, and pulling ahead into clean air to consolidate the lead in the final five minutes.

It could so easily have gone either way.

Freefall: Lydney Yacht Club

Saturday night's gig was one of the good ones.

Earlier in the year, an old friend from Lydney Yacht Club got hold of me and explained (in what he later described as his "steroid induced frenzy") that once he'd finished the roller-coaster of chemotherapy he was at that point riding, he wanted to throw a party, a "survivors ball" and he wanted our band to play for it. He was pretty sure he could persuade Sarah, LYC's commodore, into letting him have it at the club.

We picked a suitable date out of the few remaining Saturdays in the band's diary, one well enough clear of the end of his treatment to be sure he's be back on his feet and well enough to enjoy it. The date also turned out to the the date of a 70th birthday for Barney, another LYC member and a friend and the club's bar manager to boot.

photo: adie cooke
Bean, our drummer, stood us up at the last minute, and parachuted in a dep called George. In fairness to Bean, had George not been available, he'd have foregone his ticket to the cricket world cup that he was standing us up for and turned up to play anyway. Instead, he promised us George was very good and went off to get mashed in a field somewhere. I can't think of any other reason to watch cricket, personally. Didn't even realise they had a world cup.

Turns out George was very good and did a cracking job of covering for the AWOL Bean. Lydney were up on their feet and dancing from the first song, and danced through the setting sun and long into the warm night.