Heat Stroke or Malaria? A Poll

Ever the one to make mountains out of molehills, I may have slightly exaggerated the dilemma in which we find ourselves. But why don’t you take my informal poll, anyway—it’ll only take a second.

1) Would you rather be hot or bug-eaten?

If you answered bug-eaten, you would be subjecting yourself to possible attacks of malaria or West Nile Virus. Where we are in the keys, malaria isn’t really a problem, but someday, we will be places where we must try at all costs to protect ourselves from mosquito bites. Here in Boot Key Harbor, we are merely irritated to the point of insanity by what we call the “ninja” mosquitoes. They are not the graceful and relatively harmless things we are used to. They are BIG, black, and sneaky. We resorted to breaking out the DEET-laden Backwoods OFF. But after a few days, the itching was a 24-hour-a-day irritation, even with the soothing salves and lotions we have on board. (Caladryl seems to work the best.)

Perhaps you, like me, are the sweet-blooded type, and are tormented by biting insects, and would rather be anything than bug-eaten. The option for us, then, is to put screens on all our windows, which pretty much kills all air flow through the boat. I know most of you are sitting in an air-conditioned room as you read this, so try to imagine, for just a moment, what would happen if the power went off on the hottest, stillest, most humid day of the year. You might open the window to get some air, but outside (you can actually see them throwing their little bodies against the glass to try to get in) are a hundred ninja mosquitoes, waiting to eat you alive. Now then, you have a better picture of our predicament.

After trying bug-eaten, we have opted for hot. Jay lovingly sewed Velcro on square after square of screen material so we could cover hatches and blockade the front door. The first night we did our lockdown at sunset, we trapped dozens of mosquitoes inside—they had been resting there during the day and came out at dusk to feed on human flesh. I painstakingly (and somewhat gleefully) smashed mosquito after mosquito until we were down to the last, sneakiest ninja killers, which I got once they landed on me and inserted their little hypodermic needles. The second night, we killed only three or four, but we could see their cousins swarming outside the door and trying to sneak in at the edges of the screen. Very determined, but unsuccessful.

We are much happier without the constant itching and scratching. However, with airflow greatly hampered, we are really roasting. You may be asking, “Why don’t you run the air conditioning?” The air requires so much power that we would have to run our 12kW generator 24-7 to stay cool.  We’ve tried charging the batteries at night, so we could run the air for a few hours, but the generator also generates its own heat; that with the residual heat from the day which is stored in the boat itself begins to warm up the cabins the moment we switch off the air.

Anyway, sailors don’t need air conditioning—all the places we want to go are not air conditioned. Mountains and waterfalls and other scenic locales are definitely not air conditioned. When there is a breeze, and we aren’t required to put up screens, the boat stays cool and comfortable during the day, mostly thanks to the Windscoops which look like little spinnakers and funnel air into hatches. In the afternoon, we can sit out on the trampolines under the shade of the awning and rest and relax (or, in some places, go for a swim in the front yard). At night, we all take quick, cold showers right before bed and turn on the fans in our cabins, which make sleeping possible. The only time we really feel uncomfortable is when it’s raining, but we are working on hatch covers that would shield us from water but still allow air in.

Are you ready for the second question in my little poll?

2) Would you rather be comfortable or have an adventure?

We have chosen a lifestyle that denies us many of the comforts we used to take for granted.  We now realize that we did not fully appreciate our cushy life ashore, and we have become more thankful people.  Shame on us if we complain now about being hot or itchy!  If we had wanted comfort, we would have stayed at home. The tradeoff is a life afloat—a spontaneous, fun, adventure-filled life.  We were pretty spoiled, so we are having to learn to remain cheerful despite discomfort. (And we are well aware that we still live better than 90% of the world’s population.) We are also learning to mitigate the risks before we get into hazardous territory, and for all of that valuable knowledge we pay in blood, sweat and tears.