C and I decided three years ago to make our dream of sailing the world a real-world goal. At the time, we had the Aequus Aer, a 28-foot Pearson sloop that we used for family trips to other marinas in Puget Sound.
But to sail beyond the Sound, we needed a bluewater-ready boat. And the Aequus Aer just wasn’t set up to do that. So we started our search focusing primarily on boats over 35 feet to fit our family of growing kids, built to endure rough seas and with enough storage, water-carrying capacity and battery bank to allow us to spend at least a week or more away from shore power.
It was during this time that my lifelong struggle with cold feet and hands started to get tremendously worse. I developed Raynaud’s Phenomenon, a condition where the blood vessels constrict in my fingers and toes in response to cold.
If you have spent time outside in the cold without adequate protection, you likely have experienced that uncomfortably tingly feeling in your fingers or toes. I can get that feeling just from walking down the frozen food aisle in the grocery store.
Worse, if I can’t get warm soon, things get scary. You can see in the picture above, my ring finger looks like it has no blood flow going to it. It’s not fun, for sure, and painful once the blood flow returns. And the more flares I have like above, the higher my risk for developing complications like sores or even gangrene. By the time my fingers or toes turn white, they are numb, and I can no longer feel anything with them.
That presents a multitude of problems when sailing, especially considering the Pacific Northwest is cool and rainy most of the year.
Sailing with Raynaud’s
On the Aeequs Aer, I dealt with this mainly with a constant, steady supply of those instant hand and feet warmers, mittens and short intervals of managing sheets with sail gloves (because who can trim a jib while wearing mittens? Not me.)
Our search for The Right Boat eventually lead us to a pilothouse sailboat with a steering station inside as well as in the cockpit. We are sailors, so we wanted a boat that could sail well on its own without constant help from the engine, like a motorsailor.
Our search started to narrow to Sagas, Sceptres and the series of pilothouse sailboats made in Finland by Nauticat.
We were lucky to find the Polar Express for sale in Seattle just a few months later. (We have renamed her Polaris.) She’s a 2003 Nauticat 39 with a cozy interior steering station, lots of stowage space, a 110-gallon water tank and a 75-gallon fuel tank. Polaris sailed beautifully in 10 kts during our trial sail on Lake Union.
But perhaps the strongest confirmation we made the right choice came just recently. We were heading back from a long weekend in Quartermaster Harbor, Wa., just as a cold front was moving into the area. With the wind whipping and the rain pouring down, I popped down below and steered us back to our home marina in Elliot Bay.
Never once did I have to endure the agony of cold, numb fingers. Hooray!
Of course, not everyone can run out and buy a pilothouse boat once they realize they need more protection from the cold and rain. That’s why I have a few tips for keeping warm while sailing.