The Great Plague

A small mosquito arrived in the Caribbean just over a year ago, carrying with it a disease called Chikungunya. It takes about a week to incubate and the first symptoms are a high fever like the worst flu you’ve ever had. But that is just the beginning. It then attacks all the joints in your body, but particularly the hands, elbows, knees and feet with excruciating arthritic pain. This normally lasts a week or two but can linger for months or, in extreme cases, for years. Last April we sailed into St Lucia and found our friends Chrissie and Graham were there on their boat Eowyn. Chrissie had just returned from hospital. She had contracted Chik and had been carried off Eowyn on a stretcher screaming in agony and had spent a week in hospital on a drip. Her joint pains persisted for seven months. The sort of thing that could spoil your cruise.

Throughout the summer in London, the DS and I were monitoring the epidemic spread of Chik up and down the Caribbean islands with alarm. How much fun was it going to be sailing in an area when you had to spray yourself from head to toe with evil Deet all the time and never go ashore without wearing long trousers, socks and long sleeved shirts? At one point we even considered my sailing the boat straight back across the Atlantic to the Mediterranean and abandoning our Caribbean plans entirely.

Before I left for Grenada to re-commission Mina2 I contacted a few friends who lived in the Caribbean and asked how things were going on the Chik front. They all replied that the outbreak had peaked in August and September and had since pretty much died away. But they would say that, wouldn’t they? They were dependant on the tourist and yachting trade for their business. They were hardly going to frighten people off, were they?

When I arrived in Grenada I found that pretty much the whole of the population – more than 90% – had been struck down with Chik at some point. The governments, terrified of the consequence on their tourist revenues, had embarked on massive fumigation programmes. Notwithstanding, I took all precautions spraying myself liberally with Deet all the time. After a week however, it occurred to me that I had not seen even one mosquito and not heard of anyone having contracted the disease in weeks, so I loosened up a bit and now I’ve stopped taking any precautions at all. The DS is still going to bring out special mosquito repellent in industrial quantities however. It could last us a lifetime.


Tim Barker is a sailor and occasional adventurer. Since 2004, Mina2, his Oyster 485 yacht, and he (with the Downstairs Skipper and a wonderful bunch of friends) have sailed from the Arctic to the Antarctic and many places in between. Come join their adventures and read Tim's award winning blogs and journals from the comfort of your own computer screen.

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