The Official Magazine of the Bluewater Cruising Association

It Is Not Always Smooth Sailing

Don and Heather Cudmore

Hans Christian 33
May 4th, 2017

The most amazing thing about boaters is the close-knit community we establish.  It is present everywhere we go;  whether in Desolation Sound, the Gulf Islands, throughout the US, or in the Sea of Cortez.  Sailors are resourceful, caring and helpful individuals. We enjoy sharing information, and if able, will help each other with any problem as it arises.

Sometimes being away on the boat can be difficult.  Occasionally the unexpected will occur. You may learn of a sick family member, or be informed of the death of a loved one.  It was fortunate that when we experienced this, our boat remained in dry dock and immediate transport home was readily available.  However, if we were in a remote little bay, this would have been far more challenging. Regardless, such an interruption requires flexibility and a change of plans.

After answering the distress call, we returned ready to resume our trip by simply pushing back the day to launch the boat. And then, another unexpected event occurred.  It was a situation that required medical intervention. We needed help and our fellow boaters came through.

The previous year, we had sailed to Mexico and, although expensive, we purchased health insurance as we thought it wise to be prepared. Especially when traveling through the US.  However, upon entering Mexico and, speaking with individuals who had used the medical system there, we learned it was not expensive.  One individual received several doctors’ visits, extensive lab work, Medical Imaging, surgical referral and consultation and surgical intervention all within ten days. The price was less than the cost of his premium. So this year, we opted to forgo insurance and this was our experience.

Buenaventura at anchor.

It was an early Friday morning when I awoke with intense abdominal pain. I remember putting the kettle on to boil … and coming-to, wedged between the galley stove and the sink.  After assisting me to my feet and tucking me into bed, Don asked the locals where to find a doctor. They directed him to the nearest Farmacia – with a Medico attached.  And, the boating community came to our rescue by providing transportation for the adventure ahead of us.

Upon entering the pharmacy, the woman behind the counter greeted us, fired off two questions and then prescribed me a box of medication, which I refused.  She informed me that the doctor would not be in until 0900h and shrugged as if to imply I was missing out on the greatest treatment going. The Farmacia and clinic did not leave me with a sense of reassurance.  In fact, they reminded me of the places seen on the TV show “Scam City” and so we traveled into ‘el centro’ (downtown) and visited a pharmacy, which I had frequented previously.  This time, we approached the pharmacist, asking if she could direct us to an English speaking doctor.

We arrived at the doctor’s office by 0830h. The sign on the door stated business hours commenced at 0900h, but an emergency contact number was listed. In our haste we had left without a cell phone, but fortunately for us, a pay phone was located immediately outside the building. What luck.  The pay phone however, was out of order and had obviously been so for a good-long-time.  It ended up that a return trip to the boat was required.

I don’t know how familiar you are with the Mexican highways and byways, so I will inform you of the state of the roads. Everyone drives quickly here. Stop signs are a mere suggestion. The roads are ridden with pot holes and often times the main through fares will have speed bumps on them.  Individuals drive at break-neck-speed, racing along only to slam on the brakes before navigating the speed bump. The boat yard access road is an extremely bumpy dirt road. It was a long painful day.

Once we phoned the doctor, we learned that he was on vacation and so the search resumed. I did not go to the hospital as I did not believe this was a significant enough problem to warrant using the hospital emergency system. Instead, we phoned Gabriel, the boat yard manager. He speaks very good English and was able to direct us to a physician close by.

Located only four blocks away, we trudged up the narrow streets and climbed over the high curbs. Although the office was locked, we knocked on the door and after explaining our situation, the receptionist gestured for us to come in.

The doctor told me he spoke only a little English, but as it turned out his language skills were fairly good and the translation app on his computer helped quite a bit.  In my limited Spanish, I began explaining my symptoms .  I had brought my friend Trudy into the office with me, as her Spanish is really very good.  Although I was able to communicate to the doctor, I found it much more difficult to understand his questions.  It is indeed stressful not having good command of the language in such a situation.

After learning my medications, medical history and current problem, the doctor ushered me into an adjoining room for examination.  To my horror, he indicated I must stand on the scale! I told him “NO” and he laughed, and said “yes.” I could not believe it, and was still protesting as I climbed onto the scale.  I stood there as lightly as I could but, the scale did not like me and I weighed a big number. Then he took my blood pressure and asked my age.  My BP was excellent. Between being weighed and worrying about the language thing, I could not remember my age.  I told him I was 64, then I changed it to 63, which is also wrong, but I didn’t bother to correct it because I didn’t want to sound too dumb and I will be having a birthday soon.

After examining my abdomen, I was diagnosed with an inflamed colon, a common ailment in Mexico. Likely from eating spicy foods. We drove to the lab and were told to return and 1730h to pick up the results, which I would then take to the doctor’s office that evening.  A quick jaunt to the Farmacia to fill the prescriptions and we were done until that evening.  The Mexican medical system is good and the costs accrued were reasonable. Listed below in Canadian dollars are the costs of medical services rendered.

  • $ 34.00 – doctor visit. This included consultation, examination and return visit, post lab results.
  • $17.00 – laboratory expenses  (bloodwork and urinalysis)
  • $59.00 -Prescriptions: anti-inflammatory, antibiotic, analgesic

Sailing anywhere at anytime conjures up an image of following winds, easy seas and that great sensation of freedom.  In actual fact, we sailors know it is not for the faint of heart. Sometimes, it is hard work and things don’t always go as planned:  Stuff happens.  Even so, being on the boat and hearing the water running down the sides while forging ahead fills one with a  sense of exhilaration, achievement and yes, there is relaxation as well. And, it is fun.



  1. Hugh Bacon says:

    Agree with the comment about medical insurance. When we were on the “big blue” we encountered many cruisers who chose to self fund medical care as based upon individual circumstances, once out from under the anomalous US cost of medical care, costs elsewhere were found to be cheaper than the cost of insurance coverage. My thought on the cost of medical insurance is that the premiums seem to be based upon US charges so why pay that amount away from the US?

  2. Bob HARNETT says:

    Don, so glad to read your article. ..please send me an email on where you are….my boat is on the hard in San Blas. tel no is 250.974.0007 ( Kitty’s) or cell 778 992 0605 …s.v. Tarves, ,, aka magic lady…

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