Bert ter Hart has been described as the “safest man on the planet” having completed a 267 day circumnavigation of the planet during the COVID 19 global pandemic and coming into contact with …….. no one. His solo, non-stop circumnavigation around the world in his 13-metre yacht Seaburban took in the five southernmost capes (Cape Horn, Cape Agulhas, Cape Leeuwin, South East Cape (Australia) and South Cape (New Zealand) using only celestial navigation. No GPS, just a sextant, an almanac, log tables and paper and pencil. 62 year old ter Hart is the first North American and one of only five people to have accomplished this feat.
Celestial navigation can be a time-consuming process, but Bert said navigation wasn’t his biggest challenge, Neither was the hurricanes, the waves as tall as his mast or eating the same meals every day – oatmeal for breakfast, salmon or tuna for lunch, and pasta, quinoa or rice for dinner – for nearly nine months. The hardest part was not being able to relax for even a moment. Meals were eaten standing up, wedged into a corner of his yacht, and he slept, never for more than two hours at a time, strapped into his bunk with a seat-belt pulled as tight as possible across his hips. By the time he sailed back into Victoria Inner Harbour on Saturday 18 July this year he had been awake for three days.
Meanwhile ……. back at the Ophthalmology department of the Royal Stoke University Hospital this afternoon ….. Mr Sadiq declared himself very pleased with the “excellent” progress at my first post-op review., tweaked my eye drop routine – 3 drops a day for the next 6 weeks – and told me to come back again in 6 week, at which point he intends discharging me.
For Diabetes UK and the National Autistic Society see
Kneela (I can’t possibly have spelt that correctly) and Tony had the most important jobs. Kneela held my hand throughout the 70 minute operation and Tony was in charge of post-op tea and biscuits. Good start, great finish. Oh and even I skipped the video posted in this blog until after the op!
Michelle, Dawn and Tony looked after me during pre-op, Michelle and Tony post-op, and in the operating theatre Russ took care of the anaesthetic eye drops (so many I lost count), and Mr Khan and Mr Sadiq did the op, assisted by Mary, Kneela and two others who’s names I didn’t catch. On the ward at 0730, in the operating theatre at 0900, back on the ward for tea and biscuits at 1030, discharged at 1130, out for lunch and a beer at 1215. Job done.
From my perspective the day couldn’t have gone better. Mr Khan declared himself very pleased with how things had gone and that he didn’t need to see me again for another 3 weeks. The rather heavy dressing was removed with no difficulty the following day. It was replaced by a plastic see-through eye shield, taped on to my left eye, designed to stop me inadvertently rubbing or scratching my eye and to be worn for the first week. The self administered eye drop routine (6 a day for two weeks, dropping – no pun intended – to 4 drops a day for a further two weeks) started immediately the dressing came off. I only noticed the bubble in my eye – black, half circle in the bottom of my eye, the size of a 10p piece and rather like the bubble in a spirit level – as I left the hospital. It should disperse with time but it takes a little getting used to. When I move, I can see it wobbling inside my eye. If I lean forward – which I shouldn’t – the bubble rises into the middle of my eye and I can see it full circle.
What was the operation like? The first good news is that it was painless, no doubt because of a large number of anaesthetic eye drops and two injections, one close to the inner edge of the eye and one near the outside. It was extremely reassuring to be in the hands of such obvious professionals. Their relaxed demeanour, calm professional chat, appropriate banter and obvious expertise was fantastic to witness, even from under a fabric face covering. The atmosphere reminded me of all the best Royal Navy operation rooms I have ever been in – that reassuring professional banter of people entirely on top of their jobs. By the time the lights went down in the operating theatre I was completely relaxed.
By far the weirdest thing was being able to see the instruments – particularly the suction and cutting tool (the vitrector) INSIDE my eye thanks to the illumination provided by the light source. Again, this was INSIDE my eye. I actually saw the vitrector removing debris from the inside rather like a vacuum cleaner. I suspect if I parachuted Mr Khan into a warship ops room and plugged him into a headset listening to “command open-line” he would recognise much of the language without necessarily understanding what it all meant. I was in a similar situation. When he asked Mary for the “ILM forceps” I wasn’t quite sure I knew what he was talking about. What I didn’t expect to see, a few seconds later, was a tiny pair of tweezers INSIDE my eye removing debris. Quite mind boggling!
Now a week on, the eye shield has been relegated to the bedside table, I’m one quarter through the eye drop routine and the bubble in my left eye, having reduced over the last few days from a 10p piece to a half penny piece, has now completely disappeared. So why the picture of the clock?
The kitchen clock (as seen above from right to left – close up, from the other side of the kitchen island, and from the sofa) has been my “go to” eye test since returning from the Philippines in early March. Having been warned not to expect any improvement in my eyesight for at least two or thee days, I can report noticeable improvement on every day so far. Not only can I see the clock close up, I can even tell the time from the sofa! It’s still a little “milky” and blurred around the edges and my eye looks quite bloodshot but this is the best eyesight I have had for 167 days! Progress.
For Diabetes UK and the National Autistic Society see
By the time many of you read this, assuming it is the 12th of August by now, I will be under the knife and the expert hands of Mr Khan. I’m pleased he has been so busy lately. I’d hate to think he hadn’t been practicing!
So what can I tell you about what’s going on? Well first things first. I had a COVID-19 test on Monday and …………….
……….. they were passing the results straight to the eye hospital and were only going to ring me if I tested +ve. No call so far. So far so good. Next step – hospital at the rather ungodly hour of 0730. I should be in for only a few hours and, thanks to current pandemic regulations, I will be unaccompanied. Most eye surgery is now done as a daycare so I expect to be home in the afternoon post-op and, I hope, post the post-op tea and biscuits 😀 – every cloud etc etc. Here we go then …… everything you didn’t know you didn’t want to know about vitrectomies.
The vitreous is a clear jelly that fills the space in the eye between the lens and the retina lining the back of the eye. It’s function is to provide a transparent medium for the
passage of light to the retina. The vitreous jelly can sometimes shrink and pull on the retina, causing a small hole or tear. This allows fluid to collect under the retina, causing it to peel off. Without treatment, in some cases urgent, the entire retina may detach leading to loss of vision and blindness. A vitrectomy is an operation to remove the jelly. Simples.
Reading my guidance notes tells me …
… that the surgeon … (good start, says I), … using delicate instruments … (the more
delicate the better, I hope!) … and after administering local anaesthetic … (hmmm ok, go on) … this means that you are awake during the operation … (🤪No shit, Sherlock, which bit of “go on” didn’t you get?) … removes some or all of the vitreous jelly via a series of tiny holes through the white of the eye (the sclera) … (really!!! And I get to WATCH????) … the eye lid is held open with a device called an eyelid speculum and your face will be covered with a pad/shield … (Phew! things are looking up) … and a nurse will be holding your hand … (ok, you talked me into it).
Actually the notes go on about local anaesthetic at some length.… The eye and the area around it will be frozen using drops on the surface of the eye and injections … (don’t worry, the s on the injection hasn’t gone in-noticed!) …of local anaesthetic around the eye … this will make your eye numb … (I bloody hope so!!!) … and you may not be able to move your eye … the injections may be a little uncomfortable … (given that I once described rescuing shipwrecked mariners in storm force winds as “pretty uncomfortable” I am not overly reassured by British understatement!) …but this will quickly wear off … there will be no need to take your dentures or hearing aid out …😳😳 … if you wear them … (phew, good job I turned the page!) … risks of local anaesthetic are rare but … (bracing myself) … but include severe bleeding around the eye which may mean the op will have to be postponed … (no tea and biscuits then I take it?) … or an allergic reaction to the anaesthetic drugs … which may also effect your heart rate making you feel lightheaded … (rather like these guidance notes then!) … very rarely the injection may accidentally enter the eyeball causing severe pain … 😳😳😳 … this would mean that the operation would need to be postponed … (yup, missing the initial target will do that to operations!) … and any damage assessed and treated … you may experience numbness, or tingling around the eye, and may notice double vision for a few days until the nerves and muscles around the eye are back to normal.
Once the vitreous jelly is removed the retina is repaired if necessary, foreign bodies and debris is removed and any leaking blood vessels are sealed and retinal laser treatment is performed if required. The removal of the vitreous jelly leaves a space in the eye into which a gas or silicone oil is inserted. This helps the retina to heal in the right place, acting as a bandage to press it flat onto the back of the eye to ensure there is no further damage or risk of retinal detachment.
I can expect my vision to be blurred for several weeks after surgery. If I have a gas bubble in the eye, vision will be very blurry for a while but this is only temporary. The gas bubble will gradually be absorbed and replaced by the natural fluid produced by the eye. I may also be able to see the bubble, which may appear as a wobbly black ring in my line of vision. The bubble will move as I move and gradually get smaller and break into smaller bubbles. The time this takes varies from 1 to 6 weeks. It will be back to wearing an eye patch or similar, at least to protect my eye at night as my vision improves and I will be putting drops in my eye, around 4-6 times a day at first, as my sight returns.
The procedure normally takes 1-2 hours and has a good success rate. At this point my guidance notes says that “complications are unusual.” It goes on to list ten!!! but let’s cross that particular bridge if and when we have to. Let’s cut to the tea, biscuits and sympathy bit ….
For Diabetes UK and the National Autistic Society see
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At the beginning of the year I had envisaged writing a blog today, Sunday 9 August, about what’s it was like, yesterday, motoring up the Thames into London having just completed the final race of the final leg of the Clipper Round The World Yacht Race 2019-2020. I’d given myself the extra 24 hours as I had expected to be partying long and hard last night. So much for that diary entry!
The reality is I am in pre-op medical lockdown and the yachts are still 6633 miles (as the crow flies) from London in their own Jeronimo-supervised lock down in Subic Bay, Philippines where the weather right now is 28 degrees C with 82% humidity and it is raining in a thunderstorm! Jeronimo has written two “letters from Subic” during the lockdown on 11 June and 10 July and here are the highlights …..
Jeronimo was originally accompanied by Hugo Picard, the AQP from Ha Long Bay, Vietnam but Hugo returned to France before mid-June as he is taking part in the Mini-Transat race in 2021 and needs time to prepare. Jeronimo has been far from bored working on the 11 Clipper yachts plus finding time to work out, studying on-line and sailing with other sailors at the Subic yacht club when local lockdown regulations have allowed.
The Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority enforced a very strict lockdown, which included the Freeport Zone, from mid March, with the first easing coming on 1st June. While most businesses remained closed and restrictions on entering the Freeport Zone remained in place, there were more people out and about and a huge increase in traffic on the streets. May and June are the hottest months of the year in the Philippines with temperatures in the high 30s. As Jeronimo wrote in June, “I must say I have never sweatedso much in my life than here doing engine checks. This time has also brought monsoon rains and when it rains here, it rains like there is no tomorrow. Every day, I play a game of hatch open, hatch closed, ever day these menacing clouds arrive. So far, only one typhoon (named Vongfong) came close to Subic Bay.” An average of 8-10 typhoons cross the Philippines every season.
By mid July Jeronimo reported the Philippines slowly emerging, cautiously, from lockdown and that Subic Bay was starting to look a little more normal. Shopping Malls were busy but people were still maintaining social distancing and face masks were compulsory as was the use of antibacterial hand gel before entering anywhere. Jeronimo also said that he must have had his temperature taken at least 20 times a day. Other parts of the Philippines remain in stricter lockdown and sailing restrictions had been extended and Subic Bay remained closed for sailing. His July letter brought more weather reports …..
”Rain,rain and more rain. Wet season continues in July with the majority of the Philippines experiencing substantial rainfall. Almost every day a massive cumulonimbus cloud will swipe across Subic Bay and drop it’s copious amounts of rainfall for half an hour. Later the intense heat dries everything leaving no trace of the event. This has its benefits because the decks of the Clipper 70s have never been so clean, the downside is that with that large amount of rain, some water makes its way to the bilges and I need to empty them regularly.”
Had the race completed on time the boats would be approaching a period of extensive refit over the winter months, including a period out of the water. Meanwhile, back in Subic ……
”This week the fleet had its hulls cleaned by Renante Snr and Renante Jr. They are a father and son team from Olongapo who are having a hard time financially due to the fall in business since the COVID-19 outbreak. So, doing some work for the Clipper Race fleet is really a lifeline for them, especially when they also support their extended family across the Philippines.”
To be continued (I hope) …..
For Diabetes UK and the National Autistic Society see
Since my last post (Blog 114: Eyeronic, published 2 Aug) it has been pointed out to me that Arthur has been even busier during lockdown. He appears to have branched out into advertising when I wasn’t looking ………
……… although in a non-profit making, non advertising blog and in the interests of impartiality, Arthur has asked me to point out that other car recovery firms are available!
For Diabetes UK and the National Autistic Society see
I’ve written about irony (eyeronie) before. The irony this time is I’ve just gone the longest period since starting this blog WITHOUT writing anything ………. during the longest period since starting this blog with the most time on my hands to write something! And let’s not kid ourselves, the last few months have provided plenty to write about. Eyeronically, I did draft a blog at the beginning of May about eyesight but never finished it. Turns out, eyeronically, that I was tempting fate.
But first and foremost this was always meant to be a blog about Clipper sailing and there hasn’t been any since my last blog. Indeed, unless I stretch a point and include taking a bath, I haven’t even been afloat never mind at sea and for weeks I travelled no further than the end of the High Street. I have no unusual lockdown tales to tell although I have viewed recent events through the singular prism (no pun intended) of only having one fully functioning eye (see blog 112: I see No Ships, published 15 March and blog 113: Update, published 21 March). Another eyeronic aspect of my literary absence; it’s been harder to see what I am writing! I’ll some back to “the eye” shortly.
I wrote my views about Clipper crews having to readjust when I wrote towards the end of March. I was fortunate to see Lindsay Rowley and Jerry Weedon for catch up drinks before flying out to the Philippines at the beginning of March, having last drunk with them in Punta del Este and Cape Town respectively. Since then many of us have kept in touch by WhatsApp, phone and e-mail and, COVID lockdowns permitting, some will gather for drinks in London on 8 August when, had the world not changed, we would have been sailing, or rather motoring, up the Thames having completed the race. The yachts remain in Subic Bay in the Philippines under the watchful eye, and daily maintenance, of Jeronimo Santos Gonzalez, the skipper of Punta del Este, and, at least for some of the time, Hugo Picard, the AQP of Ha Long Bay, Vietnam. Jeronimo has written at least two “letters from Subic” and Clipper has published the intent for the Race resumption next year but I will write about that in a later blog.
My own lockdown cannot possibly be described as tough. I have worked primarily from home for the last 7 years so that “transition” was easy, my sacrifices have been minimal, my blessings plentiful and Ruth and I have been fortunate enough not to lose anyone close. I know that many, many people and families have been less fortunate. If I listed the “things I have missed” it would be very friends-and-family centric and not unlike many similar lists.
So yes, I have now mastered Zoom, Teams, FaceTime etc and I’m going to miss the “mute all” button when face to face committee meetings resume. I see more of my extended family by electronic means than before and a regular Sunday afternoon zoom call has
seen 6 of us select our all time favourite sports teams (football, test cricket, one day cricket and Ryder Cup golf), plus top five culinary experiences, top 5 holidays (visited), top 5 holidays (yet to be visited), top 5 adventure activities and top 5 bars! I’ve sat in on and chaired various “virtual” committee meetings and even attended two “virtual” formal dinners – firsts for both organisations concerned and one in black tie accompanied by Arthur (the dog). Ruth’s saxophone lessons have shifted “on line” and the Eccleshall Community Band, which she helped establish, produced a “virtual” rendition of Camptown Races in company with a similar band of musicians from the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. You can see the performance via the band’s website at https://cbeccleshall.weebly.com
Together with Ruth I’ve made good progress against an increasingly impressive (and rapidly expanding) lockdown jobs list, one of the first of which was “you’d better find a more permanent home for all THAT sailing gear!” Thankfully I found a spare wardrobe top. We attended an online garden party with Bill Turnbill, Monty Don and Martha Kearney in support of Bees for Development
(a charity I have supported previously) and Bill and Martha are both keen beekeepers. We joined Eccleshall residents dotted along the High Street for a socially distanced VE Day street party with musical accompaniment provided by a local pub via an online link.
On the subject of gardens, Ruth has turned vegetable growth into a veritable cottage industry although quite what we are going to do with so MANY turnips I really don’t know. Our own beekeeping has come on leaps and bounds during lockdown. We conducted our first “splits” in May (creating two colonies from one big one – not unusual for beekeepers but a first for us) and we were so successful we did it twice. Labels have been redesigned, beeswax bars for hand sowers have been produced, honey soap is on the production line and “we” (which is beekeeping speak for Ruth) are experimenting with beeswax infused wraps (for sandwiches, cheese, jar coverings etc) having banished cling-film from the house a couple of years ago. We are doing a useful trade in honey sales via our local butcher and, fingers crossed, will raise our own queen bees in a matter of days. So far we have not lost bees through swarms this year (fingers remain crossed) although we have been called out by locals to investigate bees in roof voids and compost heaps – generally bumble bees, one swarm of honey bees high in a tree – too high to safely recover and it turned out, not from our hives. More recently – earlier this week – I was called to recover honey bees that had settled on the bonnet of a Jaguar car parked opposite a bar in the High Street – cue cries of “is that a BEE MW?” and “has he got a bee in his bonnet?” from the imbibing audience; a small swarm of bees proving to be perfect encouragement for appropriate social distancing. One of our highlights has been “Bee School” – being joined online for hive inspections, colony splits, introduction of new queen bees and honey production by a small team of 4-5 year old’s, led by Ruth’s granddaughter, Evie, plus parents “joining” us from Bristol.
I started my previous blog with the encouraging news that I had begun to notice a gradual improvement in my eyesight. That improvement continued and by the end of April 80% to 90% of the “debris” in my left eye had drained naturally. Unfortunately, on 6 May I suffered a second hemorrhage and effectively went back to square one. Blind in the left eye. This time, although the bleed itself was much smaller, a portion of the vitreous (the jelly stuff) in my left eye has become detached and blood is trapped behind it. While I have some peripheral vision I remain, to all intents and purposes, blind and medical opinion is that this trapped blood will not drain naturally. I now require an operation (a vitrectomy) to remove the vitreous in my left eye, clean out the blood and repair any damaged blood vessels. Ultra sound scans have shown no damage to the optic nerve and the operation, to be conducted on 12 August under local anesthetic, has a 98% chance of success. Under medical instruction I am now in rather strict self-isolation, as of yesterday, ahead of the Op and will be COVID tested prior to going under the knife. Sadly it means I will miss the 8th August UNICEF reunion but I will not have to self-isolate afterwards. More to follow on this eye think 😉
Not all Clipper bloggers have had literary lockdown hibernations like me and I cannot resist a plug for my friend Sam Dawson – a non-sailor but an adventuress in her own right. She not only balances support for UNICEF (in which her husband John is a round-the-worlder) and Qingdao (in which son George is also circumnavigating) but has kept her blog going throughout lockdown. Her latest post – http://www.farncombeadventure.blog – George and John’s boating trip, a land-lubber’s guide to the Clipper Round The World Yacht Race = reflects on what she had planned and might have been doing now ……. in a COVID-free parallel universe. In fact, according to my diary we should all be sailing from Derry TODAY for the final race of the final leg. Eyeronic indeed!
I know “times is ‘ard” and I am not racing at the moment but the charities I am supporting are still working very hard and still need support….
For Diabetes UK and the National Autistic Society see: