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Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
Oxford Kidney Unit

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Sailing with PD

Woman standing at the wheel of a boat
Margaret at the helm

Going on holiday with Peritoneal Dialysis (PD)

It was November 2011 when I was diagnosed with kidney failure. Being completely naive about such things, I didn't think this would have a great impact on my very active lifestyle even though I'd been warned that I would have to start kidney dialysis at some time soon.

I am a keen yachtswoman, and so after a long discussion with Dr Dasgupta it was agreed that I should go for as long as possible before starting on dialysis. Finally after a summer of freedom and lots of sailing I had to accept the inevitable.

I hate needles and so for me PD was the only choice. It was lucky therefore that I was a suitable candidate and so I started dialysis during September 2012. By November I was happily dialysing and feeling much better and stronger than I had done for more than a year. So, my husband John and I began thinking about and planning the 2013 sailing season.

We are fortunate to belong to The Royal Thames Yacht Club, which was planning a rally to South Brittany during July of 2013. Being an eternal optimist, "It should be easy" I told John, "We can take the dialysis fluids with us and most marinas have electricity". I was not going to take "No" for an answer.

July finally arrived and we got ready to go. We loaded the boat with all the essentials of life such as food, clean clothing and fine wines, then crammed ten days supply of dialysis fluids into every remaining nook and cranny! We anticipated that we would need more but knew that we could collect some from our daughter's house in central France where I'd had a delivery the previous Christmas. As with most well prepared plans something inevitable goes wrong. Ours was no exception because I couldn't get away from work in time to leave on the date we'd arranged, which meant that John had to set sail for Guernsey without me. I arranged to meet up with him there a couple of days later. And so it was that I arrived at Guernsey Airport towing my trusty dialysis machine behind me.

After one night in St Peter Port we set sail next morning for Treburden in northern France. It was a rough passage in a North Easterly Force 6-7 with fairly big seas and with the wind on our aft quarter. We were surfing down waves at 9 knots or so, which is pretty fast for a 36 foot yacht. It really was quite difficult sailing, but nevertheless enjoyable despite the damage I managed to inflict on the boat!

On arrival at Treburden we were given a pontoon mooring with electricity so that I could plug in my transformer and dialysis machine, which is always an anxious moment. One is always a bit suspicious about marina electricity supplies, particularly foreign ones. Fortunately, everything worked well and we settled down to a good night's sleep and an excellent dialysis!

Next, we pressed on around the Brest peninsular and through the fearsome Raz de Sein. Fortunately, the Raz was fairly quiet and we finally arrived at the small town of Audierne, which is one of the first towns on the South Brittany coast. It was July 13, the day before Bastille Day and the marina was absolutely full. In fact we had difficulty finding anywhere to moor the boat but finally managed to moor up alongside another yacht and, with the help of long extension leads, plugged into the local electricity supply, breathing a sigh of relief as we watched my dialysis machine come to life. All that was left to do then was to settle down and watch the fantastic Bastille Day fireworks display that the town had laid on at midnight.

We visited many ports in South Brittany enjoying much good French food and wine. One memorable evening in the middle of dinner in a French yacht club, one of our members received a text telling us that a future King of England had just been born. In crazy English fashion we stood and sang the national anthem, much to the amusement of the French yachtsmen!

One of the abiding memories of this trip was when we called into the Port of Laurient. The marina was close to the massive WW2 German submarine pens, which dominate the whole area. Once again it was crammed full of yachts and so we were forced to moor alongside a French yacht at the end of one of the pontoons. After, scrambling ashore to plug into the power supply, John came back on board and began to set up the plumbing for my dialysis machine. This obviously fascinated the skipper of the yacht we’d moored alongside who promptly asked in beautiful English,

"What are you doing?"

"I'm setting up my wife's dialysis machine" said John.

"I must come on board and have a look" said our neighbour, "I'm a French doctor".

So, on board he came and after checking everything said,

"I'm going to tell everyone about this; if you were French you'd stay at home and do nothing. You English, nothing stops you!"

It was during this trip we met Peter and Sylvie Bennett who charter their 73 foot schooner, Jambalaya, in the Caribbean for a living. I've never been sailing in the Caribbean and so you'll probably guess that it soon became a dream to go there and sail on their 73 boat, particularly since Jambalaya was the last traditionally built Caribbean Schooner to be constructed.

John was convinced we would not be able to do it! However, I am pretty determined to enjoy life and wanted to take on the challenge. So, we spent much of September 2013 finding out if Jambalaya could provide the power supplies necessary for my machine, particularly since we would not be calling at marinas with electricity supplies. Here, I must pay tribute to Baxter UK who were very helpful and had their technical people speak to Peter's electrician to ensure he knew precisely what was required. Fortunately, Jambalaya is fitted with equipment which enables it to convert normal battery power into 230 volt A.C., which, apparently, is essential for powering my dialysis machine. In the end it all seemed possible and so we booked the charter.

I write this as we sail towards the small island of Bequia in the Windward Islands in sunny warm weather. The sailing has been an absolute joy and I have been able to swim off the boat in the warm Caribbean sees where, I'm pleased to say, the 'swimming' waterproof plaster held my tube watertight. Next stop, Tobago Cays where I'm looking forward to a lobster barbecue on the beach at sunset. We still have five days left on the boat before we fly back to Miami and before spending some time Key West.

My precious machine has been inspected, checked for drugs, bombs and everything else imaginable! It, and the transformer, has been carried by British Airways, American Airlines, and a small inter island airline, all for free. I thank them all for that and the amazing amount of help they have given me.

I now want to say a very big "Thank You" to Dr Gasupta and the PD nurses at Swindon who spent so much time ensuring I was taken care of.

Baxter Travel were also incredibly helpful, in not only providing the necessary information on power supplies, but also in ensuring that supplies of dialysis fluids were delivered to St Lucia, which, after all, is a long way from Swindon where I live! Also another big "Thank You" to Peter and Sylvie Bennett of Jambalaya, who have made us so welcome and made the holiday such fun.

It took a lot of time and effort to organise, but it has been such a great holiday that I shall now be happy to stay nearer to the UK until, hopefully, I get a new kidney.

I hope my story will inspire any one reading this to take what is out there to be enjoyed.

Margaret Young