Neal McDonald, skipper of Assa Abloy, chats about the protective measures today's ocean racers take in avoiding the sun's harmful rays

Sun burn is one of the most serious threats to today’s VOR ocean racers. Neal McDonald, skipper of Assa Abloy, winner of the CYCA Sydney to Hobart yacht race and leg three chats about the protective measures crews take in avoiding the sun’s harmful rays.

Serious illness has already hit the headlines in the Volvo Ocean Race with the drama involving Keith Kilpatrick onboard Amer Sports One and Jason Carrington and Magnus Olsson aboard Assa Abloy, but it is not just the big health problems that concern the sailors in the race. One of the main threats, particularly in the southern hemisphere is sunburn.

Neal McDonald says, “We all want to go out there sailing and we want to keep going for a long time. One of the problems we are all worried about is any long-term medical problem we get associated with it. Dehydration problems people are reading about, shoulder injuries that are very common place: I put them all in the same category as getting skin cancer.”

McDonald from the UK says that the problem is far worse in some parts of the world than others. “I spend a lot of time in the southern hemisphere and over the ten years I’ve been down here I feel it is getting worse. There is no doubt at all how much worse it is here than it is in the northern hemisphere.”

At least now the sailors are now aware of the problem and take good care not to over expose their skins to sun’s harmful rays. On the whole Volvo Ocean Race medical co-ordinator, Timo Malinen, is pleased with the way the crews have approached the subject, “Family history is important. We do know that skin cancer, if picked up early, is one the best curable cancers there are. If you have a look at these sailors, you don’t see many of them with a good suntan. They cover themselves, they wear hats, and they use sun blocks. These guys are professional sailors, they have been doing it for years, they know what it is all about.”

The image of sailors is of nut-brown sea salts soaking up the sun, but Neal McDonald says that simply isn’t the case any more. “We don’t muck around with factor five, we use factor 30, and there is nothing less than that. Where we can, we wear hats. You will see lots of people, we certainly do, wearing a silky long sleeved shirt which we try and keep on all the time, you see very few pictures of people sun baking with their tops down, we try and keep out of the sun.”

According to Malinen, the protective measures appear to be working in the Volvo Ocean Race. “I haven’t heard of any serious sunburn while sailing as yet, but people in the fleet get regular check-ups which is absolutely the right thing to do. People are aware of it, we have lots of sailors who are local and know these things. People are quite sensible really.”

With the holes in the ozone layer getting bigger and the threat of skin cancer always hanging over all sportsman who spend a significant amount of time outdoors, perhaps other sports can now learn lessons from the way that sailing has now covered up.