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Our Friend Who Almost Cut Off His Own Leg! by Brian Whiddon, Managing Editor

Our Friend Who Almost Cut Off His Own Leg! by Brian Whiddon, Managing Editor

Angela is getting caught up after a short vacation so our Managing Editor, Brian Whiddon, is filling in.

When you live on a boat, you meet the most interesting people!

A live-aboard dock is a community – a neighborhood.

Just like any neighborhood, you’ve got your outgoing friendly folks, and your grouches. You’ve got your  private, keep-to-themselves types, and your busybodies. The well-to-do, the unemployed, the church-going saints and the hard drinking sinners…they can all be found amongst the slips that make up a live-aboard marina.

The difference in a marina community is that boat-dwellers are, by nature, a very unique and dynamic bunch. Unlike the average American living within four walls on top of a concrete slab, live-aboards are either doing the next big thing, or are settling down after the latest big thing. Folks like me got tired of living the hum-drum existence of life on land, with all of its conveniences and predictability – opting to live in a floating home that is at the mercy of the tides, the elements, and the constant ravages of a marine environment. Will I ever sail more than 100 miles away from my home port to exotic, far-off lands? I cannot say. Then there are those for whom living in a marina is a “slowing down” after having cruised around to the far-off places.

And then there are folks whose life stories shatter the very realm of “believable” for the average (or even non-average) American. We got to spend New Year’s Eve with just such a guy, who lives two boats down from Angela and Richard.

Desmond (not his real name) lives on his 65-foot custom aluminum sailboat, the “Intermission II.” Ever since the Hoys moved onto Dock 4 at the marina, we’ve all passed by several times a day as Desmond (easily in his 70’s) was working on “Intermission” with his daughter – who is about a year out of college now – and her fiancée – who recently completed his tour of service as an aircraft mechanic in the Navy. It’s well known throughout Dock 4 that Desmond and the kids plan to sail the “Intermission” around the world, departing sometime within the next few months. This will be Desmond’s third time around.

As luck had it, Desmond had nothing going on for New Years so we invited him out with us for the evening. We already knew from his daughter that Desmond had some real adventures under his belt to talk about. She’s told some of them as best she could remember. But, nothing could prepare us for the stories he shared!

Desmond took his first trip around the world in a sailboat in his 20s. Now, I thought that joining the Army at 19 was adventurous. But, I always knew I’d have a regular paycheck, a place to sleep, and food each day. Back in the 70’s, Desmond spent weeks at sea with no land in sight, and would do whatever odd jobs he could to make a buck wherever he happened to anchor for awhile. Often times, these jobs were illegal because he’d claim to be a tourist when entering the country, and had no work permit.

On some remote little remote island in the Indian Ocean, he’d spent all night drinking with some US Navy sailors whose ship had anchored offshore for a time. He left the bar, and was wandering around looking for a place to eat when he fell into a hole near a construction site, and wound up with a long piece of steel rebar impaled in his leg. He managed to pull the steel rod out of his leg, and climb out of the hole – then found a place to eat.

The next day his, leg hurt bad enough (and he was sober enough) to realize he needed a doctor. The only one in town was a Chinese doctor who found a piece of his pants that had been shoved into the wound when the bar went into his leg. That was removed and Desmond was then given some antibiotics. A sudden storm kept him anchored for another couple of days, but once it had passed, he set sail again, a few days later than he’d intended.

While at sea, the leg and foot began to swell. The wound started to ooze, and bright red stripes began appearing up his leg above the wound, and toward his body. He was feverish and the antibiotics seemed to be doing no good. He was miles out at sea with no contact with civilization. With a raging fever sapping all his strength and the oozing wound requiring multiple rolls of paper towels to keep up with, Desmond says he made the fateful decision that he would have to remove his own leg to save his life. However, while mentally planning out how he was going to accomplish this, he lost consciousness. He awoke 14 hours later with the fever gone, the leg about half the size it was, and the red stripes receding. The sails were still up and the boat had simply continued on its course the whole time.

On a tamer note, Desmond told us about crossing the Suez Canal. I’ve heard stories of the notorious canal pilots who guide commercial and pleasure vessels alike up and down the canal. They are known not only to accept bribes – but to expect bribes – and make getting through the canal extremely difficult until they get the bribes they want. They also steal from the boats and are rude to the boat crews and owners. Desmond confirmed this folklore I’d heard, and explained that it was even worse: the pilots will park your boat and make a thousand excuses about why they cannot let the boat continue any further until you come up with a satisfactory “fee.” And, by Egyptian law, you MUST have your boat piloted through the canal. You do not have the option of taking it through yourself.

Desmond told us about the pilot that he got stuck with. The guy raided Desmond’s liquor stash, and got drunk while making several passes at his girlfriend. The inebriated pilot finally got so drunk he passed out and Desmond had to steer the boat himself for the last 20 miles. He said he was so angry that, when he got to the final canal port, he literally picked up, and dumped the unconscious pilot onto the dock, and basically “fled” Egypt without being legally cleared by immigration authorities.

Sailing around the Horn of Africa, Desmond got caught in a storm. Twenty and occasionally 30 foot waves crashed down on his wooden boat, slamming it back and forth and upending everything in the cabin. The winds were coming from such a direction that, as each wave hit his vessel, it continually pushed him a little closer to the treacherous shoreline he was trying to avoid. At one point, his compass jammed up and he couldn’t tell which direction the winds were coming from, nor which direction he was going! (Remember, this was the 70s, before GPS.) He sailed that way for about half an hour before another wave hit that jarred the compass head loose, causing it to float freely again.

While we smoked cigars and enjoyed Old Fashions on the rocks at one of our favorite watering holes in downtown St. Pete, Desmond told us about Djibouti,  where he had to change some American dollars into suitable currency. Apparently the government skimmed so much in taxes and “fees” that he opted to follow a friend’s advice, and change the money on the black market. This consisted of meeting with a middle man, who took him to a long, winding alley that got narrower and narrower as it went. He was escorted by two armed men down this alley where he realized there would be no escape if anything went badly.

After a few turns of the alley, he was let into a gate, which was locked behind him. Then another gate, through which he walked to finally stand before the money changer – a man sitting at a table stacked high with currency from a plethora of nations. The money changer was wearing only a t-shirt and underwear. Desmond also saw that he was facing several men with machine guns. However, the transaction was quick and simple. He was asked what currency he wanted, how much of it, and told the cost. After getting his money, he was escorted back out of the alley and sent on his way. It seems the underworld was more honorable than the government in Djibouti.

Then there was the dentist in Djibouti. This was Angela’s least favorite story! Desmond had a crown that had come loose. The only dentist available in the country at that time was at a French Foreign Legion fort. (Likely the 13th Demi-Brigade of the Legion which was set up in Djibouti in 1962 – based on my research.)

Upon his arrival, Desmond had to wait in a hallway outside a door, behind which he actually heard a man screaming. There were others waiting, too. Tribesmen from the surrounding area walked for days to get to this place where they could get medical and dental treatment. Desmond said their spears were lined up on a wall. The door opened and a gruff man told him to come in. He was seated and the dentist came in, dressed in a leather apron, with blood stains and flesh particles on it.

Desmond says the dentist was a big burly man with tattoos all over him. (Keep in mind, the Foreign Legion accepts criminals and fugitives from other nations as long as they can pass the training and swear allegiance to France.) He said it was immediately obvious that the dentist’s instruments were not cleaned between patients. Wondering what he’d gotten himself into, Desmond considered leaving, but the big, gruff man began holding his shoulders down as the dentist took a little hammer, pried his mouth open, and banged on the crown. After a few hits, he paused and Desmond claimed to feel much, much better, and thanked the dentist for “fixing” the problem. They were happy to let him go, as they had other, far more serious cases to deal with than a silly American whining about his loose crown.

Desmond was given some antibiotics and happily escaped to continue his global journey. He had the crown replaced in another country a couple of weeks later.

What does one do when they finish sailing around the world? Well, Desmond explained to us that upon returning to the US, he up and decided to get his commercial pilot’s license. That led to him becoming a helicopter pilot for an oil company, flying between drilling rigs. We know from his daughter that he has survived more than one crash (and even fractured his neck), but didn’t get into those stories that night.

Our evening rolled merrily forward as more and more New Year’s revelers took to the streets. However, the night was getting rather cold. And, the four of us – stuffed with oysters, pasta, really delicious bread, fish, and some serious desserts – were worn down by about 10:30, and meandered back to the marina.

Angela says this is the best neighborhood she’s ever lived in. It’s the neighborhood I’ve known for the last seven years. For all the eccentric, unusual, and even weird people who live here, we’re actually a pretty tight knit bunch. We all live in floating homes far smaller than the average American house. And, we each accept the lengthy list of risks associated with having a home that floats. So we all watch over each other while at the same time staying out of each others’ way, and abiding by a “live and let live” philosophy.

I thought the Hoys were crazy when they told me they were going to move onto a boat after hearing my tales. But, I’m glad to have been the one who opened a door for them into this very unique community. And, who knows what adventures lie in wait for them? Angela hopes they don’t include any foreign dentists!


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Brian Whiddon is the Managing Editor of and the Operations Manager at Brian is an Army vet and former police officer, and spent several years chained to a desk, commuting Tampa’s congested roadways, working in corporate management and training, while writing in his spare time. He is now an author, blogger, and NRA-certified firearms instructor. Brian lives and works aboard his 36-foot sailboat, the “Floggin’ Molly” in St. Petersburg, Florida. He calls her his “rescue boat” that he found abandoned in a boat yard and rebuilt himself – fulfilling a dream he had to one day live aboard. Brian no longer commutes, and has donated all his business slacks, collared shirts, and ties to Goodwill. 




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One Response to "Our Friend Who Almost Cut Off His Own Leg! by Brian Whiddon, Managing Editor"

  1. pamelaallegretto  January 5, 2018 at 1:44 pm

    Great stories, although the dentist story might give me nightmares!


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