When British yachtsman Simon Talbot was selected to skipper the Great Britain yacht in the renowned Clipper Round the World Yacht Race, he anticipated an “irresistible challenge.” High seas, remote locations and dramatic weather are all part of the daily rigours Clipper crews face. With the excitement of navigating the open ocean comes the real possibility of getting ill or hurt a long way from any help. Enter Praxes Medical Group, a Halifax-based company that provides medical support to the race 24 hours a day.
Established in 1997, Praxes is on-call for clients such as the Canadian Navy, the Coast Guard, the oil and gas industry, mine sites and even Mount Everest climbing teams. Using satellite phones and customized software, emergency-medical professionals are available to guide clients. Praxes CEO Susan Helliwell and partner and husband Doctor John Ross started the company out of their home, initially at their kitchen table, with four other doctors after answering a request for proposal to provide medical support for the Sable offshore oil and gas industry.
Today, Praxes employs approximately 50 medical professionals across the country: doctors, paramedics, nurses and physicians’ assistants. According to Praxes vice-president of marketing, John Hockin, the current work with Clipper Round the World Yacht Race is a natural fit. Since the partnership with Clipper is a sponsorship, it’s an opportunity for Praxes to showcase their services to the world.
“We like to think that small businesses can do huge things,” says Hockin. “The partnership with Clipper is part of that business strategy to think big and we hang on tight to our mission to improve health-care delivery while simultaneously reducing cost and risk.”
The Praxes team receives calls from Clipper crews for many reasons. Crew suffer bumps and bangs in rough seas. Not every situation is an emergency, but it’s reassuring to have a doctor at the ready to answer medical questions. Praxes guarantees a response within five minutes at any time.
Clipper Round the World Yacht Race is the longest ocean race in the world, covering 64,380 kilometres, six continents and sixteen ports over the duration of eleven months. Each of the 12 21-metre ocean racing yachts carry up to 24 crew members (no sailing experience required) per race leg with a professional skipper. The Clipper 2013–14 race left from Tower Bridge, London in September and Rio de Janeiro, Cape Town, Singapore, San Francisco and New York are all part of the spectacular route.
The crew are diverse (film directors, students, truck drivers, veterinarians and nurses) aging from 18 to 74. The Great Britain crew have used Praxes many times. “There have been many tough times and that’s where Praxes comes in,” Talbot says via satellite phone off the coast of Singapore. “You get through to someone who is very qualified very quickly.”
One of those tough times occurred when the Great Britain was sailing from Cape Town, South Africa to Albany, Australia. They experienced a “knock-down” when a big wave hit the side of the yacht, tumbling one crewman around the cockpit like a loose pea in a pod. He hit a winch with a sickening thud, before sprawling flat, apparently knocked out. Some 2,400 kilometres from land, the crew called Praxes for help.
“It was a shocking and scary experience,” says Talbot. “We were worried that he’d hurt one of his kidneys but luckily he was just very bruised and a bit delirious. He didn’t have any serious injuries but we had no way of knowing this at the time. So, to have someone methodically go through with you on the phone what to check and look out for at that time and over the next few days is very useful, indeed.”
According to Ross, it’s often simply reassuring and calming to have a doctor a phone call away. “We often receive calls when people are at that T-junction of trying to figure out what to do next,” says Ross. “So, instead of biting their nails and worrying, they just call us. It’s having the option to speak to an emergency physician and ask if a symptom is normal. We get a wide range of calls, it’s not just the screaming emergencies. It’s talking them through and then getting to hear that sigh of relief.”
Before the race began, Praxes provided medical training to the skippers in London. They have the background medical information on those crewmembers willing to provide it and know what’s on board each yacht’s medical chest. Praxes also provides in-port clinics with Skype so crew can have virtual doctor’s appointments.
According to Talbot, the Great Britain crew have called Praxes at least a dozen times with ailments ranging from enflamed elbows and dislocated shoulders to skin boils and hard knocks. For Talbot, the measure of success of this service is the dependability and consistency provided.
“Across the fleet, every yacht has called Praxes but we’ve had a lot of incidents and we’ve called more than most,” says Talbot. “They have always got back to us within a couple minutes. Honestly, I think the race would be a bit lost without this service.”
At the end of the Clipper race, the measure of success for Praxes will be whether or not they have cut down on hospital visits for crew members, saved the race additional expenses and helped to decrease insurance costs. But for Ross, simply being there to help has been a rewarding experience.
“It’s been a spectacularly positive experience so far,” he says. “I got to travel to London before the race to provide training and it was inspiring to meet all the skippers and crew members from different backgrounds who are chasing their dreams. For Praxes to be a part of that is truly amazing.”