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Carbon & Fingers: Not a tasty cocktail!

By June 26, 2007No Comments


If you hang around with carbon products a lot, sooner or later you are going to get a carbon splinter. Sometimes they can be big, sometimes they can be really small – unfortunately, more consistently, they usually hurt: A LOT! 

What you do next is up to you … but let it be said to “not let the sun go down on an embedded carbon shard”

This is a story of one of those such days. It started off like any other day; 15-18 knots cross-shore at the lake where we train. Rigging 10.7m to get a few km’s in on the formula kit before we try a few runs on the light wind slalom kit. I have a few 530cm masts. I have few because I’m told they break a lot, however I’ve been lucky and only broken less than 3 masts in 5 years of sailing NP gear and so the particular mast I pulled out was pretty old and starting to peel at the ferrell. When the wind is blowing you just want to get out on the water as quick as possible so I was a little careless putting the mast together and feeling a sharp pain in my finger I pulled back to see a 5cm piece of carbon jutting out from my middle finger.

No problems. I just pulled it out and kept rigging. A few minutes later it was still stinging and having a closer look at my finger I could see a tiny black dot still in the tiny cut the original carbon shard had made. I don’t think carbon is particularly healthy to have in your finger so I thought I’d get it out… Only problem was I had with me only a stanley knife, a phillips head screwdriver and a car-key (not recommended as suitable for a first-aid kit!).

The stanley knife was the way to go; the blade was new so I wasn’t too worried about the rust they usually have on them. Unfortunately, the tip of a stanley knife blade is not particularly pointed and in this case it was a little too big to get the piece out. I spent a good 30 mins digging around in my finger before I decided I’d give up and wait till I got home to find a needle. After that I went sailing with my training partner Markus Bouman for the next few hours …


After sailing I went home to discover I didn’t have any needles at my place; or pins or tweezers or anything useful in that regard. Knocking on my neighbours door (he’s also a windsurfer) I managed to get a pair of tweezers out of his girlfriend but these were also too big. The piece was in about 3mm into my finger but was sooooo tiny it was almost impossible to see; about 0.3mm I reckon! After digging around clumsily in my finger again the pain got the better of me and I went to bed; waiting for an email I’d sent to my sister (she’s a doctor btw) to see just “how bad” it is to leave carbon in your finger.

Awaking the next morning I could see the tiny cut had already healed over but my finger was stinging like a bee trapped in your shoe (translation = a lot!). I figured something wasn’t right so I called Markus Bouman to see if he had a needle and to resume digging. Being a boy, he of course didn’t own a needle (what on earth would we need one for?) and so I was back at sqaure one, but the pain was strangely unbearable so we decided to take drastic action and call the doctor…

Living in a small village in the Netherlands (Dokkum, to be exact), doctor’s aren’t always on call and the closest and most convenient source was to head to the emergency centre at the Dokkum Hospital. With Markus making the translations (yes I am trying to learn some Dutch! but as Dokkum is part of Friesland they speak “Friesian” here, which is about as close to Dutch as Chinese is to English from what I can tell) we managed to get in to see a doctor after only 40mins of waiting. It was 3pm by this stage and I was wasting valuable windsurfing time as it was already windy ….

The doctor (who spoke great english) began digging out my scab and probing around with a razor blade scalpel immediately (the pain was excruiciating for such a small cut) but after a few minutes he decided he couldn’t get it out either! Damn!

[Insert direct-injection of anaesthetic into the cut, here] With my finger (and most of my hand) completely numb the doctor began some major excavations of my finger to retrieve the piece of carbon. As it turns out, the pepretrator was actually about 3mm long; larger than I expected but because it was shunted straight into my finger I was actually only looking at the tip of the piece (hence the 0.3mm estimation). The doctor suggested that the reason it hurt so much was that is was soooooo deep in my finger it was quite likely touching the bone! Ouch!

One band-aid later and I was back out on the water, vowing never again to put a mast together that hadn’t already had the ferrell duct-taped at the edges to protect from splinters.

CARBON-SPLINTERS. We’ve all had them, and we all agree they really suck. Just thought I’d share this experience with everyone as I quite nearly had to leave it in my finger as a result of not knowing enough girls in this small village to find a needle. Moral of the story: get to know more girls in your local village.

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