Skin Cancer - the Reality of being a Fair-Skinned Sailor

Lynn Fitzpatrick
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'One of the first skin cancer screenings that I did at a regatta was during the 2001/02 Miami stopover for the Volvo Ocean Race,' said Dr. Steve Horwitz.

Steve is sailing’s skin doctor. He has been practicing dermatology in Miami for over three decades and has been sailing on Biscayne Bay for longer.

'What surprised me was that only one of the crop of Volvo sailors that I screened had a precancerous growth on his lip,' reflected Dr. Horwitz. 'As it turns out, most of them were Australian or Kiwis. There is such a high incidence of skin cancer down under that there is a huge amount of public information and awareness. Everyone wears rashers, protective clothing and sunscreen.'

As someone who grew up sailing, swimming and skiing in the US, I didn’t have the benefit of the Oz’s information campaign and am living with the consequences.

Many of Biscayne Bay’s sailors seek Dr. Horwitz out for advice because he is their dermatologist and he has seen far too many of us end up with prematurely leathery and sun damaged skin. Last month, when I was in town for the Bacardi Cup, I was fortunate enough to run into Dr. Horwitz. I did what I usually do when I have something on my skin that gives me cause for concern. I had him take a look at it. 'That’s precancerous. You ought to have it taken care of,' he said.

As busy as I am flying around from regatta to regatta, I made sure that I found time to see a dermatologist and have a full body scan once I got home. The result – I had a precancerous area frozen off of my forehead, a large area frozen along the ridge of my nose, another off my collarbone and an area cut out of the center of my back.

Was I surprised by my west coast dermatologist’s findings? Yes and no. I was very aware of two of the areas. There was no way that I ever would have seen the basal cell skin cancer on my back, and I had my first pre-cancerous lesion removed when I was about 40 (about 10-15 years earlier than most adults).

As I sat in the chair and took it all in, I thought, ' I have my Irish father’s skin and blue eyes and it seems as if he has something cut out or burned off every other month. How can I save myself from the same fate?'

I asked about a skin peel and had it done right then and there. The next thing I did was to call Dr. Horwitz and get some more facts. What I found out is that I am in the most high-risk category for skin cancers-fair complexion (Anglo Saxon heritage, light colored eyes, and, of course, sunburns are common.

• Sunscreen didn’t exist when I was a kid. The choice was baby oil, sun tanning lotions or zinc oxide.

• I have blondish red hair, blue eyes and freckles.

• I can remember getting sunburned so badly as a child that I had blisters on my shoulders and my nose and my ears were always peeling.

• I was always on the water when I was a kid and I’ve always been a bit more than a weekend warrior. I’m certainly in the sun more now than when I was driving a desk.

Some kids well protected against sun damage , others less so
Lynn Fitzpatrick

Dr. Horwitz shared a ton of information with me and I will share it with you over the course of the next two articles.

The basics – There is a direct correlation between the incidence of sunburn during childhood and the development of melanoma. (A reminder, cataracts are also the result of sunlight exposure). A majority of one’s total lifetime exposure to the sun comes during the first 18 years of life. All of you, who are in my age group and have kids in junior programs, take note for your kids and for yourselves.

About Dr. Steve Horwitz

Dr. Steve Horwitz is a Miami Beach native and has been practicing dermatology for over three decades. His practice, Horwitz Dermatology is located in Miami, Florida. Dr. Horwitz has provided complimentary screenings to all regatta participants of numerous Lightning and Etchells regattas, including the 2003 Lightning Worlds, the Lightning North Americans and Etchells Mid-Winters. The invaluable screenings take 2-3 minutes and are painless.

This excellent article provided courtesy of