Snake Bite Medicine – A Sea Kayaker’s Cure-all

by Nancy Soares on December 15, 2014

by Tsunami Ranger Commander “Tortuga” Deb Volturno

Editor’s note: ‘Tis the Season, and once again we address the engrossing subject of What to Drink When Kayaking!

Deb and her snakebite

Commander Tortuga and her snakebite medicine

A celebratory toasting tradition is rooted in river kayaking for me, and has richly endured over the years.  While toasting and celebrating the safe completion of a river run, I also employed “snakebite medicine” for what became the “bad water cure” following raucous river runs in suspect waters.  Myth or not, with the “medicine”, I never again suffered the intestinal scourge after running a river!

Deb's super flask - light, handy, and full

Deb’s super flask – light, handy, and full

In good time, imbibing “snakebite medicine” evolved to the lofty metaphysical level of a celebratory ritual toast to the Sea Gods and Goddesses punctuating any day on the water, the flask of fine elixir raised in gratitude for the generosity of the Sea Deities. We survived yet another sea adventure, being given the gift to indulge and dance in the wild sea on a new day.

Yay! We survived! Jim, Scott, and Steve celebrate the end of another amazing day on the sea.

Yay! We survived! Jim, Scott, and Steve celebrate the end of another amazing day on the sea.

The term “snakebite medicine” has withstood the test of time, because it continues to cure what ails you.  These days it is most often the stiff and sore muscles after a long day kayaking at sea that benefit from a dose!  Plus tippling the tonic seems to magically put a grin of satisfaction on your face – even, I can say, in the throes of the Weather Gods’ wrath!

TR Dave Whalen manages to suck down some snakebite despite his faceguard

TR Dave Whalen manages to suck down some snakebite despite his faceguard

Sometimes in my travels I would discover a local Sea Deity enshrined at a launch site, as in Mexico where a shrine of Guadalupe is commonly found on random beaches.  In that case the ritual of a resolute toast is extended to venerate the enshrined deity.  A gift of a fine libation is left in a vessel (usually a bi-valve shell) at the shrine, along with a special complement treat, like cookies or dark chocolate.  This ritual is also a humble request for safe passage in their home seas.

Deb at Tokomaru Bay, NZ, saluting the sea

Deb at Tokomaru Bay, NZ, saluting the sea

By the way, snakebite medicine is not any random generic alcohol.  Of course it must be a fine elixir worthy of honoring life and adventure!  Most preferred by me is a fine sipping tequila!  Choices are unlimited though, and have included fine sipping whiskey, scotch, rum, brandy, calvados, grappa, and port.  Weather can be helpful in determining the best choice of spirits.  Cold arctic circle temperatures in Norway beg for something very different from a steamy Mediterranean day at sea.

Capt. Kakuk on retreat - warming the belly with 'bite

Capt. Kakuk on retreat – warming the belly with ‘bite

One of the most memorable of celebratory elixirs on our Tsunami retreats was “Chōrni Doktor”, a fine chewable port that escaped from Russia with Jim and Misha.  True to form, Tsunami Rangers reveled in that potion, and saluted the Sea Deities deep into the clear starlit night, on a secret beach somewhere along the shores of the Great Sea.

What’s your favorite snakebite? Do share! For more on our Tsunami libations, click on the link and check it out.







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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Fat Paddler December 15, 2014 at 5:09 am

Australia’s first currency was rum, largely as it was brought to our shores on the ships of early British settlers. Rum is also the choice of tot for the navy and for yachties around the world, and I think it only fitting that for ocean paddlers a nice rum (hell, even a crap rum!!) is the best snake bite medicine there is.


Nancy Soares December 15, 2014 at 10:46 am

And we know which one you like, right FP?! Or have you found something to replace our beloved Zacapa?


Micaila December 15, 2014 at 1:22 pm

One of my favorite all time posts here was the last, What to Drink When Kayaking. This one will surely stay with me as well, love Deb’s writing. And once again, the message I’ve gleaned is to invest in more good sipping tequilas 🙂


Nancy Soares December 16, 2014 at 9:06 am

Hi Micaila, thanks for commenting. Glad you enjoyed the post. Deb actually wrote this up for last years’ post, “Of Cocktails and Sea Kayaking” but it was so good I thought it should stand on its own. It was a whole year but worth the wait. Your comment made me think that for next year I’ll have TR Steve King write one on tequila – that’s his specialty!


Blake Lane December 15, 2014 at 2:04 pm

Whisky. Adrbeg’s “Airigh Nam Beist” (Gaelic for “Liar of the Night Beast”) . That name says it all.


Nancy Soares December 16, 2014 at 9:10 am

Okay, Blake, I have to take issue with your Ardbeg. I consider myself a pretty hardy tippler but Ardbeg almost killed me. Lair of the Night Beast does indeed say it all. I can barely get that stuff down. That said, I’m super impressed that it’s your choice. I kowtow to your clearly superior and may I say titanium constitution.


Phil December 15, 2014 at 11:40 pm

The narrowing of the aft hatch of my Gulfstream II as it reaches the end accommodates no camping gear as well as it does the neck of a wine bottle. In fact, the bisection provided by my skeg box is an irresistible invitation to place two bottles, chilling nicely thanks to Puget Sound’s year-round frigidity. I’m sayin’ Derek meant for it to be a wine cellar.


Nancy Soares December 16, 2014 at 9:15 am

Nice, Phil! The question now is what temp is the water and can we take champagne? That’s something I’ve NEVER seen on a kayak trip but wow would it be fun. Champagne is one of my top favorite alcoholic beverages and doesn’t get enough kudos among kayakers in my opinion.


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