I’ve Got That Sinking Feeling

The warm sun shining on my now dehydrated face was no consolation for my surroundings.  A picture-perfect day 10 miles off the coast of the big island in Hawaii would normally result in quiet contemplation of my many blessings.  Eight hours out with a marlin on the end of the guy-from-Wisconsin’s line – and I’m looking over the side of the boat imagining the peace that I would feel if I could just slip overboard.

Seasick. Green – and not with envy. Eight hours of seasickness with another two added on for good measure to bring the bloody marlin in. Smelly, 800 lbs of fish at my feet in the hot Hawaiian sun as we head back towards land. Tick Tock. Sheer agony as each minute of this deep-sea fishing adventure comes to a close while my charter-mates avoid eye contact for fear this is contagious. If you have never experienced this malady consider yourself fortunate and have some compassion for your crew mate who is sullen, pale, sweating and hanging over the side of the boat.

So what exactly is sea sickness and why do some people suffer and not others?  Different sensory systems, namely the eyes and inner ears constantly report back to the brain on our success in walking upright.  However, place a boat under your feet and that ordered, vertical world becomes chaotic and everything goes to pot.

Some contend that the “control freak” part of our nature makes this affliction affect some and not others. This is not to imply that people who suffer from seasickness are also control freaks. Those boaters who are able to let go of the need to have an orderly world do not seem to be susceptible to the green monster. However, throw a little fear into the blender and they will succumb too.

Common motion sickness remedies such as Gravol are not without side effects such as drowsiness and often come with a warning not to operate machinery once taken.  Probably not a great combination with operating a boat which last time I checked, has some machinery.

Newer techniques such as patches behind the ears work for some and my personal favourite, the sea band works by putting pressure on the Nei-Kuan acupressure points on each wrist thus quelling the body’s confusion with motion. Excessive consumption of fats, red meat and alcohol can contribute to seasickness so as a preventative measure it is probably best to avoid these prior to departure.

The homeopathic remedy Tabacum (Tobacco) is also very effective for some without any nasty side effects.  Ginger tea is excellent for nausea but sea sickness can sneak up on you quickly before you get a chance to put the kettle on the stove. I was also told by a veteran South Seas sailor that canned (not fresh) pamplemousse was the perfect remedy for seasickness. Now “pamplemousse” is also the French word for grapefruit, so I’ll let you experiment with that one.

The most exotic remedy recommends taping an umeboshi plum to your navel.  Apparently, other varieties of plums do not work and this reportedly is effective for all types of travel sickness as long as it is done at the onset of travelling.  don’t know what it is with plums and the sea, as I recall Joshua Slocum’s ordeal after ingesting white cheese and plums during his solo circumnavigation on Spray.  Therefore, I suggest that you don’t eat the plum, just tape it to your belly button.

Kidding aside, seasickness can be a serious complication to deteriorating conditions at sea and can affect your physical ability to handle difficult situations. During Power Squadron’s Basic Boating course, an example was given of a sailboat that had to be rescued when the Captain became completely incapacitated with seasickness and his younger, female companion had no idea how to operate the boat.

Through years of trial and error, I have found the following to be effective when you find yourself in lumpy water: I keep the seabands in the pocket of my life jacket (which I always wear when we are underway) and put them on at the first hint of lumpiness; get behind the helm in the fresh air (some of those nice yoga breaths always feel good at this point); concentrate on what you’re doing and not on how you’re feeling; and don’t go below for anything! Of course, the first choice would be to stay put safely at anchor or in the marina if conditions are lousy, but sometimes the weather forecast is wrong and you are caught in less than favourable conditions.

If you have an overactive inner ear that insists on balance at all times, try some of these suggestions and develop your own personal remedy for seasickness. It is a miserable affliction but it need not keep you from the water.

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