May 152012

Well once again it’s been a bit since I’ve written. I definitely overestimated the amount of time, energy and internet access I would have during this voyage season. We’ve got about another three weeks to go before it ends. In the meantime, a little bit from my life:

These last two voyages were the most difficult for me, and I suppose it comes down to the intensity of the schedule, and my propensity for sea-sickness. The experience of sea-sickness just cannot be described in any decent way to anyone who has not been sea-sick. You can list the symptoms (headache, nausea, vertigo, lethargy, painful awareness of the impossibility of escape) but the sum is equal to more than its parts.

Some sunrise or sunset, somewhere...

Some sunrise or sunset, somewhere...these pretty sights help with the recovery process quite a bit.

My latest source of hope in the face of this brutal disease is the thought that I am not allergic to the sea as a whole, but maybe just to the Southern Ocean, or Windeward Bound, specifically. I’d experienced mild, passing nausea in the Pacific Ocean before coming to Tasmania, but I’d never been so constantly and severely sea-sick as I’ve been here. I refuse to believe it’s a permanent change…

But such an experience does lead a little adventurer like myself to ask some pretty confronting questions during those wee morning hour watches. What will I do if I never overcome my sea-sickness? What will I do with all of my dreams of world travel across oceans on sailboats? How stubborn am I really? Stubborn enough to live permanently in the world of dizzying, miserable, punishing sea-sickness?

The real answer, much as I hate to admit it, is no. I’ve lived a good portion of the last two months in that state, and I have finally reached my limit. My plan now is to tie up my commitments here in Tasmania, go home, get myself back on a schooner, and enjoy some coastal sailing for a little while.

Then, when I’m ready, I will get myself back out into the open ocean, and before giving up on blue water entirely, I will try one ocean crossing. If my brain and my inner ear don’t start playing nice after that, then I will just have to content myself with quiet and comfortable coastal sailing. Not the worst thing in the world, at least until I’ve had time to get antsy for travel, and forget just how awful it is to be sea-sick…


Jan 132012

January 8, 2012

Most people assume when I tell them that I’m a sailor that I don’t get sea-sick.  They smile and give a knowing nod, implying that we are members of the same exclusive club. We have pity on the others, but we have a little disgust for them too.

Yesterday was the third day of our voyage, and keeping with the pattern, we were greeted with some new weather. Yesterday we were becalmed.

Light Airs

If you’ve read any of the Patrick O’Brien novels, then you probably know something of the dreaded “horse latitudes” or the doldrums…those areas of the world’s oceans known for their stillness, their lack of wind. There are many reasons that sailors fear being becalmed: running out of food, water and fuel; the heat; boredom; madness. Being relatively sure that we are not at risk to these, my main apprehension when it comes to sitting on a rolling sea without any wind to drive us through the water, is sea-sickness.

I often get sea-sick at the beginning of an ocean voyage, when the plunging of the hull through the chop gets into my inner ear and causes a scene. Fortunately, my sea-sickness has never been violent or uncontrollable, and I am a firm believer that sea-sickness is truly psychosomatic. I’ve had enough experiences of feeling queasy to the point of dry mouth, only to be pulled to an urgent job, and not realize that my nausea had disappeared until a half-hour later. So when someone makes the presumption that I’m immune, and gives the knowing nod, I always say “No, actually I do get sea-sick. I’m just stubborn, too.”

I contemplated my next move while the sun set

I have to say though, that yesterday was bad. I say yesterday of course because I wouldn’t have dreamed of writing until today. Yesterday I spent a lot of time trying to distract myself, staring at the horizon, looking for odd jobs to do, comforting others who were feeling sea-sick. I skipped a delicious lunch, and drank broth instead. Even after the wind filled back in, my queasiness continued.

I had a lucky break during my afternoon watch when I got put at the wheel. When I say that distracting yourself with an important task works, I mean it. Concentrating off on the distance, and constantly focusing on wind direction and heading made me feel better than anything I’d done. When it came to the end of my watch, I begged the next watch to let me stay on the wheel. When they finally kicked me off an hour later, it all came back, dammit.

As the sun set and I was trying to decide what to do, my lovely bunk-mate Sian strolled by and relayed a message from the cook, our other bunk-mate, that I wasn’t to come to bed unless I was 100% feeling well. She paused for a minute, narrowed her eyes at me slightly, and walked away.

So, I spent last night on deck, sleeping underneath the stars, wrapped up in my foul-weather gear, two hats, my beloved fuzzy lobster gloves, with my travel pillow beneath my neck. The wind was blowing and the ship was pitching with a slightly confused sea. Not quite as nice as my deck-nap the day before, but I don’t blame Sian or Jan at all. It’s just part of this life. At midnight my watch came on again, and thank god, we anchored. Four hours later I was down below getting some much deserved, and much-needed sleep.